David Coates

Ten Things to tell Donald Trump

Watching Donald Trump prepare to take office is not a pleasant experience for American liberals. We can already anticipate a plethora of policy-initiatives emerging from the White House with which we will need to do political battle, such that the daily exchanges between Trump supporters and ourselves will increasingly focus on questions of policy design, implementation and impact. But before those exchanges begin, there is something to be gained from establishing a set of more general markers, put down as a response to what we have already learned about the character of our new President from the nature of his election campaign and Cabinet selections.

When the Republicans looked likely to win both the White House and the Senate in 2012, the eight pointers1 laid down against them then were very policy-focused; and, sadly, many of the eight might yet need to be restated when and if an entirely Republican-controlled Congress begins to deconstruct the US welfare safety-net, as now seems likely. But at least those markers reflected and addressed a genuine clash of economic philosophies. These are not the kind of markers that are needed now. What is needed now is a set of markers challenging the incoming President to be presidential and to speak for the entirety of the American people, a set urging him to enhance rather than demean the reputation of the United States abroad. They are a set directed to his character as much as to his politics.

If I could sit down with him in private, I would open by saying this.

  1. Women were not put on the earth so that you could sexually assault them. The first big question, therefore, that your past attitude and conduct towards women raises is what kind of role model are you now offering to American men? The other big question is how can you hope to speak to the totality of American women, when you have treated them in the past in such disparaging ways? Hearing you address both these concerns early and often in your administration might limit the damage somewhat – but you must realize that the damage to be limited is already considerable.

2. The violence and racial hatred now exploding around us is a direct product of the kind of campaign you chose to run, and is therefore entirely your responsibility to end. It was you who called Mexican immigrants rapists. Odd, because that is an accusation that in the past was sometimes made against you. If you genuinely intend to expel all Muslims and round up all illegal immigrants, you need to say so, and give up any pretense that national unity is your goal. But if national unity is your goal, then you need just as immediately to let American Muslims know that they have your support, and that you favor a legal route to citizenship for hardworking and law-abiding undocumented workers and their families.

3.You cannot claim to unite all Americans by appointing racists and anti-Semites to your White House staff or by appointing only ultra-conservatives to your Cabinet. Bigotry has no place in the White House. You need to clean your house and their minds. Hillary was right. What we need are not walls, but bridges. America’s strength lies in its diversity, not in its whiteness. It is your job now to make that clear – both by the appointments that you make and by the policy priorities you immediately enunciate.

4. You don’t ‘drain the swamp” in Washington DC by flooding it with alligators. What happened to your antipathy to Washington and Wall Street insiders? You were not put in power by the poor to service the interests of the rich. You ‘drain the swamp’ by insisting on term limits for Congress, and by getting corporate money out of American politics. You ‘drain the swamp’ by reforming the political class, not by joining it. You claim not to be a politician, but a businessman with different and superior skills. Well now is the time to prove it.

5. Retired military generals – especially those retired early because of their policy hawkishness or personal arrogance – are not the best people to direct US foreign policy in a dangerous age. Ted Cruz might have wanted to carpet-bomb ISIS out of existence, or to use nuclear weapons to make the sand glow. But campaign rhetoric and responsible policy are not the same, and I hope that those are not your intentions. Nuclear weapons have value as a deterrent, not as a weapon of war. You cannot bully your way to world peace. Building peace requires, patience, trust and a concern for common humanity. Have you got the staying power for that?

6. Your exploitation of the bankruptcy laws as a private businessman does not equip you to oversee the liquidation of US public debt. Private debt and public debt are entirely different phenomena – the first entirely destabilizing, the second often not. Do you know the difference? And do you now plan to compensate all those small businesses whose finances you undermined by refusing to pay their bills? You should: if only to set an example to corporate America of the new sense of civic responsibility we now require from both you and them.

7. Your presentation of yourself as the champion of those hurt by outsourcing sits ill with your record as a major outsourcer of US jobs and production lines. Poacher turned gamekeeper you may be, but is your entourage equally transformed? And even if you have had a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment on this matter, since so much of your personal wealth was accumulated by out-sourcing, and by exploiting relationships with business people and politicians abroad (some of whom at least were of dubious character), how can we be reassured that you will not hide conflicts of interest from the full gaze of the American people? How can we be reassured that you will champion the interests of American workers over those of their corporate bosses at home and abroad? Releasing your tax returns would be one good way to start. Divesting yourself of ownership of your companies would help too.

8. ‘Facts are stubborn things,’ as John Adams once said. To maintain and enhance the credibility of the office you are now assuming, you will need to develop the same respect for them as that demonstrated by all your predecessors. Distancing yourself from the conspiracy theories of the alt-right would be a useful beginning. No longer denying that you said reprehensible things in the past, simply because they embarrass you now, would be another. Facing up to the reality of Russian hacking would be yet a third. Taking a firm stand against ‘fake news’ by not disseminating any yourself would be a good fourth. Less bluster and more honesty can only enhance your reputation, and that of the high office that you will hold. You need that enhancement, and so in truth do we.

9. Hillary beat you in the popular vote by more than 2 million votes. If that was a ‘landslide,’ as you often claim, it was a landslide for her, not for you. You therefore do not have the unambiguous popular mandate that you seem to think that you have. And you won by making promises that you now cannot possibly hope to keep – not least defeating ISIS with a secret plan yet to be unveiled, making Mexico pay for the wall, and bringing China to heel as a trading partner. A little humility as you begin would, therefore, be more appropriate than any self-promotion you have in mind. And so too would a vigorous defense of the right of those who oppose your policies to criticize, or even to ridicule, you. After all, you made full use of that right when heading the birther movement – so what was good in your predecessor’s time should also be good in yours.

And finally this:

10. Please stop tweeting. Particularly, stop tweeting in the middle of the night. It demeans the office, and it demeans you. Go to bed, and get lots of rest. You are going to need it. You are an old man, and this job ages presidents fast. So sleep – please – not least because you do less damage when you are asleep.

1 Eight Things to Tell a Republican. Available at https://www.davidcoates.net/2011/08/11/eight-things-to-tell-a-republican/

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David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies at Wake Forest University. He is the author of Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments, New York: Continuum Books, 2010.

He writes here in a personal capacity.

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