Friday, August 18, 2017

Trump's Gut

An old saying goes like this: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

The Trumpian variation is: When you find yourself in a hole of your own making, keep digging. Why not own your own mess? But then again, isn't better to clean up a mess of your own making and to get yourself out of the hole?

For reasons that defy rational explanation President Trump has been incapable of offering a proper and presidential response to the events that occurred in Charlottesville last Saturday. It should not have been a challenge. Many Republicans immediately issued statements and got it right. Even Lucifer, aka Ted Cruz, offered a perfectly fine statement, immediately. Trump thought about it and thought about it and thought about it... and kept getting it wrong.

This morning Peggy Noonan drew attention to Trump's "rhetorical inadequacy":

There were neo-Nazis, anti-Semitic chants, white supremacists; a woman was killed and many people injured. It’s not hard to figure out who and what needed to be castigated—clearly, unambiguously, immediately.

Trump took his first swing on Saturday and flailed. He tried to improve and offered a much better statement on Monday. Some thought he was being slightly insincere. He seems to have thought that it was not coming straight from his gut. But, it was better to be insincere than to say what he said on Tuesday.

Like it or not Tuesday’s performance, the one in which he said that there were good people marching with the Neo-Nazis and the Klan, the one in which he tried to draw a moral equivalence between the extreme right and those who had come out to fight with them, fell flat. It did not just fall flat. It cost Trump many of those who had continued, through thick and thin, to support him. 

Those who had hoped that Gen. John Kelly would help right the ship of the Trump presidency had only to watch Kelly’s expression at the news conference. He bowed his head in shame.

Keep in mind, Trump was supposed to be presenting his economic agenda. Yet, he allowed himself to be sidetracked and apparently sunk his economic agenda. If you want to be charitable, you can say that his command of rhetoric is so weak that he did not know what he was saying. If so, he should let other people speak for him.

For many years now the Democratic Party has happily labeled Republicans as right-wing extremists, as racists, sexists, Neo-Nazis and Klan sympathizers. They do not have very much evidence for this calumny but they keep spinning it out. 

One thing every student of public relations knows, when someone is defaming you, you do not want to perform any public actions that would lend credence to the defamation. It’s the first lesson you learn in public relations school. You cannot control what other people think of you. But if someone is trying to destroy your reputation, and if you, as a public figure, cannot sue, you should never, never, never do anything that makes your enemy look right.

But, that is what Trump did. This time there was no method to the madness. The Republicans-as-Nazis meme has of late been skillfully used by Democrats to shift the nation’s attention away from the threat posed by radical Islam. If you are looking for real anti-Semites look no further than Islamist terrorists. Yet, those who are too cowardly to face the threat directly pretend to being courageous by attacking right wing extremism. Tuesday, Donald Trump played into their hands. He handed them a victory.

Why did he do it? Why did he deviate from the talking points his staff had prepared for him? Why did he go rogue?

Was he following the call of his gut? Hasn’t he learned that nothing good ever comes out of anyone’s gut? Even literally, that is. It’s one thing to find yourself in a job you do not know how to do. It’s quite another to lack the requisite humility to follow the counsel of those who know more than you do. 

Between General Kelly and Trump’s gut… which do you think knows better how to function as an executive? Aren’t you just a little surprised that a business executive seems to have so little sense of how to function as an executive? We can happily argue that Hillary was worse, but that does not mean that we should suspend our critical faculties and worship Trump’s gut.

Why did Trump go rogue? Politico has an interesting take, from sources in the White House:

President Donald Trump’s decision to double down on his argument that “both sides” were to blame for the violent clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was driven in part by his own anger — and his disdain for being told what to do.

Trump’s temper has been a constant force in this eight-month-old White House. He’s made policy decisions after becoming irritated with staffers and has escalated fights in the past few weeks with everyone from the Senate majority leader to the volatile dictator of North Korea.

