Donald Trump begins his hard-won presidential term with seemingly not much going for him. He has the steady allegiance of his loyal supporters, who’ve stuck with him through thin and thinner.
But 6 of 10 Americans say the country’s on the wrong track. Trump has the worst favorable poll rating of any modern incoming president. Gallup puts him at 40 percent; Fox News at 42 percent, 5 points worse than mid-December.
Voters have doubts about his ample flaws and promises. They disapprove of his transition, including distracting tweet fights, which continued after the inauguration. So the achievement bar is delectably low for Trump.
During inaugural coverage, most TV camera operators and anchors seemed much taken with smaller crowds, although the immense sizes of Trump rallies during the campaign did not strike them as much.
They also largely pronounced his inaugural address as dark, combative and foreboding, which it was – for business as usual in Washington.
“For too long,” Trump said, standing among a small group of D.C. politicos huddled in their reserved dais seats, “a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth.”
Fact is, the nation’s most prosperous counties do surround the capital, while millions in flyover country who voted for change in Washington time after time got none of it from either party.
“What truly matters,” said the lifelong Democrat who ran as a Republican, because who really cares about party this time, “is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.”
Electing Trump, in the most shocking political upset probably since 1948, has pushed the country into a new political era, at least for 48 months. It’s one where the usual political measurements and expectations do not apply to the unusual new president. The denizens of Washington, including media, feel off-balance, as they should, which is good.
They underestimate this man, try to judge him as a standard D.C. pol. They highlight his inconsistencies, thinking that should undermine him. He fights back, doesn’t care and neither do supporters.
It’s outrageous, gravity-defying behavior if you want things to continue as they have been.
As a colleague, Salena Zito, wrote insightfully in The Atlantic: “The press takes (Trump) literally, but not seriously. His supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
You’ll see this play out in coming days and months as the White House press corps tries in vain to hold Trump accountable for such wild, improbable promises as wiping ISIS from the face of the Earth.
The media never held Obama accountable for the 2010 Recovery Summer’s hundreds of thousands of new jobs that never appeared. However, now they’ll eagerly ask Trump where all the new jobs are that he promised. As usual during a GOP presidency, they’ll also rediscover the homeless problem.
During the campaign, Trump said the United States should be more unpredictable. He is. And we will need to adjust our thinking too.
As a lifelong political observer, I knew the minute Trump announced his candidacy 19 months ago that the New York loudmouth had absolutely no chance of capturing the GOP nomination, let alone – LOL – the presidency.
I humbly suggest, therefore, that those who didn’t vote for Trump, such as most of those you’ll see commenting on him now, hold their fire a good while, give the distasteful new Oval Office occupant a chance, as even a shell-shocked Hillary Clinton suggested back in November.
Trump is a bold deal-maker who makes outrageous opening offers. If he succeeds, we succeed. After all, we’ve just survived two terms of an ineffective president whose real legacy turns out to be this Donald Trump guy.
Who knows, those “forgotten men and women” Trump often cites just may have sensed something the rest of us missed. Since the Founding Fathers emerging from an unlikely Revolution had faith in our system – and the choices of unknown millions of countrymen who would succeed them – how can we not too at what seems to us a pressing modern moment?
This promises to be a fascinating political year or four, a time rife with uncertainty, unforeseen twists, fears, even distaste and discomfort. But also possibly some positive discoveries as swamp waters drain, if they do.
To be sure, new ways can threaten, witness those five dozen Democrats who avoided inauguration ceremonies to hide in their congressional offices. But new ways can also renew. To paraphrase Hyman Roth in “The Godfather II”: This is the president we have chosen. The collective we, as in We the People.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.