The time between Election Day and Inauguration Day has traditionally been a time of hope, healing and anticipation. By the time the new president is sworn in, despite some initial disappointment and hard feelings, the country is prepared to unite and give the new president a chance. Even after the contentious election of 2000, when after 36 days the Supreme Court effectively declared the winner, only 39% of Americans had negative opinions of the new president as he entered office. Yet, as Inauguration Day is almost upon us, Donald Trump will enter the White House with the approval of only 39% of Americans. No doubt, the primaries and general election were extremely contentious. But certainly, we have had contentious elections in the past. What is it about this election, this president-elect and the mindset of America today that has caused this deviation from past history?
It is an understatement to say that Donald Trump was an unorthodox candidate who ran an unorthodox campaign. On the surface this was an election that pitted the elite political establishment against the Washington-outsider political novice. But there was so much more. It pitted the people against the press. It pitted nativist against immigrants. It pitted the uneducated against the educated. It celebrated ignorance over knowledge. It pitted anti-Muslim fear-mongers against a predominantly apolitical, non-activist Muslim population. It pitted local conservatives against progressives on such issues as education, abortion, voting rights, climate change, the rights of the gay and transsexual population and Obamacare. It was an election that attracted the participation of some of the most extreme right-wing fragments of American society. They felt that they had a voice in the GOP candidate. There seemed to be no middle ground. More than any election in my memory everyone had to pick sides. There was contentiousness within families and among friends. Either you supported Trump or Hillary. There was little or no room for discussion. The rhetoric, most often from the Trump campaign was extreme, angry and frightening to many. Trump, the candidate, seemed to have no boundaries and often behaved as an angry, petulant child.
While Trump’s behavior throughout the campaign and transition has left many astounded and filled with anxiety, the Russian interference with the election and the FBI’s inappropriate announcements have caused great concern. The unanimity among the Intelligence Community regarding Russian behavior and its potential impact on the election leaves little question. Comey’s announcement just a few days before Election Day raises significant questions. While few are willing to call this election illegitimate, there is, for many, serious concern. Why does Trump seem to go out of his way to raise questions regarding the Russian hacking when as far as the Intelligence Community is concerned , it is a fact? Why would he support Putin’s denials while questioning America’s own Intelligence Community? There is a lingering unease about the current and future integrity of our election process. It is an unease about the future integrity of our democracy.
While this unease persists there is another factor that is playing out and impacting our national psyche. The transition process has been contentious and contradictory. There has been a lack of communication, press access or consistent message. Neither America nor the world is clear on what a Trump Administration will espouse, support or challenge. His cabinet nominees are contradicting him in their testimony. His spokespeople are defensive and argumentative. This administration in-waiting seems to need more time to get its act together. However, based on the polls it appears that Americans are not very willing to provide that time.
Finally, Friday will be very difficult as we exchange experience, wisdom, grace and maturity for naiveté, arrogance, boorishness and childishness. The Oval Office isn’t a playground and we aren’t playing King of the Mountain. Trump’s past behavior gives us every reason to be concerned about our individual futures and that of America. I have lost patience with him and his crew even before they warm their desk chairs. I will be prepared to react and act as they begin to assume the reigns of government. Now is not a time for acceptance, it is a time for vigilance.