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For Trump, it's time to put statesmanship over showmanship

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People live by stories. In our age, these stories are both fashioned by them through social media and for them by the mainstream media. Facebook and Twitter provide them with galaxies of real and virtual characters; other outlets deliver emotional narratives where stories are central, the facts peripheral.

The modern politician who succeeds best is the one who grasps enough of that dynamic to be able to exploit it. In the U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton did not grasp it. Clinton looks into things: policies, issues, problems. She knows in some detail the possibilities of a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, just as she knows the present and future problems of the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.She could give seminars on both in a minute, without notes. And often did.

Donald Trump could not construct a sensible sentence about either (or at least, has not). But like the hedgehog in the Greek parable about that slow-moving animal and the quick, bright fox,the fox knows many things while the hedgehog knows one big thing. The U.S. president-elect knows that people need stories, and he knows that if he wishes to be and remain under the spotlight, he must supply them. He must find out what people wish to see and hear in a story, then he must be that story.

The clearest recent example from Trump was his interview with the New York Times on Tuesday. Judged by the standards of a quick, bright fox, it was a disgrace. A mish-mash of half-remembered details and rambling statements. Issues raised by the editors and reporters of one of the United States' most storied newspapers, all viewed through his own personal prism.

On his realization that the country is deeply divided: "All of a sudden people are booing me."What if Republican legislators didn't support his plans to improve infrastructure? "Let's see if I get it done. Right now they're in love with me. O.K.?"

On a potential conflict of interests between his companies and his presidency: "I understand why the president can't have a conflict of interest now because everything a president does in some ways is like a conflict of interest, but I have, I've built a very great company and it's a big company and it's all over the world. But I have to say, the partners come in, they're very, very successful people. They come in, they'd say, they said, 'Would it be possible to have a picture?' I think it's wonderful to take a picture. I'm fine with a picture. But if it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again."

The former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, whose many parallels with Trump have been much noted, once said to a close associate : "Don't you understand? If something is not on television it does not exist!" Berlusconi owned or controlled almost all the main TV channels during his three terms as prime minister. He understood that control over people's attention was the key which, when turned, would usually open the door to power.

As both the Italian and the American hedgehogs know, public attention is often fitful, imperfectly formed, ignorant of the science or reasoning behind policies and projects - and increasingly suspicious of authority. Among the audience receiving Trump at the New York Times was its CEO, Mark Thompson, the former director general of the BBC, whose book, "Enough Said: What's Gone Wrong With the Language of Politics?" excoriates just the kind of rhetoric Trump deployed. Thompson believes that that what he calls "rhetorical rationalism" - the language of statements underpinned by reason, proofs and argument - is now being chased from political speech in favor of that of emotion and personality.

Thompson asked Trump whether he was committed to the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech, religion and the press. Trump put himself squarely into the frame once more: "Actually, somebody said to me on that, they said, 'You know, it's a great idea, softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more.' I said, 'You know, you're right, I never thought about that.' I said, 'You know, I have to start thinking about that.' So, I, I think you'll be OK. I think you're going to be fine."

In his command of the story, Trump seems to be on the same page with a lengthening list of world figures, most of these authoritarian. Russian President Vladimir Putin knows the same big thing as he does: the Russia expert Arkady Ostrovsky illuminates the effectiveness of a nightly show of the threats to Russia overcome by the doughty Putin, who enjoys 80 percent-plus ratings in spite of the Russian recession. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan knows it, and has suppressed most of the news organizations that criticize him. President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines knows it, and trades on his people's fear of crime to unleash his police on alleged drug traders and takers. More than 3,000 of these suspects are now dead.

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez knew it too, starring in his own "Alo Presidente!" live TV show that featured him talking for anything up to eight hours on topics of his choice. His "You're fired" style catchphrase: "Expropriate it."The revolution of which he was the founder, core and symbol is now ending in poverty and looming civil war.

Trump will govern a country which - contrary to the view of some fearful liberals - will not permit authoritarian rule. It may elect in heat, but will only be governed with cool reason. He must cease to be in thrall to his "it's-all-about me" narrative. He must grapple with the policies that his despised Democratic rival Clinton spent her life mastering. Perhaps above all, he must put statesmanship over showmanship.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2016.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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Trump only knows showmanship, and that will continue. That is all he knows. Splashing his name on buildings.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Trump will never, never be a statesman.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Trump will govern a country which - contrary to the view of some fearful liberals - will not permit authoritarian rule. It may elect in heat, but will only be governed with cool reason.

Evidence?

