The search for the perfect Trump antidote doesn’t end here. In my next newsletter, I’ll be offering some quick answers to other reader questions about the president. Stay tuned for both.
Most randomly, here’s a question I received on Twitter:
Q: What is “Trumpism?”
A: Whether or not they realize it, many Americans today are aching to escape the incessant pressure created by President Trump to do one thing or another. He’s become so polarizing, controlling and unrelenting in his approach that Americans, more and more, are yearning for a leader who says and does what they want and need — not what he wants.
It’s my job to help them discover that there is no such thing as “Trumpism,” a term that is in no small part defined by Democratic strategist Adam Green — who runs the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Green says there are several distinct types of Trumpian thinking: closed-minded, white supremacy, bigotry, and cruelty to foreign and domestic competitors.
A few examples, in Green’s mind:
In 2017, President Trump stormed offstage when one of the basketball players from his team was booed for protesting racial injustice at a professional sports event. In 2018, he implied that United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley should resign “after the attack on our nation by Syria,” when she was criticized for criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior in Syria.
At a partisan political rally in Iowa in January, President Trump, criticizing the reporters covering his speech, called on them to say what he had just said. When that did not happen, the president asked, “Are you going to stop asking questions? Are you going to start standing up?” When a question was finally answered, he mocked the reporter’s name: “Joe Scarborough? Joe Scarborough! I don’t know who the hell you are.”
When he thought Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not aggressively investigating leaks of classified information, he once again shouted, “Jeff, what are you doing?”
Under those three examples, along with the list of at least 11 others, Green offers a guide for identifying Trumpian thinking: Closed-minded, white supremacy, bigotry, and cruelty to foreign and domestic competitors. Think about that.
Even if a president (or a campaign, or a political party) doesn’t speak those words all the time, there are sound practice approaches to identify them. Reporters for The Washington Post, who have experienced administration officials repeatedly calling reporters “murderers” when the subjects of their stories are not Republicans, have developed a list of “battleground-ballot words” that those officials apparently consider offensive.
Another indicator: the ugliness and negativity with which Americans are treated. Neither Trump nor his subordinates are innocent, but he usually inserts his position and personal worldview more quickly into comments. (This was the case when he first criticized the Vietnam War many years ago, and again during the 2016 campaign.)
In September 2013, President Obama dutifully answered questions from the press, but then he said “Thank you” to the reporters from CBS, to whom he delivered such a meek message. He said, “You’re out of turn.” That line received as much attention as his answers.
And the central theme? Freedom, he said: “More power to you. Go forth and report.” Free expression, he said, should be an “attractive and distinctive feature of American democracy,” where protesters are treated with respect.
By appealing to freedom, he shifted the question. He had moved away from the nastiness that had preceded his answer to the artistry of erudition.
In other words, there is no “Trumpism.” Green says that even his creation of a name for it (conservative “wedge politics”) reflects a need to understand different interpretations of America’s heritage. We recognize freedom. We love freedom. But sometimes we have to debate “the best way to keep it free.”