This week marks the inauguration of a new president of the United States. Historically, regardless of the winner, this peaceful transfer brings with it the suggestion that we should "give the new administration a chance."
This year, unlike any I remember, many of us—polls suggest it's a majority of Americans—will watch with a new level of trepidation. And we wonder, "What, exactly, should we give Trump a chance to do?"
Trump is coming into power as one of the least popular president-elects ever. His unpopularity right now is unprecedented at 40 percent favorable vs. 54 percent unfavorable in the ABC/Washington Post poll.
By contrast, after a very contentious election, George W. Bush's favorability was 62 percent. (Obama's was 79 percent.)
Given Trump's Twitter behavior, his lack of transparency on his own business interests, his nepotism and the only thing he's actually done so far—his cabinet picks—it is no wonder he comes into office with historically low support.
Trump's response, of course, is that the media have rigged the polls—just days after he called out CNN at his press conference as "Fake News." (This from the GOP's leading purveyor of fake news—"birtherism"—during much of Obama's presidency.)
Since the election, Trump has continued with public behavior barely worthy of a 10-year-old who skipped his nap—or a third-world autocrat. And it's an approach he hasn't backed away from as the Oval Office looms. So, how much of a "chance" should we continue to give him to attack, lie about, and gaslight anyone who hurts his feelings or critiques his performance?
Meanwhile, even supporters should be able to see that Trump's "drain the swamp" cabinet is filled with swamp dwellers—from Goldman-Sachs bankers to oil company CEOs—as well as loonies like Amway heiresses, Fake News generals and anti-vaxxers who bring down the prestige of the cabinet simply by being nominated for it.
Again, I'm left wondering ... how long are we supposed to "wait and see" what he does? It's already a hot mess.
When Ronald Reagan took the oath of office, detractors chaffed at the idea that a former actor would be our president (he was also a two-term governor) and had ridden the veiled racism of Lee Atwater and Haley Barbour's "southern strategy" to the White House. Supporters saw a man who would lower taxes, rattle sabers and "take the fight" directly to the Soviet Union.
Championed by social and fiscal conservatives when he took office, Reagan's legacy is mixed at best; the Cold War eventually ended, but his administration was mired in Iran-Contra and engaged in rampant deficit spending driven by out-of-control defense programs.
Reagan's administration oversaw significant policy changes that feed the income inequality we lament today, a manufactured crisis in public schools and urban centers, a very real savings-and-loan crisis, a Housing and Urban Development scandal (for which Reagan administration officials were convicted) and a gutting of labor's ability to demand a middle-class existence for U.S. workers. Banks actively "redlined" minorities out of attractive loans and safe neighborhoods during the Reagan years, exacerbating racial inequity we're still faced with, despite laws that went unenforced.
When Bill Clinton came to power, some saw a slick-talking, draft-dodging southern governor who had only won a plurality of the vote in a three-way race. Others welcomed a new age of younger leadership that would focus on economic growth, progressive values and technology.
In the end, many of his supporters were disappointed—the Defense of Marriage Act, welfare reform and the further deregulation of banks increased inequality even more. Clinton's personal behavior put the country through impeachment. He presided over the continuation of Reagan-Bush's War on Drugs, with continued mass incarceration that disproportionately affected African American men and families.
When George W. Bush was inaugurated, many felt he had actually lost the election; he lost the popular vote, and the U.S. Supreme Court halted a critical recount in Florida, ushering him into office.
Celebrated by fiscal conservatives, Bush's economic policies led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Between that and invading Iraq over WMD "evidence" stove-piped by his vice president, Bush did many things that conservatives, moderates and liberals all disliked, not the least of which was the economic freefall in housing, savings, banking and jobs that destroyed a great deal of the net worth of the middle and working class.
It's worth it to remember that the stakes are high. I believe that's where the suggestion to "give Trump a chance" comes from. I'm sure it's well meant, and if this were a typical U.S. transfer of power then I would be forced—grudgingly—to agree.
But today we're faced with something different. Despite their shortcomings or missteps as presidents, those other men were forthcoming about personal finances, were cognizant of American political norms, and spent more time dialed into national-security interests than they did their own ego-stroking or the egos of Russia's leadership.
It is disturbing that Russia hacked this country's election and has a clear influence on Trump's inner circle of advisers. But it's more disconcerting that the president-elect has made so little effort to distance himself from Russian influence or make clear to the American people that he is not beholden to Vladimir Putin in some other way.
Trump has flaunted convention in American politics with a historic failure of transparency on his finances, his utter lack of decorum in the public arena, his willingness to lie about discoverable facts, his ridiculously thin skin—and his short track record of appointing people either ideologically ridiculous or completely unqualified for posts in the White House and cabinet.
I'm left with this—I will certainly watch Mr. Trump very carefully, and this publication will report his actions faithfully—particularly when they coincide with interests of Mississippians or actions by our politicians.
But, as far as I'm concerned, he has already had "a chance"—to disclose his personal interests, to distance himself from our enemies, and to act in a manner becoming of the president of the United States. So far, he hasn't taken that chance.