Which Donald Trump will emerge as our pres­i­dent?

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus Colum­nist Ruth Mar­cus’ email ad­dress is ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com.

Herblock, the leg­endary Washington Post car­toon­ist, spent decades de­pict­ing Richard Nixon as a sin­is­ter fig­ure with a five o’clock shadow. The day af­ter the 1968 elec­tion, Herblock sat down to draw the car­toon­ist’s of­fice as a bar­ber­shop, a pa­per taped to the wall: “This shop gives to ev­ery new pres­i­dent of the United States a free shave.” Signed, “H. Block, pro­pri­etor.”

Herblock later ex­plained his de­ci­sion to em­ploy a heal­ing ra­zor: “In spite of his past, it seemed to me that an in­com­ing pres­i­dent, par­tic­u­larly at a time of na­tional di­vi­sions and cri­sis, was en­ti­tled to his chance to lead.”

So is Pres­i­dent-elect Donald Trump.

His clean shave does not man­date our empty mind. Not about the re­pul­sive things Trump has said and done, nor about his man­i­fest un­fit­ness and un­pre­pared­ness for of­fice. Nor does it sig­nify naive op­ti­mism about Trump’s will­ing­ness -- or even his ca­pac­ity -- to change. As Herblock dis­cov­ered, which surely did not sur­prise him, “it turned out to be the same old Nixon.”

But democ­racy and the con­sti­tu­tional or­der com­pel re­spect for the out­come. Pa­tri­o­tism de­mands hope that a bet­ter Trump can and will emerge, along­side the faith that a re­silient sys­tem of checks and bal­ances will op­er­ate to con­strain his worst in­stincts.

A clean shave should not be a free one. The price for Trump must be, first, a recog­ni­tion of re­al­ity: that a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers did not sup­port him -- in­deed, that Hil­lary Clin­ton won the pop­u­lar vote, by a larger mar­gin than not only Al Gore in 2000 but Nixon in 1968. Sec­ond, Trump as pres­i­dent-elect, and as pres­i­dent, must demon­strate some com­pre­hen­sion of con­sti­tu­tional norms.

On these, the ev­i­dence, post­elec­tion, is un­nerv­ingly mixed. Trump struck the right tone in his vic­tory speech and his White House visit. He spoke of the need to “bind the wounds of divi­sion.” He pledged “to ev­ery ci­ti­zen of our land that I will be pres­i­dent for all Amer­i­cans.”

And then there was Thurs­day night’s omi­nous tweet, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally thin-skinned and dis­mis­sive of free speech. “Just had a very open and suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Now pro­fes­sional pro­test­ers, in­cited by the me­dia, are protest­ing. Very un­fair!”

Trump -- or a grown-up with ac­cess to his Twit­ter ac­count and some un­der­stand­ing of the con­sti­tu­tion -- cleaned things up early Fri­day morn­ing. “Love the fact that the small groups of pro­test­ers last night have pas­sion for our great coun­try.”

The cyn­i­cal way to un­der­stand this about-face is that Thurs­day Night Trump is the real, un­ex­pur­gated Trump; and Fri­day Morn­ing Trump is the spin-doc­tored ver­sion. That this is al­most cer­tainly ac­cu­rate -- no one thinks Trump woke up and thought bet­ter of his in­tem­per­ate words on his own -- does not an­swer the more salient ques­tion: Which Trump will emerge as pres­i­dent?

And will he as­sem­ble a Team of Inciters that in­flames his worst in­stincts or a Team of Naysay­ers that tem­pers them? Trump Wed­nes­day morn­ing spoke not of the Hil­lary Clin­ton who should be be­hind bars but the one who is owed “a ma­jor debt of grat­i­tude for her ser­vice to the coun­try.”

Then Thurs­day morn­ing, Rudy Gi­u­liani, a po­ten­tial at­tor­ney gen­eral, popped off on “the very close ques­tion” of whether to pros­e­cute Clin­ton.

“It’s been a tra­di­tion in our pol­i­tics to put things be­hind us,” Gi­u­liani told CNN. Still, he said, “sup­pose some­body comes along a year from now and is al­leged to have stolen $50,000 from a char­ity -- and she was never in­ves­ti­gated for hun­dreds of mil­lions.” This is Gi­u­liani de­ranged, not for the first time this elec­tion. No one has sug­gested Clin­ton stole any­thing from the foun­da­tion.

A clean shave -- sure. But it can only last so long, and the shadow looms.

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