Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Presidential Profile – Andrej Kiska, president of Slovakia (06/2014-present)

Slovak President Andrej Kiska in National Council | photo via prezident.sk

Andrej Kiska assumed office as the 4th president of Slovakia on 15 June 2014 following a surprise victory against Prime Minister Robert Fico. To this date, Kiska – who has never held membership in any political party – has remained remarkable true to the mantra of his electoral campaign: ‘The first independent president’. Yet, there are a number of other characteristics that make Kiska an interesting president for analysis. Kiska’s Czech counterpart, populist (and nominally left-wing) Miloš Zeman might have received considerably more attention due to controversial statements and label as a European version of Donald Trump (and has thus also had his fair share of coverage on this blog). Nevertheless, Kiska – a politically conservative former businessman who has so far refrained from using any populist rhetoric and steered clear of collusion of interest – arguably provides an equally fitting and timely point of analysis and comparison.

Business career and ‘Good Angel’ charity

Kiska’s business career began shortly after the fall of Communism in 1990. Having previously worked in a state energy company, Kiska went to the United States from mid-1990 to December 1991 where he worked in a variety of jobs – a time which he claims to have strongly influenced him in his business career. His first business venture in Slovakia as subsidiary of an American jewellery company proved unsuccessful; his breakthrough only followed in 1996 with the foundation of TatraCredit. Emulating catalogue sale models from the United States, the company specialised in direct-to-consumer sales of electronics and providing short- and long-term financing options. The selection of good was later expanded to other consumer products and was followed by foundation of Quatro which offered consumers the opportunity to lease products bought in store, with both companies eventually providing financial services to close to a fifth of the Slovak population. After a transformation and merger of the different companies in 2004, it was eventually bought by the ‘Všeobecná úverová banka’, a Slovak bank owned by the Italian Banca Intensa.

Following the sale of the companies, Kiska retired from business and focussed on charity work. His foundation ‘DOBRÝ ANJEL’ (Good Angel), which Kiska led as chairman until he resigned in May 2013 to focus on his presidential bid, was founded in 2006 and specialises in care for children in orphanages and cancer support as well as help for poor families and individuals. Through his business activities and charity, Kiska reached a certain level of name recognition among the Slovak public while steering clear of any controversies.

Entering politics: The 2014 presidential election campaign

Since 1999, Slovak president are elected by popular vote in a two-round runoff system. Then incumbent Ivan Gašparovič, who had built significant ties with Prime Minister Robert Fico and his SMER party during his time in office, had been elected for a second term in 2009 and was thus not able to run again. Kiska already announced his intention to run for president in October 2014, almost 18 months before the first round of election and 10 months before any other candidate declared themselves. Kiska’s previous involvement in politics had been limited to the promotion of his charity ‘Good Angel’. Although having spent a decade of his adult life in Czechoslovakia and finding work in a state-run company, Kiska never became member of the Communist Party and also refrained from joining or publicly supporting any political entity after the fall of Communism in 1990 and creation of the Slovak Republic in 1993.

Andrej Kiska’s election slogan: “The First Independent President”

During the presidential campaign Kiska quickly established himself as the main contender to Prime Minister Robert Fico (whose motivation to run for president is not entirely clear to this day) thanks to the fact that the splintered centre-right opposition parties failed to even consider a joint candidate. Nevertheless, he consistently polled less that Fico and also finished the first round of elections as runner-up with 24% – 4% less than Fico whose result failed to match the higher predictions of the opinion polls. Kiska’s campaign centred on challenging the power of the governing centre-left SMER party of the Prime Minister (which held 83 of 150 seats in parliament at the time) and a number of malaises that characterised Slovakia (and party still do), in particular corruption and an ineffective judiciary. In this, he not only successfully managed to ‘sell’ his experience as a business manager but also establish himself as an anti-establishment candidate. This, together with his solid performance in the televised debates and the fact that Fico’s campaign ‘Prepared for Slovakia’ largely hinged on past successes, eventually transported him to a decisive 59.4% victory in the run-off.

