It remains to be seen how long Americans will accept a drama queen as President: how long it will be before their forbearance for the man who can’t fill the part is tapped out.
This site is all about maximizing the chances for success in connecting with others. But if we flip that goal over, we get an equally interesting effect by testing the limits of behavior a mile wide of the norm.
I’ve been thinking about this watching television news people on cable networks, trying not to register shock that the President of the United States has just trashed another convention of the presidency. News people are expert for keeping calm in the presence of disorder and rudeness. Serious and accomplished reporters can be very good for taking any act and trying to place it into a context that normalizes it for the beat they are covering. This is partly a function of their self-definitions as professional observers.
Those of us with shorter fuses may not have this kind of professional elan. But that’s what forbearance gives us: the use of euphemism and “just the facts” to keep an offensive act from devolving into a comedy of manners.
We would never think to associate public acts so careless and random as authentic examples of “presidential rhetoric.”
It’s not too much to say that this President has seriously undermined the conventional role functions of the Presidency. We would never think to associate public acts so careless and random as authentic examples of “presidential rhetoric.” But we’ve had over fifty days of them, and then on one recent Saturday: an astonishing and libelous tweet accusing President Obama of tapping phones at Trump Tower, followed minutes later by a second missive expressing giddy delight that a reality star was cancelling his show. These rants came a few days after Trump gave us the wide-eyed and definitive insight that “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
Nobody? That must have struck analysts and experts in three previous administrations as news. No one else had apparently been able to grasp the complexities of American health care.
These combined responses and many more like them seem like evidence for what’s known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a condition where an individual with limited competencies lacks even the capacity to understand how limited they are. No wonder one of the dominant tropes emerging in the coverage of this president is of a man-child.
Donald Trump’s over 500 angry, misspelled and boorish Tweets alone would have disqualified him for leadership in most large organizations. Can we assume that one day these rhetorical ejaculations will greet visitors at his Presidential library?
To be sure, we grant every White House occupant some non-presidential moments: Nixon angrily shoving his press secretary toward journalists, Johnson showing photographers a surgery scar on his fat belly, Ford diving head-first down the stairs of his airplane, Clinton lying about his relations with Monica Lewinsky, George W. Bush commenting at a press conference on the British Prime Minister’s brand of toothpaste.
But nothing has scratched the mostly pristine finish of the institutional Presidency like Trump. He has entire seizures of misdirected utterance and grotesque overstatement. His willful ignorance, bluster and conspiracy-mongering, are not just unpresidential, but anti-presidential. His penchant for turning almost every claim into an accusation and most statements into shaky affirmations of his fragile ego has made his short tenure an unintended psychodrama: an embarrassment to be endured. His first address to Congress showed that he can follow linear thinking if it is fully scripted. Yet he seems uninterested in the kinds of details and substantive exchanges that the press and public long for. So it remains to be seen how long Americans will accept a drama queen as President. Like a school play, the mishaps and miscues are sometimes funny. But how long will we accept this bad actor before our forbearance is tapped out?
Gary C. Woodward has written about the Presidencies of Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.