The election outcome has a lot of people wondering what Donald J. Trump as president will be like. The reason: President-elect Trump has taken widely different stances on the same topics, sometimes within hours. I find myself wishing for a return of the 1950s TV game show “To Tell the Truth.”
On “To Tell the Truth,” a panel of four celebrities sought to discern which of a group of contestants had an unusual occupation or had undergone an unusual experience. The two imposters could lie, but the central character was sworn to tell the truth. At the end of the questioning, the moderator said, “Will the real … please stand up?”
In our modern-day version, Trump plays all the characters – those lying and the one telling the truth. We in the public are left trying to guess what’s real.
Here are some examples:
A. Candidate Trump: He said to Hillary Clinton: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation. … Because you’d be in jail.” (Oct. 9, 2016 – Presidential debate)
B. President-Elect Trump: “I don’t want to hurt them … They’re good people.” (Nov. 13, 2016 – CBS 60 Minutes Interview)
In the same CBS 60 Minutes interview, this exchange:
A. President-Elect Trump: “We have great generals.”
Lesley Stahl: “You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.”
B. President-Elect Trump: “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. … They haven’t done the job.”
A. President-Elect Trump: On Twitter, “@realDonaldTrump – Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair.” (Nov. 10, 2016)
B. President-Elect Trump: “@realDonaldTrump – Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!” (Nov. 10, 2016 – nine hours after first tweet)
A. Candidate Trump: The one who brags about assaulting women, attacks Gold Star parents, calls Latino immigrants murderers and rapists, threatens every person who is a Muslim.
B. President-Elect Trump: “Don’t be afraid. We are going to bring our country back. But certainly, don’t be afraid.” (Read the entire 60 Minutes transcript here.)
So, if the moderator said, “Will the real Donald J. Trump please stand up,” which one would it be? The one who rallied followers and votes around the idea of putting Hillary Clinton in jail or the one who lets her off? The one who praises generals or the egotist who claims he knows better? The one who believes people exercising freedom of speech is unfair or the one who speaks for all Americans?
The proof will be in the actions
As a public relations counselor for 30 years, I reinforced to my clients that their words were important, but equally important was that the words were backed up by credible actions.
So far, Trump appears to say whatever he thinks the audience in front of him wants to hear. Because of that, President Trump has a challenge on his hands.
To bring the country together, he will have to prove to people of color, Muslims, and women that they have nothing to fear. Yet, to satisfy the people who elected him, he needs to fulfill his campaign promises: bring back steel jobs, put Clinton in jail, build the wall, deport millions of immigrants.
Less than a week after the election, President-Elect Trump began backing off on the wall, on completely dismantling the Affordable Care Act, on mass deportation. Will his supporters stay with him now?
At the same time, Trump has named as one of his closest advisors alt-right Stephen Bannon who promotes anti-Semetic, racist, sexist views. Can Trump really convince people he supports all Americans?
For my part, I’ll be using one of President Ronald Reagan‘s favorite lines: “Trust, but verify.” Ironic that this is a Russian proverb, no?
Along with the rest of the country – and the world – I’ll be watching to see which President stands up.
Words matter. The actions behind the words do, too.