President Trump elicits powerful emotions. So, in the interest of a more placid union, a few mild observations about the man who has moved into the heads of so many for so long, manifesting such surprising symptoms:
• He doesn’t do much smiling. This has unnerved much of the press corps, which is accustomed to politicians who spend an unnatural portion of their lives grinning, often for no apparent reason. My Dad mentioned to me years ago that it’s odd for anyone to look happy most of the time. And he’s absolutely right. Never trust people who smile for a living, especially if they want something from you – like your vote. So having a grim-faced POTUS may actually be a plus.
• When politicians aren’t smiling, they’re usually talking. (Most are adept at doing both at the same time.) And when they’re talking, they’re usually carefully calculating the effect their words will be having on 1) their campaign contributors, 2) people who may vote for them, 3) people who usually vote for them, and 4) reporters who might accurately quote them saying something careless that could offend anyone in groups 1) through 3). The really skillful politicians have learned to appear thoughtful while they engage in speed-of-light risk assessment before opening their mouths. Trump, on the other hand, seems to say what he thinks, even if it may completely change the next day, or even later the same evening. This can be refreshing, like the lime in a diet soda water.
On the other hand, saying what you think – and frequently changing your mind in public – are such novel concepts in the political world that Trump’s fellow global leaders are clearly confused, befuddled, and off-balance. Which might just be a good thing when we’re talking about Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran. A scary president of the United States is a fearsome force, and an impediment to bad behavior. Still, we don’t want to cause much more than a touch of healthy nervousness in Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Germany, or Australia, to name just a few allies that may not yet grasp the new American standard for openness and transparency.
• President Trump has said many mean things about the media and about journalists. This has generated lots of anger and hand-wringing. On the other hand, Trump talks to news people all the time and he talks to the American people even more. So give him points here, too.
• The president does not appear to be an especially deep thinker. In this respect, at least, he is a run-of-the-mill Washington politician.
• He frequently talks like an old-style Borscht Belt stand-up comic. Think Henny Youngman, Jackie Mason, Rodney Dangerfield. So Trump is infinitely more entertaining than his pompous predecessor. This, too, is an improvement for the country – and a source of endless consternation for Beltway news media people, who don’t do comedy. At least not serious comedy.
• Trump is unorthodox. People who are orthodox, but see themselves as unorthodox, find this disconcerting. Good.
• Like all 21st century American presidents, he is loath to acknowledge his own errors. On the other hand, when he makes mistakes, he seems willing to quickly change course, as long as he doesn’t have to admit that’s what he’s doing. This might be an improvement. Maybe. We’ll see.
• Because he’s a businessman, Trump has a much higher tolerance for risk than conventional politicians. And the fundamental truth is that risk offers chances to accomplish good things that are both substantial and unexpected. Wouldn’t that be a change coming out of Washington? But embracing risk also increases the possibility of dangerous, even catastrophic, failures. And that’s why some people wish Trump’s temperament were just a bit more conservative.
Maybe he’ll learn. That would make him a truly unusual president.