6 Big Lessons Learned from Our First Taste of the Trump Presidency
After six months of the Donald Trump presidency, we know what to expect going forward. We’ve learned six lessons.
1. Trump lies all the time. Going into the election we knew that Trump lies at an astounding rate — typically more than one lie per day — but after Jan. 20 some of us nurtured the hope that Donald would begin acting more presidential. No way.
Trump may go incommunicado for a day or two, but then he will unleash a barrage of misstatements, distortions, and outright falsehoods — usually via twitter. On July 26, the Washington Post posted a headline, “26 hours, 29 Trumpian False or Misleading Claims.”
Writing in Mother Jones, Denise Clifton mused that while Trump’s “chronic duplicity” may be the consequence of a severe psychological disorder, “the 45th president’s stream of lies echoes a contemporary form of Russian propaganda known as the ‘Firehose of Falsehood’.” Clifton wrote:
“In 2016, the nonpartisan research organization RAND released a study of messaging techniques seen in [Russian-controlled] media. The researchers described two key features: ‘high numbers of channels and messages’ and ‘a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions.’”
Whether Trump lies because he’s adopted a Russian tactic or because he’s mentally ill, his chronic duplicity is having serious consequences for American political discourse. Many voters don’t know who to believe; they can’t discern “fake news.” As a result there’s unparalleled polarization: voters who trust Trump and the majority who don’t.
Trump’s conduct riles up legitimate news outlets, such as Mother Jones and the Washington Post, and they report negatively on Trump, which feeds his paranoia, causing him to lash out.
2. The Trump Administration leaks. Viewed from the Left Coast, the Washington culture thrives on gossip and insider information. Nonetheless, the Trump era has seen an unusual number of leaks.
Trump supporters blame this on the dark state — the national security state — and the liberal media — such as Mother Jones and the Washington Post — whom they believe are out to get Trump. There’s some truth to this suspicion because once Trump entered office, he blasted both groups.
But there’s another explanation: Trump has an unusually abrasive personality and a lot of Washington insiders don’t like him. He lashes out and they respond by leaking.
Whatever the cause, the leaks are likely to continue, which will contribute to Trump’s paranoia.
3. Trump only cares about Trump. After the election, there was a brief interval where some Americans thought, “I didn’t vote for Trump, but whether I like it or not, he’s the President and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.” That period is over. The nation is divided between those who support the President (roughly one-third of the electorate) and those who do not (two-thirds of the electorate).
Since Jan. 20, Trump has made no attempt to reach out to those who either did not vote for him or did so reluctantly. He only talks to his base.
And he’s used his office to benefit his business interests.
4. Trump hasn’t gotten the job done. In an Aug. 7 tweet, Trump said his base supports him because of the “record Stock Market, border security, military strength, jobs, Supreme Court pick, economic enthusiasm, deregulation & so much more.”
Trump tries to take credit for the booming stock market and the generally positive financial news, but a case can be made that these are carryovers from the Obama Administration. On the tweeted list, the only event that Trump was directly involved in was the selection of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Trump’s base expected him to keep his campaign promises, such as “repeal and replace Obamacare,” “build a border wall,” and “lock up Hillary Clinton.” None of these have been accomplished. Furthermore, Trump’s recent failure to push through Obamacare repeal suggests that he does not have the wherewithal to move his legislative agenda through the (Republican-controlled) Congress.
5. Trump’s strongest card continues to be racism. Writing in the New York Times, Emory University professor Carol Anderson observed:
“The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration.”
On Aug. 2, Trump endorsed a Republican initiative — led by Sens. Cotton and Perdue — that would dramatically change immigration policy and reduce immigration levels by 50%. That same day, presidential aide Stephen Miller appeared at a White House press conference to laud the immigration initiative and claim that current policy has produced a slew of economic problems such as income inequality and a dearth of good-paying jobs. There’s no compelling evidence for this assertion but it plays well with Trump’s (white) base.
6. The Mueller inquiry isn’t going away. Since May, former FBI director Robert Mueller has been the special counsel responsible for the investigation into possible ties between Russia and Trump’s election campaign. Trump calls the Mueller inquiry “a witch hunt.” The good news is that the Trump-Russia investigation will grind on, mostly out of sight of the media, and eventually produce results. The bad news is that it will take many months — we’ll be fortunate to see definitive results in a year.
Meanwhile, the Mueller inquiry will feed Trump’s paranoia. An already unstable President will become even more erratic. Hold on tight!