It has been said, “Every great political campaign rewrites the rules.” From the time he descended the gold escalator of Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, formally launching his bid to become president of the United States, Donald Trump threw standard modes and methods of campaigning out the window.
With minimal official campaign “infrastructure,” he cashed in on his celebrity and media prowess to dominate the 24-hour news cycle. Frequently calling in to television and radio news shows, garnering what amounted to a large amount of free media time and using social media like Twitter and Facebook to a degree and manner hitherto unseen, Trump rewrote the campaign playbook.
His campaign style was brash and crass, his campaign message caustic and, even to many Republicans, divisive. But it was a style and message that prevailed. Actions and words that even early on in the Republican primary would have sunk a traditional candidate seemed to merely raise his profile and status, giving him legitimacy as a candidate who was truly an outsider and not part of the establishment.
On the night of Nov. 8, the degree to how effectively he had rewritten the rules and devised a new and effective winning strategy became shockingly clear: he is now President-elect Trump. As protesters have taken to the streets since his election, they’ve done so in response to the campaigning Trump.
The campaigning Donald Trump uttered words that castigated a wide array of groups and people in American society. He used rhetoric and tone that compelled overtly racist organizations and groups to come out from the fringes. Such groups openly endorsed and embraced a nominee they felt understood and sympathized with their narrow-minded worldview.
Trump had a resonating economic message to many who felt disaffected and left behind economically. Yet it cannot be disputed that aspects of his campaign message gave legitimacy and motivation to some very dark and destructive strains in our society.
It is heartening that President-elect Trump seems much different from the campaign Trump. Since the election, the Trump preparing to assume office has been thoughtful, conciliatory and, dare I say, humble. Throughout his campaign he often lacked restraint in words and deeds, but President-elect Trump appears to be a picture of restraint. The task and responsibility of governing appear to sincerely be weighing upon him in a reassuring way.
A couple of columns ago I wrote that the “system works.” I spoke of how our electoral system is not rigged, the outcome is not pre-determined, and voter fraud is not rampant — the results of our elections can be trusted.
I noted how we might not like the outcome of a particular election, but it’s our duty to accept it and move on. The results are what they are; such is how a representative democracy functions.
After their extended meeting, President Barack Obama, sitting in the Oval Office next to President-elect Trump, stated, “If he succeeds we all succeed.” And as Hillary Clinton stated in her concession speech, “We owe him an open mind …” Their example has been profound.
This election was historic in many ways, but it also has been instructive. After a bitterly fought democratic primary, many Bernie Sanders supporters couldn’t countenance voting for Clinton or assisting her campaign. Many millennials were unenthused about a potential President Hillary Clinton.
Election return data, particularly in the important battleground states, show traditional Democratic voting blocs failed to show up at the voting booth in hoped-for numbers. In a representative democracy, winning an election is all about getting more people to show up and vote than one’s opponent does. In the battleground states, Clinton was unable to do that.
The correct and effective response now is not marching in the streets, but committing to engaging in the democratic process. Committing to understanding how the system works and realizing that even if one’s party candidate is not the perfect ideal, it’s still better to work to ensure he or she is victorious if you’re not comfortable with the alternative. The key is understanding the importance of engagement and participation at all levels — local, state and national — in the democratic process.
Now, with the results being what they are, it is time for us to hope and advocate for the governing Donald Trump to be a leader who represents and stands for what’s best in America. That policies will be devised based on intellectual depth and reasoned thought, rather than knee-jerk populism. That in recently saying he wants to be an agent of change, he will strive to usher in change that moves the country forward, not the type that takes us back to an intolerant, unequal and restrictive past.
Let us hope and advocate that the governing Trump, unlike the campaigning Trump, will be a unifier who understands America is strong because of its diversity, not in spite of it. Because, “if he succeeds, we all succeed …”