The funny thing about saying someone is “hard-working” is that, while giving him or her a sincere compliment, you are nevertheless saying nothing of that person’s effectiveness in producing positive results for a given task. This idea is central to the phrase “giving an A for effort.” Sure, one may expend a fair bit of physical or mental energy trying to achieve a particular goal, but unless that goal is specifically and expressly reached, the merits of the process merit their own scrutiny. I’d like for you to keep this theme in mind as we read a statement from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, regarding President Donald Trump’s schedule:
The time in the morning is a mix of residence time and Oval Office time but he always has calls with staff, Hill members, cabinet members and foreign leaders during this time. The President is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen and puts in long hours and long days nearly every day of the week all year long. It has been noted by reporters many times that they wish he would slow down because they sometimes have trouble keeping up with him.
OK, first things first, we have to remember that this may be complete and unmitigated bullshit coming from Sanders. Ever since Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway set the tone of this administration by trying to argue the “alternative fact” that Trump’s Inauguration crowd was bigger than either of Obama’s two crowds, one was made to understand that the White House’s relationship with the truth is decidedly shaky. Going back to the idea of the President being so hard-working that reporters can barely keep up with him, though—and we get it, Trump supporters: the liberal media sucks and it’s no wonder they can’t keep up with him—that his schedule is so inscrutable and that it may be loosely constructed to begin with is not necessarily a virtue.
Sarah Sanders’s comments quoted above are actually a direct response to a “scoop” from Jonathan Swan, a national political reporter covering the Trump presidency and GOP Capitol Hill leadership. In his recent piece on AXIOS, Swan details how Donald Trump’s daily schedule seems to be shrinking and how much of it seems to be devoted to “Executive Time”, a function that appears to be intentionally amorphous. From the article:
President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us. The schedules shown to me are different than the sanitized ones released to the media and public.
- The schedule says Trump has “Executive Time” in the Oval Office every day from 8am to 11am, but the reality is he spends that time in his residence, watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting.
- Trump comes down for his first meeting of the day, which is often an intelligence briefing, at 11am.
- That’s far later than George W. Bush, who typically arrived in the Oval by 6:45am.
- Obama worked out first thing in the morning and usually got into the Oval between 9 and 10am, according to a former senior aide.
Trump’s days in the Oval Office are relatively short – from around 11am to 6pm, then he’s back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval. Then he’s back to the residence for more phone calls and more TV.
Some of you may be thinking, “Nice schedule if you can get it,” but the grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. Besides, being the President of the United States of America is a stressful job, and you probably wouldn’t want it anyway. (I mean, just think what it would do to grey your hair!) Also, the comparisons to Dubya and Barack Obama ultimately don’t mean much. At 6:45 in the morning, I’m pretty sure I would be a complete disaster as POTUS, and would be lucky to get my breakfast in my sleepy mouth. Still, it’s not unreasonable to question Trump’s work ethic here, as well as to suggest that his balance of looking at screens vs. not looking at screens may well be unhealthily off. Plus, while we would expect most political figures to deviate from their campaign pledges, Trump has in no way, shape, or form tried to uphold his boast that he would be more committed to his work than, say, President Obama, and that he would avoid vacationing and golf because he would be too busy running the country. At this point, Trump is looking like he will exceed Obama’s number of rounds of golf over his eight-year tenure by the 2018 mid-terms. Granted, hypocrisy is nothing new in Washington, D.C., but for someone who billed himself as the anti-politician, “the Donald” is playing the part every bit.
As Swan characterizes Donald Trump’s schedule of late, the President’s time in the White House is usually spent between 11 and 6, with various periods of “Executive Time” punctuating that span. This day has gotten shorter since Trump began, and from Swan’s examples from the written schedule, the official day doesn’t even seem to last that long, with the last items for particular days being listed at 4 or 4:15, and doubtful to extend past the 6:00 mark. That’s a seven-hour day, including lunch and whatever “Executive Time” is supposed to be. Again, the job of President is a tough one, and everyone is entitled to a break. Still, the amount of time spent on the phone, Tweeting, and watching television doesn’t exactly communicate an image of Trump as the blue-collar, roll-your-sleeves-up kind of worker. It instead makes him seem like a typical executive who makes his own hours and is “in touch” with the issues that concern him only because he has been specifically briefed on them. What’s more, if insider reports of Trump’s media consumption are true, then it means his access to actionable, credible intelligence is likely limited, given his predilection for FOX News, not to mention his child-like attention span and suspected substandard reading comprehension. For someone who brags to opposing world leaders about the size of his “nuclear button,” this doesn’t appear to be a positive development for Donald Trump—or for our country, for that matter.
