The Presidency in Crisis

The presidency is being tested by the leadership and rhetorical styles of Donald J. Trump.  Administration decisions have challenged constitutional boundaries that were once seen as clearly drawn.  More significantly, Trump’s leadership style has violated norms that were once assumed to be ‘baked into’ the communication functions of the office. Posts with relevance to these altered rhetorical aspects of the presidency are linked below.

It’s disheartening to hear a president use “fake news” to dismiss the very best of American journalism

Qualifiers are sometimes just qualifiers, but they become ‘markers’ if their effect is to covertly invite others to share prejudicial attitudes.

In the United States, a charge of “incitement” to lawless action is on the softest of legal ground.  The First Amendment rightly protects even provocative speech.  On the other hand, could there be a speaker other than Donald Trump would have been warned by officials to moderate his fighting words?

Nothing stands out more in the rhetoric of Donald Trump than his apparent pleasure in pitting Americans against each other. 

Arguably, some of the best forewarnings have come from the British, even in the film Love Actually (2003),where the PM is none too happy with the bullying of his American counterpart.

It may be possible to briefly escape to a theater to witness old video clips displaying the grace and decency of Fred Rogers, but we still must return to the daily spew of an insecure and needy leader.

The current President produces a jarring and familiar sense of dislocation:  behavior rife with violated norms, intimations of collusion with shady figures, and shameless cronyism.  Was it always so?

Trump is an easy and often deserving target.  A President who flouts traditions, protocols and courtesies cannot help but turn himself into a negative model.

It’s still a surprise to encounter a president who mostly shuns the potent rhetorical power of the office in favor of throwing little grenades of text out to small screens.

Trump ran as an insurgent.  But he can’t govern as one.  Our badly split nation will need a leader who can find principles of common ground even with political opponents.

Singular explanations that cast entire communities in the same mold are a reminder that we articulate what we need more than what we know.

It’s an ironclad rule of rhetoric that we often seek personal redemption through the act of victimizing another.

You can doll-up the 140 character/20-word limit as “microblogging.”  But that term hardly does justice to the vacuous sneering this social media form has unleashed into our national discourse. 

What many in Britain consider a stale feature of their system would be nothing less than a breath of fresh air in ours.


Almost all of the energy in our public rhetoric is reserved for unmasking what appears to many as the unjustified and self-serving optimism of political elites.

Most people accustomed to the public arena have learned to not take audience opposition personally. In return, members opposed to a persuader can show unexpected forbearance. 

Somehow we are going to have to get beyond celebrating the unilateralism that is our preferred rhetoric

Think of “transcendence” as a verbal bridge: a single word or phrase that narrows the gap between two views to the point where “opposing sides” almost disappear. 

When did burning down the house become the preferred solution for sorting out its various problems? 

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.

All politicians engage in degrees of hyperbole.  Even so, we expect that political candidates will not become completely untethered from the facts as we know them: that they will not seek the favor of the least-informed by making statements that ignore the truth.

All of us have probably engaged in some form of the dark gambit of ‘affirmation by denial.’ But it’s a long way from the more honest style of expressing only those accusations  that we are prepared to own.   

Many seem comfortable living without even an elementary understanding of the world they “know.”

If older Americans are uneasy about the man who will occupy of the White House, it may be because the recent election has parallels to the dark aftermath of The Battle of Chicago.

There is still time, but at some point soon Trump’s trail of rhetorical malfeasance will deny him the legitimacy he needs to be an effective president.

An ever-growing list of ad-hominem attacks from Donald Trump is one of the more discouraging features of our current public life.

His utterances come with a vast victimology that ranges from the press, to former friends and GOP allies, to loyal members of his cabinet.