Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Showhorses and Workhorses

The mistaken goal of being seen strays far from what someone elected to public office should want. It says “showhorse” and “phony” at the same time.

The inescapable hothouse of national politics that has consumed many Americans for the last five years may finally be getting more fresh air.  The election brought on a dramatic shift in power that has made it possible to witness the refreshing sight of some “workhorses” replacing “showhorses” who mostly just feigned administrative competence.

The equestrian reference is an old canard about politics repeated by practitioners and observers alike.  A showhorse is an individual who is primarily a self-promoter. Interest in working with deliberative and administrative processes is limited or non-existent. It’s been said about many senators that you could be run over if you accidently came between a specific member and a group of reporters. In contrast, a workhorse is someone who seeks progress on specific policy or oversight goals, not requiring the limelight to be motivated.

This second breed is less common. Fewer people who offer themselves up to be leaders or legislators at the federal level are interested in the hard work required to build coalitions and find routes to compromise. They do exist. But their very anonymity in our media makes it even harder to notice their hard work. For example, there is a group of seven women in the House of Representatives who are trying to put together a package of immigration reforms.  Representative Linda Sanchez describes all of them as “not doing it for the glory or for the credit,” but to repair a broken system. Their names– Lofgren, Roybal-Allard, Velázquez, Chu, Clarke and Bass–are mostly unfamiliar. Members like these are content to broker solutions without using them as springboards to fame.

We are in a prolonged period where more leaders are attracted to federal electoral offices for the performance chances they offer. Cameras and interviews mean celebrity recognition and a puffed-up sense of self-importance. These people who want to be known as “players” see their chances for power mostly in their ability to build their own “brand” and maybe shape public opinion.

 

For Trump, being the President was far more interesting than functioning as a President.

President Donald Trump’s pleasure at playing to the crowd was so obvious that it at times its unintended humor was better than what the comics at SNL could think up.  And remember the crowd that had to be gassed and removed so he could walk across the street from the White House to be photographed in front of a church clutching a bible like an Olympic medal? He craved media coverage. The same distorted priority was revealed on January 6 in his unwillingness to call the National Guard to stop his minions from braking into the Capitol. He was reportedly immobilized and delighted by the spectacle of the rioters with flags bearing his name. Eventually it fell to Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi to summon more protection against the mob.

Consider one more case. Seemingly unaware of how far afield he drifted from the job he sought, North Carolina Representative Madison Cawthorn (R) was quoted recently in Time Magazine noting he has built his office staff just for communications “rather than legislation.”  That’s a departure from most congressional offices that have people to research issues and help craft bills that members will promote.  But Mr. Cawthorn is apparently using the public’s money to run his own self-marketing agency. Refusing the work of legislating is like going into business to create swimsuits that can’t get wet, or making wedding cakes from plaster. Such an emphasis on appearances strays so far from what someone elected to a deliberative body should want.

Perhaps this is how American leadership will wither and die: at the hands of people more interested in media appearances than in helping constituents desperate for governmental action.

The Appeal of Being Inside A Fence

Brexit seems like a self-inflicted wound. It turned legitimate grievances about questionable regulation into a grotesque  overreaction.

The recent departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union is a good time to ponder the now common impulse around the world to offer voters the candy of cultural segregation. Brexit was about many things: everything from the price of butter in the shops to tighter controls on who can visit and stay within the United Kingdom. Donald Trump’s southern wall is a cruder manifestation of the same impulse, as were the recent chants of “USA! USA!” from thugs in the halls of the Capitol.

Around the world nationalism is having its moment against internationalism. This resurgence has hobbled the work and play of many who rightly sense that their futures depend on engaging others across political borders that are out of date by hundreds of years.

Until this year, residents of the U.K. had an open ticket to explore an incredibly diverse part of the world.

 

The idea of forming a kind of United States of Europe was one of the real international achievements of the Twentieth Century, tossed aside by expensively-educated Tories looking for an easy way to mollify restless voters. It was a modern marvel to witness France, Britain and Germany working together to open borders and minds. And so many benefited, especially younger Brits and their continental counterparts who understood that it was now their birthright to explore a range of traditions and languages only a train ride away. It wasn’t just businesspersons who woke up in Britain and met clients for lunch in Paris. Swedes and Scots, Northern Irelanders and Greeks, English and Austrians traveled a vast and open region encompassing 28 countries. Up to the end of 2020, U.K. residents had greater opportunities to go to college, work, and to explore an incredibly diverse part of the world. Musicians could do the same, accepting a gig in an Italian club or French theater with a minimum of paperwork. Visas and work permits were relics of the last world war and a more suspicious age.

Britons will need to relearn the rules of foreign travel in ways that many still inside the EU will not. Most European youth and some cross-border workers on the continent have escaped the effects of Brexit. But a British student or musician is now more confined to their shrinking home country, which has triggered new pleas for independence in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Scotland especially benefited as an equal trading partner with other nations in the EU.

It is surely no coincidence that Britain’s most beloved orchestra conductor, Liverpool native Simon Rattle, just announced that he is seeking German citizenship and will abandon his post with the London Symphony Orchestra. Rattle has made his point: as a musician he wants no part of a English provincialism.

It is reassuring that Joe Biden generally takes a dim view of Britain’s attempt to go big on patriotism and think small as an island. Biden’s internationalist instincts represent at least a momentary pushback against the separatism that fueled Brexit. But he will have his hands full with a withered GOP that still panders to a base of aging white Americans wishing for a monoculture that never was.

In the end, I seriously doubt that Britons are going to feel any better about their politics, save for those who viewed the rest of the world as much “too foreign” to visit.  There are some signs that buyer’s remorse may already be setting in. But if they are still able to warm to the new status quo, they will come to resemble the travel agent I once met near Birmingham in the center of England. Even in middle age she had yet to find her way to Scotland just a few hundred miles away.