Donald Trump said many things during his election campaign that were unpleasant, indeed unacceptable. Still, despite the – entirely justified – opprobrium attached to his personal and political "locker room" talk, there was always some doubt about whether Mr Trump could actually implement some of his outlandish ideas.
Now, less than a week after his election, we discover he may not even have meant some of the pledges he made in the first place. Could it be his extremism and offensiveness were the means he used to get himself elected, just as they had won him the Republican nomination?
Now, with the votes safely in, are we glimpsing a New Trump?
One session with Barack Obama, for example, seems to have been enough to persuade President-elect Trump to preserve at least some important elements of the Affordable Care Act, or so-called Obamacare. Outright abolition had been the previous Trump stance; now things are unexpectedly nuanced, less dogmatic, and more pragmatic.
And what about the idea of building an ocean-to-ocean wall across the border with Mexico – with the Mexicans being presented with a bill for it? That was a promise that virtually defined Trumpism: crude, impatient of practicalities, ambitious, crowd-pleasing, xenophobic, and borderline nuts. Now Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, scourge of Bill Clinton, and Trump adviser, suggests it may not happen quite that way, with the tacit admission that the Trump administration wouldn't spend a great deal of time trying to collect the cost from the powers in Mexico City.
"Jail her" was a popular chant at Trump rallies. Here, again, the new president may find he has bigger fish to fry than Hillary – which happens to be true. He might not be unduly concerned if the relevant agencies pursued their cases, but it seems less likely he would want to reopen America's wounds with a special prosecutor.
On China, too, the threat to impose a blanket 45 per cent tariff has also been finessed by spokespeople. Most mercifully, the idea of banning all Muslims from entering the US – presumably including the King of Saudi Arabia, the President of Turkey and the Mayor of London – may be modulated into a more useful policy of caution over those arriving from places with poor surveillance and law-enforcement regimes.
Mr Trump remains the most hated and divisive figure to have been elected to the White House since the Civil War, but he may disappoint his worst critics – in a good way. Far from not being a politician, he will soon have to be the ultimate practitioner of the arts of compromise and negotiation. His cabinet will be full of members of what is often derided as the "elite", and some may develop ideas and opinions of their own. Generally, the constitution will place boundaries on what Trump's America can do, such as torturing prisoners. Congress, replete with special-interest groups and cussed legislators, will also put the brakes on things, even if the Republicans hold nominal majorities. The Supreme Court, even with a Trump appointee, ought not to be a pushover either.
Mr Trump's generals and officials will gave him frank advice. The media and public opinion will also provide a moderating influence (though not invariably, it must be admitted).
There are also international commitments and treaties, such as Nato, that would be difficult to reform and will probably survive, fundamentally. But the Paris Agreement on climate change is assuredly in immediate danger. It will, as we have reported, need a huge international effort to save it from being euthanised by Mr Trump and his allies in the Senate.
As anyone with experience of democratic government, from the tiddliest town council up, knows: it is always easier to do nothing than to get things changed. The advent of Mr Trump does not end that eternal verity. It is President Trump, not dictator Trump who will shortly run America. He cannot do as he wishes. He may not even wish to do many of things he said he would do. Could it be that The Donald is a politician, after all? He may even find himself quite at home in "the swamp" of Washington DC.
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