Is President Trump behaving in the manner befitting a president? How should we define what is, and is not, presidential? Just as importantly, how much does it matter? Graham J. Noble explores the serious — and not so serious — answers to these questions. In Part one of two, the serious answers.
We have heard a lot, over the past few months, about the apparently inappropriate statements and behavior of President Donald Trump. More than any United States president in living memory – even more than George W. Bush or Barack Obama – Trump has been the target of intensely personal attacks, even from conservatives. What drives this obsession with destroying his character, as opposed to simply criticizing his policies? What is, and is not, appropriate behavior for a president and who gets to decide? Lastly – but not of least importance – why would Americans, of all people, want their president to conform to a defined and distinct ‘presidential’ mode of behavior?
The American political establishment has evolved into something akin to one large, extended royal family, not so much unlike the House of Saud which rules Saudi Arabia. Perhaps a thousand individuals – give or take – dominate the political landscape of the United States. Their hold on power is shored up by corporate, special-interest and wealthy individual donors, as well as money raised by political action committees and their staff. They are, more often than not, continuously re-elected, so that the business of politics becomes their careers. Behind closed doors and within select committees – to which they appoint each other – they make deals in which the American public has no say. They comprise the self-perpetuating ruling class. New members are groomed and welcomed in, but complete outsiders are viewed with suspicion – even alarm.
Trump is such an outsider. As a successful businessman, he schmoozed, and donated to, his share of politicians, but he was never one of them. His election to the highest office in the land sent a chill down the spine of the Washington, D.C. political club. He doesn’t talk like them or act like them. He doesn’t do things in certain ways just because those are the ways things have always been done. He is a nonconformist, by Washington standards, and to the entrenched, back-slapping old-boy network on Capitol Hill, his behavior is positively unbecoming. Democrats, naturally, dislike Trump’s demeanor even more so than their Republican colleagues; understandable, since he is a Republican president. Had he ascended to the White House as a Democrat, and still exhibited the same manners and idiosyncrasies, the Democrats would, doubtless, be far more forgiving.
For its part, the Democratic Party has no platform and no ideas beyond social justice and Trump an evil, insane nationalist. It is difficult to even recall the last time a prominent Democrat delivered a substantive policy speech. The monumental failure of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign was a stunning blow from which Democrats have yet to recover. Aside from brief moments of self-reflection, on the part of one or two Democrats, the opposition has focused on de-legitimizing Trump’s presidency. By doing this, they hope to avoid taking responsibility for their shortcomings. We know that most Americans agree with us, they tell themselves, so we really were supposed to win and Donald Trump is a usurper.
From the leftist perspective, this was the greatest theft of an election victory since Bush beat Al Gore. Former President George W. Bush was personally targeted as well but to a lesser degree, perhaps because Gore’s anticipated victory was never viewed with the aura of inevitability, in the way that Hillary Clinton’s march to the White House was viewed.
Now that Donald Trump — the nonconformist — is in the White House, how many Americans expected – or wanted – him to assume some preordained style of behavior and speech befitting a president? The United States was founded on a republican form of government; that is, a government that draws its authority directly from the people and a government that is populated by the people. Expectations of proper behavior have, historically, been applied to monarchs, princesses, and other royalty. Politicians, however, are supposed to be of the people. Increasingly, presidential candidates have been personalized, both in the media and the public eye. A question often posed of those running for office has been “is this someone you feel you could have a beer with?” Candidates often roll up their shirt-sleeves and loosen their ties before a speech, imitating – whether genuine or not – an informal ‘man of the people’ air. Americans have come to like their candidates assuming a common, familiar style. Why, then, once they are elected, would anyone suddenly want them to change that style and become aloof, separate, bureaucratic?
Former Presidents Clinton and Obama both assumed a somewhat casual style, whilst in office, and their supporters loved them for it. George W. Bush sometimes did the same, though – perhaps – less convincingly. When he did so, the left pointed to it as proof that he was some uneducated southern hick. Trump doesn’t feign that rolled-up sleeves, glad-handing common man style. He is all business but with an impulse to see certain criticisms as fightin’ words, and he will retaliate. The political and media elites are caught off-guard, again and again, by this behavior. Should not a president – as a man of the people – be allowed to punch back at his critics? Should Trump be constrained, by his office, to sit in silence while he and his family are personally attacked? That does not seem like the American way.
If we are to demand of our president a certain level of decorum, should we not also demand it of our senators and representatives? To quote but a few examples of the recent increase in foul language from politicians:
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez – who has a reputation as a foul-mouthed firebrand – said that Trump “doesn’t give a shit about health care.”
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand – referring to the president – asked a crowd of supporters “Has he kept his promises?” She then provided her answer. “No. F*ck no!” The senator went on to criticize Congress, saying “If we are not helping people, we should go the f*ck home.”
California Democratic Representative Maxine Waters, when asked about Housing and Urban Development chief Ben Carson, said: “I’m going to take his a** apart!”
Is this kind of language inappropriate for our elected leaders or does it merely remind us that they are human beings? It cannot be both, and the same must be said of the president – who, it should be noted, has not publicly used bad language since being inaugurated.
Donald Trump does not behave in a manner that is unbecoming of a president. There is and should not be such a manner. Refusing to conduct the affairs of state – declining to fulfill the constitutional duties of the office to which he was elected – would be conduct unbecoming of a president. Trump is acting in a perfectly presidential manner. One simply has to remember that he is acting in the manner of President Trump.
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