Kiska in office: Inevitable cohabitation

Kiska’s election started a new phase of cohabitation between president and government. To this day, cohabitation based on party affiliation has been rare in Slovakia, but has rather emerged from presidents’ personal opposition to the government and rejection of particular parties. First Slovak president Michal Kovač (1993-1998) spent most of his term in office in cohabitation with Prime Minister Mečiar although both came from the HZDS. President Rudolf Schuster (1999-2004) officially ran as the government candidate, yet once elected rid himself of membership in his SOP (a coalition party) and positioned himself as the antagonist of the governments. Ivan Gašparovič was formally member and leader of the originally right-wing, extra-parliamentary HZD, yet during his term formed close personal ties with Robert Fico and left-wing SMER and subsequently was in cohabitation with the centre-right government of Iveta Radičova in 2010-2012. Given Kiska’s political self-placement as a moderate conservative, cohabitation with any government including SMER should be seen as a given.

Pursuant to his electoral campaign, Kiska has mainly tackled problems in the judiciary and healthcare. For instance, he rejected five out six candidates nominated by parliament to fill vacancies on Constitutional Court, vetoed legislation on that would have made elections in the Judicial Council (self-government of the judiciary) secret and refused another judge’s appointment due to irregularities in the selection process. Particularly, the first decision resulted in a lengthy and (partially) yet unresolved tug-of-war between parliament and president. In terms of healthcare, Kiska mainly used his position to raise awareness of waste of resources, including buying of overpriced hospital equipment. Kiska also used his legislative veto on a bill that abolished fees for priority medical examinations as well as on a number of other laws, ranging from amendments to minimum pensions, to the the Labour Code and the Public Procurement Act. While the president’s amendatory observations can be included as part of the veto review process, a veto can also be overridden by an absolute majority in parliament so that these tactics have been less successful. Nevertheless, his more sparing use of vetoes (especially compared to Rudolf Schuster) at least allows him to use this power to increase awareness of the issues. Interestingly, Kiska has been relatively silent on his election promise to curb corruption – particularly during his first year in office he was criticised for failing to speak out on a number of scandals. Kiska’s actions on the international stage have largely focussed on strengthening and repairing ties with NATO and Western EU leaders which have been strained thanks to Prime Minister Fico’s opposition against Russian sanctions and refugee quotas. Among the political leaders of Central and Eastern Europe, Kiska remains one of the few to argue in favour of accepting refugees.

Remarkably, Kiska has not yet formed an alliance with any political party. Even during the 2016 parliamentary elections, Kiska remained largely neutral. He launched a webpage to promote participation in the election and highlighted issues in schooling and healthcare. Although this first looked like the attempt to build a more organised political basis, the page is now defunct and Kiska appointed another government led by Robert Fico after the elections. Until now, Kiska has fared reasonably well with his declared non-partisan strategy and regularly tops opinion polls, but it remains to be seen how voters will evaluate his record come 2019. Should a united centre-right coalition present a single candidate, this might well prove dangerous for Kiska.

Perspectives: Another model of multi-millionaire president?

Andrej Kiska is a prominent millionaire businessman turned politician – a model which (although far from unusual, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe) not the least since the election of Donald Trump has come under increased criticism and scrutiny. However, Kiska is far from creating the same controversies as the above shows. Kiska gave up business more than a decade before entering politics (while the relatives with whom he founded several of his companies continue to be active in the business world, there is not direct involvement in any of their projects either). This is also a great difference to Czech finance minister Andrej Babiš who not only founded his own party but also continues to be involved in his businesses. Also, Kiska’s anti-establishment stance is largely supporting the introduction of values and practices of the political systems of Western Europe; it is not the same anti-establishment (and particularly anti-EU) rhetoric used by the populist far-right in other European countries. Last, Kiska continues his charity work by donating his entire net salary to charity – every month it is distributed to families or individuals in need that have been nominated by Dobry Anjel and other charities operating within its remit. Although the PR value of this must not to be disregarded, it stands in stark difference to other multi-millionaire presidents (and politicians) around the world.

