Today is the day when our 45th president, Donald J. Trump, will be sworn into office. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have strong feelings about our incoming commander-in-chief and are looking forward to the next four years with either excitement and optimism or a sense of impending doom.
I’ve been reminiscing this week about the other presidents who have served in office since I started paying attention to politics and what my impression of those men were on the day they were inaugurated. As I look back it seems like the impressions I formed of them while they were campaigning turned out to be pretty accurate predictors of what I thought of them as they occupied the Oval Office.
The first presidential candidate I can remember well is Ronald Reagan. Like a lot of Americans I fell for his charm right away during the 1980 campaign. He seemed like the grandfather we all wished we had — strong and principled but also warm and generous.
I liked Reagan so much that I voted for the first President Bush largely because he’d been Reagan’s vice president. Other than that, I can’t remember him making much of an impression on me. He was an affable, nondescript, career bureaucrat who simply paled in comparison to his charismatic predecessor.
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Speaking of charisma, Bill Clinton had plenty of that as well. He struck me as an intelligent guy who had a way with people. But he also seemed like a very self-centered man who would have no problem shading the truth as much as he needed to in order to get what he wanted.
George W. Bush, on the other hand, seemed like a man with strong moral fiber and a genuine love of his country. But I feared that he lacked the intellectual capacity to fully comprehend the complex challenges that leading a nation would require and that this might lead to his making some well-intentioned but dangerously under-informed decisions.
Barack Obama struck me as a man who could convincingly portray a president on television but who lacked the depth and experience to actually do the job. He looked the part and could deliver a good speech, but I didn’t sense there was much substance behind the image.
I guess the way campaigns are run these days we get to know candidates pretty intimately, so by the time they take office we pretty much know what we’re getting.
I’ve been trying to get a handle on what I think of Mr. Trump so that I can see if my gut feelings will once again be an accurate predictor of what kind of president we’ll get, but I’m having a hard time clarifying just what my feelings about him are.
Terms like “thin-skinned narcissist” and “demagogue” get thrown around when talking about Trump and his critics have a lot of his own words and deeds to use as examples to back up these harsh assessments. I am deeply concerned about his character and even his mental state to an extent that I have never been for any of the presidents listed above, and I still have a hard time processing how it is that so many Americans don’t share that concern.
But I have heard speculation that Trump does and says outrageous things as a negotiating ploy, and that he is simply a wily businessman who has a plan to make America safe and prosperous. I hope that speculation turns out be right and that Trump is “crazy like a fox,” and not just crazy.
I will make one prediction for the Donald Trump era — it won’t be boring. My gut tells me that he’s either going to surprise all his critics (again) and somehow accomplish a lot of the seemingly outlandish things he’s promised to do or he’s going to fall flat on his face and be remembered as the worst president in history.
Go big or go home — that’s the Trump way. Buckle up folks, we’re likely to experience extreme turbulence for the next four years.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.