Jayne: Reflecting on history prompts questions about Trump

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor



Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

Let’s hope he succeeds. Let us all hope he succeeds.

Rooting for failure would be like hoping the pilot crashes your plane, just so you can say, “See? I told you he was unqualified.” (OK, I stole that analogy; I thought it was a good line).

So, as Donald Trump takes over the presidency, the hope is that he will be the greatest leader this nation has seen. That the skies will be filled with rainbows and unicorns and the streets paved with gold and rubies. Why would we hope for anything less?

But as the nation prepares for an unprecedented and unpredictable four years, there are two facets of Trump’s presidency that always will defy explanation. Always. Or at least until Donald Trump Jr. runs against Chelsea Clinton to be the 51st president of the United States.

One is Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again.” Nothing wrong with that; it’s a great marketing scheme. Yet we still are at a loss to determine just when America was at its greatest. Does he mean the 1950s, when black people in many parts of this country had to use segregated drinking fountains and segregated rest rooms? When women had few employment opportunities and in many ways were treated as second-class citizens? The guess is that few people other than white males would look back upon the 1950s with a wistful eye.

Does he mean the 1970s, when people could be fired for being gay? Or maybe the 1850s, when only male property owners could vote and blacks counted as three-fifths of a person? In a lot of ways, America is greater now than it ever has been; turning back the clock should not be conflated with progress.

Meanwhile, the other inexplicable revelation from last year’s election is the mental gymnastics that resulted in enmity toward President Obama. There is much room for disagreement with Obama’s policies or the impact he has had upon this nation; no president is perfect, and his na?vet? often was a detriment.

But in the process of nominating and electing Trump, Republicans have forever abandoned the “family values” platform that long was their bedrock, eschewing their professed concern with character and integrity and morality. Trump, for all of his attributes, is the antithesis of family values and the kind of wholesomeness that Republicans long have pretended to hold dear.

Family values, it would seem, include being married and being faithful and sticking with your spouse for better or worse. Trump is, by his own admission, a serial cheater who is on his third marriage. Family values, it would seem, include treating people with respect. Trump, by his own actions, is a vulgarian.

Character will be missed

Yet while we could write a dissertation in an attempt to deconstruct Trump’s character, it is more instructive to examine the vitriol that long has marked Republicans’ reaction to Obama. You know, things like a conservative activist calling the president a “subhuman mongrel” and then pretending there was nothing racist about the comment.

There have been other examples as well, each of them receiving significantly more attention than they should have been afforded. Because, in the end, while you can question Obama’s actions as president, there is no doubting the remarkable decency of the man. The unblemished dignity. The unfettered gentility.

Through eight years of often contentious governing, Obama has maintained the kind of integrity that conservatives long ago turned into a political wedge issue. So has his wife, Michelle. So have Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. As Shaun King wrote for the New York Daily News, “Questions of their personal character, morality and fidelity simply do not exist.”

Morality, by itself, does not a president make. But it is not a bad place to start, and Obama stands in sharp contrast the man who now holds the office. Let us hope that integrity is not a barometer for a successful presidency — and that Republicans stop pretending they care about such things.