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.

About The Inaugural Address

At 11:30 today, Donald Trump will say the 35 words required by the United States Constitution — swearing on both the Bible used in Abraham  Lincoln’s inauguration and a Bible his mother gave Trump when he graduated from Sunday school in 1955 — and then, according to tradition, the new President will give an inaugural address.

I think the speech will be worth watching, or reading — not so much for what Mr. Trump says, but more for how he says it.

I think everyone would agree on one thing about Trump:  he’s not a conventional political speaker.  Most politicians employ speechwriters who draft carefully prepared remarks that are edited and polished to the nth degree and that strive to create memorable phrases that can be quoted by the press.  Trump doesn’t do that.  In the remarks I’ve seen him deliver, he doesn’t appear to follow a written speech, or even use a teleprompter.  Trump seems much more comfortable with Twitter, or with getting up to the podium with a few concepts in mind that he presents in a straightforward, conversational way, often repeating the same points several times during his remarks and mixing them in with observations about what he saw on TV last night or read in the paper that morning.

In the history of the United States, there have been a few memorable inaugural addresses and lots of totally forgettable ones — does anyone remember what Richard Nixon, for example, said in his first inaugural address? — but all of them have followed the pattern of a conventional political speech, where the newly sworn Chief Executive tries to inspire Americans with his vision for the country and present some enduring rhetoric.  Will Trump follow that pattern, or will he break from the mold in this instance as he has done so often in the past?

It’s hard to imagine Donald Trump trying to deliver the kind of lengthy, formal, scripted address that we’ve seen at other presidential inaugurations.  I’ll be interested to see if he even tries, or if he decides to go in a different direction altogether.

The President-Elect And His Tweets

Over the past few weeks, as the Donald Trump transition team has vetted candidates for Cabinet-level positions and geared up for the new administration that will take office next year, we’ve started to get a sense of what the next four years will be like.  With important decisions being made and critical planning underway, the post-election process is slowly revealing what kind of President Donald Trump might be.

If I could get one wish, it would be that Mr. Trump decide to stop using Twitter.

trump-the-hashI recognize this probably is a forlorn hope.  In many ways, Trump’s candidacy was driven by social media, and his tweets were a big part of the strategy.  Through his Twitter account, Trump had a forum for outlandish comments and was able to keep his name in the news.  His tweets provided him with lots of free air time, and his inclination, as President, likely will be to keep doing what worked well during the campaign.

And yet, the qualities we are looking for in a President are different from those that can drive a presidential campaign.  Dashing off a tweet seems fundamentally inconsistent with the considered judgment that we hope the occupants of the Oval Office will bring to the position.  (I recognize that President Obama has and uses a Twitter account, which I think is unfortunate, too, but without doing an exhaustive analysis I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that his tweets haven’t been quite as controversial as Trump’s.)

Consider one of the President-elects most recent tweets, which asserts that he won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”   Of course, no evidence is cited (Twitter isn’t exactly known for that) but the claim that there were millions of illegal votes seems incredibly reckless — as well as bizarre, since Trump won the election and you would think the prevailing candidate wouldn’t want to cast any doubt on the results in any event.  It’s the kind of charge that might work for a candidate looking for some free media coverage, but it just isn’t suited to the President-elect.  Presidents don’t need to gin up controversy to get their names in the news.

Many Americans are fair and open-minded people; even if they didn’t vote for Trump, they will be willing to give him a chance to show how he will perform as President.  I think they are looking to see whether Mr. Trump shows the reflection and thoughtfulness that are a key part of what we think of as “acting presidential.”  Tweets just don’t fit into the presidential job description.

 

Dawn Of The Twitter Bots

Lately I’ve been taking a break from the realm of politics.  I’m incredibly depressed about the choice we’ve been given, and at this point I’d prefer to just enjoy summer rather than focusing on the many flaws in the major party candidates and the lack of an alternative.  I figure I’m going to have to live with one of these guys soon enough.

Then I ran across an interesting article about the role of software bots in modern political campaigns.  It points out that, in an SEC filing two years ago, Twitter estimated that 23 million of its active accounts are generating tweets through the use of bots — defined as software agents or bits of code that are designed to automatically react to news events, always from a particular perspective.  Of course, Twitter users don’t know if the tweets they are seeing come from a real person, or a paid shill — or a bot.  You just can’t trust the avatar that accompanies the post to tell you.

sellingofthepresident1968bThe article reports that bots have been successful in steering the course of elections in South America and, apparently, the Brexit vote.  A study found that a tiny fraction of Twitter accounts generated a huge percentage of tweets about the Brexit election — sustaining levels of incessant account activity that no mortal being could sustain, tweeting their robotic brains out 24 hours a day, seven days a week — and the “leave” campaign generated more of the automated tweets.

