The Trump Era Begins
The world has turned upside down. How you feel about the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the Presidency depends on whether you were already standing right side up or were already upside down. There is so much happening all at once that it is dizzying for long time observers, so I am going to try to make some sense out of what I am seeing. I hope it helps.
- Donald Trump vs. the Media – so much of the tension here is because both the federal government and the mainstream media are standing on tectonic plates and they are breaking down, colliding, and even reaching out for each other in a co-dependency like we have never seen before. The power of the presidency is a bully pulpit and for centuries the occupants of the Oval Office relied on the press to get out their message to constituents and world leaders. The trade-off was that the President was willing to subject himself to inquiry and the reporters got their stories. But our new President is a master of communicating directly with the world in his own way and social media enables him to bypass the press. Meanwhile, mainstream press is out of the loop, suffering from fewer viewers and subscribers, and threatened by serious distrust from the public. Ironically, the media seem to need Trump more than vice versa because he is such good drama and copy for them. He communicates via Twitter just like Presidents Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt used the radio and John F. Kennedy mastered the art of television. New medium, new world. I am troubled by his thin skin and his potential capacity to alienate world leaders, but – as he himself would remind us – he won and things are different.
- The Post Teflon Presidency – Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton frustrated reporters because they knew how to communicate genuine feelings to middle class Americans and had high approval ratings. Reagan’s numbers suffered after the Iran-Contra Scandal but they were still pretty good. Clinton was hurt early in his term because of the failed effort to reform health care but survived his personal peccadilloes because voters seemed to like him and mainly disliked Congressional overreach during his impeachment proceedings. But again Trump seems to defy all the rules of engagement. The public already knew he was a billionaire and had a powerful brand and they pretty much don’t seem to care about potential conflicts of interest. Aside from partisans on the left who hate the new President already, the public at large appears to want to stick to the economy and give the new President a chance. The press will hold his feet to the fire, but frankly how does Trump truly divest himself from “Trump”, the iconic brand? And as for stories of wild romps with prostitutes in Moscow, does anyone see this guy as a hypocrite? Instead of Teflon, the Trump frying pan is already so filled with rust and grime that there just doesn’t seem to be any more room for stories of bad behavior. He has survived all of the horrible stories already. As for BuzzFeed irresponsibly releasing an unvetted intelligence report, that itself revealed an agenda showing just how low some in the media will go to get clicks. Does a name like BuzzFeed really generate much confidence in the first place? Why not just call it what it is – DesperateForClicks?
- Donald Trump vs. John Lewis – Of course Lewis is an iconic symbol of the Civil Rights Movement and he is clearly stating his case, as he should. His opposition to Trump is consistent with his whole life. But denying the “legitimacy” of the new President does not aid the cause of democracy. Mr. Trump won 30 states, a huge majority of counties, most of the key battleground states. Russian interference in an American election is indeed serious and troubling but there has been no evidence that it changed votes or manipulated any voting machines. It is true that opponents questioned the legitimacy of the Bill Clinton presidency, and Trump himself questioned the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s citizenship, but Mr. Lewis is not advancing the cause of getting the people’s work done by going down this very sick road. Express anger, vow to do everything to stop what you do not like, but don’t question the wisdom of the voters. It will not make Hillary Clinton any more deserving of election or affection than she was a few months ago.
With all this said, Mr. Trump enters office with the lowest approval ratings of any President ever. And he has not done anything at all to try to build a majority coalition to govern. His thin skin and late night tantrums via Twitter do not generate much optimism for me. While he has backed down from some of his most outrageous displays of outright bigotry during his campaign, there is still reason to feel that we Americans are jumping into an abyss. But January 20 is a new day and we at least should wait to see how he kicks off his Presidency.