A combative start for Trump’s presidency
Donald Trump was set to be inaugurated as the 45th U.S. president this week, as he battled Democrats questioning his electoral legitimacy, unnerved European allies with his renewed criticisms of the EU and NATO, and declared war on U.S. intelligence agencies and the media. More than 60 House Democrats said they would boycott Friday’s ceremony in Washington, D.C. Many of them did so in solidarity with civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who said he didn’t see Trump as a “legitimate president” because of Russian interference in the election. In response, the incoming president dismissed Lewis on Twitter as “all talk, talk, talk—no action or results,” and suggested the civil rights leader—an original Freedom Rider who had his skull broken by police while marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala.— spend more time “fixing” his “crime-infested” district in Atlanta.
Trump ramped up his war with the intelligence community, accusing intelligence officials of leaking a “totally made-up” dossier alleging Russia has compromising material on him, and demanding an apology. Trump also caused a wave of consternation in Europe, saying in an interview “it doesn’t matter” if the EU breaks apart, and once again describing NATO as “obsolete” and complaining that its European members don’t pay their “fair share” of mutual defense costs. (See Best Columns: Europe.) Trump said he would begin his presidency by trusting German Chancellor Angela Merkel only as much as he does Russian President Vladimir Putin, and reasserted his interest in making “some good deals” with Russia, possibly in return for lifting sanctions.
The new president begins his term with record-low approval ratings. In polls, only 40 percent viewed him favorably, with 54 percent viewing him unfavorably. President Obama took the office in 2009 with about an 80 percent approval rating, while President George W. Bush had a 62 percent approval rating at his inaugural in 2001, despite the bitter Florida recount. Trump defiantly tweeted that the approval ratings were “rigged” by “the same people who did the phony election polls.”
What the editorials said
Alas, any hope Trump would temper his “outrageous statements” in office seems “more wishful than ever,” said The New York Times. His comments denigrating “two pillars of postwar security and prosperity”—NATO and the EU— “almost took the breath away.” It seems he really does want to “unravel the rules-based international order.” Putin, who has worked strenuously to destabilize Europe and undermine democratic nations, must be ecstatic.
Well, Trump did promise a presidency “like you’ve never seen before,” said the Chicago Tribune. But don’t panic—yet. While he can be needlessly combative and boorish, the new president is also “savvy, confident, and instinctual,” and was elected because voters were sick of politics as usual and craved something different and new. If he listens to his cabinet, Trump may temper his more extreme positions and might be surprisingly successful.
What the columnists said
When Trump “foolishly suggested” in October that he might not accept the results of the election, Democrats called it a “threat to democracy,” said John Daniel Davidson in TheFederalist.com. But now Democrats are applauding Lewis’ “reckless” attack on Trump’s legitimacy and joining his boycott. Our democratic system is built on the peaceful transfer of power, and undermining that sacred principle is deeply dangerous.
Trump is a legitimate president in a legal sense, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. But this is a man who has refused to properly divest his business interests (see Talking Points); whose “bullying, tweeting, and incessant lying” are anything but presidential; and whose suspicious “reverence” for Putin puts our country’s security at risk. At the very least, he lacks “moral legitimacy.”
Trump’s election was “deeply tainted,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. Hillary Clinton “would almost surely have won” had the FBI not falsely suggested it had damaging new information just days before the vote. Trump also benefited from Russia’s hacking into Democratic emails. Our new Dear Leader “must not be treated with personal deference” or given any honeymoon. He should be vigorously fought every step of the way.
After the election, I hoped Trump would “grow into the job,” said Thomas Friedman, also in The New York Times. Had he displayed even a hint of magnanimity, it would have “generated a flood of goodwill.” Instead, he continued with his “impulsive, petty, and juvenile tweeting.” Oh, please, said Judah Friedman in Spectator.org. Do you really think Trump could have placated his opponents’ fears about him? Half the country is utterly convinced their new president is “racist,” “sexist,” or “illegitimate”—nothing he could have said or done would have changed their minds. “Yes, Donald Trump is the president.” Get over it.
The thing is, Trump is half right on many issues, said Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. NATO’s European members aren’t pulling their weight; intelligence officials shouldn’t leak classified documents; and companies who move jobs abroad should “think harder about the social effects of their decisions.” But I fear that “Trump’s genius for tearing things down will not be matched by an ability to build things up.” If he shatters norms and institutions without replacing them with something better, a failed presidency won’t be the only casualty.
Cover photos from AP, Newscom (2)
Congressional Republicans have “high hopes for a new era” under President Trump, said Jordain Carney in TheHill.com. Top of their to-do list is repealing the Affordable Care Act; other “priorities for 2017” include major tax and regulatory reforms. Their biggest obstacle may be Trump himself, said Rachael Bade in Politico.com. The incoming president has already “big-footed Hill Republicans’ carefully laid policy plans” on tax reform, dismissing them as “too complicated to sell to voters.” Republicans fear he may contradict them on other issues. They may have to make a choice: “Follow the new, unorthodox head of their party, or stick to their guns and dare Trump to wield his veto pen.”