In about three weeks Donald Trump will raise his right hand and take the presidential oath of office. Trump remains historically unpopular, with only about four in 10 Americans seeing him favorably. Few see him as well qualified to be president, and most believe he has poor judgment.
Any hopes that Trump would surprise most Americans and rise to the awesome responsibilities of office have been undermined by his actions as president-elect.
President-elect Trump continued to lie about issues big and small. After racking up an unprecedented number and ratio of lies from fact checkers during the campaign, Trump continued his mendacity. Sometimes this was combined with an overemphasis on his ego, as when Trump claimed his campaign victory was a “massive landslide.” In reality, Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump, and Trump’s electoral vote win was 46th largest out of the last 58 presidential elections.
President Trump will want people to believe him. By lying about even public information about vote tallies, Trump voided the basic presumption of credibility.
President-elect Trump continued to demonstrate ignorance about foreign affairs. Although he has no political or military experience, Trump rejected daily intelligence briefings. His national security team includes people who believe in conspiracy theories. Trump also showed a susceptibility to flattery from Russian president Vladimir Putin, an international aggressor who murders political opponents. Trump rejected the finding of all U.S. intelligence agencies that Putin tried to help Trump win the presidency.
Trump showed belligerence and policy obliviousness in tweeting that the “United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” As Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution noted, building more nuclear weapons would break our arms agreements and “reverse the trend of nuclear arms reductions that dates back three decades to the Reagan administration.”
“That would have dangerous consequences,” he wrote. “It would end the data exchanges, notifications, and inspections that the U.S. military prizes.”
Moreover, increasing U.S. nuclear arms would do nothing to thwart the nuclear capacity of rogue nations and non-state actors.
When there’s a national emergency or national security threat during his presidency, President Trump will want Americans to see him as a leader with judgment they can trust. By taking his foreign affairs responsibilities so lightly, Trump hurts his capacity to lead.
President-elect Trump continued to show disdain for democratic norms throughout his transition. Raising concerns about presidential purges, his transition team asked for the names of government experts involved in climate change policy, international programs affecting women and girls, and efforts to counter violent extremism. While receiving the U.S. Secret Service protection granted to presidential nominees, Trump paid for supplementary private security. Keith Schiller, who heads these forces, can “control access to Trump, acting as his liaison to everyone from staff and well-wishers to dignitaries — and even Secret Service agents.” Nonviolent protesters were removed from public events.
With these steps, President-elect Trump demonstrated he wasn’t interested in listening to experts and citizens from outside his circle. As president, he will want Americans to believe he made decisions after considering evidence and multiple points of view.
President-elect Trump continued to show limited concern about conflicts of interest that will be illegal and unconstitutional the moment he is sworn in. After he and family members met with foreign business partners after the election and sat in on transition meetings, his team has floated the idea of a “half-blind trust” for his businesses, a concept as absurd as being partly pregnant. Trump announced he would dissolve his foundation, which is under investigation, but this is not possible until the probe of purportedly corrupt dealings is complete.
President Trump will want people to believe his actions are taken to benefit the nation over his own interests, but his transition conduct injures that presumption.
At the start of Trump’s presidency, the Republican Congress, cognizant of Trump’s support among Republican voters, will largely back him, at least when it comes to domestic policy.
Typically presidents are better able to govern when citizens trust them and see them favorably. However, because President-elect Trump did nothing to build bridges and ease misgivings during the transition, he will start his presidency without the resources of political trust and public support.