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Myths and Truths About the Trump Presidency

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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To liberal Democrats and a few Republicans: Get over it. Donald J. Trump will become president of the United States this week. Accept it.

As unsettling as the prospect may be, it's better to go in open-eyed, recognizing realities and dispelling myths, including:

-- Trump is unpredictable. 

He likes to convey this notion, and he is mercurial and unconventional. Most presidents-elect don't attack a renowned actress or belittle a Republican senator. But almost nothing he has done since Nov. 8 really is unpredictable, including his appointments, policy pronouncements (such as they are) and thin-skinned outbursts against anyone he feels slighted by. His policies will be guided more by political instincts -- which have served him well -- and what sells, rather than by any principles or ideology. Last week, he embraced the government negotiating drug prices, a long-held liberal dream.

-- He will be a Twitter-happy front man, leaving governance to others. This is a silly idea. Yet there are top business people and even smart Washington Republicans who paint the scenario that Vice President Michael Pence will be the administration's chief operating officer; House Speaker Paul Ryan will direct the domestic agenda, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will be the adults on national security.

Trump never would accept being a mere figurehead. And how about Steve Bannon, the alt-right publisher of Breitbart News, who has enormous influence? 

-- He can galvanize public support, threatening opponents with his electoral mandate.

First, he didn't get any mandate. He lost the popular vote by more than two points, or a little less than three million. The latest poll, by Gallup, found that a majority of the public disapproves of the Trump transition. He will come into office with the lowest rating of any modern president.

The realities:

-- Transparency, truth and high ethics will not be at a premium in the Trump years.

This likely will be the least transparent presidency since Richard Nixon's. Trump got away with it during the campaign -- he was the first president in 40 years to refuse to release his tax returns. And he continues to use the specious excuse that he's being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. How do we know that's true? And if it is, is he really facing 10 years of audits? The only way the information the public should have will come out is through Freedom of Information Act filings and lawsuits.  

This may be the least ethical administration. The president-elect's refusal to sell his business interests or put his assets in a real blind trust means conflicts of interest will shadow his entire presidency. He actually bragged about turning down a $2 billion deal with Dubai recently. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a top White-House-aide-to-be who faces his own conflict questions, met eight days after the election with a Chinese tycoon with government connections to discuss a deal.

A disciple of the nefarious Roy Cohn, Trump, more than any national politician I've seen, has no compunction about lying and lying again. This past week, he again denied he ever ridiculed the physical disabilities of a New York Times reporter. Anyone who looks at that November 2015 tape -- Trump, his arms flailing, mocking the disabilities -- and who has talked to the reporter can only be 100 percent certain that's what he did. Yet he continues to lie about it. On matters of substance there is no reason to believe this deeply ingrained habit won't persist.

-- He hates the press, though he isn't the first president to feel that way. His personal attacks and insults and even limited access are not big concerns, though he might intimidate some television networks.

But Trump is vengeful and with the vast powers of state -- far greater than in the Nixon era -- will he have a list of media enemies that he will try to harm? He already has leveled threats against the Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos because he is the owner of the Washington Post.

-- Some of his appointments, however, are reassuring. An example: Dan Coats will be the new director of national intelligence. The Indiana conservative is a man of conscience who would resign rather than sanction illicit activities against Trump foes.

The revelations these past few days about serious investigations into Trump's connections with Russia could dominate, casting a shadow over his early presidency. It's going to be a fascinating ride. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net