The president isn’t the only one who’s feeling betrayed these days.
America no longer feels like America — a safe, welcoming refuge from the world’s grind, a shining city upon a hill.
That may not be a true reflection of who we are, but that’s the way it looks from my perch in Dallas, gazing into the political bonfire in Washington, D.C.
We are, in many respects, our own worst enemy — a nation divided against itself, at least until a 911 or a raging natural disaster strikes at our hearts, reminding us of both our own mortality and the ties that bind us.
We need a unifying moment now. More than anything, we need our president to stop pulling at the loose ends of our democracy and, instead, use his bully pulpit to help make us whole.
This isn’t an anti-Trump broadside nor a pointed attack on Trump’s policies. It’s more about what our country, and the highest office in the land — no matter who resides there — should represent in words and deeds.
I wrote after his election that Donald Trump could wield one of the more consequential presidencies in history. One year in, I was right for all the wrong reasons.
First, it was clear that Trump would get to immediately leave his stamp on the Supreme Court with an appointment that the Republican Congress wouldn’t let his Democratic predecessor fill.
It was also possible — and still could happen — that Trump might get to fill two or three more slots, particularly if a second term is in the cards.
Second, this president struck me as a political chameleon when he was a candidate, more of a populist than an ideologue. I figured that once the sniping that marks national elections ended, Trump would settle into his deal-making skin and be able to rally the two major parties around a common agenda, their partisan arguments over immigration and The Wall That Mexico Is Not Going To Pay For notwithstanding.
But this where I was dead wrong—and where the Trump presidency veered off course, at least in terms of being able to unify the nation and unleash a bipartisan agenda built on tax reform, jobs creation and a signature program such as the $1.5 trillion infrastructure program that Trump touted during his first State of the Union address a week ago.
The ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election that thrust him into office quickly turned from a dark cloud to a thunderous storm that has engulfed his presidency in turmoil.
But the opportunity is there — still — for POTUS No. 45 to begin changing the narrative of his precedency from one of toxic partisan division and political pandering to one that appeals to our nation’s better instincts. That doesn’t mean abandoning his core values and principles — whatever they are — but building a bigger political tent.
It means tamping down provocative rhetoric that stokes racism and xenophobia.
It means surrounding himself with more advisers who reflect America’s ethos and its ethnically diverse culture.
It means understanding why Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter — and being able to navigate all the gray matter that lies between those two truths, which should never be at odds.
It means not making intemperate accusations, as Trump did Monday when he accused Democrats of “treason” for refusing to stand up and cheer any parts of his SOTU speech last week.
Most of us, I imagine, already had moved on, but Trump can’t ever let go of digs that are all too common in politics. He also has a selective memory.
Was he asleep when his party’s members openly snubbed and snarled at Barack Obama, with one knucklehead — in the biggest breach of congressional decorum that I’ve ever seen — going so far as to yell “You lie!” for all the world to see?
If Trump wants to change the tone in Washington, he first needs to understand his role in it.
Rather than succumb to the insatiable cravings of a two-party system always hungry for the next election, Trump must rise to the occasion with grace and dignity.
A president should never pick at our scabs, because America has plenty of those.
A president must always seek to heal, to find the common threads that bind us, the common ground on which we can all stand — or kneel — as one.
A president that pits a nation against itself cannot succeed, at least not in the long run. Something must give. Either he or the nation will crumble in time.
I still believe in America’s resilience, and its resolve to be a beacon of hope for those blessed to call it home and for those who wish it were so.
As Trump spoke during his first SOTU address, I wondered, as he took a dig at kneeling NFL protesters, whether he could ever become Lincoln-like or more Reagan-esque.
In his presidential farewell to the nation, Reagan invoked the shining city upon a hill analogy that spoke to the values and ideals that once defined America.
“In my mind,” Reagan said, “it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and tempting with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
That’s the way I want to see it again.
James Ragland is a writer for the The Dallas Morning News. Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com.