Guest Editorial: Ruth Ann Dailey: Deed Trumps War of Words

  Ruth Ann Dailey, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Ruth Ann Dailey, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Guest Editorial - Ruth Ann Dailey - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -

By Ruth Ann Dailey

In all of American history, can a quicker judgment of “hypocrites!” be reached than it was Friday?

Faster than you can say “Electoral College,” anti-Trump demonstrators switched from chanting “Love trumps hate” to shattering windows, torching vehicles and throwing stones at the police. Yes, that’s some real love.

Unity, divisiveness, bipartisanship, polarization — words like these have dominated our civic discourse for years.

But actions speak louder than words, don’t they? They should, and sometimes they do, as with D.C.’s love-proclaiming vandals.

In a world increasingly transfixed by the cacophony of the immediate, though, it’s hard to keep track of both words and deeds, to arrive at a necessary moment of truth. Our attention flits from meme to tweet, and the farther someone is from our daily orbit, the more we forget to assess whether he or she “walked the talk.”

This weekend was no different. From the shuttering of the Clinton Foundation’s Global Initiative, to the charged language of the inauguration, to the (Some) Women’s March on Washington, we could easily fail to flush out the phony.

This, by the way, is the moment where one side says, “Exactly — a big phony just got elected,” and the other side says, “No, we kept a cynical phony out of the White House.” For argument’s sake, let’s accept the election results and move on to examine words and deeds, rhetoric and reality.

Donald Trump’s “word salad” has gone so low so often that it seems natural to hope the reality of his presidency can only be better. Many talking heads felt his inaugural address had remained in divisive mode, appealing to supporters rather than reaching out to the other side.

As encouraging as it would have been to hear the most noble, measured speech of all time, would it have made much difference? And if actions speak louder than words, Mr. Trump should get a nod for his gracious tribute to Hillary Clinton, summoning a standing ovation for her as all the dignitaries reassembled indoors.

This capped the week in which the Clinton’s Global Initiative quietly announced it was closing — a move that underscored critics’ assessment that it had always been an influence-peddling and self-enrichment game for the Clintons. If it were about doing good works, why need it end post-election? Here, actions betray words.

Though the purpose of the “Women’s March” was to protest ugly rhetoric and insist on women’s dignity — a call that initially crossed the partisan divide — organizers disinvited the pro-life “New Wave Feminists” and by extension a large chunk of women.

The Gallup Poll shows 41 percent of American women self-identify as pro-life (versus 50 percent pro-choice and 9 percent undecided). Words cast the march as inclusive, but the action was not. By contrast, Friday’s March for Life will include “Feminists for Life” and “Democrats for Life.”

Limited in time, marches and mobs are easy to assess, but reaching fair judgments on our presidents requires a longer memory and closer attention.

So, back to President Trump’s inaugural address, which, to this Never-Trump/ever-Hillary voter, was sometimes unsettling. Words like “ravages” and “carnage” carried too much emotion for a somber ceremony.

But some left-wing partisans went further than the evidence supports as they contrasted the new president’s rhetoric with his predecessor’s. Ezra Klein’s analysis for Vox is a good example, beginning with the headline: “Obama sought strength in unity. Trumpism finds power through division.”

It is one thing to talk of unity, another entirely to seek it. Did Barack Obama, in fact — not just in word — seek unity?

One of his first legislative acts as president was the “stimulus” of 2009, at a summit for which then-House Minority Leader Eric Cantor offered a short list of reportedly modest suggestions. Having swept into office on an anti-Republican rout, Mr. Obama disregarded Mr. Cantor’s gesture, responding, “Elections have consequences, and … I won.”

I have lost count of how many times Democrats have reminded me of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner’s announcing that their goal was to limit the Democratic president to one term (as if that weren’t the goal of every party out of power!).

But those statements came in 2010 — after both the stimulus and Obamacare had been rammed through Congress without Republican input or support.

And as the 2010, 2014 and 2016 elections demonstrate, actions do indeed have consequences.

If President Trump’s rhetoric was more polarizing than President Obama’s, the greater weight lies in action. The coming years will reveal whether his policies rise above his rhetoric, though I’d be grateful if both word and deed could yet soar.

Ruth Ann Dailey: