What’s in Trump’s heart? Time to find out

President-elect Donald Trump is flanked by education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos and Vice President-elect Mike Pence outside the clubhouse at Trump International Golf Club in Bedminster Township, N.J., on Nov. 19.  Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

BY ERIC MINK

It’s now two months since the U.S. presidential election and just a couple of weeks until the inauguration. Can we agree on at least a couple of points?

Donald Trump won the election by meeting the conditions set by the U.S. Constitution, and he will become president when he’s sworn in Jan. 20.

At that moment, he will become entitled and empowered to take any executive actions allowed by the Constitution, applicable federal court precedents and duly enacted federal statutes.

He also will have the authority to propose new legislation to Congress, support or oppose legislation proposed by others and sign into law or veto bills passed by Congress. These may affect virtually every aspect of life for 320 million Americans of every age, race, gender, ethnic heritage, economic class, geographic location and political persuasion, and millions more in other countries.

Judging from what Trump said during the campaign and since the election to rambunctious rally crowds, audiences for televised debates, malleable media personalities and, occasionally, serious print, online, and TV and radio journalists — and considering the track records of people he has nominated for key positions in his administration — I believe the new president and his fellow Republicans in the Senate and House will be pursuing policies that would severely damage the civic values I hold dear and try, with distinctly imperfect results, to live by.

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These include the values enshrined in America’s founding documents: that all human beings are created equal with equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that we create government to ensure those rights by establishing, among many other things, equal justice for all under the law and that we limit the power of government to control what we say, how we pray (or not) and whether we find it necessary to publicly hold our government accountable for its actions.

Additionally: Because no one can control all of life’s variables, sometimes we need some help dealing with what’s thrown at us. This can include affordable, quality medical care when we become ill, injured or infirm with age, without which the pursuit of happiness is meaningless. All people also have a right to be treated with respect and fairness, and individuals should have access to a level, competitive playing field on which they can test the potential of the gifts they were born with and those they have worked to develop. 

And we must acknowledge that human life on Earth requires the exploitation of natural resources none of us had a hand in creating, which obliges us to be mindful stewards of the water, air and land we share and ensure we don’t leave a poisoned environment for the generations who will live after we die.

Trump and the people he is choosing to work with may believe that they, too, embrace these values, but their intent to eliminate crucial regulations and laws in energy, the environment, finance, health care and public education, to name just a few, suggests otherwise.

Still, the election victory gives them the power to pursue their agenda, and it will be fascinating to see who in government, particularly among Republicans and career civil servants, finds the will and courage to oppose them.

They will be up against the astonishing capacity Trump displayed during the campaign for lying, calculated vagueness and seeming incoherence, as well as the slash, burn and smear media tactics employed by Trump and his campaign chairman, Steve Bannon, the former head of the notorious Breitbart News Network, who will be Trump’s chief strategist in the White House.

Also useful will be the fantasy-based, no-such-thing-as-facts notion of truth, a depressingly effective tactic during the campaign that current and former members of the Trump team recently made clear will apply to the presidency as well.

Vigilance may be especially important in the energy sector, in light of Trump’s gushing admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson, CEO of the multinational energy giant Exxon-Mobil, to be secretary of state. The glaring conflicts of interest posed by Tillerson’s personal and professional relationships with Putin and Putin ally Igor I. Sechin, who heads Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, are particularly problematic. 

So are reports alleging that Putin has engaged in unbridled corruption, using offshore accounts, shell companies and cut-outs to hide a massive net worth estimated by the Guardian newspaper in 2007 at $40 billion, mainly through payments secretly extracted from Russia’s state energy companies. Putin has denied the reports.

Considering that Trump seems to refer to Putin as a kind of role model and considering that the only consistent value in Trump’s life has been the pursuit of personal wealth, Putin’s example might prove tempting to an executive suddenly-turned-politician whose 2016 net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine at a comparatively meager $4.5 billion.

That worrisome angle aside, winning the election gives Trump every right to work for any policies that matter to him and even those he doesn’t know anything or care about except as bargaining chips for his true priorities. He also has the right to apply political pressure, subject to certain legal limits, to acquire the support he needs and to intimidate opponents. 

Trump’s election victory, however, gives him no right to legitimize the extremist, un-American views of the white supremacists, anti-Semites, and religious and ethnic bigots who were drawn to and were enthusiastic about his candidacy and have since expressed delight that someone they regard as sympathetic to their cause is about to become the president of the United States.

To the contrary, Trump has an affirmative duty — not only as a public official but as a man of honor and decency — to call out, denounce and reject these people’s beliefs and their support in terms that are absolutely clear and explicit. He had opportunities to do so during the campaign, but he did not.

Instead, Trump attempted to duck the issue and claimed to be unaware of a problem. He finally made vague declarations that he “disavowed” but failed to specify what and who he was disavowing and then made bizarre references to not wanting to “energize” such groups.

These ambiguous responses only encouraged the extremists and also fed deep concerns that Trump actually might share their views.

I don’t know what’s in Trump’s heart but, in a very real sense, it doesn’t matter. If he does not make an undeniable break with these groups and their extreme, un-American views, he effectively accepts them. He is either against them or he is with them.

His inaugural address would be the right time to let us know which it is.

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