Archie Brown – Donald Trump and the strong leader illusion

This is a guest post by Archie Brown, Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford. It is based on his book The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age, Vintage, 2015)

We don’t need to fall back on anecdotal evidence to be aware that among the factors contributing to Donald Trump’s electoral success was the high value voters attached to electing a strong leader and to the perception that Trump looked the part. Survey data, based on Morning Consult/Politico exit polls, suggested that the significance of the presidential candidate appearing to meet that yardstick was twice as salient a factor in the 2016 election as in 2012. Of those questioned in the exit poll last November, 36 per cent, as against 18 per cent four years earlier, said that what they wanted, above all, was a strong leader. The ‘strong leader’ criterion was valued more than twice as highly as wanting someone who ‘cares about people like me’ or someone who ‘shares my values’.[1]

We should, of course, never forget that but for the vagaries of an electoral system in which the candidate who won almost three million more votes than the forty-fifth president was deemed to be the loser, Trump would not be in the White House. For the second time this century, the electoral college provided startling evidence of the ‘majority-constraining’ features of the American political system, eloquently analyzed by Alfred Stepan and the late Juan Linz – indeed, a majority-defying result.[2] In any other democracy the candidate constitutionally decreed to be the loser in 2016 would, as in 2000, have been the clear winner. The result brings back to mind one of Robert Dahl’s last books, How Democratic is the American Constitution? His answer, if it can be summarised in two words, was: Not very.[3]

Nevertheless, Trump in 2016 had substantial support, and it included backing from people in social groups who might have been expected to look to the Democrats for succour rather than to a billionaire property-developer. The image Trump projected of nationalist strongman, reiterated in his inaugural speech, resonated with many of those who had been left behind by globalization. That particular aspect of Trump’s candidacy counted for less with those who had been beneficiaries of vastly increased inequality but, in the interests of becoming still richer, they voted for lower taxation.

My focus here, however, is on the ‘strong leader’ aspect of Trump’s success. I have argued elsewhere that the cult of the strong leader which, most obviously, thrives in dictatorships, has its echoes in contemporary democracies, with a craving for the strong hand of a powerful individual not confined to the brainwashed or cowed subjects of an authoritarian or totalitarian ruler.[4] The presence of Donald Trump in the White House has brought to the forefront of political discussion issues of leadership style and the big question of the extent to which one individual can or should dominate the political process in a democracy.

In this brief essay, I address three questions: First, what does it mean to call someone a strong leader? Second, having established the criteria, is Trump really a strong leader in that sense? Third, is strength the quality we should especially value in a political leader or are there other attributes we should esteem more highly and which contribute more to good leadership in a democracy?

The notion of a strong leader is open to a range of interpretations, but when we compare various presidents and prime ministers, we generally, and perfectly reasonably, describe as a strong leader one who maximises his (or her) personal power, dominates his government, political party and a wide swath of public policy, and asserts his right to take most of the big decisions.

Donald Trump has, indeed, shown every sign that he intends to be a strong leader in that sense. He has not hesitated to criticize the Republican Party establishment and has made policy pronouncements on the hoof, without regard either to predominant opinion within his own party (on Russia, for example, including praise for Vladimir Putin as a strong leader) or even to long-standing  bipartisan foreign policy positions in Washington (as on China and Taiwan). His Cabinet appointments have been idiosyncratic, with a number of appointees lacking any obvious qualifications for the job, other than apparently enjoying the trust of president.

Deliberately projecting himself as a strong leader, Trump has verged on the messianic. In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention he told his audience there and in the country that “I am your voice”. Brushing aside his lack of political experience, he said that he knew the system better than anyone else which was why “I alone can fix it”. In his hyberbolic presidential inauguration speech, he promised to determine not only the course of America but also of the world “for many, many years to come”, and claimed that his supporters had “become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before”.  The fact that turnout at his own inaugural ceremony fell far below that which welcomed Barack Obama in 2009, and that the world has seen many larger movements that have escaped his attention, was not allowed to get in the way of the rhetoric.

I have no difficulty in accepting that Trump meets the criteria set out above for designating someone as a “strong leader”. (The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was among those who lost no time in describing him as such in the congratulatory message he sent following the presidential election.) The bigger question is whether we should value the strength of a domineering individual above other leadership attributes and whether strong leadership is the same as effective leadership.

