These days we’re spending all of our time watching the Trump transition team to see who he will appoint to major cabinet positions while we assess what the agenda will be for the president-elect and a Republican Congress. These are not only important things to pay attention to, they allow us to begin the process of crafting a response. That is empowering because we can see the possibilities for opposition.
But while I’ve spent most of my time exploring all of that, there is a small voice in the back of my mind that keeps reminding me of something I don’t want to think about. When that happens, it’s usually a good idea to bring it out in the open and expose it to the daylight. The truth is that what worries me the most about a Trump presidency is the unknown.
During political campaigns, the tendency is to talk about what a candidate will do in office. That ranges all the way from particular policy positions to the visionary elements contained in their campaign slogans (i.e., “make American great again”). The assumption underlying all of that is that our situation will remain the same. That is as it should be because it’s all we know.
But take for instance the 2008 campaign. Towards the end, we began to get a glimpse of the repercussions of the financial crisis. That may well have led to the election of Obama as voters calibrated the response of the candidates. We weren’t given that kind of forethought in the 2000 election – which was followed less than a year later by the 9/11 attacks. Imagine how differently that campaign would have gone if we had known what was coming. I’m not suggesting that Gore would have won. My point is that the entire discussion would have been different and I doubt that we would have spent even a moment talking about who we’d rather have a beer with.
That is where the element of character comes in to play. Because we can’t know the unknown, we have to look at a different set of facts to assess how a candidate will perform in unpredictable situations.
The question of character loomed large in the 2016 presidential election and the country elected the man who is unfit for office. Trump demonstrated that he is a narcissist who doesn’t really care to inform himself about facts and has no attention span for subjects when he isn’t the center of attention. He also showed himself to be a bully who assesses any threat as a question of dominating or being dominated. He harbors authoritarian instincts – as he demonstrated in the world leaders he admires.
It is the moment when the unknown happens during the next four years that Trump’s character will be on display the most. That is why it is the part of his presidency that worries me the most.
One of the reasons why I’ve resisted talking about this is because there is not much we can do about the unknown and I dislike nothing more than feeling like a victim. I don’t recommend dwelling on the unknown because that leads to the crippling inertia of fear and we have a lot of work to do. In the end, we can hope (and pray, if we’re so inclined) for peace and stability. But beyond that, I think it’s worth acknowledging this reality if – for no other reason – we at least recognize the urgency of the situation when the unknown happens.