This I Resolve ...
Welcome to 2018. Like many, I have made some new year’s resolutions. I thought I would share one with you.
I resolve not to get worked up about Donald Trump’s tweets. And I strongly suggest that the mainstream media – and in fact the rest of the world – do the same. I offer three reasons why:
1. He’s not going to stop.
First of all, he really enjoys it. Second, tweeting is his way of bypassing all handlers (the media and even his own staff) and getting his (sometime garbled) message out directly to an audience that includes (and is bigger than) people who want to hear what he wants to say. He delights in stirring the pot, poking the media and counterpunching when attacked. It may not be presidential (more on that later), but I believe he believes it works for him.
2. His political enemies take his tweets way too seriously, and his real enemies (and ours) do not.
There was a time recently when the world hung on every presidential utterance and talking heads spent countless hours analyzing every phrase for hints on the direction of government policy, as if the president was head of the Federal Reserve. That was because, sadly (to my mind), our government policy was all talk: beautifully delivered, full of soaring platitudes and empathetic connectivity, but absent effective and consistent follow-up. Our foreign policy was, as my Texan friends would say, “all hat, no cattle.” Our enemies figured this out pretty quickly, and viewed America as a paper tiger. The world became significantly less safe as a result.
We all know that Donald Trump is a big, loud, ostentatious, deal-making businessman who likes to win. Note that last piece – it is the key to understanding the man. Many people do not know that Trump was an exceptional athlete in his youth; he may be a brash talker, but what he really is, deep in the core of his being, is a fierce competitor. If he had a motto, I suspect it would include the famous words attributed to Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
For a businessman, winning means delivering results. And, like him or not, Trump has delivered on a number of important objectives.
You’ve got to give credit where it is due. There are many examples, but chief in my mind is the defeat of ISIS. Trump wisely freed our armed forces from needlessly constrictive rules of engagement and gave our military leaders the authority they needed to exercise their professional skills to deliver a death blow in Iraq to a group promoting worldwide jihad. The world is a bit safer as a result, and you can be sure the world noticed.
I firmly believe that Trump will also be successful in forcing China to play a much more constructive role in addressing the North Korean problem, even to the point of achieving a denuclearized Korean peninsula. He will not do that with tweets, but by action. China has immense leverage over North Korea, and fears the prospect of millions of North Korean refugees crossing its borders should the regime there fall for whatever reason. Both China and Russia have enjoyed watching from the sidelines (and promoting) North Korea’s antics and past baiting of American attention, but the game has become serious, and potentially deadly. America has immense leverage over China, if we are willing to use it, and I believe China is getting the message that we are: witness the very public seizure of a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker caught transferring oil to North Korea in violation of UN sanctions. This is geopolitical hardball being played in pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the North Korean crisis, and I think it will work. Message to the world: watch what we do, not what we say.
3. It’s mainly about the media anyway.
The universal complaint about Trump’s tweets is that they are not “presidential,” by which it is meant that they are not dignified, temperate, circumspect and polished, which they certainly are not. But here’s a thought: isn’t everything a president says and does by definition presidential? Just that this president’s style is unlike any other? While I do think that Trump’s tweets will moderate a bit over time, I do not expect him to stop being intentionally provocative. Here’s my reasoning: he is at war with the mainstream media.
Trumps’ main complaint is that the media is biased against him. He may have a point: a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that press coverage of Trump’s first 60 days in office was 62% negative, compared to much lower percentages for Obama (20%), Bush (28%) or Clinton (28%) for the same time period. Being a competitive person, he’s not willing to take that lying down. I think that in his tweeting he has found a way to beat the media at its own game.
One of the worst inventions of the modern era, in my mind, is the 24-hour news cycle – “all news, all the time.” The problem is, there really isn’t enough real news to fill one 24-hour news program, let alone many. So hordes of highly-paid news people scramble after anything and everything to keep their audience engaged. Thus news became infotainment became entertainment became opinion became … fake news. And Trump’s tweets provide irresistible “content” to feed the gaping maw of the chattering classes and media pundits. They broadcast them all, and dissect and debate and pontificate and moralize for hours and days on end. And in doing so, they risk alienating their audiences and tanking their ratings to the point where Trump will tweet that they are all “failures” – and they will cover that as well! In Shakespeare’s time, that would be called being “hoisted with their own petard.” And the tweeter-in-chief will grin like the Cheshire Cat.
Notwithstanding the above, I remain an optimist, resolved to ignore most of this and “go placidly among the noise and haste” tending to my own family and business. Above all, I will not let any of it push my button.