Donald Trump’s first words after winning the presidential election expressed a desire to bring the country together. So here’s Job 1: Prove it, Mr. Trump.
The question is no longer whether he can win, but whether he can lead.
The place to start is by working to repair the damage to civility and to the political system that his divisive campaign didn’t necessarily create, but that it exploited to great success — at least for the president-elect.
The lawless protests that erupted in Portland, New York, Atlanta, Miami and other cities across the country after his victory are counter-productive and unacceptable. They have no place in American politics, and everyone should condemn them.
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But Mr. Trump is hardly in a position to complain about those who have a hard time accepting the outcome. Not after he broke tradition by refusing to say whether he would accept the will of the voters if he didn’t win. Not after he told his own rallies that he’d like to punch out peaceful protestors. Not after he spent weeks insisting that the election was rigged.
Mr. Trump faces a huge tide of skepticism, even hostility. He has his work cut out for him if he really wants to unite America behind him. We’re still not so sure he does. In a campaign guided by misogynists — Roger Ailes, before their falling out — and now a transition giving clout to the intolerant — alt-right ally Steve Bannon is in the running for chief of staff — Mr. Trump’s sincerity remains in question.
Before building that wall or ripping up trade agreements, his priority should be to reassure Americans that he truly means it when he says he wants to be president of all the people.
Losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton makes his job harder. But coming into the job with low expectations makes it easier. Some skeptics will grasp at any sign of a willingness to reach out to the other side.
A small straw in the wind: His first, grumpy tweet about the post-election protests called them “unfair.” But hours later he adopted an altogether different and more moderate tone: “Love the fact that small groups of protestors last night have passion for our great country.”
Words matter, but actions, however symbolic, can speak louder. Recall that President George W. Bush visited a mosque after 9/11 to show that no one should hold Muslims or Islam responsible for the criminal deeds of a few. Today, Muslims are among the most offended minorities in the wake of Mr. Trump’s campaign.
A friendly gesture like the example set by Mr. Bush would go a long way toward dispelling the fears that Mr. Trump’s campaign irresponsibly created in America’s Muslim communities. Similarly, extending an olive branch to Jews, African Americans and others he targeted could help affirm his “president for all Americans” claim.
The president-elect’s Cabinet choices are another test of his desire to govern with a broad base of public support. Inviting Republicans who belonged to the NeverTrump camp into his administration would show a measure of magnanimity that would not only consolidate his own party behind him, but also display a balanced and more presidential temperament.
Americans must keep an open mind and give Mr. Trump the chance to govern, as Ms. Clinton said in conceding. Recent history suggests that presidential honeymoons don’t last long, however. Mr. Trump must start now to earn goodwill from the public. He will need it when he assumes the burden of governing.