In a democratic society it is customary at the end of a hard election campaign for the losing “loyal opposition” to wish the winner good luck and, for the good of the country, utter parting words such as, “If you succeed, the country will succeed.” In the best of times, one can wonder at the sincerity of such concession speech statements — but credibility is particularly strained following the election cycle that just elected Donald Trump as the U.S. President.
Supporters of the winner often exhort constituents of the other side to “Give him a chance to succeed…” As we observe initial structuring of the new administration, the question is immediately raised: How should success be defined? And, in particular, we are driven to ask: Who gets to define it?
We see a President forming a cabinet with (among other things): a Defense Secretary who reportedly “likes to brawl,” an oil man Secretary of State who has received a medal from the Russians, a Labor Secretary nominee who has aggressively battled any minimum wage, an Energy Department secretary who wanted the agency dissolved, a climate change-denying EPA Director who wants to downsize or eliminate all consumer protection measures, an Attorney General apparently willing to commit perjury, and an Education Secretary in favor of privatizing many schools and ignoring the desperate needs in our once-envied public education system.
Observing the administration’s actions, the apparent plan is to destroy the very premises of government as we have known them, and again raises the question of who defines success. A compelling case can be made that if the apparent definition of success for Donald Trump is fulfilled, it will mean near disaster for the rest of us. If he and his chosen minions achieve their openly stated objectives, it is difficult to see how the results can look anything like “success” for the rank and file of the American people.
A definition of success espousing hopes for racial harmony, a clean and healthy environment, greater economic equality, positive foreign relations and a sustainable energy system hardly seems radical. Ideology aside, doesn’t everyone want a measure of these sorts of features contained in their definition of a stable nation and a good life?
So, where does that leave us? It hardly seems patriotic to wish for the President of the United States to fail.
But perhaps patriotism requires it.
The volatility of both the domestic and international pronouncements to date suggests many ways that failure for Trump could transpire. Wishing for failure is a dangerous game, since it could easily mean failure for all of us.
The President has exhibited two characteristics that cause concern. First, on many issues he has variously proposed conflicting versions of his beliefs that suggest either that he changes his mind all the time or that he doesn’t understand the issue. (“Nobody knew that health care was so complex.” No, Donald, everyone but you knew…) No one can be sure whether he will say the same thing tomorrow that he says today. Even his staff must be reeling from the lack of clarity.
Second, he employs such blatantly general and superficial language in defining his view of success, that we have no confidence in what he has in mind. The embrace of “alternate reality” has destroyed any trust that he has a clear vision beyond what he perceives as good for Donald Trump. The eagerness to produce random tweets that often deal in personal invective and blatantly fake news should, for any thoughtful person of any political stripe, permanently destroy any confidence in his leadership.
Our core belief is that “we the people” have the right to define success for ourselves. A true patriot wishes for collective success for the nation, both domestically and internationally. And above all we hope that the strength of our people and institutions can keep us on a path defined by a consensus that all Americans deserve the right to a clean environment, a safe workplace, decent wages and guaranteed health care. Will Donald Trump agree with that collective definition? Whose definition of success will we live with? The stakes could not be higher.