“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
― Mark Twain
I wished President Obama well when he was inaugurated, I liked and supported a majority of his policies, and I have tremendous respect for the respect in turn that he seemed to have for his office in terms of his temperament and behavior. I believe he would have been justified many times in his presidency in lashing out in anger against the blatant disrespect and obstructionism thrown in his face, and I admire him for choosing not to do so. I understand that he was keen to avoid negative racial stereotypes (such as being an “angry black man”) but even in that, I admire his understanding that what the president does sets a precedence. He seemed very keen to always be in control of his self presentation as an aspect of his office.
image via Wikipedia
If nothing else, I believe a lesson learned for all the citizenry from this political cycle is that a number of expectations Americans have for their political leaders are not necessarily enshrined in law, but rather in precedent and convention. For example, it is correct that the president is not required by law to divest his business interests, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s expected that a man or woman in that position would. That’s what precedent and convention say s/he should do. For all we whine and complain about politicians, there are some age old notions and assumptions that we as a culture cling to about how people in public life ought to behave. It’s the difference between being a public person and being a celebrity and why sex scandals can bring down the one and jumpstart a Kardashian style family empire in the other. I happen to like the distinction because I believe fundamentally that entertainment and politics should be different and want my leaders to follow a degree of convention that I do not expect from celebrities and entertainers.
Of course, that is not the world we are living in. Information and entertainment have become dangerously entwined. But what I find amazing about this in the current moment is that one of the architects of this media landscape…is Donald Trump himself. He was an early reality TV star, a genre that purposefully blurs the line between fact and fiction. He parlayed brand into entertainment, entertainment to media prominence, prominence to the illusion of being a reputable commentator, commentator to candidate, and now elected office.
President Trump is a celebrity first and foremost. This is what has allowed him to survive scandals and kerfuffles that would have brought down a traditional politician in his same shoes. Several supporters hold this up as a virtue, that he cannot be unmade by violations of convention that would taint a more conventional candidate, but I see fundamental danger in it. Celebrities are expected to get ratings, get people talking about them, and get rich off their brand. Elected officials are expected to govern. I don’t trust that he’s made this distinction in his own mind between being media famous and being politically powerful.
My personal prediction is that President Trump will not last a full term of office. I think that impeachment due to his numerous existing and potential future conflicts of interest is very likely. I also think that it’s very likely that the constraints of the office and government bureaucracy (slow by design) may prove frustrating to an obviously impatient man and he may simply quit. His prominence rose out of his own propagation of false news, something that I believe very likely to be turned against him during his term of office–something he has already (ironically, in my opinion) started complaining of. In short, I think his inability to accept the conventions of behavior and action that American’s have historically expected of their leaders may undo him. I think that people may have been willing to accept a media personality on the trail, but will expect a more conventional leader in office…and I don’t think he has it in him. It’s not what’s made him “successful,” and his behavior thus far doesn’t lead me to believe he will make the transition.
Of course, I may be proven wrong and he will turn out great, or at the very least his government will keep a rein on him. I’d actually love to proven wrong and that a man who thus far has seemed uniquely temperamentally unfit, professionally unqualified, and borderline hilariously thin skinned will do a good job. I’ll be the first to put up my hand and declare, “Yep, I got this one way off!” But I doubt it.
Lend me your thoughts or predictions, kittens.
3 thoughts on “Public Life, Publicity, and a Prediction”
i think his public persona is just that–a persona–and that he’s incredibly savvy when it comes to image creation. that doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily turn out to be good at public office, but i don’t think we can make many assumptions based on the way he behaved on the campaign trail. frankly, we’re in a different era in terms of media than we were even in 2012: right now, trump’s uncensored social media presence seems vastly inappropriate for a president-elect, but in the near future such a presence may be not only a norm but a requirement.
i also think that there’s way more manufacturing in politics than we discuss; trump feels like more of an outlier in that regard than he is, because the image he chooses to create is so different from the status quo. but look at the 2008 election–remember the almost cultish worship of obama, especially among millennials? the imagery in his signs, his rhetorical style, the heavy leaning on young peoples’ idealism with overpromising about hope and change–it was a MUCH different (and less offensive) approach than trump’s, but no less manufactured. and it worked on its target demographics in the same way trump’s approach worked on his. i’m not at all trying to disparage obama: he handled his presidency with grace, and worked for change in the ways he could, but it was hardly a revolution in the sense his campaign suggested it would be. and of course they knew that would never happen, because that’s not feasible in our government structure (nor should it be; we don’t want a revolution every 4-8 years, jeffersonian anecdotes aside).
with regard to trump’s crassness and deliberate offensiveness…no, it’s not the image we like to have of our presidents, but again, there is recent precedent. johnson was aggressively unrefined and pretty damn offensive by choice, and although that was a different time, it wasn’t all that long ago in presidential terms. the “blunt outsider” persona is one of the most basic political identities to construct.
again, none of this is to say he’ll be an effective president (nor is it getting into his actual policies, which is a different matter entirely). but in terms of marketing…i mean, look at the way the kennedy white house presented itself. “camelot” didn’t spring fully formed from zeus’ head (and jacqueline deserves as much credit as jfk for creating a mythology that’s still going strong 50+ years later). look at teddy roosevelt for the “tough overly macho guy” persona. look at reagan for the celebrity as president–no, he didn’t have a social media empire, but that was 30+ years ago, and being an actor is less of a leadership qualification than being a corporate executive.
i think he’ll finish at least one term, because he genuinely believes his ideas will benefit the country. he’s pretty set on a lot of financial and trade ideas and has already set the stage for some of that (i don’t think the taiwan communique was an “accidental blunder;” it was a very intentional choice made with full understanding of its implications). i doubt he’ll be impeached, and impeachment doesn’t mean “kicked out of office” anyway. frankly, i think he’d see impeachment as a further tool for pushing his platform. he thrives on opposition, and so do his supporters; that’s a major part of his messaging.
anyway, hope you’ve enjoyed this disorganized novel, lol. i just think it’s very interesting how so much of the discourse about trump buys into his very calculated image rather than stripping that away to look at the intent underneath. in my opinion, it’s because many americans are so emotionally invested that they’re responding to that rather than stepping back to take a more objective approach. we’re very good at deconstructing putin’s public image; it’s time we do that to trump as well so we can engage in a productive conversation instead of sidetracking ourselves in righteous indignation over smoke and mirrors.
All excellent points! I tried to be be somewhat distant in putting together these thoughts, but perhaps I didn’t succeed. I give him a LOT of credit for his marketing savvy (because I do think its deliberate and that he has a genius for it). And I agree that Pre. Obama’s messaging was in many ways the opposite side of the same coin. But I think where you and I differ is that I don’t expect his behaviors to change now that he’s in office (based to some extent on his behavior not changing in response to his election). And my double prediction is that this will continue into his presidency and will in turn either hobble him significantly, or lead to some kind of incident that endangers his presidency.
I’m not prophesying doom and gloom and the destruction of the country! I think we will tick along just fine at the end of the day. But I do think that there is large capacity for the very people who elected him to turn on him when vague promises don’t pan out. President Obama isn’t alone in overpromising, in my opinion. And I stand by my thinking that no one may end up being more surprised at the limits of the office that President Trump himself.
All caveat-ed, again, that I may be wrong!