The self-consciously strong leader is, in a democracy, rarely as strong as he thinks he is. In a parliamentary system an overweening leader often loses office before the government’s term of office has run its course as a result of a revolt by enough members of his or her own party in the legislature. It happened to the three British prime ministers in the last ninety years who attempted to concentrate the most power in their own hands and who acquired an extravagant belief in the superiority of their own judgement over that of their colleagues: Neville Chamberlain, forced to resign in 1940; Margaret Thatcher, ousted in 1990; and Tony Blair, who was obliged to yield the premiership to his colleague and rival, Gordon Brown, in 2007.

In some ways, it is easier to justify power-maximization by an American president than by a prime minister in a parliamentary democracy because the president has been directly elected, has a larger personal mandate than anyone else in the country (especially when he has, as Trump has not, won the popular vote), and because of the large number of veto-players in the American system with its constitutional checks and balances and powerful organized interests. All these make it difficult for a president to dominate the domestic agenda (he has more room for manoeuvre in foreign policy) and so can be justifications for an incumbent augmenting the powers of the office in whatever way he constitutionally can.

Yet, we should reject the temptation to believe that the more power one individual leader wields, the more we should be impressed by that leader. Strong leadership, in the sense of concentrating maximal power in the hands of one person, is far from being identical with good leadership. There are only twenty-four hours in the day of even the strongest leader. The more that person tries to do individually, the less time he or she has to weigh the evidence and gain an understanding of the complexity and nuances of each issue. The self-consciously strong leader is often tempted to demonstrate strength by coming to quick decisions. Even in a crisis, however, it is often possible to take time, and to listen to the widest range of opinion, before reaching a conclusion. Doing so can be a life-or-death matter.

If President John F. Kennedy had come to a quick decision when the Cuban missile crisis broke in 1962, the world would almost surely have been engulfed in catastrophic nuclear war. From the outset the Joint Chiefs of Staff advocated a comprehensive military strike on Cuba.[5] Wiser counsels eventually prevailed.  It was only decades later that the United States discovered what the likely consequences would have been of accepting the military advice. They learned that already there were tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba for use against the US in the event of an invasion and, moreover, that Soviet ships approaching Cuba had submarine escorts with commanders empowered to fire nuclear torpedoes at American targets without awaiting authorization from Moscow.[6]

It is important that any American administration – indeed, any government in a democracy – should contain people of independent political standing, and, preferably, of great and varied experience. Within the government they should not engage in self-censorship, adjusting their advice to the perceived predilections of the top leader, even if that person is the President of the United States. They should be prepared to subject his conclusions to serious scrutiny and to provide counter-arguments. No president or prime minister in a democracy was ever selected because he or she was believed to have a monopoly of wisdom. A democracy worthy of the name has many leaders, not one.

A leader – in a democracy as well as an authoritarian regime – who tries to monopolize power will generally do more harm than good. Far more valuable qualities of a head of government than ‘strength’, as I have defined it, include integrity, intelligence, collegiality, a questioning mind, willingness to seek disparate views, ability to absorb information, good memory, flexibility, courage, and (if we are lucky) vision. The last-mentioned of these qualities means, at a minimum, an ability to distinguish what is in the long-term interests of the country from what may play well in the traditional and social media today.

While governments collectively are not immune from making foolish and damaging decisions, the likelihood of calamitously bad decision-making is substantially greater under unconstrained, or only weakly constrained, personal rule. A head of government should feel the need to persuade colleagues rather than foreclose the discussion by pulling rank. To pine for one-person dominance and to believe in the efficacy of such leadership is worship of a false god. Rather than succumb to the fanciful allure of the strong leader, we would do well to relearn the advantages of a more collegial, collective and dispersed leadership.

Notes

[1] ‘Early exit polls: Voters say they want a “strong leader”’, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/exit-polls-what-do-voters-want-23095.

[2] Alfred Stepan and Juan J. Linz, ‘Comparative Perspectives on Inequality and the Quality of Democracy in the United States’, Perspectives on Politics, Vol.. 9, No. 4, 2011, pp. 841-856. See also Nannerl Keohane, ‘Leadership, Equality and Democracy’, Daedalus, Vol.. 145, No. 3, 2016, pp. 8-20.

