Which United States does Trump intend to govern?

Published 10:21 am Friday, January 20, 2017

by John Micek

On Friday, at noon, Donald J. Trump will put his hand on a Bible, recite the oath of office administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and in just three minutes’ time, will become the 45th president of the United States.

But what country does Trump intend to govern? What America will he represent?

It’s a question that’s more than merely academic.

Just this week, the Republican tweeted that Georgia’s 5th Congressional District was “falling apart” and “crime-infested.”

Last summer, Trump told a campaign crowd on Virginia that the area around Pennsylvania’s capital city of Harrisburg “looked like a war zone,” a characterization which the locals understandably pushed back on quite forcefully.

At campaign stop after campaign stop last year, Trump depicted an America in decline, one pushed around by its allies, denigrated by its adversaries and the victim of years of bad trade and economic policies that resulted in the country never “winning” anymore.

And more than once over the last 18 months — only in the context of black voters, and largely before white crowds, he’s referred to America’s “inner cities” whatever and wherever they are, as “burning” and “crime-infested.”

It’s tough to think of any incoming president who’s spoken in such openly scornful terms about vast swaths of the country he’s about to inherit and entrusted to govern for at least the next four years.

Trump presumably knows that the 5th Congressional District, which grabbed headlines this week after its congressman, Democrat John Lewis, questioned Trump’s legitimacy and said he’d be skipping the inauguration, is part of the United States.

PolitiFact rated Trump’s claim about the district, which includes the booming city of Atlanta and its near suburbs, as “mostly false,” acknowledging that, while it does have higher poverty and unemployment rates (barely) than the rest of the country, it is leading on other economic indicators.

Trump’s claim that the Harrisburg region is a “war zone” is similarly defeated by a simple examination of the data. Dauphin County, which includes Harrisburg, has weathered the recession better than most of Pennsylvania.

The county’s unemployment rate has hovered around 5 percent, the threshold at which most economists say that if someone wants a job — they can find one.

That Trump is unafraid of stretching the truth in pursuit of a broader rhetorical point is hardly a surprise (nor does that make him unique from politicians of either political persuasion).

But his more worrying compulsion is his ongoing (and incorrect) linking of black people and “the inner city,” which he continues to depict as nests of poverty where residents can scarcely walk out the door without being shot.

As someone who makes his home in an actual inner city, Midtown Manhattan, Trump’s characterizations bear little resemblance to the lives lived by the vast majority of black Americans.

Trump, as a real estate developer, is also almost certainly aware that the gentrification of most cities is pushing out poorer residents, or, alternately concentrating them in ever smaller areas.

So it’s no surprise that Trump, who won only 8 percent of the black vote, made those remarks to largely white crowds as he vowed to “make America great again.”

Black voters I’ve spoken with over the last year hear something else entirely in that phrase. Namely, an America that becomes great “again” at their expense, and at the expense of women, gays and other minorities, rolling back the progress of the last 60-odd years.

Trump will take office this week as one of the most unpopular presidents in four decades.

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday, more than half of respondents (54 percent) said they had an unfavorable impression of Trump just days before he takes office.

Compare that to the nearly eight in 10 who had a favorable impression of President Barack Obama in 2008 and the more than six in 10 who said the same thing about Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as they prepared to take office.

Trump fares even less well than President Ronald Reagan, of whom 58 percent of Americans had a favorable impression, compared to 18 percent who did not.

That means the stakes could not be higher for Trump, who lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes, as he delivers his inaugural address.

Will he evoke Reagan, who appealed to the nation’s better angels even as he vowed to rein in the size of government?

Will he echo Obama, who praised Americans for choosing “hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” as well as an “end to petty grievances and false promises.”

Can Donald Trump, who nurses petty grievances like no other, rise to the occasion and govern all of America?  The onus will be on him Friday to prove that is the case.

JOHN MICEK, an award-winning political journalist,  is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at jmicek@pennlive.com.hich seems very far away, indeed.