Viewed alongside doubts about President Trump’s mental fitness, the tone Jonathan Swan takes strikes the reader as vaguely deprecating, but not without genuine concern about Trump’s health. Swan ends his piece thusly:
Aides say Trump is always doing something — he’s a whirl of activity and some aides wish he would sleep more — but his time in the residence is unstructured and undisciplined. He’s calling people, watching TV, tweeting, and generally taking the same loose, improvisational approach to being president that he took to running the Trump Organization for so many years. Old habits die hard.
“Loose, improvisational approach.” While we’re invoking insider accounts of the Trump White House, we would arguably be remiss if we did not consider Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House in our assessment of the state of Trump’s White House, and perhaps most pertinently, the suggestion that Trump didn’t really want or expect to win the 2016 election. As others have theorized, this may be well why Donald Trump and his transition team seemed so unprepared to set forth an agenda or even fill needed vacancies at the federal level. About a year into Trump’s tenure as POTUS, though, if what Jonathan Swan reports is similarly true, then concerns about his health may well be valid if he is a TV junkie with an erratic schedule and poor sleep habits. Bear in mind this shouldn’t automatically start proceedings pursuant to the 25th Amendment—these discussions tend to be overwrought anyway. At the same time, however, it reveals the kind of details of the life of a man you might be hesitant to have running a company. Or one of the most powerful countries in the world.
Questions about President Donald Trump’s mental fitness for the presidency have dogged the White House lately. Speaking of the 25th Amendment and whether or not Trump can be removed from office because he is certifiably insane, I am of the belief that he may be “crazy” in the commonplace usage of the word, but diagnosing him with anything other than a narcissistic personality disorder seems like a bit of a stretch—and even then, this doesn’t mean he can’t run the nation. Of course, it could mean he’d be running the nation like an asshole—which he is, because he is one—but such does not preclude one from leadership roles. (In fact, in numerous contexts, it actually seems to be encouraged.) Taking an unstructured approach to leadership while watching too much television, spending too much time on Twitter, and not sleeping enough, meanwhile? Though not disqualifying factors, these habits can be destructive to the person who practices them, and in the case of someone like Trump, whose actions and words can impact entire countries and regions, there is ample room for collateral damage.
BBC News, referencing Jonathan Swan’s scoop on AXIOS, also delved into presidential schedules in recent history. As the BBC report insists up front, Trump wouldn’t be the first President to eschew a normal 9-to-5 schedule, nor would he be the first to make phone calls or do other things in the early morning (after midnight). He also wouldn’t be the first to be obsessed with his public image, according to Matthew Dallek, George Washington University professor, cited in the piece; LBJ grew very concerned about defending himself during the Vietnam War and would voice his concerns to his aides in the middle of the night. As we have been asking in this post, however, and as the BBC article explores, this does not, by any means, mean this behavior is healthy or productive. A key insight from Prof. Dallek comes when prompted about Trump’s late-night/early-morning Tweets:
The problem, Professor Dallek said, is that for the president, “unstructured time can be destructive and debilitating”, citing his tweets.
“In terms of leading the country, presidents run into dangers when they freelance,” he said. “Words can be taken as policy and create a lot of chaos.”
Chaos, eh? Sure sounds like the Trump White House, an administration marked by near-constant controversy and upheaval within its ranks, and one with an average approval rating of 38% over the President’s term, per Gallup and as of this writing. Dallek’s meditations on presidential “freelancing” would seem stand to reason. When I found out Greg Gianforte, the political candidate who physically attacked reporter Ben Jacobs shortly before the special election to replace Ryan Zinke, had won in Montana after waking up in the middle of the night, I took to Twitter to vent my frustrations, and rather diplomatically suggested those who voted for Gianforte could “eat a dick.” What I received were taunts from conservative trolls who either made fun of my last name, reveled in my anger, or sarcastically applauded me for being another “classy” Democrat/liberal. Not my finest moment, and I regretted it afterwards.
Just imagine if I were the President, though, and I told half the electorate they could ingest a phallus. It imaginably wouldn’t go over well. The same can be said for other countries reading Tweets about things that would dramatically impact their livelihood. Like, for instance, when Trump posts about building a wall and have Mexico pay for it. It necessitates a response from some current or former Mexican official who says something to the effect of, “No, President Trump, we are not paying for that f**king wall!” Use of social media in this way breeds contempt, and in a matter of minutes, diplomatic relations between two countries can become strained. All because one man has an itchy Twitter finger and a base to appeal to. Not to mention that, for such a brave new world with a world leader being able to regularly Tweet, strongman Trump comes off as a coward for saying something he probably wouldn’t say to President Nieto in person. The power of social media is one that can embolden us—often further than we perhaps should be emboldened.
