The venom and vengeance of President Trump
He's been president for just a few days. And already, he's wildly and cruelly lashing out.
There are very few politicians who wouldn't say they love people, particularly American people, who are infinitely wise and kind and generous and good-looking. Sure it's phony, but there's a truth underneath the pandering: It's awfully hard to run for office if you aren't something of a people-person, someone who can at least tolerate endless sessions of glad-handing and back-slapping, telling everyone you meet how excited you are to see them and how much you value their opinion.
But as usual, President Trump is the exception to the rule. He has few real friends, and has seemed to go through life wondering only whom he could take advantage of. He divides the world into those who serve him — these are the best people, really terrific, let me tell ya — and those who oppose him — this latter group is a bunch of dishonest, failing losers. Incredibly, he managed to get elected president of the United States not only without changing this attitude but by making it abundantly clear. He didn't pretend to want everyone's vote, or to be eager to work with anyone to find solutions to problems. And as soon as the election was over he went on a "thank you" tour of only the states that he won, which was as much about telling the other states to buzz off as it was about thanking anyone.
And now that he is actually president, we're already seeing the result: Trump's presidency will be full of vengeance and venom. While national unity may be an unrealistic thing to hope for even in the best of circumstances, President Trump refuses even to pay lip service to the idea. He'll be spending the next four years effectively giving a lot of people the finger.
We saw it in his blunt and belligerent inauguration speech, which could have been lifted directly from one of his campaign rallies, with the exception of a couple of brief incongruous attempts at loftier rhetoric ("When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice," said the man who won by railing against Mexicans and Muslims). As he had before, he characterized America as a smoldering tire fire of violence and despair from which he alone can save us ("This American carnage stops right here and stops right now"). He attacked foreigners "making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs," and attacked the Washington establishment who "protected itself, but not the citizens of our country." And though his supporters cheered, the speech was uncommonly dark and angry, at a moment usually characterized by calls for cooperation and common purpose.
Less than 24 hours later, there was an extraordinary outpouring, not just in Washington but in New York, in Los Angeles, in Chicago, and in just about every major city and lots of smaller ones too, as people gathered to proclaim their opposition and resistance to Trump in what may have been the largest single protest in American history.
Try to imagine how Trump reacted when watching those marches grow and grow. Did he say to himself, "Wow, they're really concerned about my presidency. They may not have voted for me, but I represent these people, so I'd better take this seriously. So I'm going to show them I can be their president too. I may not win all of them over, but they're going to see that I'm not what they think."
Of course he didn't — the suggestion is laughable. He was surely seething at all these "haters and losers," a description he has favored in the past, as in, "I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th" or "Every time I speak of the haters and losers I do so with great love and affection. They cannot help the fact that they were born f---ed up!" (Those are real tweets.)
We know how Trump reacts to criticism, because we've seen it again and again: He lashes back, almost always not with a substantive response to the critique but with a personal attack on the one who made it. And that's how Trump will continue to react throughout the next four years, whether the critics in question are Democrats in Congress, the media, members of his own party, or large sections (or a majority) of the public.
And why shouldn't he? I'm sure that from Trump's perspective, everyone who told him he should do things like organize a real campaign, not insult every ethnic group around, or not heap vicious contempt on reporters turned out to be wrong and he turned out to be right. And at the moment, the people who are telling him to reach out beyond his base — if there's anyone near him actually advising that — are, in his eyes, just as mistaken. Telling so-called experts to effectively go to hell got him here, and he's sticking with it. If you support him, you're fantastic. If not, something is wrong with you, and President Trump will be glad to tell you just what that something is.
The same Republican base that thrilled to his unwillingness to be "politically correct" — which in practice meant little more than an unwillingness to treat people respectfully or refrain from insulting anyone and everyone — will now tell him that he's doing exactly the right thing. So his approval ratings are lower than those of any incoming president in the history of polling? Everyone knows the polls are rigged. So reporters keep calling him on his egregious lies? That's just the dishonest media. So there's an entire movement rising up to oppose him? Those losers can go straight to hell.
President Trump is what he is, and he isn't going to change. And if you don't like it? You know just what he'll say to that.