For many Americans, Donald Trump’s inauguration is going to feel more like a funeral than a celebration of democratic self-government. Trump is the most unpopular president-elect in at least 40 years. Pew says 68 percent of Americans find him “hard to like.” Only 41 percent approve of the job he’s done explaining his plans for his presidency. His “unfavorables” hover around 50 percent.
If Americans wanted a performer to run the country, why not pick George Clooney? Instead, we got a slightly demented carnival barker with gilded hair and a bloated ego. The fright and gloom are understandable, but I have a hunch Donald Trump has already peaked. He won’t go away, of course—he will be Mr. President—but the air is already seeping out of Trump’s balloon. The president-elect has amassed a huge inventory of dubious promises, and I expect this powerhouse of American politics to get smaller and less influential as the broken promises pile up.
The Trump era is going to be a fiasco for the country, but especially for Donald Trump. He was a brilliant novice on the way up, both funny and tough, astutely attacking the stale dogmas of both political parties. On the way down, he begins to look like a great American mistake and bait-and-switch businessman.
As a salesman, Trump pitched an appealing nostalgia—a breezy promise to restore American “greatness.” “I alone can fix it,” he told the cheering rallies. His self-congratulations were over-the-top, sincerely-felt, though unconvincing.
If Trump expressed his governing vision, it was usually limited to 140 characters. His longer speeches, if you listen closely, are always about the same subject—the greater glory of Donald Trump. We still don’t know how much Trump knows about governing. Or how much he cares.
President-elect Trump doesn’t seem to understand that governing is a team sport. It requires complicated cooperation and fluid policy arguments. Small details produce awesome differences. In other words, for Trump, it’s boring. Trump is a big-picture guy who treats the politics of governing like it’s high-stakes mud wrestling. And it’s all about him. He shows little interest in or knowledge of policy specifics and spews gratuitous scorn and ridicule on his opponents.
What we now know about Trump is he likes to make up stuff. When challenged by fact-checkers, he blames media bias. Then he makes up new facts that are also wrong. We also know Trump likes to hurt people with his words. He gave demeaning nicknames—“Little Marco,” “Crooked Hillary”—to his rivals. He regularly congratulates himself on Twitter, and uses the platform to counterpunch enemies or anyone else who questions his wisdom. He recently labeled Senator Charles Schumer, the Democratic floor leader, the “head clown.” But Trump’s party will need Schumer on some of the big issues, like trade reform and infrastructure spending, where the GOP doesn’t have the votes to prevail. Why dump on someone you need? Trump would rather spank them.