All this makes for a strange case study in how or for what someone like Donald Trump should be held accountable for what he says versus what he Tweets, and whether or not there should be an appreciable difference. Other celebrities are regularly dragged across the Internet for errant Tweets, and Trump is no different. “Covfefe,” anyone? Still, when LaVar Ball complains about how the Los Angeles Lakers are being coached, this does not carry the weight of a nation’s government or military might. With Pres. Trump, though, it does, and this is where concerns about heads of state being able to use personal social media accounts come into play. Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic, points specifically to Trump’s “nuclear button” boast as “the most irresponsible Tweet in history,” and meditates on whether or where Twitter or any other sites are willing to draw the line on speech that can be considered hateful or threatening depending on the source. Friedersdorf writes:
For most of us, the consequences of an ill-considered tweet are relatively small. The benefits of the communicative mode arguably outweighs its costs. The philosophy, “We believe that everyone should have the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers,” seems eminently defensible.
But heads of state should not share “instantly.” The weightiness of their pronouncements should be a barrier that causes them to pause before every pronouncement, for their words can carry immediate consequences, and can conceivably affect billions. Some leaders have triggered genocides and pogroms with their words. The wrong words about nuclear war could literally end human civilization.
Having global leaders tweeting gives humanity nothing commensurate with the risks we bear so that the powerful can communicate this way.
In making this assertion, Friedersdorf makes a distinction between what is ostensibly acceptable for you or I to post, and what should be within the locus of power for presidents, prime ministers, and the like to post outside of official channels. Thus, while my “eat a dick” Tweet is not exactly to be encouraged, based on the fairly insubstantial consequences and my decidedly short list of followers, it is not likely to cause a major uproar or put others in danger. Trump potentially inviting a nuclear holocaust? That’s a little more of a bugaboo.
Indeed, the risks of allowing political leaders to use Twitter in this way would seem to outweigh the benefits. Conor Friedersdorf also makes these observations in spelling out his rationale for banning certain high-profile individuals from being Twitter users:
- Despite Trump’s claim that he needs Twitter to reach voters, most of Trump’s supporters are not on Twitter, and there are any number of alternative ways to get his message across, including television, radio, and holding rallies. Hell, FOX News does a lot of his dirty work for him.
- In large part because Twitter encourages posting without a significant amount of prior thought, this is where Trump “is most erratic, juvenile, unpredictable, and unstable, by a wide margin.”
- Trump is bad, but potentially worse users with a similarly high profile (and of similar political influence) could follow in his footsteps.
- Other Twitter users have gotten banned from Twitter for less than mutually assured destruction.
Though this isn’t Trump’s problem, such has been a long-standing gripe about Twitter and other social media platforms: that specific rules, where they exist, are applied inconsistently or not at all. For users concerned about avoiding hate and harassment where it may lurk online—and as you probably know, it doesn’t as much lurk as it does exist in plain sight, unabashed—this is problematic when just random other rank-and-file users are the perpetrators. One of my tormentors following my venting about Greg Gianforte winning reacted to another user commenting about how they couldn’t believe Gianforte could emerge victorious after punching a liberal Jew reporter, even if it was Montana (whatever that means), by saying something to the effect of, “Just wait until the concentration camps are opened up.”
As doubtful as the likelihood of Nazi concentration camps springing up in the United States in the near future is, that language is not appropriate for any context. I don’t remember which user uttered this remark, or whether or not he or she was reported. Frankly, I don’t care; I’m simply trying to illustrate a point. If this is the kind of speech that already would alienate prospective Twitter users, a bigot like Donald Trump with his platform is bound to be upsetting. In fact, Friedersdorf cites an Economist/YouGov poll that found just 26% of respondents believe Trump’s Twitter use is appropriate. That’s worse than his overall approval rating, and much worse than his approval rating with respect to his handling of the economy. The above concerns lead the writer to issue this final thought, which sounds like a warning as much as anything:
Twitter should give the people what they want, and ban the most elite of the political elites once and for all. Or if it won’t, it must at least tell the public, in advance of future catastrophe: Would it let a president tweet literally anything? If not, where is the line?
“Where is the line?” It’s an apparently pertinent question in today’s political discourse. Much as many Americans are undoubtedly wondering what it will take for Republicans to want to bring impeachment proceedings against President Trump—even though this won’t solve all of the country’s problems—or what it will take for the GOP to lose serious credibility from an electoral standpoint—though the Democrats seriously could do more on their part—myself and others have to be wondering if and when Trump, the hard-working man of the people that he isn’t, can either lose his voice in relation to his base of support, or can at least have his voice muted in part by having social media outlets like Twitter refuse to give him a virtual soapbox. Then again, shutting down Trump could just make him into something of a martyr or amplify the voices of other like-minded personalities on the right and the far right. At this point, though, for the future of the planet, it seems like the better bet. Besides, if nothing else, we could probably use a breather from the craziness for a while.