Redefining “Presidential,” And Reconsidering Overreaction

In some way, Donald Trump is like the weather:  you’d like to ignore him, but you just can’t.  He’s like that blustering, loud summer thunderstorm that blows in on the day you’ve scheduled an outdoor party and requires everybody to change their plans whether they want to or not.

It’s pretty obvious, after only a few days in office, that the era of Trump is going to change how we look at our presidents, and what we consider to be “presidential” behavior.  In recent decades, we’ve become used to our presidents maintaining a certain public decorum and discretion.  Sure, there have been a few exceptions in the sexual dalliance department, but for the most part our modern presidents have tried to take the personal high road.  They leave the attacks to their minions and strive to stay above the fray.

Imacon Color ScannerNot President Trump.  He’s down there himself, throwing punches via Twitter.  His most recent activities in this regard involve lashing out at the federal district court judge that issued a temporary restraining order against Trump’s immigration executive order.  Trump referred to Judge James Robart as a “so-called judge” and said his ruling was ridiculous.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer immediately attacked Trump, saying his comment “shows a disdain for an independent judiciary that doesn’t always bend to his wishes and a continued lack of respect for the Constitution.”

I’ve got mixed feelings about all of this.  I personally prefer the more genteel, above-the-fray presidential model; I think it’s more fitting for a great nation that seeks to inspire others and lead by example.  I wish our President wouldn’t “tweet.”  But I also recognize that American presidents haven’t always been that way.  The behavior of presidents of the 1800s — think Andrew Jackson, for example — was a lot more bare-knuckled than what has come since.

I also think there’s danger for the Democrats in repeatedly overreacting to Trump.  If you argue that everything Trump does is the most outrageous travesty in the history of the republic (and that’s pretty much what you get from the Democrats these days) you ultimately are going to be viewed as the boy who cried wolf — which means the townspeople aren’t going to pay attention when you really want them to listen.  And in this case the reality is that, since the very early days of our country, elected politicians have been strongly criticizing judges.  Andrew Jackson famously declined to enforce a Supreme Court ruling, and Abraham Lincoln harshly lambasted the Supreme Court, and its Chief Justice, after the Dred Scott decision.  More recently, the rulings of the Warren Court became a political lightning rod during the ’60s, and President Obama saw fit to directly criticize the current Supreme Court, sitting right in front of him during a State of the Union speech, about their Citizens United ruling.

So Trump’s reference to a “so-called judge” really isn’t that big a deal when viewed in the historical context.  What’s weird about it is that it comes out in tweets — which makes it seem less presidential and, because it’s a tweet, less serious.  When Trump has these little outbursts I think if the Democrats simply shook their heads and said that what Trump is doing is “regrettable,” without acting like his every move threatens to bring down the Constitution, Trump’s Twitter act will wear thin on its own.

But they can’t help themselves right now, and neither can Trump.  So we’re going to have to ride out a few of those thunderstorms.

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Newt, Or Nut?

Republicans are on pins and needles as the Iowa caucuses draw near.  They want the 2012 election to focus on President Obama and his record.  They think that if the election is about unemployment and the recession that won’t end, they’ll win.

This strategy presupposes the Republicans pick a reasonable candidate.  If they nominate somebody who seems like a nut, the focus will shift from familiar stories about the crappy economy to novel stories about the Republican’s nutty positions.  If that happens, President Obama’s chances of re-election increase dramatically.

Most people put Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann in the “nut” category.  The challenge for Newt Gingrich is to stay out of that category — but his comments about the federal judiciary aren’t helping.

Gingrich has railed against activist judges, has talked about abolishing entire courts to try to rein in the judiciary, and has even discussed sending marshals to arrest judges and bring them to testify before congressional committees.  His point seems to be that the federal judiciary is too powerful and the other two branches of government need to rein in the judges.  Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with that point, the notion of eliminating courts and haling judges before Congress is too nutty for most Americans.  It runs counter to notions of separation of powers, and respect for equal branches of government, that most Americans hold dear.  It also raises the specter of a President who might disastrously overreact in a moment of crisis.

I’m not surprised that Gingrich’s meteoric rise in the polls seems to be reversing itself.  He talks a lot — and often he seems to talk without really thinking things through.  When he does, he sounds like . . . a nut.