Friday morning’s Drudge Report featured two opinion pieces about President Trump, one which slammed his “suffocating presence,” and the other, which regarded his presidency as supported by emotion in the same way that President Obama’s support was. The mainstream media continue to miss the point, though there is indeed an element of reality that both pieces did touch upon.
To look at the claims in these pieces, we first look at the first piece, from a USA Today piece written by Rob Montz. We included the lede and added emphasis:
Given the presidency’s evolution, Donald Trump, the overlord of American politics, is not a fluke, or some historic anomaly. He’s an inevitability.
Another day, another avalanche of news about the President: berating Democratic leaders on camera; unceremoniously announcing the departure of his chief of staff; calling his former Secretary of State “dumb as a rock.”
It never lets up. Trump is a ubiquitous, suffocating presence in American life.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The modern presidency is the framers’ worst nightmare, a flatly unconstitutional concentration of power. As the Trump era has made abundantly clear, the office itself — its size, scope, and prominence in American life — is the driving force of dysfunction in our politics.
Article II of the Constitution outlines a modest office. The president was to execute the laws passed by Congress, appoint some key government posts, interface with foreign leaders, and use the veto to check populist passions.
That’s it. The president was basically a lackey to Congress, the deliberative and more democratically sensitive branch of government.
That design worked pretty well for the first 150 years. On the rare occasions when the executive branch assumed excessive powers — such as Lincoln suspending habeas corpus protections at the height of the Civil War — the office’s constitutional constraints kept the commander-in-chief in check.
The rest of Mr. Montz’ piece goes on to attempt to trace an historical route by which the presidency appealed to emotion and increased in its level of power. This is a theme which Peggy Noonan, a more nuanced opinion writer, also touched on in her piece, which ran in The Wall Street Journal, also with added emphasis:
[A] poll left me thinking of what a high-ranking Republican who himself was once considered a possible president said last week… He speculated aloud on a hunch… that Mr. Trump might not run for re-election. Think of it, he said. Unrelenting bad news is likely coming—final findings from Mr. Mueller, a new and hungry Democratic House, more investigations, little bipartisanship, economic uncertainty. It’s not going to be fun; the outlook for re-election will dim.
So, the politician said, imagine this: The president wakes up one morning and announces that, actually and amazingly, he’s accomplished everything he set out to do when he ran in 2016—cut taxes, appointed judges, faced off with China, made better trade deals, controlled immigration, improved the outlook for financial markets. “I accomplished in four years what other guys couldn’t do in eight!” the president says: “My work is done!”And he’s gone. The politician thought this just might happen.
Since we’ve already begun to look toward 2020, a thought on what we’ve been doing the past few cycles.
Here is my concern: Politics is part theater, part showbiz, it’s always been emotional, but we’ve gotten too emotional, both parties. It’s too much about feelings and how moved you are. The balance is off. We have been electing magic ponies in our presidential contests, and we have done this while slighting qualities like experience, hard and concrete political accomplishment, even personal maturity. Barack Obama, whatever else he was, was a magic pony. Donald Trump too. Beto O’Rourke, who is so electrifying Democrats, also appears to be a magic pony.
Messrs. Obama and Trump represented a mood. They didn’t ask for or elicit rigorous judgment, they excited voters. Mr. Trump’s election was driven by a feeling of indignation and pushback: You elites treat me like a nobody in my own country, I’m about to show you who’s boss. His supporters didn’t consider it disqualifying that he’d never held office. They saw it as proof he wasn’t in the club and could turn things around. His ignorance was taken as authenticity. In this he was like Sarah Palin, another magic pony.
After two wars and an economic crisis, Mr. Obama gleamed with hope and differentness. This shining 47-year-old intellectual—surely he’ll turn things around. He’d been an obscure and indifferent state legislator who was only two years in the U.S. Senate when the move to make him president began. It was all—a feeling. He was The One. Mr. O’Rourke, who’s shooting up in the polls as a possible Democratic contender, is sunny, friendly, even-keeled. He reminds some Democrats of Bobby Kennedy—soulful, able to see and summon the things you like best in yourself. He even looks like a son of Bobby Kennedy. He is 46, has served only six years in the House, and before that was on the City Council of El Paso, Texas.