Do tweeting bots work?  Some people involved in the bot-tweeting process think that there are many individuals out there whose views are more likely to be swayed by the “spontaneous” opinions of “real people,” rather than news reports or the reactions of paid commentators.  Since Twitter and other social media sites allow for anonymity, then, why not spoof real people, create software that generates a constant flow of tweets that advance your political views, and see if you can’t alter the course of public perception?  (And pay no attention to the sad notion that voters are swayed by opinions expressed in 140-character chunks, either.)

I suppose we should all think about this the next time we are asked to share a Facebook meme of uncertain provenance, or pay attention to tweet counts as supposedly being some kind of indicator of what real people are thinking.  We’ve gone far beyond the innocent days of The Selling of the President 1968, Joe McGinniss’ landmark book about how the Nixon campaign was using Madison Avenue advertising techniques to package and market Tricky Dick.  Now we’ve reach the point where campaigns create artificial accounts and flood the Twitterverse with phony tweets generated by automated robots, all in the hope of manipulating the views of the American public to vote one way of the other in the worst presidential choice in decades.

O Brave New World!

Redefining “Success”

John Kirby, a spokesman for the United States Department of State, has published a “year in review” piece on the Department’s official blog.  He notes that while “the year was not without challenges,” the “United States has helped to change the world for the better” and adds:  “Our diplomats have been busy, and they have met with significant success across a range of issues.”  He then gives his “take” on them using “a great hashtag — #2015in5Words — which was recently trending on Twitter.”

One of the #2015in5Words items Kirby lists is “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria.”

syrian-refugees-opener-6151Huh?  Syria?  The Syria where a bloody civil war between the terrorist forces of ISIS and the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has provoked a huge refugee crisis?  The Syria where significant parts of the control are under the control of a deadly terrorist group and where fighting is going on, even now?  The Syria where every big power is flexing its muscle and where, thanks to the support of Russia and Iran, it looks like the murderous Assad might conceivably stay in power?

How does Kirby explain that the U.S. was involved in “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria”?  He doesn’t, really.  He says only that the U.S. has “stepped up to aid the Syrian people during their time of need” and that “the UN Security Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that puts forward a roadmap that will facilitate a transition within Syria to a credible, inclusive, nonsectarian government that is responsive to the needs of the Syrian people.”  Americans should be proud of their traditional generosity to others, of course, but neither increased aid or the passage of a preliminary United Nations Security Council resolution can reasonably be characterized as “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria” in the face of intense ongoing fighting.

Oh, and another “success” included by Kirby is “Winning Fight Against Violent Extremists.”  It touts the “Summit on Countering Violent Terrorism” hosted by the White House in February 2015 and says “this monumental summit launched an ongoing global CVE effort now underway that reaches throughout the world and across countless nations” that ultimately will lead to the defeat of ISIS.  Seriously?  We’re supposed to count a summit meeting that barely hit the news as a success?  Only a flack could say, in the wake of the events in Paris, San Bernardino, and other locations of horrific terrorist actions in 2015, that we are “winning fight against violent extremists.”

Diplomats are supposed to have credibility, but when you’re searching for “success” and trying to present your case in 5-word hashtags that were recently trending on social media, this is what you get.  Maybe there’s a reason the Department of State’s official blog is called “Dipnote.”

Millionaire Pie, And Other Goodies

Richard visited the Texas State Fair recently and made a herculean effort to eat some of the inventive food items being offered there — from Millionaire Pie to Kool-Aid Pickles to Fernie’s Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly.  The results are both hilarious and mouth-watering and are recounted in detail on Richard’s Twitter feed — just scroll down past the picture of the bug-eyed Lenin till you get to the food shots and follow along.

If you are a Twitter person, you could do worse than to follow Richard — his feed is both informative and entertaining.

 

Chips And Salsa

  
Even in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world, there are some immutable truths:

Donald Trump will say something stupid, and Hillary Clinton will say something that makes you wonder if she isn’t really a robot.

LinkedIn and Twitter will send you daily emails, trying desperately and with mind-numbing persistence to get you to follow more people and update your profiles.

At least once in every NFL game, a player will get an apparent concussion or season-ending injury.

And if you put a shiny dog food bowl of warm chips and cups of salsa in front of me, I will be unable to resist gobbling down every crunchy and spicy bite.

I honestly think I could eat my weight in chips and salsa.