The waning days of a long, hot – and tumultuous – summer is no time to make lasting political judgments.
But it is a good time to offer some passing political observations about where the country is after only seven months of a new and decidedly unpredictable president. And hopefully add some balance to over-the-top debate on all sides.
First, Trump deserves some credit. He’s been on top of Hurricane Harvey. Seven years after Joe Biden falsely promised a Recovery Summer with thousands of shovel-ready new jobs flowing from a trillion-dollar stimulus package, the U.S. economy has genuinely gained steam. The unemployment rate is down, even with more hopeful people re-entering the job market. Dozens of regulations have been shredded.
Stock markets have reached record heights. Mortgage applications have soared. And a genuine optimism seems afloat after eight years of Barack Obama hand-wringing, negative nation-viewing and apologies.
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For sure, Obama was a Real Good Talker. That’s effective in today’s media and a bright contrast to his predecessor.
Like all pols, Obama promised things he knew were false; think Obamacare. He did speak the rote good things about America. However, over time they began sounding hollow, insincere. That’s because the man who spent formative childhood years in a foreign culture that he repeatedly romanticized always felt compelled to point out to us – and countless foreign audiences – the many profound faults he sees in America.
Never ask Obama to fix the roof. He wants to rebuild entire neighborhoods, even if his transformational ambitions far outweigh his overrated abilities to inspire and lead. Just ask the more than 1,000 Democrats he blithely led out of office at all levels of government during his endless me-first terms.
Along comes his successor in the most shocking U.S. political upset of modern times. Just enough Americans in just the right places wanted something – perhaps anything – different.
They chose Donald Trump, a boastful, boorish billionaire. He tapped into flyover country’s molten frustration and bipartisan antipathy toward establishment elites flocking around the capital playing their rigged games and making Washington, not by accident, epicenter of the nation’s richest counties.
Trump also had the good fortune to face one of modern times’ most inept, message-free candidates who’s now written a cathartic book to ponder what everyone else realized last year.
Hillary Clinton’s crowd and a fair number of others couldn’t believe that those ignorant, deplorable masses in Michigan, Wisconsin and elsewhere could, would or did buy into Trump’s bragging bull to deny her pre-ordained political inheritance.
They still can’t believe it, especially within some sycophantic media now baldly displaying the most unprofessional and amazing animus of an era. They actively seek to retroactively overturn voters’ verdict by a selective presentation of the most negative acts and behaviors of a man who craves their attention while simultaneously attacking them with truths and falsehoods that resound with the president’s plurality that never needs convincing.
And Trump’s ever-expanding self-regard and lack of discipline give his critics ample ammo to present and distort, just as he does their faults. Take last week’s Phoenix rally. It was for anyone following Trump rallies lo these nearly 27 months pretty standard fare, sometimes fiery, sometimes angry, sometimes exaggerated, sometimes incoherent.
The Examiner’s perceptive Byron York calls the 77-minute performance a “Trump sandwich.”
That means the New Yorker opens with a pre-baked message. Then, fed by cheers and chants, he wanders off venting his frustrations and angry asides for all to see and some to follow, attacking not Democrats but members of his own adopted party that he’ll badly need next month. Then, Trump remembers the need to wrap it all in the evening message again.
Media largely presented it as the chief executive having a nationally-televised virtual nervous breakdown, questioning his fitness for office, even his sanity. Those who did not watch the rally have only that coverage to go by.
Lost in all that anti-Trump hysteria was his address to the nation on Afghanistan strategy 25 hours earlier. It was short (2,900 words vs 8,000 in Phoenix), reasoned, nuanced and presidential.
He does well in such set pieces, then drowns out any positive impact with wild talk after. The commander-in-chief stuck to the teleprompter and shared his own organized doubts about the path forward there, warned Afghan leaders U.S. patience is limited and vowed strength in overcoming the terrorists who planned 9/11 there 16 years ago.
A disciplined Trump could have reviewed those remarks in Phoenix, perhaps thrown in some red-meat lines about dishonest media and obstructionist Democrats blocking court appointees. And he’d have reinforced that impressive presidential message and importantly denied opponents fodder to feign fears for nuclear codes.
Supporters claim Trump needs to energize his base with anger. But rain or shine, it’s shown no proclivity to flee.
The problem for Trump heading into a crucial autumn of legislative challenges is that given such regular unhelpful, unnecessary, improv drama, a majority of Americans ominously has shown no proclivity to flock to this mixed style of leadership.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.