On Thursday I watched President-elect Donald Trump lay a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. It was essentially Trump's first presidential act leading up to his inauguration. It was a solemn ceremony, and it seemed to me that the president-elect was moved by his participation in the event.
My feeling was that perhaps the rituals and routine but necessary duties of the presidency might restrain some of Trump's worst impulses. Yet everything that has followed has provided evidence for a less auspicious beginning.
During the inauguration, President Trump had his first opportunity to speak to the American people. He chose to speak to his supporters and made little attempt to unify the country or project himself as president of all the people. He failed to show much graciousness in acknowledging the contributions to the country of current or former presidents, presidential candidates, or members of either political party.
On Saturday, Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency, ostensibly, to mend fences with the agency he had been feuding with about Russian cyberattacks. He handled this event by denying that he had ever had a feud with the CIA and by denouncing the press as consisting of the most dishonest people anywhere.
Then, he stood in front of a sacred spot, the wall of honor, which remembers those individuals of the CIA who have given their lives in the service of their country. Trump spent his time there giving essentially a political speech and talking at length about the size of his inauguration crowd. Later that day he sent out his press secretary to lambast the media and proclaim that Trump had the largest inaugural crowd in history, even though this was demonstrably false.
Also on Saturday, more than 500,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., to proclaim their commitment to values that Trump has belittled. For his part, Trump ignored the protesters, which included well over a million individuals across the country. Finally, on Sunday morning, he tweeted that he thought there had been an election, so why were these people marching? Why didn't they vote in November?
It appears to be difficult for this president to treat people who disagree with him with respect. He doesn't seem to want to observe even the most basic gestures of courtesy or polite behavior. He still has major difficulties accepting the truth.
These measures of decency and civil conduct matter. As he moves ahead with his presidency in substantive ways, the manner in which he conducts himself will make a difference.
The jury is still out on President Donald Trump. Pope Francis, when asked about Trump, said that we need to "wait and see." I do think it is safe to say that this president has a lot to learn about what it means to be presidential and how one should behave as president of the United States.