by Stephen Bryen
President Donald Trump has been vilified and systematically attacked in ways no modern American president has been. You have to go back to the earliest days of our Republic, to the time of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to see what a mean and vindictive press can do. There is a wonderfully interesting book, American Aurora by Richard Rosenfeld that provides a blow by blow from the time of the American Revolution to the start of the 19th century. Rosenfeld provides us with newspaper and broadside articles and commentaries from the period that may shock you. They are worth reading today.
Perhaps we have matched or exceeded what Rosenfeld uncovered in our early history.
Unfortunately one of the byproducts of the attempt to destroy Trump is that it has led him into a fist fight he can’t win. Trump does not have any sympathy in 90% of the media, and social media outlets are doing their best to close him down or freeze him out. One technique is putting up fake fact checks to try and diminish anything the President says. Another is to block his Tweets. And there is plenty more including fake editing of news including the President himself, all in an effort to smear him.
Trump has responded by taking them on and trying to win a shouting match. That may motivate his base to a degree (although that kind of motivation has its own half life), but the reality is that at best it makes President Trump a slug fest specialist, not a President.
I believe the reason Trump is slumping badly in the opinion polls is precisely that the battle he is in is making him less presidential, which is the intent of his adversaries. People want to hear from the President and listen to what he has to say but will tune out angry statements and disregard Tweet reactions to just about everything.
We are a nation that has been locked up for months, where millions of our fellow citizens are on furlough, or haven’t been paid, or their workplace no longer exists. People are worried. Even the retired are in trouble with investments wobbly and COVID-19 threatening.
President Trump had hoped to win reelection based on a hugely surging economy. And while there is recovery in the stock market, and the jobs picture is improving, the economy remains a hard sell to reelect the president.
What the country is desperate to hear are fireside chats, like the ones Roosevelt made (1933-1944) during the depression and on into World War II. Or just recently the Queen’s Speech on April 5th, “We Will Meet Again.”
While the Queen is not an elected monarch and need not worry about elections (she serves whoever is elected), Roosevelt was a shrewd politician and was elected four times. He knew when and how to talk, and when.
If President Trump can’t rise to the level of Roosevelt or the Queen he cannot win.
The American people need to be comforted, given guidance, provided explanations, and asked to help the country, not to help the President. This latter distinction is important. Anyone looking at President Trump’s campaign is immediately struck by appeals to help the President. That is, in my opinion, the wrong approach and assures the President’s defeat.
The President has to talk to the people in a serious and considered manner. He has to win back their trust and affection.
The President should explain to people what they can and must do for their country and for the communities they live in.
(I know this is from John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural line “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” but knowing this does not make it wrong advice to President Trump –it was very effective and motivational, just as Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” inspired millions.)
Here are a few topics the President can talk to the American people about:
1. The American people MUST help to end racism –it is our duty to do this and every one of us needs to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are helping end this scourge. The President can explain why racism is wrong and how it hurts individuals, families and communities. He can talk about legitimate protests and he can explain the limits of acceptable demonstrations. He can say that wherever the police or other law enforcement has behaved wrongly, those officers should be punished. But he can also say how important law enforcement is to community safety and security and why we should not get caught up in irresponsible efforts to de-fund the police. We should work to making law enforcement better and we should be grateful for what our law officers do for us.
2. The President should address the economy and specifically the jobs issue. He can ask the American people to help their fellow citizens who don’t have jobs. He can appeal to companies that are hiring to bring back workers on furlough and help those without jobs get some work. Every community needs to make an effort to support individuals and families in trouble.
3. The President should talk about the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He needs to explain to the American people the freedoms that we have and why they are guaranteed. He needs to explain what this means and does not mean. What are the limits of speech and assembly? He needs to be clear that burning down stores, toppling statues, using intimidation and threats of violence or taking over public properties is unacceptable and dangerous.
4. The President should talk how the majority of Americans want to end racial injustice, but find the tactics being used disturbing and painful. In raising this issue the President should identify those who are anarchists or who were trained by Communists, and he should talk about why these people are trying to steal a legitimate protest movement and turn it into a revolutionary totalitarian movement, just the way the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917.
5. The President should make clear in the COVID-19 epidemic that our primary goals are to keep people safe and to restore our country fully as soon as possible. But President Trump should say that while the government can give advice, it is the people of the country, not any government, that has to decide on what to do. It is wrong, the President should explain, for government to tell people whether or not they can go to Church, or even if they can go to a ballgame or a restaurant. Similarly it is wrong for government to tell citizens they can’t own a gun. People are frightened by the unrest, the looting, the burning, the riots and other kinds of attacks they see and they seek personal protection. It is their Constitutional right and it should not be denied.
6. The President needs to paint a picture of a greater America. Instead of Make America Great Again, the emphasis should be on Greater Again. Greater is a country that stamps out racism and antisemitism and fights communism and anarchism. Greater is a country that honors our First Responders including law enforcement officers, but sets high standards of conduct so that ugly incidents don’t happen in future. Greater is a country that helps our fellow citizens so they can participate fully in the promise of our country. Americans need to regain their pride in their country so we can move forward.
Above all, it is time, urgently so, for the President to be Presidential.