Talk about cognitive dissonance…
The recent barrage of anti-Trump stories, self-inflicted Presidential wounds and media smears has the President’s approval ratings down again, back to his unshakable 37% or so core, presumable the American who, as he so memorably joked, would support him if he shot someone in Times Square. It has also been as high in some polls as 50% in the not so distant past, and substantively, not much has changed, except that the economic news keeps getting better. “There’s Never Been a President This Unpopular With an Economy This Good,”writes Bloomberg, and I’m sure that’s true. There was also never an individual as unpopular as Donald Trump elected President of the United States before he was.
The “disapproval rating” of his performance is incoherent, of course, because it is an undecipherable mess of apples, oranges, and wooden shoes. Some disapprove of Trump because of his almost completely revolting character. Some disapprove of him because they disagree with his policies, since they are socialist, statist One Worlders who believe, against all evidence, that Barack Obama was a great leader. Some are Republicans who are embarrassed to have such a man representing their party, no matter what policies he pursues. Some are conservatives who regard Trump as not sufficiently conservative, for indeed he’s not a conservative at all. Some are classist snobs. Some are morons who just believe what social media and the mainstream media tells them to believe. I’d love to know how this group breaks down, but we’ll never have that information.
Still, I find it encouraging that Trump remains unpopular despite his many positive achievements, some arguable, some not. It is good that the idea that there is more to being a respectable and admirable President than presiding over positive economic times, strong foreign policy, and military success. It is especially encouraging to see Democrats and progressives being driven to that position after stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that the character of a national leader is important during the Bill Clinton years, and after nominating Hillary. The President of the United States is not a CEO, and not a mere policy wonk (Yes, I recognize the absurdity of calling someone like Donald Trump a “wonk” of any kind). Leadership is as much a symbolic role as a pragmatic one. Leaders shift cultural values and norms; they define, or should, what a nation and its public regard as good, bad, right, wrong, admirable, and unacceptable. This was the basis of my initial, long-held, endlessly expressed, and unyielding opposition to his leadership style and personal demeanor, perhaps most forcefully explained here.
The importance of a President’s character goes far beyond being an automatic role model, however. A President, while he is in office, defines the Presidency itself. If he defines it in negative terms and values, everything connected to the Presidency suffers as well (See: the Cognitive Dissonance Scale): our system, democracy, the separation of powers, constitutional government and its institutions. A President has a duty to strengthen his office for future occupants, and to uphold the highest standards that his predecessors set. Donald Trump does not understand this aspect of his job, and never has. The reasons for this can be debated; he is obviously not a student of history, and as someone who has succeeded by breaking rules and defying conventional wisdom, he would be unlikely to understand why this role should be regarded as different from any other executive post. Continue reading →