How Trump Spent His Summer Vacation

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By Campaign Agent Luke Walpole

The day is July 1st, and Donald Trump has just tweeted a doctored video of himself body-slamming a wrestler who has the CNN logo emblazoned where his face should be. It was an inauspicious, surreal start to summer. Yet the past two months haven’t seen the usual lull in political activity. Instead, President Trump’s red-hot summer has been littered with hirings, firings and has been characterised by words both said and unsaid.

First to those hirings and firings. The revolving door of the West Wing was shocked into action by the arrival of Anthony Scaramucci and the departure of Sean Spicer. Soon after, Reince Priebus walked. His replacement, General John S. Kelly, then took aim at ‘The Mooch’. All of this transpired before July had even ended. For his part, Trump largely stay out of this West Wing intrigue, instead putting faith in Kelly to steady the ship.

Trump did not stay silent for long. The ongoing tussle with North Korea elicited a typically bombastic response from the President. His promises of “Fire and Fury” sounded closer to the outcries of Daenerys Targaryen than that of the leader of the Free World. Yet the subsequent softening of his approach showcases a hallmark of his tenure. When asked about major events, Trump’s instinct has been to swing for the fences. Outlandish statements are the President’s primary impulse. Increased border security? Let’s build a wall. Hillary Clinton’s email malpractice? Lock her up.

In both cases, Trump has been willing to renege when necessary. ‘The Wall’ fluctuates between being a metaphorical shorthand for increased border security and an actual hunk of concrete. Equally, talk of trialling Hillary Clinton soon disintegrated after his inauguration. This pattern allows Trump to dominate the news cycle and to shift the media’s focus from one topic to another. Whether this is achieved through design or incompetence is a debate for another time.

Remarkably, it was regarding Charlottesville that Trump fell deathly silent. His insistence that there was wrongdoing “on both sides” was platitudinous at best. At worst, it validated the public displays of Neo-Nazism and Fascism which have grown under his tenure. Even when Trump did decide to criticise such groups, it was done hollowly. In one of his greatest tests of leadership to date, Trump came up devastatingly short for the vast majority of Americans.

The reasoning for this is bleak. It is a well-worn fact that Trump’s ‘base’ comprises primarily of a group of white Americans who feel that their ‘lifestyle’ is under attack. This narrative of White Victimhood has been upheld both implicitly and explicitly by the Trump administration. Indeed, Steve Bannon, the Former Chief Strategist to the President, latched on to this populism during his time with Trump. In a stinging article for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates has synthesised these threads to conclude that Trump’s is the first Presidency to predicate itself solely on ‘Whiteness’.

This is a set of beliefs which is incompatible with a more liberal outlook; an outlook which prioritises tackling the devastating disparities regarding gender and race. With the debate over Confederate monuments through to Black Lives Matter protests and White Supremacist marches, America is sweeping through a reckoning with its history akin to the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. Up to now, Trump and Bannon have been unsympathetic to these dramatic contours of social change, and are instead just major players in this fight for America’s soul.

But with Bannon, a man widely seen as the power behind the throne, now gone, will we see a softening in Trump’s approach? This remains inconclusive. Though Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, two Breitbart stalwarts, have left their posts, others remain. Stephen Miller seems to be the most prevalent indicator that there will be some continuity of thought.

But President Trump does know where his support lies. His base has hitherto provided him with a high floor but low ceiling; meaning, though he is struggling to elicit strong support across the board, he has a collection of voters who are unlikely to ever leave him. It may be a minority, but it’s a strong one at that. What all of this suggests is that Trump’s approval ratings will likely never drop below 30%, and because of this, his actions will likely remain volatile and impulsive. It’s what the base craves, and President Trump craves their adulation.

The day is September 4th, and Donald Trump has been asked whether he is planning on using military force to counter the North Korean threat. “We’ll see,” comes the noncommittal but ominous reply. From the ridiculous through to the morbidly serious, Trump’s summer has boiled over frequently in the past few months.

Autumn will likely prove just as turbulent. The ongoing debate over DACA remains deeply divisive. Furthermore, with the return of Congress, the issue of Tax Reform will come to the fore. These issues will elicit passionate debate on all parts of the political spectrum. But what about the President himself? As has become common-place with Trump’s Presidency, the only sage, but glib, observation would be to expect the unexpected.

September Update 

With the destruction of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma now beginning to die down, the symbolism of the Presidency has been as important as ever. Trump’s job in recent days has been to visit devastated towns, praise the emergency services, and secure funding for the rebuilding of Houston and Florida. Unlike much of his tenure, this period has been less concerned with partisanship.

Surprising too has been Trump’s meetings with high ranking Democrats. The President’s deal with the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, allowed the Debt Ceiling to be extended for three months. Moreover, his recent dinner with the aforementioned Schumer and Nancy Pelosi has triggered a necessary discussion about DACA and the future of the Dreamers. Some commentators have taken this as an indicator of Trump being more akin to an Independent President than a Republican. However, we should be wary of labelling this a new dawn. Congress is back in session, and there’s a long legislative agenda to deliver. The President will continue to do what he sees fit.

Further reading:

Bound to No Party, Trump Upends 150 Years of Two-Party Rule, NY Times

The First White President, The Atlantic

Image rights: Gage Skidmore @ Flickr

N.B. Post-publishing, this piece was subsequently moved to the ‘Be A Voice’ section.

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