By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 18, 2016
With the election of Donald John Trump Sr. as president of the United States of America on Nov. 8, 2016, the nation entered a new era: That of the celebrity-president.
Trump will be just the fourth president in our nation’s history never to have held public office prior to entering the White House. He will be the first to do so without any experience serving in either the military or elected office.
Trump had three predecessors who lacked any political experience: Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. Grant served in the army for 23 years, according to Vox’s Zachary Crockett, while Eisenhower had a 37-year-long military career and Taylor’s army stint spanned four decades. All three reached the rank of general; all three supervised forces in battle.
All Eisenhower did was lead Allied forces to victory in Europe during World War II, govern the American sector of postwar Germany and become the first supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization before his election in 1952. Grant’s accomplishment’s were similarly grand in scope: He led Union military forces to victory in the Civil War, which to this day remains the deadliest American conflict, prior to being elected on the Republican ticket in 1868. Taylor’s résumé isn’t quite as grand; still, he commanded combat units in not one but two conflicts, the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War.
Over the years, Democrats and Republicans have changed their views on how substantial a curriculum vitae a politician must have in order to run the nation. During the 2000 election, those on the left claimed that George W. Bush, whose public résumé mainly consisted of some sketchy National Guard service, an undistinguished business career, and one and a half terms as governor of Texas, lacked the experience needed to become president.
But when the race to succeed Bush ramped up in 2007, the shoe was on the other foot: Conservatives derided Barack Obama for lacking military service, for having an uninspiring private-sector résumé and for never having held an executive-branch office. After eight years in the Illinois legislature and half a term in the U.S. Senate, he was called unprepared and unqualified to enter the White House by conservative commentators. Hillary Clinton and her surrogates said the same thing about their political rival.
But in hindsight, Obama’s slender political record, especially on the national stage, seems more like an asset than a liability. Unlike Clinton, who at the time of her first presidential run was a U.S. senator from New York, Obama hadn’t voted for legislation enabling President George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq war. Obama himself opposed that conflict (unlike Donald Trump), and his ability to portray himself as an early foe of the war gave him an advantage over other candidates.
Now our president-elect is Donald Trump. He has no legislative record to criticize; he has a lengthy history of rude comments and behavior, including boasts of assaulting women, but the electorate saw fit to overlook that. The electorate — that is, the 57 percent or so of it that was motivated enough to go to the polls — also saw fit to overlook that numerous pending lawsuits against Trump and his trail of failed businesses, bankruptcies and fraud accusations, to say nothing of the thousands of contractors whom he’s stiffed.
Much like the outgoing president, who burst onto the national scene with his televised address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Trump built much of his outsized reputation on a hit reality-TV show. Also like Obama, Trump represented hope and change. True, it was a different type of hope and change than that promised by Obama, and it motivated a different and (shall we say) a much narrower segment of the populace than did Obama.
Nevertheless, a majority of Americans in states that held a majority of electoral college votes felt that Trump would set the country on a course that was different and more desirable. Their wishes were fulfilled almost instantaneously. Gallup polls from the week before the election showed that 16 percent of Republicans thought the economy was improving and 81 percent thought it was getting worse; polls conducted in the four days after Trump’s election showed a miraculous turnaround, with 49 percent of conservative respondents suddenly indicating that the economy was improving. (The outlook on the other side shifted, although a little less dramatically: Twenty-five percent of Democrats surveyed by Gallup switched their assessment of the economy from positive to negative after the election.)
Other evidence is emerging that Trump and his supporters have no regard for facts. Trump boasted Thursday evening of having saved American jobs by persuading Ford from moving a factory to Mexico; in fact, the company and its union partners denied that such a move had ever been contemplated and that jobs had ever been at stake. That didn’t stop Trump fans from praising him ebulliently. One account with 29,000 followers, Sophia for Trump, a.k.a. @surfermom77, a self-described “Image Model/Educator,” posted the following ecstatic tweet:
White supremacists are ecstatic about Trump’s early appointments. There’s evidence that Russia successfully intervened in America’s presidential election in order to help Trump. Trump’s attempts to reduce the influence of lobbyists have been characterized as feeble and weaker than Obama’s. But hey, Trump’s backers got their man in office, so everything’s just going to be peachy for the next four-plus years, won’t it?