Issues of leadership are important for all Presidents – including those at Mount Rushmore.
United States presidents have found the exercise of effective leadership a difficult task in recent decades. For Obama and Trump, the impediments have proven numerous. To lead well, a president needs support or at least permission from federal courts and Congress, steady allegiance from public opinion and fellow partisans in the electorate, backing from powerful, entrenched interest groups, and ideological accordance with contemporary public opinion about the proper size and scope of government.
That is a long list of requirements. If presidents fail to satisfy these requirements, they face the prospect of inadequate political support or, as defined here, “political capital,” to back their power assertions. In recent years, presidents’ political capital has shrunk while their power assertions have grown. Trump and Obama are the latest examples of this pattern, which can make the president a volatile, frustrated player in the national political system.
What’s with all this presidential nastiness? Donald Trump issues scalding tweets about Gold Star families, Congressional Democrats and Republicans – even the NFL. It all reveals a person given to volatile and aggressive emissions of rhetoric. What sort of personality would produce such behavior in the Oval Office?
There’s little doubt that Donald Trump is a beneficiary of recent popular discontent with politics as usual and the established elites in Washington D.C., labelled by Trump supporter Newt Gingrich as “the swamp.”
Todd Eberly and I in our 2013 book American Government and Popular Discontent charted the rise of public disaffection with politics. We found two major trends, stretching back to the mid-1960s.
The State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota–the home state of author Steven Schier.
In the era of Trump, it’s easy to lose perspective on broader trends in US politics. While the national press obsesses about the president’s every statement or ill-advised tweet, it largely ignores the vital activity of the nation’s fifty state governments.
In mid-December, Donald Trump tweeted the following: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of the water in an unpresidented act.” This hasty composition with the humorous misspelling actually suggests a crucial question: How unpresidented will Trump’s service in the White House turn out to be?
The author lecturing about American politics.
Is this joke funny?
”Now that the election is narrowing to a two-person race, Donald Trump said he will have to get used to Hillary Clinton’s shouting. After hearing this, Bill Clinton said, ‘You never really get used to it.'” –Conan O’Brien
Not, apparently, to Swedes. A prominent Swedish political scientist I know warned me not to use this one when addressing Swedish audiences about the 2016 presidential election. I recently gave lectures to audiences at Uppsala and Södertörn Universities and participated in a 2016 election panel before the American Club of Stockholm.
Two other jokes, the political scientist advised me, were OK:
Q: If Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in a boat and it capsizes, who survives?
Q: What’s the difference between God and Donald Trump?
A: God doesn’t think he’s Donald Trump.
President Obama making a point.
Barack Obama’s presidency has been a “clarifying” presidency. Obama’s big ambitions inevitably made him a highly polarizing figure for Americans, just as his predecessor George W. Bush, also a person of grand ambitions, had been. Like Bush, Obama led by acting as a national “clarifier” of differences between him and his partisan opponents.
2016 may well inaugurate a “new normal” in American politics. What exactly is new?
First, the politics of personal appeal has a new importance. Now, the “authenticity” of candidates seems to matter much more than anything they actually say or know about public policy or how they plan to govern. The current leading examples are Donald Trump’s plurality support among Republicans for the GOP presidential nomination and Bernie Sanders’ strong support in his competitive Democratic nomination race with Hillary.
Donald Trump, in an interview with the Washington Post editorial board last week, explained his foreign policy views. Those views are a radical break from both traditional GOP approaches to the world and, more broadly, to the maintenance of both contemporary international security arrangements and the global economy.
There are four aspects of the political “new normal” benefitting Trump. These aspects were absent or much less consequential 20-25 years ago than they are today. All of them benefit the unorthodox Trump candidacy, which is the utlimate product of this new political environment.