Trump: take him seriously or literally?

Many people, mostly on the losing side of the election, are hopelessly looking for the reasons Trump and the Republicans won.  They want to blame somebody.

The reasons why the election turned out as it did were clear well before the voting began.  Weeks ago in this space, I discussed two key elements of the election that could produce a Trump victory: the make-up of his political support and the desire to end deadlock by eliminating two-party government.

Die-hard Republicans backed him to protect their party’s brand.  They thought the party label was worth defending no matter reservations about Trump’s policies or behavior.

Then, there were voters who deeply disliked and distrusted Hillary Clinton and wanted to see her soundly rejected.  They had been convinced she was dishonest and possibly corrupt.  They were ready to believe her handling of official emails was illegal.

The third group included those who could be considered racists, though they may not have thought so.  They saw in Trump the first candidate in memory sending them sympathetic signals.  Making America great for them begins with restoring and maintaining control by white people.  Immigration was their issue.

Finally, there were voters fed up with government deadlock and inadequate leadership.  They demanded change.  President Obama had promised change, but saw that in abstract policy terms, while failing to “sell” his policies or provide a unifying, patriotic rallying point.

Whatever else one might say about Trump, he embodied change.  He came from the business world, and he approached politics in a highly personal manner.  Without even knowing what his policies would turn out to be, voters knew Washington would be shaken up.

With change as their goal, they could ignore Trump’s drawbacks.  The righteous indignation expressed about Trump’s thinking and personal conduct resonated mainly with the already convinced opposition.  Trump’s supporters, especially those demanding change now, weren’t listening.

Were they worried?  Not really.  One Maine Trump voter was reported as saying that he took the candidate “seriously but not literally.”  The problem with Clinton supporters and much of the media was that they took him literally but not seriously.  The right answer may turn out to be both.

Most candidates claim they know how to work with the other side, but they seem fated to fail.  The solution, I suggested, was ending divided government.  While sharing power had seemed safe to many voters, it had turned out to be a recipe for deadlock.

While many would have thought the implication of the one-party proposal was solid Democratic control, it would work with either party.  The engine of change turned out to be the American voter, who chose one-party government in Washington and in many states to ensure the end of partisan-driven political deadlock.

The problem is turning out to be in knowing what Trump will do as president and which of his constituencies he will favor.  Will he bring back torture, cancel trade agreements, build a wall and deny entry to certain groups?  Or will he focus on the adoption of the conservative GOP policies blocked by Obama?

Whatever he does, he will alienate some of his supporters.  If he goes to extremes, some Republicans and some of those who so badly wanted change could have second thoughts.

If he pushes conservative policies favored by the GOP Congress, some of his supporters will be disappointed that he is not radical enough.  If “the art of the deal” means compromises with Democrats, even GOP conservatives could oppose him.

Pundits are watching his appointments to see the direction in which he will lean.  That implies he could follow the policies of his appointees.  Perhaps they are so loyal to Trump, they will follow his lead, while learning that politics is “the art of the possible.”

Meanwhile, Maine saw the bipartisan legislative balance survive.  Whether that means the almost evenly divided Legislature can work with Gov. LePage remains to be seen.

Maine has not been paralyzed by political deadlock, as in Washington.  Compromise has been possible, even though the governor has held legislators, even of his own party, at arm’s length.

Because he is usually unwilling to compromise, it is up to both parties in the Legislature to continue to find ways to agree in large enough numbers that it can set the policy agenda more than does the governor.  The budget process almost forces that result.

This is a new political world.  People may be both fascinated and uneasy about the prospects for policy and the system itself.  Protest is pointless, but participation makes sense.  The next campaign has begun.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.