[3] Robert A. Dahl, How Democratic is the American Constitution? (2nd ed., Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2003).

[4] Archie Brown, The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age (Bodley Head, London, and Basic Books, New York, 2014; Vintage paperback, 2015); Brown, ‘Questioning the Mythology of the Strong Leader’, Leadership, Vol. 11, No. 3, 2015; DOI: 10.1177/174271501559066; and Brown, ‘Against the Führerprinzip: For Collective Leadership’, Daedalus, Vol. 145, No. 3, 2016, pp. 109-123. See also one of the last articles of the late Anthony King in the same issue of Daedalus, ‘In Favor of “Leader-Proofing”’, pp. 124-137; and S. Alexander Haslam,, Stephen D. Reicher and Michael J. Platow, The New Psychology of Leadership: Identity, Influence and Power (Psychology Press, Hove and New York, 2011).

[5] Lawrence Freedman, Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 2000), pp. 180-181.

[6] William J. Perry, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2015), p. 4.

US – Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address: Closed Fist or Open Hand?

This is a guest post by Craig Allen Smith, Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University

Until November I considered the notion of “President Donald J. Trump’s Inaugural Address” a fantasy; perhaps he did, too.  Most polls then predicted his defeat and he won just 45.94% of the vote. But American presidential elections are a tournament of state elections for electoral votes, and Trump won 304 electoral votes and the 2017 inaugural moment.  Presidential inaugurals are planned responses to a recurrent rhetorical situation. Forty-four presidents have addressed that challenge, and their addresses  shape our expectations.

The definitive study of presidential inaugural addresses (Campbell & Jamieson 1985) suggests five guidelines for President Trump’s address. First, the speech should “unify the audiences by reconstituting it as ‘the people’ who witness and ratify the ceremony. Second, the speech should “rehearse shared values drawn from the past” to anchor the new president in the permanent culture of America. Third, the speech should “enunciate the political principles that will guide the new administration” by providing tactical watchwords for the new administration.  Fourth, the speech should “demonstrate that the President appreciates the requirements and limitations of Executive power”. Finally, the speech should pursue its four ends “through means appropriate to epideictic discourse”:  by “Urging contemplation not action”,  by “Focusing on the present while incorporating past and future”,  and by “Praising the institution of the Presidency and the form of government of which it is a part” (Campbell & Jamieson 1985).

Ultimately, every presidents’ rhetorical challenge is to adapt his message to the genre while adjusting that genre to his message.  Let us then consider how President Trump adjusted his message and the inaugural expectations.  All quotations are from the official text (Trump 2017).

Generic inaugurals unify audiences by reconstituting the people as witnesses and ratifiers of the transfer of power (Campbell and Jamieson 1985).  President Trump did so immediately by invoking “We, the citizens of America” — an unusual construction, especially given his focus on legal citizenship in the United States of America.  He then characterized his oath to God to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as “an oath of allegiance to all Americans.”  Both statements functioned as parts of a strategic reconstituting of the country:  “the people” were mentioned nineteen times compared to three mentions of “government” and no mention of the Constitution, Congress, or the judiciary.

“What truly matters is not which party controls our government,” said the President, “but whether our government is controlled by the people.” His position was clear: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” He pounded the wedge between people and government: “Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth.  Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

Thus, said the President, “today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.” Indeed, “January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” Their embodiment — President Donald J. Trump — delivered that message from the steps of the Capitol while flanked by former Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Obama as well as members of Congress and the Supreme Court. In short, President Trump defined himself less as President of the United States and its government than as president of the American people.

Like his predecessors since Theodore Roosevelt, President Trump employed a “Plebiscitary Model” for his address to “envision and articulate a strong connection between the presidency and the public” (Korzi 2004). This is fully consistent with Trump’s defeat of the Republican establishment in the primaries, his defeat of the Democratic establishment in the general election, and with the populist rhetoric of his campaign.

