There’s a steep learn­ing curve ahead for our new pres­i­dent

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

In his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, Don­ald Trump re­turned to the ma­jor themes and talk­ing points of his cam­paign. His promise to re­turn power to the peo­ple and to tear down the es­tab­lish­ment is what he’s been say­ing for a year. Given the split ver­dict de­liv­ered by vot­ers in Novem­ber, it was a bit sur­pris­ing that there was noth­ing con­cil­ia­tory in the speech. There was noth­ing that per­haps Trump would pivot or change in be­hav­ior now that he is pres­i­dent.

Given what we know of Trump, that wasn’t very sur­pris­ing. Trump is Trump. But I was sur­prised by how flat the speech was, and how dark and unin­spir­ing. Most pres­i­dents, no mat­ter the na- ture of the times, try to use their in­au­gu­ral speech to in­spire and to pro­fess op­ti­mism for the fu­ture. There was re­ally none of that. Rather than speak­ing of Amer­ica as a shin­ing city on a hill, Trump painted a por­trait of an aban­doned town dimmed by time. At times it seemed he was try­ing to chan­nel other pres­i­dents. His ref­er­ence to un­lock­ing the mys­ter­ies of space seemed to be an at­tempt to chan­nel John F. Kennedy. When Trump said that it doesn’t mat­ter which party con­trols gov­ern­ment, it only mat­ters that the gov­ern­ment be con­trolled by the peo­ple, there were hints of Ron­ald Rea­gan. But both Kennedy and Rea­gan con­veyed an op­ti­mism that in­spired the bet­ter an­gels of our na­ture.

Trump’s press sec­re­tary, Sean Spicer, used his first press con­fer­ence to lec­ture the press and make a demon­stra­bly false state­ment about in­au­gu­ral at­ten­dance. Then, Kellyanne Con­way ap­peared on “Meet the Press” the next day and coined a phrase that will for­ever haunt the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion: Spicer had of­fered “al­ter­na­tive facts.” So now, every claim made by Trump or his team will be met with ques­tion “is that true, or is it an al­ter­na­tive fact?” The leader of the free world doesn’t care about crowd size at a speech, and his press sec­re­tary does not of­fer al­ter­nate facts. It was a rough first few days that cul­mi­nated in Trump again claim­ing that he lost the pop­u­lar vote ow­ing to mil­lions of il­le­gal vot­ers. Given that there’s no ev­i­dence to sup­port any claim of mas­sive voter fraud, that claim must be from the “al­ter­na­tive facts” file.

In Trump’s de­fense, it’s fair to as­sume that the pres­i­dency re­quires a steep learn­ing curve even for folks who have gov­ern­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. So that curve is go­ing to be pre­cip­i­tously steep for some­one with no gov­ern­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The next few months will tell us whether Trump is a quick study or if he thinks that he has noth­ing to learn. If it’s the lat­ter, then it’ll be a long four years.

Todd Eberly, Cal­i­for­nia The writer is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and chair of the po­lit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment at St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land.

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