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Finley: Trump must lead to be followed

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Not since 1861 has America sworn in a president under such a heavy cloud of division, fear and bitterness.

Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration broke the nation in two, and it took a civil war to reconcile the pieces. After Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office today, whether and how the nation can mend itself is anyone’s guess.

Trump is unique to the American presidency. A populist who plunges first one way and then another, he has ignited a fervor in his loyalists, nausea in his opponents and skepticism in the middle.

Uncertainty is the nation’s prevailing mood as the new president moves into the White House.

Will Trump’s commitment to unshackle business from choking taxes and regulations trigger a job and income surge? Or will his threats of tariffs set off a trade war that crashes the world economy?

It could go either way, or neither way.

Will America’s new leader follow the advice of the smart people he’s chosen to help him run the government? Or will he be his own counsel, guided by his tremendous sense of infallibility?

Will President Trump respect the protocols of the office and recognize his words matter more than anyone’s in the world? Or will he communicate with bombastic and ill-thought Twitter blasts? Will his tough-guy posturing on the world stage bring the bad actors into line or embolden them and push away our allies?

Those, too, are open questions.

And one more: Will he stop gloating about his victory and taunting those he vanquished and become, as he promised, the president of all the people?

His ability to make a broader swath of the population comfortable following him will determine his success.

With a Republican-controlled Congress, it won’t be Democrats who foil Trump’s ambitions, but rather his own self. If he allows the national conversation to center on his personality rather than his policies, he loses.

Of course, policies matter, too. If he governs without regard to the will of the people, he will step into the same quicksand that George W. Bush did with Iraq and Barack Obama did with the Affordable Care Act.

Trump is not easily remolded by criticism. And to a certain degree, that sort of independence is healthy in an executive. When it turns into arrogance, leaders lose touch with the governed and the consequences of misjudgment.

The office he takes demands from its occupant a measure of humility and self-control that Trump has not exhibited. He must take a crash course.

Those in positions of responsibility who helped bring Trump to this place must help him become presidential. They do him no favor with knee-jerk defense of his bad behavior. Call him on it when he goes out of bounds.

Congress, too, must remember its role. Republican lawmakers should not be a rubber stamp. They must push back if Trump gets too cuddly with the Russian bear or urges trade protectionism. That’s not who they are.

Democrats, raising the ante on the commitment Republicans made to Obama’s failure in 2008, vow to block and challenge Trump at every step. A vigorous opposition is needed more than ever. But it can’t become obstructionism. We’ve had too much of that.

To those citizens who refuse to accept Trump as their president and deny his legitimacy because of Russian meddling and the pro-Clinton popular vote: Get over it.

Today, Donald Trump will take the oath of office and begin getting his mail at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and that’s the legitimacy he needs in this democracy.

Protest passionately if so moved, but nothing justifies violence or anarchy.

Be good citizens. Find your voice. Get involved politically. Serve your communities. Don’t let politics separate you from friends and family. And be open minded. Should Trump reach out, reach back. He just may surprise his detractors and turn out to be a pretty good president.

Today our nation embarks on an adventure whose course no one can predict. God bless America. We will surely need his mercies.