“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.