"Voters take Donald Trump literally but not seriously. Reporters take him seriously but not literally."
Republican strategist Brad Todd uttered this now-famous phrase last August during an appearance on MSNBC's "Meet the Press Daily." It was an attempt to explain the disconnect between Trump's media coverage, which regularly lampooned him, and the fact that he was, despite media scorn, the Republican candidate for president. While his supporters believed that his campaign promise of a border wall meant just that–an actual, physical wall–the press apparently took a more metaphorical view. The "wall" wasn't actually going to be a wall, it was going to be some method by which he made our borders more secure. Building a 2000-mile long wall and declaring that Mexico would pay for it seemed ludicrous and the press couldn't take him seriously. Big mistake.
One week into this new administration it now appears obvious that our president doesn't think metaphorically. He literally is doing as president everything he said he would do as candidate. And boy is this making citizens uncomfortable. Citizen activism has to be at generational highs. Marches, lawsuits, protests, petitions and outright defiance are the means by which Americans are standing up to the new administration and its–to put it politely–unconventional governance methods. Donald Trump continues to defy any attempt to rein in his maverick behavior.
Again, he gave us no reason to believe that his presidential demeanor would differ markedly from his candidate behavior, but perhaps we expected it. The Oval Office historically has demanded that of its occupants. Our leaders usually lead with messages of inclusion and optimism, speaking of our country's ability to come together to meet the challenges confronting it. In March 1865, on the occasion of his second inaugural address and just a month before the Confederate army surrendered at Appomattox, Abraham Lincoln, whose legacy depended on the war's successful outcome, magnanimously extended this olive branch to the estranged southern states:
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Safe to say that, despite using Lincoln's bible at his swearing in, Trump is no Lincoln.
In fact, he is unlike any other president we have ever had. That much is clear. What isn't yet clear are his ultimate objectives. The flurry of last week's executive orders lends an air of "rule by decree" to his still-developing governing style, as does the personnel shuffling. The reaction to all of this has been fear that we don't know what he is doing, but even more than that, fear that he doesn't know what he is doing.
Concomitant with this fear has been the rise of conspiracy theories and comparisons to history's "bad hombres." As it just so happens I currently am reading In the Garden of Beasts, a non-fiction account of William E. Dodd's experiences and observations from 1933 to 1938 as the United States' first ambassador to Nazi Germany. I didn't choose this book in response to the current political climate but given the persistent comparisons of Trump to Hitler, I may find this read useful.
I read yesterday that all of these executive actions are but feints designed to test the limits of opposition to his moves, that all of this is a pre-cursor to a power grab, a coup d'état. That the immigration order was designed to direct attention away from the far more nefarious reshuffling of the National Security Council. I don't buy it.
I understand that people are uneasy with this guy and his seemingly whacko demeanor and governing style, but it stretches credibility, I think, to believe that he is the second coming of Adolph Hitler and that his intentions are equally sinister. Believing thus gives him way, way too much credit, in my opinion. I mean, how smart can he be if he thinks his hairstyle flatters him? He sees things differently than most people, certainly. He does things in a way that violates social norms. There is probably something to the belief that he suffers from some sort of megalomania or narcissistic personality disorder. Whatever the case may be, what absolutely is true is that winning the election did nothing to soften his sharp edges. He is a pugilistic, crass, micro-managing, spontaneous insulter of everyone, yet he believes that he knows how best to make America great again.
The fear of a coup d'état or martial law comes from the uncertainty accompanied by his ascendancy. In such times it is natural to assume the worst case scenario is the likely one. It's a self-preservation move. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. However, to believe that Trump and his cabal are going to lock down this country, send off to labor camps those who oppose him, and limit the freedoms of those who don't, is to believe that the army will be a willing accomplice, that the government won't work as it is supposed to, that Republicans will fall into a goosestepping line behind him.
Donald Trump may have run as as a Republican but he is no Republican. He said so himself. He's a capitalist, but he most surely is an Independent who utilized the structure of the Republican party simply because an Independent cannot be elected president in this country. The two-party system is too ingrained here. Because Trump isn't really a Republican and is waging war on government in general, Republican lawmakers should be as free as their Democratic counterparts to vote as they see fit. Voter backlash should be minimal and probably would be very favorable. There are certain elements of his campaign platform that adhere to Republican ideology so the party that reluctantly adopted him cannot abandon him altogether, but they don't have to be his toadies either.
I don't fear a coup as much as I fear clumsiness, and I suspect that's what all this is. Building walls and enacting tariffs and angering our allies and trade partners–not to mention those who he singled out in his immigration order–in an attempt to restore manufacturing to its once prominent position in our economy while trying not to alienate us from the rest of the world is an extremely iffy proposition, but that's what he was elected to do and, by God, he's going to try to do it.
Donald Trump is attempting to steer the ship of state as though it were one of his business entities. Again, this is exactly what he said he would do. He is accustomed to making his own decisions, handing down edicts, and having them carried out. If he hasn't already realized it after just one week, our system of government doesn't allow the president rule by fiat. That isn't how it works. An activated citizenry is reminding him of that and I suspect it won't be much longer before his Congress does too.
Disclaimer: I voted for Donald Trump, not because of any love for the man but because certain fiscal elements of his platform were in alignment with my own beliefs. I want lower taxes, I want a repeal of the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax, I want energy independence for reasons of national security. I also listened to the Supreme Court argument, but think it preposterous that Republicans might take offense at attempts to block the appointment of Neil Gorsuch when they did exactly that to Merrick Garland, Obama's nominee.