President-elect Trump, you want to lead America? Start by saying sorry

Story highlights

  • Issac Bailey: I declined an invitation to celebrate the inauguration this week
  • Trump entering as least most popular president, and it's his own fault, he says

Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)Donald Trump will be my president even though I don't want him to be. Make no mistake, though, Trump's taking the oath Friday will be a legitimate political exercise only because he achieved every constitutional requirement to claim the office, not because he is a great, or even a good man.

I'm no more willing to deny the reality of a Trump presidency any more than I am to relinquish my status as US citizen, because this is my country, too, for good and for ill. If I can handle the uncritical acceptance of the image of slave owners on our currency, I can handle a Trump presidency.
Issac Bailey
Still, I sympathize with the deeper point Rep. John Lewis was making when he called Trump "illegitimate." That's why I turned down an invitation to celebrate in Washington this week with a group of Republicans who I believe sincerely want to make the nation better. I trust their intentions and share some of their goals. But I don't want to be part of the revelry. I don't want to give any indication that I approve of how Trump rose to this position.
    Trump has created a foulness, which not even the presidency could disinfect, with his tweets, proposals, insults and insistence upon trying to delegitimize -- with a bigoted conspiracy theory -- the man who will be passing him the baton Friday. Attending would be a bridge too far, especially given that the man about to walk into the White House seems incapable of self-reflection or owning up to his role in the ugliness that has overtaken our politics over the past several years.
    There is something Trump can do to convince more Americans to accept the legitimacy of his position: Go on a domestic apology tour. It would show his critics he is serious about representing us all well. And it would make life a lot easier for his supporters and would-be allies who find themselves in an untenable position. His crudeness, his unwillingness to look beyond his own interests, forces them to wonder if they are compromising themselves, and their own principles, trying to work with such a man.
    There were questions raised about Bill Clinton's legitimacy in 1992 because he won just 43% of the popular vote in a competitive three-way contest, a fact used against him politically during his first term. George W. Bush's victory was called into question because his opponent won the popular vote, and the Supreme Court stepped in to stop a crucial recount in Florida.
    Those were understandable reactions to what felt unprecedented in modern times. Trump's situation is different.
    It's true that he secured more than enough Electoral College votes to claim victory. He won by the rules set up to assure a peaceful transfer of power in our representative republic. Though there are serious questions remaining about the impact of decisions made by Russia, WikiLeaks and the FBI in 2016 -- which should be fully investigated -- there's no evidence voting tallies were tampered with, the only scenario under which it would be appropriate to ask for a do-over.
    But he did not secure even half of the vote during the presidential primary. He lost the general election to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. He's entering the White House as the least popular president in recent memory. And it is mostly his fault, not James Comey's or his political opponents.
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    Trump has a lot to atone for, and until he does, serious men such as Lewis who have sacrificed for this country like few others, will have every right to continue questioning him.
    Going to the people he hurt and demeaned the past few years and listening and apologizing would be a great start. It would be one way to begin convincing Americans that we didn't elect a really small man to a really big office.