His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him. – Genesis 16:12
As Donald Trump is scheduled to leave office in a little over a week, Nancy Pelosi, other Democrats on Capitol Hill and many in the press are calling again for his impeachment. His four years in office have been perhaps the most contentious of any President’s in the history of the country.
How did so controversial an individual ever get elected in the first place?
Although it now seems like ancient history, Trump gained the GOP nomination and the Presidency in 2016 by promising to:
- Stop illegal immigration at the southern border and build a wall
- Bring back to the U.S. jobs that had been offshored to other countries
- Reduce the national debt
- Combat Islamic terrorism
- Change the corrupt, entrenched system in D.C. What he called “Draining the Swamp”
- Stand-up to the biased media, or “fake news”
- Instill a new national spirit as expressed in his slogan “Make America Great Again”
Like other elected Presidents in the past, some of his campaign promises were a direct reaction to the deficiencies of the prior administration. President Obama was elected on a platform that was at least partly a reaction to the Bush Administration’s entry into the Iraq War. Similarly, Trump’s platform was at least partly a reaction to Obama’s permissive view of illegal immigration and his globalist orientation. Trump got one thing right. He figured out the obvious: that the President’s job is to serve the citizens and taxpayers, not people in other countries.
Surprising to the press and pollsters at the time, most of the electorate resonated with Trump’s immigration, jobs and patriotism messages and he was elected.
To paraphrase Tina Turner, Trump did not campaign “nice and easy”. His style was more “not-so-nice and rough”. He made disparaging remarks about his primary opponents, commenting on their height, weight, facial appearance, energy level, and any other attribute he could criticize. Again, in the general election, he resorted to calling his opponent “Crooked Hillary”.
Most leadership consultants recommend not openly casting aspersions on opponents but attacking adversaries in more subtle ways. Poking fun at physical attributes is especially bad form. The conventional wisdom says that directly belittling other people makes the belittler seem smaller. Yet, somehow it worked for Trump.
Another surprising aspect of Trump’s win is that most successful Presidential candidates are good speakers or at least reasonably competent. Think of Obama, Reagan, Clinton and Kennedy. Bush Jr. and Jimmy Carter were perhaps the weakest speakers since Truman, but they were at least passable. Trump is not a polished public speaker. He often speaks in short, chopped sentences. He tends to repeat phrases and add many superlatives. Yet, again, somehow it worked.
Trump was the first President to use Twitter as a primary means of communication. At first he said he did so to communicate directly with the American people and avoid the ‘fake news media’ and maybe that’s true. But, even in his tweeting, Trump’s anger and combativeness came through. He seemed to send out tweets without much thought or fact checking. He made claims that were obviously not true. He tweeted late, into the wee hours of the morning. Like a lightning rod, his Twitter account attracted lots of heat. Finally, at the end of his Presidency, Twitter, as if to pile-on, get in one last kick to the ribs and demonstrate its own “wokeness”, suspended his account.
Although Trump’s rough, bullying style did not stop him from winning the primary and even the general election, it made him many enemies in his own party, in the media and especially in the Democrat Party.
He made a point of declaring war with the media, never letting any slight go unanswered. Trump said he was a fighter who would back down from no one in the press or rival political party. During the Bush Jr. administration George W. was also repeatedly attacked by the mainstream media but he rarely responded and pretended not to care. Obama was rarely criticized by the media, except Fox News and he made a point of belittling Fox News at every opportunity. So, Trump was the first President to fight the media every day of his tenure. Most objective commentators would probably say he did not win the war. Fighters need to pick their battles too. Daily combat with so many reporters and news outlets must have taken its toll.
Trump’s combative style gave license to his enemies to use the same below-the-belt tactics against him and they did so in spades. Trump perhaps did not realize that some of his physical attributes and frequent overdone spray-on tan made him an easy target for attacks. He was brutalized by cable TV commentators, late-night talk show hosts and Saturday Night Live comics. His media detractors resorted to gutter language and mean-spirited talk. For example, actor Robert DeNiro has said multiple times that he wanted to punch Trump in the nose. Madonna once said she wanted to burn down the White House. Kathy Griffin created an online photo-shopped picture of herself holding the severed, bloody head of Trump. Politicians also got into the act. For example, Maxine Waters told her supporters to find Republicans in restaurants and in their homes and harass them. Make them pay for supporting Trump. Alexandria O-Cortez suggested making an enemies list, consisting of individuals who served in the Trump administration and those who supported him. The enemies list would ostensibly be used to seek retribution. And, that’s just a small sample of the overblown reactions from Hollywood and Washington.
