OPED: Getting ready for a different kind of president
- The republic can probably survive considerable puerile crudeness in the White House.
- But other Trump characteristics and attitudes should concern his supporters as well as his opponents.
On Jan. 20, we will inaugurate Donald Trump as our 45th president. Please note that I’m using the pronoun “our.”
I didn’t support Donald Trump. But immediately after his election, I made in writing the same concession that his opponent Hillary Clinton made, and that President Barack Obama made a few days later in the White House: Donald Trump won the election and that means he will be the next president of the entire country. And as long as we are a nation, that includes you and that includes me.
Nevertheless, this election feels different from other elections. And we’ve elected a president who appears to be different from all others.
Many loyal Americans welcome Trump’s presidency precisely for that reason, but many others — perhaps a majority — are anxious about a change as radical as Trump represents.
And with good reason. We may think that we’re tired of “political correctness,” which is really just an exaggerated attempt to render delicate subjects in considerate terms, but, really, do we want a president who publicly calls women pigs and dogs?
Well, we have one. The republic can probably survive considerable puerile crudeness in the White House, but other Trump characteristics and attitudes should concern his supporters as well as his opponents.
Trump made a striking remark during his press conference last week: “I could actually run my business and run government at the same time … as a president I could run the Trump Organization — great, great company — and I could run the company, uh, the country.”
We’ll ignore Trump’s Freudian slip at the end and, to be fair, he was focusing on his supposed exemption from conflict-of-interest laws rather than the demands of the presidency.
Nevertheless the statement implies a worrisomely casual approach to the leadership of the free world and insufficient humility about its demands and responsibilities. The presidency is the ultimate full-time job and probably the world’s most information-intensive. Its intellectual complexities are enormous. A president always has something that he needs to read, to ponder, to resolve, to absorb, to synthesize and to pass on to others.
The first thing I remember learning about President John Kennedy was that every morning he read five newspapers. George Washington, a practical man of action rather than a scholar, subscribed to 10 papers. On the other hand, The Washington Post reports that Trump says that he has no time to read: “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.”
In fact, Trump says that he doesn’t need to read extensively because he can make the correct decision “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I (already) had, plus ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.”
This statement is entirely in line with traditional American anti-intellectualism, which values practical knowledge and know-how over book-learning and is even suspicious of anything that smacks of too much of the intellect.
But this is a dubious philosophical position. And in Trump’s case, the gap between what he thinks he knows and what he really knows is significant. This creates a vacuum that sucks in ideas and influences that he doesn’t have the intellectual and historical background to evaluate, which probably helps explain why he changes his positions on issues so readily and so often.
Trump may be a good dealmaker — his tax returns would help confirm that — but I’d rather have a president who feels the awesome weight of the undertaking. Maybe a president who feels a little intimidated by the job and who recognizes that he needs information and advice from others to succeed.
But that’s not the kind of president we have. Confidence is a fine trait, but it easily shades into arrogance. Humility, on the other hand, derives from knowledge and is often the consequence of wisdom. Trump has too much confidence and not enough humility. Maybe the office will encourage him toward a healthy compromise between the two.
— John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.