The emotional reaction to Donald Trump’s election to the presidency illustrates the overextension of the federal government. By overextension I’m not only referring to the power the federal government has exercised over the states, but, similar to the election of Barack Obama, Trump’s election has a far-reaching cultural impact.
Candidate Trump was often criticized for his multiple affairs, his “locker room” talk, and the multiple claims of sexual abuse against him. In a normal election, such acts and accusations would have disqualified a candidate, but Trump remarkably managed to remain unscathed. This was largely due to polarization created by the media between the left and the “deplorables”. But, is it the media’s fault for using material which would give them more viewers? After all, that is how they generate revenue.
In any system where the people get a vote, it is up to the people to determine the market. Had people not been as interested in the Trump show, we wouldn’t have seen him 24/7 on every news and entertainment channel. Unfortunately, it seems we would rather the man determine the market rather than the market the man. This enables a cultural as opposed to a political leader which is what the president is supposed to be.
If we are to take our cultural cues from a leader, our leader then must be infallible. This is what generates the extreme resentment of Trump in this role by those on the left and the anti-Trump right. They claim Trump’s actions are not normal or he is not acting presidential. His incessant tweeting, his poorly articulated thoughts and ideas, his flirting with the alt-right; all, they claim, are degrading to the office. But what makes a person presidential or a presidency normal?
According to liberals and the media, the infallible president was Barack Obama. He was hailed for his “scandal free” presidency, his oratory skill, and the crease in his pants. The man looked like a president, he talked like a president, but was his presidency normal? Following the Obama administration’s cues, is it now okay to use bureaucratic entities to target citizens for their dissenting opinions as the IRS did? Can reporters be prosecuted for doing their jobs as was done to the AP and James Rosen? Should the Attorney General be the president’s wingman instead of the top law official in the land? When a person is deemed to be infallible, he must become more than man and, since no one is more than man, those who wish to maintain the image of infallibility -the media- do.
The president is not infallible nor was the presidency ever meant to be, which is why the system of checks and balances was put into place. The president is not a cultural leader but a representative of the culture who elected him. The problem is, President Trump was elected to be a cultural leader. Time and again, his most enthusiastic supporters point to his personality traits as the reason for their support: his aggressiveness, his bucking of “political correctness,” etc. True, there were supporters of his policies, as shallow as they were, but even his most ardent policy supporters are out of the White House and/or backing away from the administration.
Most public was the ousting of Steve Bannon, who returned to Breitbart to continue the Trump agenda he could no longer pursue in Trump’s White House. Sebastian Gorka is another former member of Trump’s counsel no longer in service but promoting “Trumpism” apart from the man himself. And Ann Coulter, who wrote “In Trump We Trust” and stated she would be fine if Trump “performed abortions in the White House” if he accomplished his immigration goals, now reports daily on the progress, or lack thereof, on the border wall.
Trump’s support is persistent, however. True, he has achieved some meaningful legislation and is reducing regulations, all of which garner conservative support, but his approval numbers were dismal throughout the process. When do we see spikes in Trump’s ratings? When leftist culture attempts to take him down. As Trump waffles between conservative policies and liberal pipe dreams one thing is constant: his joy of politically incorrect and often downright impolite behavior.
For people persecuted by leftists during the previous administration’s tenure this is a delight: Finally, someone not cowed by the threats of the media. Trump’s counter-offensive to the media has made them go out of their way to prove Trump wrong, and in doing so, they have only further discredited themselves. Because of this media bias, we see otherwise rational people coming to the defense of Trump.
For people affronted by both biased reporting and the character of the man at which it is directed, a distinction must be made: is defending Trump a defense of the man or the presidency? If Trump the man was accused of having an affair with porn stars and claiming President Obama was born in Kenya, you may be amused but you would go about your day knowing he was after all just a man and can have vices and foolish whims. President Trump, however, gets defense from all sides. Evangelicals go out of their way to defend not just his policies but the man himself. In response to the supposed infallibility of Obama, the right has conjured up their own infallible answer.
Both sides need to recognize the president should be held to a higher standard not elevated to one. However, it is also important to distinguish between the presidency and the individual currently holding the office. The president’s job is to execute legislation passed by congress, not teach you how to live. The more infallible you believe the president to be, the more the man in that role is able to control your life.
We cannot continue to elevate our elected officials to the standard we would like. If the president is to be a moral and cultural leader he not only needs to have perfect personal morals but he needs to be seen to demonstrate these morals as Conscience-in-Chief. If we want the president to push beneficial policies and protect our interests abroad, we need to remove the “man” out of the public sphere and focus on the actions of the presidency in the role as leader of the executive branch as Commander-in-Chief.
The assumption the country’s morals change based on who people voted into office is nonsensical. Morals are simply the standard of behavior you and society hold yourself to. You cannot elect someone to remove these personal standards; the president’s flaws do not become acceptable traits. If you believe the leader is the cultural standard-bearer, it would behoove the media to keep flawed character images from the public eye lest it destroy social standards altogether. The media holding this belief while promoting the president’s personal failings demonstrates the need for the distinction between man and office more than ever. Loyalty is not to the man but to the office upheld by the Constitution. If we are not to be ruled, we must keep this distinction or we will fall into the trap of idolatry.
No president throughout our history is deemed to be great simply by the fact he became president. There have been racists, adulterers, and eugenicists – each of which can be found in C-SPAN’s top ten ranked presidents. We do not hold the outcome of their presidency by these flaws in character and morality but instead by the actions they took for the country. Let’s not lose sight of the fact it’s policy that really affects us, not the late-night tweets of our current chief administrator.