By GARRETT SWEITZER
The election of Donald Trump not only surprised, but also offended many people.
However, the 2016 US Presidential election was not a contest between saints. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton engaged in offensive identity politics. When taken out of the partisan context, Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment likely offended many voters in a way similar to Trump’s repeated comments about the banishment of Muslim-Americans. However, in the heat of the political campaign, candidates have a tendency to utter regrettable statements. While not excusing these comments, it is important to look beyond these crude campaign statements before arriving at a judgment as to how he may act as a President.
Perhaps for this reason, it would be wise to apply the adage, “actions speak louder than words” when considering a Trump presidency. Despite the fact that Trump has never held elective office — and thus does not have a public voting record – he does have an extensive history as an employer. His actions while leading the Trump organization, as well as his frequent political campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans, may offer some clues into how he may govern.
In this sense, Trump likely does not adhere to a strict political ideology. As recently as 2004, Trump not only said that identified more with the Democrats than the Republicans, but he also showered praise upon Clinton’s negotiating abilities. Furthermore, in 2009, Trump financially supported the Clinton Foundation.
However, only 11 years later he sought and won the Republican nomination for President, building his campaign around branding Hillary Clinton as a criminal.
A pattern has clearly emerged in which Trump’s campaign rhetoric does not align with his actions and words of the not too distant past. For this reason, we should pause before lending too much weight to Donald Trump’s campaign promises.
In a similar vein, though we (justifiably) cringed at Donald Trump’s demeaning comments on the campaign trail towards women, his actions as CEO of the Trump organization perhaps better show his attitude towards women in the workplace. Surprisingly to some, the Trump organization, long before it became fashionable in corporate America, encouraged and promoted the achievement of women. As the President, one can likely expect him to select advisers based upon merits without discrimination based upon either gender or race. In this regard, Trump is considering Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the D.C public school system, as his Secretary of Education.
In terms of foreign policy, though light on specifics, Donald Trump’s inclination toward evaluating American commitments overseas should draw praise. Furthermore, his criticism of NATO, while not likely to unravel the organization, will hopefully alter its orientation in regard to Russia. Unlike Clinton, who reflexively viewed Russia as an existential threat to America, Donald Trump appears willing to engage with Russia in order to improve the relationship. Russians, much like Americans and Europeans, face the threat of terrorism — look no further than the Oct. 2015 airline bombing in which ISIS claimed responsibility for the murder of hundreds of Russians. In recognizing a common threat, it is possible that Trump and Vladimir Putin may put aside ideological differences in order to join together in fighting terrorism.
Before we jump to conclusions, remember: Donald Trump is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but a true political opportunist. His actions while President are likely to reflect that opportunism as he seeks to build an agenda that enhances his popularity. For this simple reason, wait before rendering a judgment.
Garrett Sweitzer is one of the Continuing the Discussion columnists for the SAIS Observer. He is an MA student concentrating in European and Eurasian Studies at SAIS Bologna.