A Presidential Truth
History predisposes Americans to trust the man in the Oval.
The President is set to address Congress tonight, and I have no doubt that it will depart from the soaring oratory of President Obama. Trump is not an eloquent speaker, but he manages to pack a unique punch when given a microphone anchored to a podium.
The past 17 years of my political life could not prepare me for a Trump presidency. Presidents Bush and Obama were mostly honest men. They made mistakes, but there was no direct effort to permanently usurp the freedom of the press, fudge blatantly obvious facts, label journalists the “enemies of the public,” or attack the basic freedoms of minority citizens. This baseline of humanity and political decency gave me cause to believe what they said. That de facto presidential truth translates dangerously to Donald Trump.
Earlier today I read an account of tonight’s Presidential Address to Congress by Dana Milbank. He crafted a speech that was patently Trump, but completely false. As I read it I found myself halfway believing the words. Then I took a second and remembered it was completely false; it was the word President that made me gave it the benefit of the doubt.
So what does this mean for the rest of Trump’s term?
There has to be a new approach to Trumpism. Attacking it from the flanks is not working. This is a full out war over the identity of American political culture. Trump has to face his own words, his own ideas, and he has to be labeled with them. The same blueprint that the GOP used to stall President Obama is already being employed by the Democrats. Politics has to become local again. Winning the trust of voters is the only way to shine a light on Trump’s dishonesty. Trump cannot have his ideological cake and eat it too.
Who is going to protect us from these falsehoods?
The media needs to start serving its public obligations. The 24-hour news cycle feeds on the antics of this President. Trump has a history of being dishonest, so start covering him like it. Run his speeches with a delay. Factcheck on a sidebar, and source the hell out of it. Boycott unfair daily press briefings, and invest in investigative reporting instead.
The burden also falls on the people. There needs to be a wholesale rejection of hardline politics. Compromise starts at the kitchen table. We should talk to our neighbors. We should start digging in on every issue. We should start contacting our Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen. The truth is not debatable. Together the citizens of this republic can force ourselves back on the rails.
What is our new national truth?
This is the toughest question that came to my mind after reading Milbank’s account of a fake Trump speech. The President has traditionally defined the outward and inward face of the United States. He has a “mandate” to interact with the international community in the way he wooed the American people. Trump’s campaign was devoid of nuance, and that is the approach that he brings to the Oval Office. The Yemen raid is a perfect example. Reports say that Trump left the Situation Room for the residence during his first major military operation to fire off a couple tweets. That same lack of nuance has been on display over his observation that health care is “complicated,” falsely announcing that new Boeing 787 Dreamliners will be completely American made (They are American assembled, but parts are sourced globally.), and bludgeoning bad press as “FAKE NEWS(!)”
Not everything will go a president’s way, but his mistakes do not become our truth. They will simply be contained in the pages of a history book once we have ridden out the horrors of hurricane Donald.