Everyone observing our politics, or serving in it, still has the sense that anything could happen at the White House at any time. But neither the most hopeful nor the most fearful prognostications about the effects of Trump’s presidency on our political system have been confirmed.
.. It would be hard now to claim that the surface appearance of reckless incompetence at the White House is just a mask for deep strategic genius.
.. Both begin from the assumption that Trump ran for president in order to use the presidency to achieve a set of relatively conventional political or policy objectives, and each approach formed its expectations around some sense of what those might have been. Ten months into his presidency, it does not look as if this was the nature of Trump’s ambition.
.. Instead, his ambition seems to have been something like a desire to put himself at the center of our national consciousness and attention. This looks to be what Trump wants most, and what some of his most peculiar choices and actions are directed toward achieving. Everything else — from policy priorities to political alliances — is always subject to change in pursuit of that goal. This could also be a key to understanding the effects Trump might ultimately have on our constitutional system.
.. Trump’s ambition that most resembles the ambitions of many other politicians.
.. But they also, of course, run to do something.
.. Trump’s exertions in office have mostly been of a different sort altogether. They have generally been neither channeled through the constitutional framework nor directed against it
.. The ideal of the president as project manager was especially prominent in how Trump spoke about his ambitions at the very beginning of his campaign. In August 2015, for instance, asked by George Stephanopoulos how he would carry out his immigration proposals, Trump responded, “These people don’t know what they’re doing, George. They’re politicians. They don’t know management. I get the best people and we will do it properly and we will do it humanely.” Asked three months later to respond to criticism from his primary opponents about his proposal for a registry of Muslims, he responded, “It would be just good management.” Pressed for more details, he said, “It’s all about management, our country has no management.” We have grown so accustomed to this sort of vague, brash talk from Trump over the past two years that we barely stop to ask what it actually conveys.
.. Trump still seems to believe that he has unique management abilities to offer the country and that this job is like his last one. Perhaps ironically, given his now-infamous lack of discipline, his sense of the president’s core administrative function remains exceptionally managerial — and not, in this sense, quite political or constitutional. He instinctively treats members of Congress like incompetent subcontractors.
.. Trump’s sense of the president’s broader functions, meanwhile, has turned out to be fundamentally theatrical. In just about every setting, he is performing for an audience. Thus his obsession with ratings and audience size, his running commentary on Twitter (often calling for actions that he could instead just undertake as chief executive), and his peculiar tendency even to comment on his own speeches as he delivers them.
.. his intense desire to please the room at every moment — which has led him incessantly to shift course and change positions. He seems to want different things at different times in front of different audiences. But he actually always wants the same thing: He wants to be acclaimed a winner.
When he isn’t depicted as successful, whether it’s on morning television or in a meeting with congressional leaders, he says and does whatever seems required to change the story in his favor. He can’t resist such provocations because he is always on the stage, needing to please or save face before the crowd.
.. This has left President Trump open to shameless attempts at manipulation by members of Congress and his own administration who think they can push him in their direction on key policy questions by portraying their preferred approach as a way for him to look stronger.
.. Trump’s capacity to disrupt our exhausted political order and force other politicians into at least modestly more populist directions could well prove a boon.
.. the presence of an undisciplined, aggressive performance artist at the heart of our government — a figure whose excesses are not structurally counterbalanced by others in the system because they are not strictly speaking excesses of presidential power — could alter the public’s expectations of government and politics in ways that are decidedly unhelpful to American constitutionalism and would not be easy to reverse. Viewing politics as entertainment could be a hard habit to break.
.. Washington has experienced the Trump presidency so far as an exhausting, intense, and unproductive circus.
.. Both seem to have been incapacitated by concerns that anything meaningful they do could be undercut by an erratic presidential tweet at any moment.
.. The appointment of judges might be the one presidential function that does not require perseverance — once nominated, they are confirmed by another branch of government and then perform their work without dependence on the president
.. it is frankly hard to say just what the president actually aims to achieve except for being on everyone’s mind all the time.
.. For many decades now, American progressives have advanced an ideal of the presidency in great tension with the logic of our broader constitutional architecture. Trump now offers a far less coherent model of the presidency that is downright unaware of that broader architecture and so stands as a kind of histrionic alternative to constitutional politics. If we are to hold out any hope for a constitutional restoration, these cannot be the only options before the public.
He likes to watch cable television news shows with other people, sometimes only through the phone.
.. After each answer, he made eye contact with a reporter, as if to say, “Gimme another!”
.. At both media availabilities, which had been billed as “sprays,” an official term for photo opportunities, Trump’s new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, was relegated to merely watching the spectacle.
.. “This is what General Kelly will learn very quickly, which is when you put this guy in a cage and think you’re controlling him, things like this happen,” said one Trump confidant, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
.. “President Trump is a performance artist and he loves being on stage. . . . He was very much Trump unshackled and unfettered and reveling in this moment,” said O’Brien, author of the 2005 book “Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald.”
empires could crash and burn if the emphasis was on sales rather than product.
.. In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump said that playing to people’s fantasies and promising the greatest product was “an innocent form of exaggeration.”
.. Presidents have to be good salesmen. Barack Obama faltered because he hated selling and simply lectured.
.. Hillary was not good at salesmanship either.
.. her 2016 team got so flummoxed at her inability to explain why she wanted to be president that they actually considered the slogan “Because It’s Her Turn.”
.. “He’s not a student of anything other than protecting his image. What he cares about is how he’s perceived, not the nuts and bolts of things. He is essentially a performance artist.”
.. They had never pulled a real bill together because they thought Hillary would win and they could just snipe at her. The Irish undertaker and his crew were so desperate to prove they had not totally forgotten how to pass anything that they were willing to go with garbage. And Ryan wanted to save the bacon — or bratwurst — of his fellow Wisconsin buddy Reince Priebus, blamed by Trump for the first health care defeat. After that debacle, The Times reported, Trump started merging the two names into one mocking “Ryan-ce.”
.. do not seem to realize the bad optics of a viral photo of a crowd of guys applauding themselves for gutting health care protections for women.