On a visit to New York City in 2014, our family drove past LaGuardia Airport and saw Donald Trump’s personal plane about to take off for the Mexican border. Less than two years later, Trump is President of the United States, to the surprise and consternation of much of the world. What sort of president will he be? Predictions are always hazardous, of course, because even the most cautious and conservative can be overtaken by unforeseen developments. But we can more easily see the sort of president Trump is unlikely to be.
First, because his personal identity is so wrapped up in his vast business empire, he is unlikely to have a clear sense of the proper differentiation of authoritative offices relevant to distinct spheres of life. Put more simply, the reasons for laws prohibiting corruption and conflict of interest will probably elude him. “What’s good for General Motors is good for America,” said Charles E. Wilson, one time GM CEO and Eisenhower’s Defence Secretary. President Trump almost certainly assumes that the welfare of his country is of one piece with the prosperity of his family’s business dealings. Add to that his lack of concern with the finer points of the law, and he may find himself in legal and constitutional hot water before too long. This is why many have quipped that on January 21, the day after his inauguration, impeachment proceedings would begin.
Second, judging from Trump’s campaign rhetoric last year, he will not be a president who will go to great lengths to assure foreign leaders of his good will towards their countries’ legitimate interests. Under his leadership, the United States looks set to become more insular, with constructing walls taking priority over building bridges. We’ve seen “America First” before in that country’s colourful history. But with the world increasingly interconnected and with its nations’ interests so thoroughly intertwined, Trump will nevertheless find it difficult to see past the shores of New York Harbor and the Golden Gate Bridge. The inevitable negative consequences may be left to his advisors and Congress to sort out.
Third, Trump will likely not be up to mastering diplomatic niceties in his conduct of the presidency. Will he insult members of Congress, state governors and world leaders? It remains to be seen, but his advisors, assuming they are up to the job, will have to keep him on a tight leash to prevent potential incidents.
Heed Paul’s advice
To be fair to the many evangelicals and conservative Christians who – perhaps reluctantly – voted for him, it seems highly improbable that a President Trump will attempt to use the current non-discrimination régime, represented by Titles IX and X and other federal laws, to infringe on the ability of faith-based organizations to maintain their own identity as such. With the Obama administration taking on the Little Sisters of the Poor over the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, and with Hillary Clinton citing the felt need to change people’s deep-seated religious beliefs against abortion, many voters decided to take their chances with Trump.
Similarly, while Trump’s pro-life credentials seem opportunistic at best, the new Trump administration is unlikely to impose his predecessor’s pro-choice policies on the rest of the world through the use of foreign aid. With the Obama administration operating under the assumption that the First Amendment to the US Constitution allows a mere freedom of worship, those understanding the character of religious belief as a comprehensive way of life will welcome someone with a less ambitious agenda for changing people’s hearts and minds for the sake of an expansive and highly disputable understanding of human rights.
Nevertheless, there will be negative costs associated with this new administration, and there is good reason for wariness. In the meantime, we do well to heed the advice of Paul to Timothy: “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made . . . for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).