The controversy over his response to the Charlottesville violence was no different. Agitated about being pressured by aides to clarify his first public statement, Trump unexpectedly unwound the damage control of the prior two days by assigning blame to the “alt-left” and calling some of the white supremacist protesters “very fine people.”

“In some ways, Trump would rather have people calling him racist than say he backed down the minute he was wrong,” one adviser to the White House said on Wednesday about Charlottesville. “This may turn into the biggest mess of his presidency because he is stubborn and doesn't realize how bad this is getting.”

And also:

The majority of Trump’s top aides, with the notable exception of Steve Bannon, had been encouraging Trump to put to an end this damaging news cycle and talk that makes him seem sympathetic to groups that widely decry Jews, minorities and women. But the president did not want to be told what to do and seemed in high spirits on Tuesday evening, even as headlines streamed out about his seeming overtures to hate groups, according to one White House adviser who spoke to him.

First, no one was telling anyone what to do. A president has advisers. These advisers give advice. Receiving advice is not the same as being told what to do. When Trump does not like the advice he is being given, because it does not correspond to what his gut is telling him, he lashes out. Not to put too fine a point on it, he starts acting like an insolent and petulant adolescent.

Executives are capable of getting angry. Everyone is capable of getting angry. Yet, a good executive steps back from his anger to formulate policy, to develop and to implement a strategy. He does not toss his talking points in the trash and ad-lib a news conference on the economy into catnip for those who think that he is Hitler.

As I said, it’s one thing to say that Trump is not up to the job. Clearly, he is relying on his gut because his experience and his knowledge are failing him. Perhaps they often have, but that is not an excuse for rejecting advice.

Surely, Trump has accomplished some things that are distinctly good for the nation and the world. And yet, getting your talking points right, making the proper ceremonial statement, is damaging because it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. Getting it wrong costs you an enormous amount of political capital and puts your agenda into serious peril.

[Addendum: Newt Gingrich adds his perspective.]


Anonymous said...

Et tu Stuart?

Webutante said...

Many good points, Stuart. I have never thought Trump has the disposition of a politician, let alone a president. He doesn't have the humility or the self-discipline. And we won't even talk about diplomacy. Very discouraging.

Brookside said...

Trump voters didn't want another politician.

Shaun F said...

Thank you for stated that nothing good comes out of your gut. It's such a bad way to make decisions, and is so pronounced in today's culture.

Webutante said...

Fine, if Trump is not an entrenched politician. There was a time that glorified citizen politicians. Still, we need a man who can function in this environment and not alienate each and every one of his advisers and supporters. Trump needs to get smarter, faster.

Uncle Max said...

I'm sorry, but I don't agree with your take or Peggy Noonans. Trump called it exactly right.... and he's the FIRST politician to push back on a media narrative! Ever! He called them out on their one-sided reporting and he OUTED the alt-left. What is the alt-left? Never heard of them, but Trump FORCED the MSM to address the left... and therefore... a brilliant move. Everyone knows there are two sides to everything. The PC nonsense has to stop. The leaking crap is dubious.

I'm sick and tired of all of it. And I'm not alone. I betcha a LOT of normal folks are sick and tired of being sick and tired and we don't appreciate the smart-set trying to tear this country apart nor the man we elected to try and fix things.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I am all for pushing back. But, he wasn't pushing back... he was giving them ammunition that they could use to advance their narrative. There's a big difference.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"Trump needs to get smarter, faster."

Exactly. Precisely. Couldn't agree more. Especially the internal issues you mention. We'll see if Bannon's exit has any impact.

Anonymous said...

Guess what? There's a counter-protest planned for today's free speech rally in Boston. We'll see if the BPD is more professional and skilled than the Charlottesville cops were. If this one goes sideways, I call bullshit. This is all too convenient, especially as Mayor Walsh is channeling his inner Gov. McAuliffe in issuing a warning. Walsh says he has to allow it because the courts tell him to. It's the gods in robes who tell us what to do.