With the announcement of Trump’s triumphant (Trumphant?) Carrier deal, the word that occurs to me—not for the first time—is “showman.”
That’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, by the way. But it’s not something we’ve seen a lot of in recent years.
It’s not that previous presidents haven’t tried. Reagan was good at the speeches, as well as some sweeping gestures (“tear down this wall,” and the firing of the air controllers). Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush were abysmal; Clinton only so-so (playing the sax on TV comes to mind).
Obama tried and sometimes succeeded, particularly during his first campaign. Remember the Greek columns?
And then there were the white coats of Obamacare:
And who could forget George Bush jetting over to an aircraft carrier to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech?
But neither Obama nor Bush seemed to me to be especially accomplished at it, although Obama was better than Bush (your mileage may differ). It wasn’t exactly their natural metier, shall we say.
But this is the water in which Trump swims. This is his most comfortable place to be: the showman, in the spotlight. He’s been doing it for his entire life.
That’s one of the reasons Trump preferred enormous rallies, and was relaxed when giving lengthy speeches without a teleprompter and ad-libbing extensively. He likes the spectacle of it all and realizes the important of the gesture and the symbol. And despite his more “presidential” demeanor since his election, I doubt this aspect of his personality will fade during his presidency; au contraire. And he understands the elements of surprise, of timing.
The Trump Carrier episode has many aspects—potential problems, and potential upsides. You can read about a great many of them here. But the saving of the Carrier jobs in Indiana is symbolic, too (although it’s not the least bit symbolic to the workers themselves). Trump is trying to convey a number of things about himself, for example that he keeps his word (something he certainly has not always done in the past). That he cares about the “little people, the forgotten ones.” That he can work a deal, just as he said he could. That he’s a man of action. That he’s a man of quick and decisive and successful action.
As this article points out, the Carrier deal is the tip of the iceberg; the problem is much broader, and Trump may not be able to solve it. Nor are Trump’s solutions in the particular situation posed by Carrier magical; they probably have come from a combination of special tax incentives from the state (a common form of government favoritism) and threats from the feds.
But Trump the showman isn’t trying to show us how the sausage is made. The showman wants us to experience how good it tastes. There’s a danger in that and a value in that, and it’s a goodly part of why Trump got elected.
I am not naive about elected officials, nor about government. I don’t expect a whole lot from Trump, even if he turns out to be a much better president than I ever expected (so far, as president-elect, he’s certainly been better than I expected). I don’t expect him to be able to work miracles, or to actually solve the enormous problems we face. It would suffice if he didn’t make them worse, and if he helped create improvements in a number of situations that have been getting worse for decades. Now, that would be a show I’d like to watch.