“Judge him by his actions, not his words.”
That’s the message regularly put forth by Trump supporters, and not just those devout believers on the Trump Train, who would contentedly use their last dying breath to defend the president on any given issue. The sentiment also comes from right-leaning folks who have a more nuanced take on Trump, seeing him as a perpetually misfiring vehicle, but a vehicle nonetheless — one that can take them to some of the places they want to go, politically.
Often used to dismiss the president’s ill-advised Twitter rants, the “actions speak louder than words” philosophy does have some merit. Ultimately, the success or failure of a presidency is indeed linked to consequential decisions, and not off-the-cuff remarks. The problem, however, is that Trump’s social-media impulsiveness is sabotaging his own agenda, and preventing him from moving forward with action on a number of fronts.
Executive privilege only allows for so much to be accomplished, under our constitution. Without political capital, big things are harder to achieve. Trump’s lack of rhetorical discipline provides his opposition (including many in the media) with a steady flow of ammunition to bludgeon him with. Whether it’s needless rancor, mixed messaging, or misleading information, Trump’s open gateway to the public continually puts forth the image of a reckless and petty president — one unworthy of the public confidence required to lift his approval ratings above water.
And when the electorate is largely against a president, political opponents feel justified and emboldened in working to make sure his agenda goes down in flames.
This all begs the question: What benefit does Trump get from blurting out to the world whatever is on his mind, at any given moment? Has it helped him earn political support that he didn’t already have? His lack of legislative achievements and his consistently low job-approval would suggest no.
The default explanation from members of the Trump administration is that Twitter helps the president get around the mainstream (aka “fake-news”) media to talk directly to the American people. Fair enough. But whenever the media jumps on one of our president’s provocative tweets, and asks for clarification, the same administration spokespeople quickly dismiss the tweets by saying that they shouldn’t be taken literally or particularly seriously, and that — again — we should judge Trump by his actions and not his words.
So…we end up right back where we started, asking the question of why Trump is tweeting in the first place.
This routine is actually quite similar to one that Jon Stewart used to employ, back when the comedian was a liberal darling on The Daily Show. Stewart, who earned his runaway success largely off of mocking Republicans, used to wear two hats when in the public eye (and it drove conservatives nuts). There was Jon Stewart the political pundit, and Jon Stewart the comedian.
Jon Stewart the political pundit was passionately praised by the Left for his sanctimonious Daily Show rants that “destroyed” conservatives. The televised sermons would routinely go viral on social media, and stream their way into American culture, establishing Stewart as a true political force to be reckoned with. But the moment Stewart would be called out by conservative pundits to answer for his partisan double-standards and blatant hypocrisy, he would immediately fall back on Jon Stewart the comedian, whose material was meant “only for laughs” and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
This is the same drill we’re now seeing with Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Only, it’s coming from the White House, which makes the suggestion to discount the rhetoric a much harder sell. Whether or not Jon Stewart should have been held to the standard of a news-media pundit was a legitimate debate. Whether or not Donald Trump should be held to the standard of a United States president isn’t.
Trump is the leader of the free world. His words matter. And his lack of discipline on Twitter is doing him absolutely no favors.
The president might believe, as he often says, that it’s his opponents in the mainstream media that want him to abandon Twitter. He couldn’t be more wrong. They’re the ones who want him to continue tweeting his unfiltered thoughts, which provide them with negative stories that they wouldn’t otherwise have, and be able to report.
The people who want Trump to retire from social-media are those who would rather see him pull off a successful presidency for the American people than crash and burn at the expense of our nation.
Until Trump figures that out, expect the self-sabotage and ridiculous rationalizing to continue. Meanwhile, Obamacare is still a law, tax reform is stalled, and nothing of any significance is happening on the endlessly-promoted border wall.
But hey, at least we know what the president thinks about London’s mayor, right?