A new-model Trump?

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

On the 27th an­niver­sary of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, the United States elected a pres­i­dent who plans to build an even big­ger wall, this time on the border with Mex­ico. Now, Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump must de­cide whether he wants to plow for­ward with his di­vi­sive agenda or ac­tu­ally ad­vance Amer­ica’s best in­ter­ests.

There are strong par­al­lels be­tween Trump’s vic­tory and the United King­dom’s vote to leave the Euro­pean Union last June. Repub­li­cans in­ter­viewed after the elec­tion re­sult was known looked al­most as shocked as the ar­chi­tects of the UK’s “Leave” cam­paign on the morn­ing after the ref­er­en­dum. But no one was more dumb­founded than those on the los­ing side, which in both cases had been widely ex­pected to come out on top.

One ef­fect of the Brexit vote that has al­ready emerged in the US as well is a surge in hate crimes, in­clud­ing an alarm­ing num­ber of in­ci­dents be­ing re­ported at schools and on col­lege cam­puses. Trump’s win has em­bold­ened some of his sup­port­ers to move from the anonymity of abus­ing tar­gets on so­cial me­dia to ac­cost­ing them openly on the street.

This is not sur­pris­ing: Trump’s cam­paign was marked by nearly 18 months of vit­riol, aimed not just against his op­po­nent, but also at US govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions, the press, and many seg­ments of the US pop­u­la­tion, par­tic­u­larly im­mi­grants, refugees, sup­port­ers of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, and Mus­lims. He at­tracted the en­dorse­ment of the Ku Klux Klan and sur­rounded his cam­paign with the white na­tion­al­ists of the so-called alt-right.

In fact, many of the prom­ises Trump made to his sup­port­ers dur­ing the cam­paign are highly di­vi­sive and even dan­ger­ous, and their im­ple­men­ta­tion could have se­ri­ous ad­verse ef­fects on the lives of or­di­nary Amer­i­cans, trig­ger­ing civil un­rest. Con­versely, aban­don­ing some of the poli­cies he promised could trig­ger a back­lash – per­haps vi­o­lent – among his sup­port­ers.

How­ever busy Trump is plan­ning the tran­si­tion to the White House – se­lect­ing his cab­i­net and pri­ori­tis­ing his many prom­ises – he must not ig­nore this risk. If he hopes to be any­thing re­motely close to a re­spon­si­ble leader, he must move ur­gently to ad­dress the deep di­vi­sions that he so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally fu­eled dur­ing his cam­paign.

That means be­com­ing more pres­i­den­tial, by ad­vo­cat­ing a calm and rea­son­able ap­proach that em­pha­sises, above all, up­hold­ing the US Con­sti­tu­tion and the rule of law. He should start by speak­ing out firmly against vi­o­lence, and tak­ing proac­tive mea­sures to pro­tect i mmi­grants and mi­nori­ties, who are un­der­stand­ably fear­ful of at­tacks by his sup­port­ers.

More broadly, Trump must avoid tri­umphal­ism, and ac­knowl­edge, with un­char­ac­ter­is­tic hu­mil­ity, the mag­ni­tude of the chal­lenge ahead. And he must con­vey a cred­i­ble mes­sage about a con­sen­sual ap­proach, dis­card­ing the par­ti­san hos­til­ity that has dom­i­nated US pol­i­tics in re­cent years and, in par­tic­u­lar, dur­ing the just-con­cluded cam­paign.

Of course, Trump is not in this alone, and a leader is only as good as his or her team. To build cred­i­bil­ity, Trump will need to be trans­par­ent about how he crafts his ad­min­is­tra­tion, en­sur­ing that it in­cludes the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence that he lacks. He does not have a deep bench to draw from, but he must find a way to make it work, as­sem­bling a group that can ad­vise him wisely.

It is vi­tal that Trump takes th­ese steps quickly, so that his ad­min­is­tra­tion can hit the ground run­ning. Only then can he hope not only to meet his com­mit­ments for the first 100 days in of­fice, but also – and more im­por­tant – to be­gin eas­ing the fear and anger that his cam­paign has brought to fever pitch.

All leg­is­la­tors – whether pro- or anti-Trump, Repub­li­can or Demo­crat – must par­tic­i­pate fully in the ef­fort to re­duce ten­sions, im­prove co­op­er­a­tion, and pro­tect the US po­lit­i­cal sys­tem’s checks and bal­ances. They must recog­nise that the US to­day is a tin­der­box. The time for play­ing with fire is over. Cool heads must pre­vail.

The busi­ness, cul­ture, and non-profit sec­tors, as well as the press and pun­dits, must re­main calm as well, re­sist­ing the lure of hy­per­bole and scare tac­tics, and look to­ward a shared fu­ture. Most im­por­tant, com­mu­nity lead­ers must not al­low their con­stituents to be ma­nip­u­lated or goaded into be­hav­iour that risks dan­ger­ous knock-on ef­fects.

Judg­ing by Trump’s long his­tory as a pub­lic fig­ure, the idea that he would help to bridge the di­vides in the US prob­a­bly seems lu­di­crous. His vic­tory speech did in­clude the tra­di­tional pledge to be “pres­i­dent for all Amer­i­cans.” The Amer­i­can peo­ple need to hold him to that sen­ti­ment – and up­hold it them­selves. Some – in­deed many – will never sup­port him; but it is his job, as pres­i­dent, to reach out to all and ap­peal to the coun­try’s shared val­ues.

Be­ing pres­i­dent and run­ning for pres­i­dent re­quire very dif­fer­ent skills. Pres­i­dent-elect Trump must use his first 100 days in of­fice not just to make ap­point­ments and pri­ori­tise leg­is­la­tion, but also to set a re­as­sur­ing tone for his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Sta­bil­ity and trust must be the or­der of the day.

In his sec­ond in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, fol­low­ing a pe­riod of ex­treme divi­sion and civil war, Abra­ham Lin­coln de­clared, “let us strive on” and “bind up the na­tion’s wounds.” Trump is no Lin­coln, but he did in­voke the same spirit in his vic­tory speech. One hopes that he meant it.

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