So, the United States of America just elected Donald J. Trump. Does that mean the US is full of (as some on Twitter described them) racists, misogynists, homophobes, xenophobes, and rapists? In a word, no.
Why did they elect him?
The election is over. It's time to put the rhetoric aside and sift through what we know:
- Donald Trump won the election by a commanding margin. His victory is as legitimate as any previous presidents. The people of the United States elected him. They chose him. And the electorate is always right.
- Trump is a man with many, many serious flaws. Hillary Clinton, the only other real choice on the ballot, is also flawed. Both candidates exaggerated the other's flaws and tried to minimize their own.
- Is Donald Trump a racist? A misogynist? Maybe. Homophobic? Maybe. Xenophobic? Maybe. Is he going to be the first president with those traits in the White House? No way. Has the US survived through previous, flawed, presidencies? Yes, always.
- The world won't end tomorrow. I remember the night the US elected Ronald Reagan. I remember feeling like the world was about to end, and knew with certainty that nuclear Armageddon was nigh. We're still here.
So, why did voters elect Donald Trump?
- The average Middle-American, who's middle-aged and earns a middling income, has suffered through the past 20 years -- under Democratic and Republican presidents.
- "Progressives" point out, at every opportunity, that the gap between rich and poor is growing. Why would they be surprised that the same gap exists between those who manage the "establishment: and those who are managed by the "establishment?"
- Their jobs have changed or disappeared. They don't have the income security they used to. Their lifestyle isn't what it used to be. Their kids are unlikely to ever enjoy as comfortable a life as they used to.
- Maybe some of them are racists, bigots or otherwise deplorable. But the vast majority of them aren't. They're tired of governments and politicians who are focused on "the big picture," "the economy," the world, the climate, the arts, whatever. They want the government to focus, for a little while on what is hurting them.
- Trump, as flawed a candidate as he is, is the only politician who gave voice to their concerns -- who championed their needs. They want good jobs again. They're upset with illegal immigration. They want their failing highways & bridges repaired.
- Voting for Clinton - or any other Republican presidential primary candidate - was a vote for more of the same. Trump is the only candidate who gave them any hope that things would change. They hope they'll change for the better. They're ready to take a chance because they don't believe they can get any worse.
How Trump can be a great president
I worked with the late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford -- a politician who shared some of the strengths and weaknesses of Donald Trump. Ford was the champion of the underdog -- the "little guy" -- the everyday citizen for whom government had done such a shitty job. Ford was the only politician who ever championed their concerns, gave voice to their fears, and tried to help them overcome the small, immediate obstacles that challenged their lives.
Ford had flaws. He was an addict. But, when he was sober, he was a good mayor, beloved by a large swath of the city. He did what he was elected to do -- succeeding to a far greater extent than he is given credit for. There were many who didn't like what he was elected to do -- there still are. But the fact remains, he was elected to do it.
Donald Trump was elected to do what he says he'll do. You and I may think it's wrong, but the voters said he's right. Here's a difficult truth you don't want to hear: You and I are not smarter than them. We're not. They know what they want and they elected a president to do it. If you disagree with the agenda, too bad. You lost. Get over it. Try again in four years.
Trump will be a great president if...
- First and foremost, he must find and hire someone he absolutely trusts - who can say "no" to him when necessary - and make him his chief of staff.
- He must continue to focus his attention on what really matters in the lives of average Americans. He must be their champion in government.
- He must build an administration that can take care of the details - so he can focus on the drivers of citizen satisfaction. One simple test to know he's on the right track: never be the smartest guy in the room.
- He must lean hard on his Vice President, Mike Pence, to build a coalition in the Senate and in the House of Representatives that will advance his core agenda. Pence knows politics on the Hill and how to get things done. Listen to him.
- He must learn to take advice. Maybe he's already good at this - it seems hard to believe he could succeed as well as he has in business and politics, without this skill. But, it doesn't look obvious from the outside.
- He must learn that everything he says will be parsed, dissected, interpreted - and acted upon. That takes some getting used to. There can be no casual or off-the-cuff comment in publics.
- He must learn the art of compromise - that's how things get done in politics. He doesn't need to change the art of politics - he needs to change what politics is focused on achieving.
Of all these must-do's, I'm most concerned about the first one. He must have advisors he trusts to tell him the truths he doesn't want to hear. He must seek out dissenting opinions and listen to them. From the outside, he does not seem like the kind of leader who is comfortable with this. But, who knows? A campaign is not reality. And, many things that seem clear in a campaign, are not always as they seem.
If he can do these things, and focus the enormous resources of government on making the lives of Americans just a little bit better... he can be a great president. We'll see.
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