In some ways it can feel like the country is splintering after the recent presidential election. Protests against President-elect Trump are now taking place in cities across the country. Vandalism of churches and physical violence in the name of Trump are emerging. The nation seems to be fracturing along lines of smaller tribes, where people are divided by race and ethnicity, where they live and who they routinely talk with. One question is: What should Mr. Trump do now?
Let me acknowledge first that one-half of the country is still celebrating a victory, while the other half worries deeply about exactly what might happen as the Trump presidency takes hold. But this much I also know from my ongoing travels in working with communities across the country from Kentucky to Washington State and everyplace in-between: Americans are yearning to restore a sense of belief that we can get things done together and re-ignite a can do spirit.
Of course, this won’t be easy, especially now, when the rawness of the election season is still with us. Nevertheless, restoring a sense of belief in our ability to come together and get things done is perhaps the most important task that all of us—including our new president-elect—must do. Thus amid all the choices he must make over the coming weeks, Mr. Trump must also choose whether he wants to demonstrate, as he says, his desire to be president of all of America. If so, here are five immediate steps he should take to make a down payment on that goal:
1) Go to a defamed church and emphatically denounce such actions. Across the country, stories are emerging about churches and other buildings being vandalized with defamatory statements. Just down the road from my office in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland the racist message of, “Trump nation. Whites only.” was painted across a church banner advertising a Spanish-language service. Mr. Trump should come to Silver Spring, and others communities where similar vandalism has occurred, and in no uncertain terms denounce such actions.
2) Make cabinet appointments that demonstrate crossing dividing lines. Given the deep divisions in the country, Mr. Trump has the opportunity to make at least some cabinet and senior-level appointments that signal that he is willing to bridge dividing lines. Early signals suggest this won’t happen; that would be a mistake.
3) Visit publicly with Muslim Americans and others. The presidential campaign was nothing less than nasty and bitter, and many Americans—including Muslims, people of color and the disabled, among others—were often singled out for derision. Now, Mr. Trump should publicly engage these members of our country and demonstrate that he sees and hears them and that they are each and all valued.
4) Find near-term actions rooted in common ground. In such a divided time—when so many people feel that Washington, D.C. is broken—Mr. Trump would be well advised to find at least some early policy initiatives that bring Republicans and Democrats together. There are any number of places where this might be possible, including infrastructure.
5) Remind us of core American values. There are values that bind our nation together, such as opportunity for all, fairness and liberty. Of course, people have different views—and lived experiences—with these values. But Mr. Trump should speak to his understanding of these values and call Americans to fulfill them.
Equally important to taking these steps is that he must take them with sincerity and a real affection for all people—not simply as a publicity stunt. He must accept that taking such steps will be met with skepticism but have a willingness and the conviction to keep at it.
This presidential election revealed deep divisions in the country. In a recent NPR interview, I said that many Americans, who voted for either candidate or who chose not to vote at all, feel that they are not seen and heard. That they are not valued. That their future is in jeopardy. Mr. Trump is now the president-elect of our United States. Despite policy differences that exist, and which now must be argued out, he must takes steps to help bridge the divides in the nation. Now is the time. He must not wait.