I know even center-left liberals like Obama like to spout American exceptionalism (and since the right has demonized Obama as an extreme leftist, it might not occur to people who aren't conversant with the real left that he doesn't represent the whole left-wing, hence creating the illusion that American exceptionalism is just the default American viewpoint across all political dimensions), but that doesn't actually make it real. If you want to believe that America is going to operate differently from every other country that ever suffered from an authoritarian takeover, you need something more substantial to base that belief on than the power of your own wishful thinking. You certainly need to base it on something more real than an assumed inherent desire that the American people are particularly motivated by principles or rational reasoning. That's not a horse one should bet on.

Still, this does seem to be a down-grade from Lloyd's past "optimistic" column. It's good to see the rose-tinted glasses come off, however slowly. Hopefully there won't be too many Muslims in Internment camps, Latino families broken up, gays being electrocuted straight, or black people being murdered by police before he gets the glasses completely off.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

"On his realization that the country is deeply divided: “All of a sudden people are booing me.“What if Republican legislators didn’t support his plans to improve infrastructure? “Let’s see if I get it done. Right now they’re in love with me. OK?"

By the standards of the gibbering boneheads, wannabe theocrats and screaming isolation ward cases in the GOP, this actually isn't that ridiculous.

Cubans, read this carefully and take a long look at your people. Would democracy in your country end up with this disgraceful nonsense?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

No. Just no.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm sure Trump was waiting for this bit of advice. Now he can proceed to choose the Secretary of State.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Abracadabra, and all of a sudden he is to become a rational human being? If only it were that simple, all of our problems would be solved.

There is no magic wand. What you see is what you get, and we got an idiot for a president.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Not possible. He is a mere businessman.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The current president has done more "show business" than any of his predecessors, appearing on countless talk shows, events, and programs like "Saturday Night Live." Even Bill Clinton could not find that much time to be on TV, but then again, old Bill had better ways to spend his time.

In private life Trump has appeared at pretty much any event worth attending, I hope he spends the next 4 or more years sitting in the Oval Office doing his new job. But that might not be hard, pretty much none of the popular talk shows, comedy programs, or "news" outlets liked Trump, and parodied him endlessly before the election. Trump may be the clown they said he was, but they were much more clownish themselves, the only way he would appear on these shows is to rub their noses in the dirt.

I especially love when Obama did the skit on Jimmy Kimmel, and said "at least I'll go down as a president" in a response to one of Trump's tweets, saying that Obama would go down as "the worst American president of all time. I have never seen a more ironic skit, and I doubt that for the rest of his life Obama will be able to look Trump in the eyes. I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall when Obama had to meet Trump after winning the election. Trump will also go down as a president, and that it was even remotely possible for the likes of Trump to become president sales more about how bad a president Obama was than anything else.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yeah trump did manage to get the presidency. But he didn't get one thing Obama got twice - chosen by the majority of the voters.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

For Trump, it's time to put statesmanship over showmanship

So far, no good. Look at the (his caps) PRESIDENT ELECT DONALD J TRUMP seal. Speaks volumes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_transition_of_Donald_Trump#/media/File:Trump_transition_logo.png

1 ( +1 / -0 )

SenseNotSoCommon: So far, no good. Look at the (his caps) PRESIDENT ELECT DONALD J TRUMP seal. Speaks volumes.

Really?

Google images for 'obama president-elect seal' and you will see what Obama had on his podium.

Everything capitalized in the square podium sign "THE OFFICE of the THE PRESIDENT-ELECT ", except for "of the".

Everything capitalized in the round seal "OBAMA for AMERICA - WWW.BARACKOBAMA.COM" except for "for".

Everything capitalized in "SEAL of the PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES" except for "of the" x2.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

'....Its time to put statesmanship over showmanship...'

This makes two questionable assumptions. 'Showmanship' implies that he has a gift-rather than present the fact that people who somehow find 'reality TV' thought provoking, intelligent and generally a valuable form of discourse may be somewhat lacking in their expectations as to what constitutes 'showmanship'.

The second, and perhaps far more seriously mistaken assumption, is to actually credit him with having the potential for statesmanship to begin with.

In the words of one famous musician in regards to Trump 'You're nearly a laugh, but you're really a cry...'

0 ( +0 / -0 )

But he didn't get one thing Obama got twice - chosen by the majority of the voters.

But He got 100% of the Presidency. Don't forget that Hillary didn't get a majority of the vote either so you cannot argue that most voters wanted her to be president - it's just not true.

I do hope that the Left continues to delegitimize the American electoral system by going after Trump. It will drive the 60's hippies and millennial snowflakes further into the Bernie Sanders disaffected fringe. Then maybe Trump can be defeated in the 2020 primaries and a real conservative can face off against a Fidel Castro like social justice warrior Democrat.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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