That question cropped up repeatedly, from President Trump’s supporters as well as his critics, after we launched our six-part series of editorials about the 45th president.
The answer is simple. Even though we’re only 11 weeks into the Trump presidency, there is good reason to believe that rather than grow into the job, he’ll remain the man he was on the campaign trail — impulsive, untruthful, narcissistic, ignorant of the limits on presidential power and woefully unprepared to wield it. Rather than wait until the public grew inured to the lies, the undermining of democratic institutions, the demagoguery and bluster, we decided to lay out our concerns at length and in detail.
The Times editorial board is a group of nine men and women that functions like an independent newsroom within the newspaper, metaphorically walled off from the news reporters. Unlike those reporters, whose job is to write objectively and dispassionately about the news, our job is to write opinion.
In the weeks after the election, we talked about doing a series of editorials on the changes Trump was proposing. Those included his determination to deport far more non-criminal immigrants living in the country illegally, his repudiation of generally accepted climate science and his rejection of the Affordable Care Act. One of our colleagues, however, made a point that caused us to think again: Although we strongly disagreed with many of Trump’s proposals, that wasn’t what made him so uniquely dangerous.
It’s the man himself, his character and temperament, that set him apart from his predecessors. So we decided to write instead about how Trump’s erratic, impulsive, narcissistic personality manifests itself in his actions in ways that pose a threat to our democracy.
We also wrestled with the tone. We were sharply critical of Trump during the campaign, saying that he was “spectacularly unfit to serve as president” and that if he were elected, we expected a “catastrophe.” In the days following his surprising victory over Hillary Clinton, however, we wrote that we hoped he would find a way to succeed “because we want this country to flourish.”
That remains true today. Yet we’ve grown increasingly doubtful that Trump will lead any responsible efforts to reform immigration policy, grow the economy, improve healthcare or achieve other shared goals. His Cabinet choices and budget proposals show he’s more interested in dismantling federal agencies and programs than improving their effectiveness.
So, were we jumping in too soon? Would it be better to compile a full year of heedless presidential tweets and impulsive acts? Wouldn’t our argument about Trump’s war on institutions be more persuasive if we waited until he actually defied a court ruling? And what if he gets a grip on himself and moderates his more reckless and heartless proposals?
We decided to move ahead because the future of the nation is at stake. These editorials set a baseline to help measure the president’s performance over the rest of his term, especially how truthful he is, his relationship with the media and how well he curbs his recklessness and impulsiveness.
We divided the pieces among six editorial writers, who spent several weeks conceiving, reporting and writing drafts of the installments. The full board also discussed each of the pieces in our meetings and via email as each writer circulated his or her draft, to help hone the arguments.
A good illustration of that back-and-forth is the last piece in the series, on how California should fight back against Trump’s worst policies. Some editorial board members felt strongly that certain state and local leaders were overreacting to the threats Trump made; others disagreed. SB 54, the “sanctuary state” bill, captures that conflict. Some of us thought it was an appropriate effort to protect local police and sheriffs’ deputies from being dragooned into the service of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, potentially damaging their relationship with immigrants in their communities and threatening public safety. Others worried that sections of the still-evolving proposal would interfere with ICE’s ability to do its job.
The first installment alone has been read by more than 4 million people around the world. We hope that we’ve prompted you to think more deeply about President Trump, the job he’s doing and how he fits into our system of government. We’ve also suggested a number of ways to respond to him, especially for Californians who feel uniquely threatened by his rhetoric on illegal immigration and sanctuary cities, his desire to abandon the fight against climate change and his eagerness to roll back even successful state implementations of Obamacare.
We will continue to do our part, commenting on how he conducts the affairs of state. That includes supporting him when he behaves responsibly, as we continue to hope he will, and critiquing him if he continues to be as intemperate, petty and head-spinningly inconsistent as he’s been so far. Ultimately, though, it’s not just up to us, but to you as well to demand better from him, day after day.
This piece was written by Nicholas Goldberg, the editor of The Times’ Editorial Pages, and Jon Healey, the Deputy Editorial Page Editor.