Our public political culture has given in too much to emotionalism. Last week at the George H.W. Bush funeral, which functioned as a two-hour portal into the old America, something was unsatisfying. Bush’s political life spanned 30 years. He had a way of seeing the world, thoughts and assumptions about it, a point of view, and these things had an impact on history. But most everyone speaking, and most in the pews, spoke not of the meaning of these things but of his personal qualities. That has its place, but we are talking history here, and the thoughts that produce it. The same was true at John McCain’s funeral.
We are highlighting emotions in our public life at the expense of meaning. And again, emotions are part of life and part of us, but only part, not the whole.
Of the two pieces, it appears that Peggy Noonan’s piece is closer to understanding the root of the problem; in fact, her thesis is demonstrated by Mr. Montz’ statement that “Trump is a ubiquitous, suffocating presence in American life”, and the amazingly ignorant, but emotionally loaded assertion that “the President was basically a lackey to Congress…”, which is a hidden complaint about President Trump that probably would not have been applied to another person holding the Office of the Presidency.
This statement is itself completely based in emotion, and it is an assertion that would certainly resonate with others who feel the same way. However, for Trump supporters, this statement is simply a reflection of the reporter’s personal bias, proving Noonan right – that emotion reigns supreme in politics these days.
However, Peggy Noonan goes awry from that point, attempting to draw a contrast with emotionally driven politics by the use of nostalgia, this being for President George H.W. Bush and his era, almost thirty years ago.
Nostalgia is primarily emotional, though, as anyone remembering the first Iraq war will also remember that it was regarded with a fair amount of misgivings itself. The sentimental walk down Memory Lane also distorted then-President Bush’s reversal on tax policy when he went back on his pledge not to ever raise taxes.
However, Noonan’s point about emotionalism taking a primary position in politics is absolutely correct. There is far too much emphasis placed on how a candidate makes someone feel. Indeed, Candidate Obama’s ability to evoke an emotion many people classified as “hope” created a truly starry-eyed electorate, who then voted in someone who proceeded to damage America’s founding institutions – faith in God as the Author of Liberty, and the love of family, in a manner that would have made the likes of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin rejoice.
Barack Obama was able to evoke emotion so well that he actually was able to say what he planned to do to “fundamentally transform” the United States in a very direct manner. To anyone who was able to set aside emotion (usually people who did not support him), it was apparent that he represented a basic threat to the United States as it was traditionally based.
However, with President Trump this situation is curiously reversed. President Trump is absolutely a great showman. His rallies indeed rally his supporters, and there is a lot of emotion. Rather than nebulous “hope” that turned sour for many Americans, President Trump evokes people’s own sense of freedom and liberty to pursue their own dreams, with the added punch of stopping the liberal craziness in America. However, for the news media, it appears that they are unable to process anything but emotion as regards Trump, when his actual policy speeches and announcements are extremely clear and dispassionate while being supportive. Look at this video as an example, for the First Step Act, a bipartisan prison reform bill.
President Trump’s speech is effusive with praise for other people and for the Act itself and what it promises. However, the description is replete with details that give information about the proposed bill.
However, the media ignored this, and did not cover it. The same thing happened with reforms to prescription medication pricing – a most substantive speech but with no media coverage at all.
The reason is because the media is given to emotionalism and sensationalism as a way to sell entertainment. In other words, the complaint about emotionalism comes from the purveyors of it.
It is easier to move a mob to an emotion than it is to get them to think for themselves, and it is also easier for would-be policymakers to sneak difficult ideas through Congressional passage by deflecting to emotionalism rather than discussing facts and information.
This finds fertile ground with an American public that has not been taught how to think for about forty years now. Increasingly, young students are taught what to think, but not how to think. This, of course, is indoctrination, not education.
While Peggy Noonan correctly pointed out that emotion as a basis for judgment is not appropriate for the governance of the Republic, she fell back to evoking emotion rather than reason. In order for this situation to change, we must become educated and thoughtful citizens of our Republic.
The United States was built on a set of ideas, that were put into practice by people that respected God and their liberty, and took it seriously as a matter of great gravity. To determine one’s own course in life means making difficult discursive analysis and choices. It means that the ability to reason is inestimably important. While it is possible to reject this process, it is also inevitable that the result will be… what we have now.
These guys saw it coming. Their images may be silly, but their words are prophetic.