Politics

Trump Has Already Abdicated His Role as Head of State

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

He's just not that into presidenting.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The evidence keeps stacking up that Donald Trump has basically abdicated the "head of state" part of his responsibilities. 

He's also having trouble getting winning teams to show up for White House events.

I really don't think this is a function of Trump's basic unpopularity. George W. Bush was eventually quite a bit more unpopular than Trump is now, and so was Jimmy Carter, and they didn't really have this situation. The White House said that the decision to skip the Kennedy Center Honors was to allow the event to proceed "without any political distraction" -- perhaps a reference to the past and expected protests over Trump's equivocation about white supremacists. 

However: Occasional protests surrounding the president's ceremonial duties aren't unusual. What's unusual is the president's abdication of his traditional role. This is different from anything we've seen for any modern president. 

The real reason for it is that Trump, from the very start, has refused to act as head of state, and so no one except for his supporters is willing to treat him as such. That was the story of the Boy Scout brouhaha. It's related to his tweeting, too. Because Trump refuses to adhere to normal rules of decorum, no one can trust how he'll behave in any situation. 

Either he just doesn't care about that part of the job, or he's so inept (or so self-involved) that he's unable to do it. 

This goes back to the very beginning of his presidency. During his inaugural address, he violated the norm of reaching out to the entire nation, instead delivering the sort of divisive speech more likely to be heard on the campaign trail. 

The political scientist Richard Fenno describes the way politicians see their constituencies in terms of a series of concentric circles, with a small group of personal loyalists as the smallest circle all the way out to the entire constituency as the largest circle. Trump doesn't appear to see very far from the middle of his circle. At best, he speaks only to his closest supporters. Perhaps that's a deliberate strategy. Perhaps not. At any rate, addressing the entire nation is part of his job, and he's proven either unwilling or incapable of doing it.

1. Rick Hasen on the dangers of "cheap speech." 

2. E.J. Graff at the Monkey Cage has a roundup of posts about race, violence, white identity politics and other topics relevant to Charlottesville.

 3. Radley Balko on what former Communist nations have done with their monuments.

4. Vann Newkirk on Charlottesville

5. Neil Irwin at the Upshot on jobs and race relations.

6. John Bresnahan and Rachel Bade on the instructions one congressional office gives to the staffers who drive the member around in the district. This was a fun one: Virtually every journalist in my Twitter feed thought this reflected quite poorly on the member; virtually every political scientist in my feed who studies Congress and quite a few people who have Hill or campaign experience thought the memo was basically sensible instructions for an inherently difficult task. No surprise that I'm with the latter group.

7. And Ezra Klein on the demise of Steve Bannon and presidential weakness. I'm skeptical of two points here. One is whether Bannon was equipped to actually get anything done within the government. He talks a good game, but it's not at all clear he had any of the skills it would have taken to influence anyone. The other is Trump's true intentions. Perhaps, as Klein speculates, Trump is perfectly happy to have everyone ignore him. But it's equally possible the president very much wants to be a powerful president, but he doesn't know how. Or doesn't even realize how ineffectual he is.

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    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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    Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

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