Trump still not act­ing pres­i­den­tial

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus Columnist Ruth Mar­cus is syn­di­cated by The Washington Post Writ­ers Group.

Less than two weeks into the re­al­ity that Don­ald Trump will be our next pres­i­dent, the sit­u­a­tion feels more omi­nous than on elec­tion night.

“At the right time, I will be so pres­i­den­tial you will be so bored,” Trump as­sured us back in April, when the no­tion seemed fan­ci­ful. “I know when to be pres­i­den­tial.”

Does he? On three di­men­sions — tem­per­a­ment, com­pe­tence and ide­ol­ogy — Trump’s con­duct since the elec­tion has of­fered more ba­sis for worry.

That Trump’s tem­per­a­ment is a prob­lem is un­der­scored by exit polls show­ing that 63 per­cent of vot­ers do not think he has the tem­per­a­ment to be pres­i­dent — in­clud­ing 26 per­cent of Trump vot­ers.

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the elec­tion, it was pos­si­ble to ar­gue the tem­per­a­ment case ei­ther way. There was Pres­i­den­tial Trump, pro­claim­ing that he would be “pres­i­dent for all Amer­i­cans.” He dropped the talk about lock­ing up “Crooked Hil­lary” in fa­vor of prais­ing her ser­vice to the coun­try.

And then, in­creas­ingly, there was Tweet­ing Trump, start­ing with an as­sault on “pro­fes­sional pro­tes­tors, in­cited by the me­dia,” and con­tin­u­ing with a se­ries of at­tacks on the “fail­ing” New York Times “up­set that they looked like fools in their cov­er­age of me.” Pick your ad­jec­tive: thin-skinned, child­ish, un­pres­i­den­tial.

Also in the bas­ket of wor­ries about tem­per­a­ment: Trump’s heed­less­ness to is­sues of con­flict of in­ter­est and nepo­tism. The government is not, or shouldn’t be, a fam­ily busi­ness. Whether the fed­eral anti-nepo­tism law tech­ni­cally ap­plies to Jared Kush­ner, its spirit would clearly be vi­o­lated by hav­ing Trump bring his 35-year-old son-in-law, en­tirely lack­ing in government ex­pe­ri­ence, onto the White House staff.

And the ar­range­ment would pile con­flict upon con­flict. Trump’s re­fusal to fol­low the prac­tice of pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents and put his hold­ings in a blind trust means that his chil­dren (and spouses) should be kept at arm’s length from the work­ings of government.

On the sub­ject of Trump’s com­pe­tence, again, vot­ers knew what they were get­ting: 60 per­cent said he is not qual­i­fied to be pres­i­dent, in­clud­ing 23 per­cent of Trump vot­ers. But the ap­par­ent dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the tran­si­tion does not bode well for the con­duct of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Sure, all tran­si­tions are chaotic, but Trump’s, with the post­elec­tion purge of Chris Christie and the New Jer­sey gover­nor’s loy­al­ists, has started in a par­tic­u­larly chaotic man­ner. The Christie-led group, I’m told, was ac­tu­ally in rea­son­ably good shape. But who needs pre­pared­ness when there are scores to set­tle on the part of the can­di­date or his son-in-law?

That has left the new, shell­shocked Trump team clue­less about the mag­ni­tude of the task fac­ing them. Re­ally, all White House em­ploy­ees of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion are out the door on In­au­gu­ra­tion Day? How were they to know? Um, ask an ex­pe­ri­enced tran­si­tion plan­ner?

Third, and most dis­turb­ing, are the un­nerv­ing clues about the ide­o­log­i­cal di­rec­tion of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A pres­i­dent has the right to as­sem­ble ad­vis­ers with whom he is com­fort­able and who re­flect his views. But most of his choices so far con­vey the mes­sage that loy­alty will be re­warded above all, and that Trump’s elec­tion night prom­ise to “bind the wounds of divi­sion” was empty rhetoric.

Choos­ing Stephen Ban­non to be his chief White House strate­gist does not bind the wounds of divi­sion. This is a man who prides him­self on be­ing the voice of the alt-right; whose exwife said in a sworn dec­la­ra­tion that “he doesn’t like Jews” and didn’t want his daugh­ters “go­ing to school with Jews”; whose web­site blasts a columnist as a “rene­gade Jew” and pro­claims that “birth con­trol makes women unat­trac­tive and crazy.”

Choos­ing Alabama Sen. Jeff Ses­sions to be the na­tion’s chief law en­force­ment of­fi­cer — and over­see is­sues of dis­crim­i­na­tion, po­lice bru­tal­ity and vot­ing rights — does not bind the wounds of divi­sion. This is a man who called the NAACP “anti-Amer­i­can,” said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK un­til I found out they smoked pot” and de­scribed a white civil rights lawyer as a “dis­grace to his race.”

Choos­ing re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to serve as national se­cu­rity ad­viser does not bind the wounds of divi­sion. This is a man who has tweeted that “fear of Mus­lims is RA­TIO­NAL” and de­scribed Is­lam as a “ma­lig­nant can­cer.”

Per­haps the full picture will be less dis­turb­ing than the sketch so far. Per­haps Trump will grow on the job. The ev­i­dence so far of­fers slim grounds for hope.

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