When Walking Trumps Talking

Jewish Light Editorial

In the first two days of the newborn Trump administration, two opposite points of view collided forcefully:

In his inaugural address, President Donald J. Trump said he was for the people. In marches in St. Louis and across the nation the next day, millions of people said forcefully that they were not for Trump.

As many commentators have pointed out, Trump’s inaugural speech last Friday was a badly missed opportunity to show he can grow into his unpredicted new role. Instead of sharing an uplifting vision of the nation he would like to see, the new president rehashed his dark-hued campaign stump speech.

His gloomy and pessimistic assessment of the nation he seeks to lead showcased not Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” but cities that are cesspools of crime, gangs and drugs, problems that only he can fix, even though he didn’t say how.

Our great American cities have far more than crime, gangs and drugs, and Trump failed to offer any programs to help make them great again.

Instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s statement that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Trump played on Americans’ fears. Rather than echoing John F. Kennedy’s ringing declaration that encouraging words should “go forth to friend and foe alike,” Trump used paltry talk that offered no concrete assurances to our NATO allies that he would continue America’s vital role in protecting that alliance.

Anyone concerned about his “bromance” with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s actions in the Crimea and Syria could hardly be reassured of a brighter future.

And the new administration’s words and actions in its first days in power weren’t exactly inspiring, either, as the president and his surrogates berated the media and repeated “alternative facts” that were easily demonstrated to be false.

Against that backdrop, the marches in Washington, New York, St. Louis and throughout our nation and the world seemed to have inspired a broad swath of people.

Trump supporters may suppose that the throngs who hit the streets to protest the new president’s policies were echoing the charge that he is not a legitimate commander in chief, and some of them may have been doing just that.

But read some of the signs brandished by the marchers:

• “Hate Does Not Make America Great” ;

• “Dissent Is The Highest Form Of Patriotism”;

• “I Will Not Go Back Quietly To the ’50s.”

Such sentiments, and the views expressed in interviews with the marchers, reveal deep worries that the ideas Trump expressed during the campaign — about race, about women, about immigration, about the environment, about health care, about nuclear weapons and more — will lead to reversals of longstanding policies that have helped move this nation forward.

One explanation that many analysts had after the election was that Trump backers took him seriously but not literally, while those who opposed his candidacy took him literally but not seriously. It will take a while before we see which is correct.

The best outcome would be for him to realize that words from the White House carry far more impact than the tweets he is accustomed to using to communicate. And that the authority and power he has as president can be used to help the people he pledged to help, or they can be used to undermine their health and their well-being.

The job of being president of all Americans is challenging enough without going out of your way to alienate and denigrate those who disagree with you. A new administration can’t be judged by its first few days, but getting off on the wrong foot will make it that much harder to set things right.

To his credit, at a post-inaugural luncheon, Trump graciously reached out to thank former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and paid tribute to their service to the nation. 

During his inaugural address, Trump said to the nation: “[T]o all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.”

We hope President Trump will truly and sincerely fulfill his inaugural promise — to be president of all Americans — not merely with words, but with meaningful action. All of those marchers — and the rest of the world as well — will be watching.