Donald Trump laid out a vision for America on Thursday that struck a hard law-and-order stance, is more protectionist and less global, is unforgiving of illegal immigration, and judges international allies by a new calculus that “puts America first.”
It’s a vision that will find broad appeal for many but induce shudders in many others. America’s challenges are complex. Violence against police is real, but so are the officer-involved shootings that have left communities shaken, including our own. The crimes committed by some illegal immigrants are undeniable, but so is the fact that some of the most grueling work in this country is done by those without legal documents, who live in shadow while a nation reaps the benefits of a cheap, malleable workforce.
Throughout his entire, improbable candidacy, Trump has offered simplistic solutions to complex problems: Build a wall, crack down on thugs, rewrite trade agreements. After a campaign marked by scorching rhetoric, he now assures us that with every action, “I will ask myself does this make life better for young Americans in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Ferguson, who have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child.”
That is a fine lodestar for any president. His pledge to protect LGBT Americans is admirable, especially in a party not noted for its commitment to gay and lesbian equality. It took guts to feature Republican billionaire Peter Thiel in prime time to proclaim his pride in being gay and his dismay at the obsession over who uses which bathroom. Most of the crowd, to its credit, cheered. But how to square this with a platform that rejects the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage and a platform that condones discrimination against the LGBT community in the name of religious freedom? Which version are we to believe is real?
Trump bested a field of tested opponents through a swagger and bullying dominance that signals leadership to some and a fearsome dictatorial streak to others. The American public has already gotten a prolonged look at this unique figure in politics, waiting for some sign that he will take seriously the office of president — that he will bring a mature judgment to the weighty decisions to come before him.
Thursday’s speech accepting the Republican nomination for president was a start. But it must be followed by much more. He must build out the ambitious sketch he has offered, of an America more interested in protecting workers than special interests, one that can quell violence without compromising civil rights, one that stands by its allies while hewing to national concerns.
It is a tall order, and voters should be skeptical that Trump has the sustained discipline, temperament and attention to accomplish those momentous tasks. His record thus far does not inspire confidence. His blunt talk and willingness to challenge conventional thinking on issues like free trade comes paired with an often-petty, small-minded attitude toward opponents — of which he would have many as president.
This entire convention had a ragged, unstructured quality that does not speak well to the hard tasks ahead. It would be unfair to judge a candidate too harshly by that. Many candidates have recovered from rocky starts. But Trump has a long way to go to close the gap between the lofty goals expressed in his acceptance speech and the pugnacious, Trump-first persona that brought him the nomination.