Donald Trump and the repudiation of the political résumé
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Charleston, W.V., in May. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
In the end, it was all wrong — or didn’t matter. The polls. The pundits. The electoral map. The conventional wisdom about the need to act “presidential.” The enshrined beliefs about Americans' willingness to vote for a candidate who threatened to ignore democratic traditions, who stirred vitriol at his rallies, who had repeatedly showed disdain for women and minorities. To vote for a man who said “I alone can fix it.”
And so Wednesday morning, America woke up to President-elect Donald Trump, a stunning and once unimaginable outcome that has sent shock waves across the world. The United States not only elected man with a temperament widely viewed as not befitting the presidency, but one who was also uniquely unprepared for it, with no prior political or military service experience in his background. Trump — real estate mogul, reality TV show host, golf course developer — will be the first president in the history of the United States to have neither, providing a stark rejection of political norms and expectations that have traditionally surrounded the background for leaders in its highest office.
That he reached the White House running in opposition to a presidential candidate who had the broadest C.V. for the job in recent years makes the repudiation of the political résumé all the more remarkable. Hillary Clinton began her career as a lawyer, a starting point for many presidents, and had been a senator, a first lady and secretary of state, a launchpad for the presidency that was common among the Founding Fathers. Trump has never held elected office or served in a presidential appointment or politically affiliated role.
[Polls show a tighter presidential race. But not when it comes to this issue.]
Yet many voters didn't seem to care; in fact they cheered it on, loudly and wildly, believing his outsider status will help him upend Washington's dysfunction. He represented change — tectonic, tremendous change — while Clinton, to many voters, represented the status quo. For those in the states that tipped the balance in electoral college votes — Clinton is winning the popular vote — experience paled in the face of enthusiasm for something new.
Trump's win is the ultimate realization of a broad, sweeping shift in the culture that increasingly seems to disregard qualifications and knowledge. One where being an “elite” is a put-down; where being an “outsider,” even a brazen one, can confer status. Blame globalization. Blame income inequality. Blame the Internet and cable news and social media, where everyone is an expert. The erosion of distrust in American institutions — the police, the medical system, the presidency, the Supreme Court, Congress and of course, the press — has grown over time.
Yet the irony of all this is that for Trump to succeed, in many ways he'll be dependent on the qualifications and experience of some of those very institutions. Yes, executive powers will help him enact many parts of his agenda. But his success will also be tied to working with the establishment Republicans in Congress — a number of whom distanced themselves from him during the campaign. Putting other policies in place — infrastructure, paid maternity leave — will likely mean working with longtime Democrats, such as Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
To staff his Cabinet, he's likely to turn to his crew of surrogates, reports say, some of whom are political insiders themselves and hardly a unifying bunch. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former House speaker Newt Gingrich are both reportedly on lists for appointments; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration has been engulfed in a scandal, yet shows up three times on one Cabinet shortlist obtained by BuzzFeed News. The chance that a group of such loyalists would push back much on Trump — something even the most experienced and seasoned president needs — seems remote. The chance of appointments widely respected on both sides of the aisle, in the vein of a Robert Gates, seems even less so.
Beyond those top jobs, meanwhile, he'll need help appointing the countless deputies and government executives who fill the next tier of staff in the White House and federal agencies — the jobs that form the backbone of a functioning American bureaucracy. Here especially, one wants knowledge, competence and experience. Yet for a president who said he'd get rid of “stupid people” from government, who spent his campaign railing against government entities like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education, who has been dismissive of U.S. intelligence, they could be much harder to fill.
[Donald Trump doesn’t read much. Being president probably wouldn’t change that.]
So much about this election has upended what we know about politics and the American electorate. It could forever change the long-held standards for whom we view as a viable, acceptable candidate for president and leader of this nation.
Never before have we had a pending president with less experience in the ways Washington works, and with less apparent interest in general expertise and knowledge about the world. One can only hope Trump will not apply the same standard to the leaders who surround him.
Many of Trump’s sweeping promises will be hard, if not impossible, to fulfill
Trump to bring a seismic shift to Washington
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