Trump has been a very polarizing figure. During his Presidency, he was hated by almost all Democrats. The hatred was not just dislike. It was more deep rooted, pathological, and obsessive. They hated him with a religious fervor. The media made a daily habit of feeding this hate machine with a constant stream of negative stories. One media analyst estimated that during his Presidency over 98% of mainstream media stories about Trump were negative. Obviously, viewers and readers are not able to fact check news. They tend to be influenced by what they read and hear, especially when the stories told by the NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, ABC and other outlets are consistent.
So, at least partly from his own doing, Trump became a pariah for many. Even among people who voted for him in 2020, many did so despite their dislike of his personality. There are many examples of Trump-hatred but perhaps the most visible was when Nancy Pelosi tore up Trump’s State of the Union Speech on national television. That was a sign that the gloves were off, all rules of civility and decorum were to be abandoned.
Despite the brutal beating he’s taken from the press and Hollywood celebrities, he’s not someone who engenders much sympathy. It’s hard to feel sorry for him for very long because he never learned how to rise above the situation and behave like a President. Instead, he made a habit of disappointing even those people who wanted to like him.
Some commentators have speculated that Trump’s behavior may have triggered the civil unrest of the BLM riots. The rioters may have reasoned that if even the President does not follow any standard rules of civility and if his adversaries like Pelosi behave in kind, then rules no longer apply. It’s a bit of a stretch to go from tearing up a speech to burning down buildings or occupying the Capitol but, who knows? It may be partly true.
Where did this combative non-politician come from? Trump’s professional background was as a real estate developer and later, reality television star. Earlier in his career he had written “The Art of the Deal”, a book about negotiating. He apparently considered himself a good negotiator and salesman. Like any good salesman he thought he could charm his adversaries into seeing things his way. Salesmanship was obvious in his public flattery of Xi JinPing, Putin and Kim Jong-un, but his ingratiation did not work. He was able to get other leaders to smile, but never bend. Oddly, especially for a salesman, Trump tended to alienate others. He made enemies of people around the world and even in his own party with his occasional gratuitous snide remarks.
Trump had grown-up in a wealthy family. He went to a military prep school and later to Wharton School of Business. Trump’s father was a wealthy real estate developer in New York. His father bankrolled Trump when he started out in his own real estate business and that fact has been used to paint Trump as a spoiled rich kid.
Trump’s real estate career was riddled with ups and downs. His company declared bankruptcy several times as real estate markets in places like Atlantic City rose and then crashed. Because of this Trump has been painted by his detractors as a poor business manager, but his net worth is still reportedly in the billions.
He also managed to accomplish many of his campaign promises. In 2020, before the COVID pandemic spread, unemployment among minorities, women and the general population was at an all-time low. He was able to impose effective controls on illegal immigration and built 500 miles of wall at the southern border. Trump was the first President to stand-up to China, something that should have been done 20 years earlier. He helped establish bilateral agreements between Israel and several Muslim countries in the Middle East. His ‘Make America Great Again’ did instill a new patriotic spirit at least among some element of the population.
He was not able to ‘Drain the Swamp’. In fact, it was more like the Swamp drained him. He also did not make any progress in changing the fake news media.
Also, in Trump’s defense, some of the criticism from the media and Democrats was unwarranted and just plain wrong. For example, for three years of his Presidency he was under investigation for supposedly colluding with the Russian government during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Cable news outlets and leading newspapers reported daily that they were 100% certain Trump was guilty. At the end of the three-year investigation, the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, had to admit that there was no evidence that the Trump campaign broke any laws. It was all a fabrication, a complete lie to get Trump out of office. Even after he was cleared of the Russian hoax, he remained under constant attack by the opposition party and the media. It was unprecedented.
So, now Trump is about to leave office or possibly be impeached from office during his last two weeks. Taking a step back from the emotionalism, what should we think about Trump’s Presidency? Obviously, opinions vary widely. At one extreme we have politicians and tech giants who want to punish and cancel anyone associated with Trump and at the other, loyal Trump supporters who probably want Trump to run again. Most of us are probably happy to see him leave the stage, but not seeking any kind of retribution.
Let’s hope we never have a President who behaves like Trump. His behavior has been very disruptive and needlessly so. He did not set a good example for the citizens of the country, especially young people. For many in the Democrat Party and the general population his behavior may have led to an implied change in the normal rules of civility. Leaders should lead by example, but Trump’s chaotic behavior was destructive.
On the other hand, he was treated unfairly by the press, which may have caused him to retaliate in kind. Hard to know who bears more blame.
The voters who liked Trump, i.e., the people who wore MAGA hats and went to his rallies, admired his fighting spirit, the way he called out the media and the entrenched interests in Washington, and even his direct, unstatesmanlike way of speaking. For many, he was a refreshing change from Washington politicians who consistently are the least admired of any profession in public opinion polls.
With luck, his policy positions, some of which are exactly right, will not be tainted by association. Let’s see what the new government does about immigration, China, Iran, corruption in D.C. and putting America first.