When President Donald Trump was first elected, I naively wanted him to succeed. I strongly supported Secretary Hillary Clinton during her presidential race and was deeply upset when she lost. Nevertheless, I remained guardedly optimistic about Trump. Maybe he was misunderstood? As an American, I had difficulty believing that our country would support an individual of such irredeemable character. I wanted my president to prosper regardless of political party; perhaps change wasn’t so bad.
After all, Trump was an embodiment of change. He wasn’t linked to the political establishment that was seemingly hated more by many Americans with each passing year of stagnant wages. Clinton, by contrast, had been in the public eye for decades and was married to a president who had championed a massive free trade agreement that many working-class whites felt left them behind—and later voted for Trump.
The need for a change was indeed a factor in the presidential election. One Fox News exit poll showed that, of voters who said an individual that “can bring change” was the most important quality in a candidate, 82 percent viewed Trump as having that quality, similar to the way voters viewed then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008. In comparison, a measly 14 percent saw Clinton as such a symbol. Trump promised to drain the swamp and change the political climate—the first president in American history with no political experience, but a savvy business sense that would “Make America Great Again”.
Unfortunately, Trump didn’t moderate his views, rhetoric, or actions when he assumed office. He has embraced the worst our country has to offer. He continues to flirt with bigotry, misogyny, and appeals to xenophobia. Instead of rewarding competence, he simply rewards loyalty and flattery.
He has appointed countless political insiders and big business peers. For those who meet his ire, Trump either fires or harasses them, without any thought for the optics, as with former FBI director James Comey. He gave a partisan, rambling speech in front of the Boy Scouts of America in which he demanded their loyalty. Trump’s strange fixation on Clinton’s emails is shameful, his shocking personal attack on ‘Morning Joe’ co-host Mika Brzezinski was disgusting, and his lambasting of the media for simply reporting the facts is despicable.
Trump appears to be more content with being an ideologue rather than a pragmatist. He is more set than ever on repealing and replacing Obamacare even if there is no alternative plan, stripping millions of health care. The wall he mentioned repeatedly on the campaign trail—that Mexico would pay for—is still being discussed as if it is a worthy idea. Trump’s tax proposal is a bonanza for the wealthiest of Americans at the expense of everyone else. His tax policy will undoubtedly exacerbate income inequality at a time when economic mobility is stagnant.
In a shocking twist, Trump has been bogged down with various scandals. The most controversial is the administration’s purported ties to the Kremlin after numerous intelligence agencies indicated that Russia meddled in the election, a conclusion which Trump still disputes. Every other day there are new people in the administration who are linked to the Russian government. The president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner ’03 is just one of many individuals with ties or some type of interaction with Russian officials, and likely not the last.
Sadly, I hoped that the presidency would change Trump for the better, but alas, instead it is Trump who is changing the office for the worse. Every day, I am reminded that we have a former reality television star as president, a fact made clear by his toxic tweets on subject matter that is simply beneath the dignity of the office he holds. He is setting the bar so low that it is fundamentally touching the ground.
We have a sitting president who prefers to behave more like a high school bully than a leader, riddled by a continuous stream of scandals, conflicts of interests, and toxic leadership that schools like Harvard University should shun. Our political leaders should help us strive to live in a more respectful world, but Mr. Trump is the embodiment of everything wrong with politics and it seems like nothing is slowing him down.
Mr. Trump is a tragic figure; he is an agent of change like his voters wanted, but every change he makes worsens our nation while merely filling the void of political progress with empty divisive rhetoric. All we can do is hope that his supporters will eventually realize that this is a charade, and will embrace change that makes a real difference in regular Americans’ lives.
The United States is supposed to be a country of acceptance, tolerance, and diversity; a country that is a beacon of hope for those around the world. So long as Trump clings to the office of the presidency, our wonderful country will represent quite the opposite.
Matthew J. Fecteau is a M.P.A. candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.