Witcover: Trump delivers a shock heard round the world

Witcover: The notion that Inauguration Day will bring a more conciliatory Donald defies the imagination.

It was like a rerun of the scene in the movie "Network" when television newscaster Howard Beale called on viewers to go to their windows, open them and shout, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

For Democrats, it also was like what Democratic Congressman Morris Udall said in 1976 upon losing his party's presidential nomination: "The people have spoken -- the bastards!"

Donald Trump's capture of the presidency, along with the Republican Party's majority retention of both houses of Congress, is a resounding protest against a federal government perceived as dysfunctional and irresponsive to an angry and frustrated American citizenry.

It was a cry of antagonism and rancor so strong that collectively it overcame Mr. Trump's personal crudity, brutality, boorishness and, yes, demonstrable unfitness for leading the nation in a time of domestic and global turmoil.

Perhaps most of all, his election confirmed his ability to connect with white working- and middle-class voters struggling to make ends meet in a painfully sluggish economy. They proved to be mostly out of reach for Hillary Clinton, whose own wealth and penchant for privacy turned them off.

Perhaps the Democrat best suited by experience and temperament to make that case was Vice President Joe Biden, who declined to run and instead campaigned energetically for Clinton. In the process, he lamented his party's failure to press adequately its traditional role as champion of the blue-collar working stiff now trying to survive amid a vanishing manufacturing base.

Mr. Trump, in celebrating his startling victory that made fools of the professional pollsters, pundits and the news media, wisely pivoted to assurances that he would be president of all the people. It was a statement that drew considerable doubt, in light of his harsh campaign observations on women, minorities and anyone who had the effrontery to oppose him.

The immense responsibility that comes with the American presidency should bring to Trump a heightened sense of the power soon to be entrusted to him, and a greater wisdom to tone down his personal ego, self-absorption and other excesses that have riled much of the nation.

The new president will have his work cut out for him not only in soothing the disappointment of the vanquished Democrats but in restoring unity in his own adopted party. Its leading establishment figures pointedly opposed him in the primaries and some of them thereafter.

However, in the end many others returned to the GOP fold, and the recent rise in Obamacare premiums should enhance his pledge to "repeal and replace" the Democratic health-care insurance law, after more than 60 failed attempts during the Obama years.

The tortured behavior of House Speaker Paul Ryan in declining to campaign with or for Mr. Trump may leave some scars. But there should remain considerable grounds for cooperation between them along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who prudently kept his powder dry with Trump throughout.

The most troublesome area in the Trump administration may be foreign policy, where a combination of the celebrity businessman's glaring lack of experience and his open courtship of Russian President Vladimir Putin will be closely scrutinized by the public and his own party.

Finally, what will be the relationship between Mr. Trump and the American news media he consistently berated over the last year? In 1968, upon the election of Richard Nixon, Washington Post cartoonist Herblock pictorially gave Nixon's heavy beard a shave, observing that every new president deserved a clean one.

That gesture struck the right note in greeting a new administration, but it didn't last long. Nixon's presidency and his personal behavior eventually spiraled down to his eventual resignation in the Watergate fiasco.

The notion that Inauguration Day will bring a new and more conciliatory Donald toward the press defies the imagination. And he shouldn't expect much of a similar reprieve from the journalism fraternity in light of the war he waged against it this year. His threat to alter libel laws by executive order to counter unfavorable stories in major Trump targets will keep free-press defenders on his heels, which is probably OK with his combative nature.

Jules Witcover's latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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