But none of his predecessors went this far in disconnecting the people from their government even though they took office with more than Trump’s 46% of the popular vote and pre-inauguration approval ratings greater than his 37%. (Calfas 2017).  Which people, then, did President Trump mean to empower? President Trump’s “people” were “everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America.  This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.”   “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.” Implicitly, this moment did not belong to those avoiding the ceremony or to those not responsible for electing him, nor did it belong to those who have not perceived themselves as forgotten. Implicit omissions are unavoidable, but an inaugural is an appropriate site for an olive branch or two, and these are largely absent.

Trump’s olive branch was a bit curious. “We are one nation,” he said, “and their pain is our pain.  Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success.  We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.” But who are “they”? If the forgotten people are now his empowered “we” then who is left as the “they” outside his people, his America, and his nation that exists to serve them?

The second generic characteristic of presidential inaugurals is the invocation of “shared values drawn from the past” (Campbell & Jamieson 1985). Trump’s inaugural is light on the American core values of morality, patriotism, effort and optimism, and progress and change (Smith and Smith 1985).  He invokes the Bible (“The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity’”), God (“we are protected by God”), and the Creator (“And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.”) but that seems a bit thin in comparison to the genre. We heard two references to patriotism (“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” and “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag”).

The values heard in this inaugural are of the terminal variety — outcomes to be valued. These include strength, wealth, pride, safety, and greatness — “Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We Will Make America Wealthy Again. We Will Make America Proud Again. We Will Make America Safe Again. And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again.” These are not altruistic goals, but imply a morality of self-interest.

Indeed, the President explicitly indicts America’s history of altruism:  “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry;  Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; And spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.  We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”

The third generic characteristic of presidential inaugurals is that they “enunciate the political principles that will guide the new administration” (Campbell and Jamieson 1985). It is here that President Trump was most explicit, replacing altruism with self-interest:

“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.  Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body – and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before.”

Here again his explicit statement invites an examination of his implicit message. Does “America first” mean the United States or his reconstituted “America” of his people? Does he mean our country first as opposed to other countries, or our people as opposed to their Constitutional government? Surely his ardent supporters will dismiss those questions, but the other 60% of Americans and others around the world will surely wonder.

Fourth, the speech should “demonstrate that the President appreciates the requirements and limitations of Executive power” (Campbell and Jamieson 1985).  Trump’s inaugural is squarely within Korzi’s (2004) “Plebiscitary Model” in which the president “is central and dominant in the political system, with other political actors, such as Congress and political parties, largely absent. Moreover, the Constitution and limits on presidential power are eschewed. Most importantly, these addresses envision and articulate a strong connection between the presidency and the public” (Korzi 2004). Yet Trump never refers to the presidency and mentions no other political actors. Instead “Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.”  Not he but “we” will rebuild America:

“We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders.  We will bring back our wealth.  And we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

Which we? You, sir, and who else? The government that has failed in the past? The 46% who voted for you and the 37% who approve of you? The forgotten people now empowered? This remains unexplained. Except that, “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.” But is that allegiance to the American people, to the disdained government, or to the unmentioned Constitution?

Fifth and finally, an inaugural should pursue its four ends “through means appropriate to epideictic discourse” (Campbell & Jamieson 1985). Whereas we expect epideictic to urge contemplation over action this speech does the opposite: “The time for empty talk is over.  Now arrives the hour of action.” Whereas we expect epideictic to focus on the present while incorporating past and future this speech focuses on the future: “But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” And where we expect an inaugural as epideictic to praise the institution of the Presidency and the form of government of which it is a part, this speech does not mention the presidency and renders government as the villain. The President’s message could have been cast so as to fulfill these generic expectations but it seems more likely that the President wanted to defy those rhetorical expectations just as well as he had defied the political expectations.

Conclusion

President Donald J. Trump delivered an inaugural address that was sufficiently generic to be a recognizable inaugural. Like his predecessors he reconstituted the people, he invoked values, and he articulated principles guiding his administration. But unlike his predecessors he divided his people from his government, he rejected the traditional value of altruism in favor of self-interest, he offered no praise for the presidency or the Constitutional system, and he flaunted the requirements of good epideictic address.

An inaugural address is a point of interface between the politics, rhetoric, and the individual. This address was mostly Trump. A political inaugural would have sought to build bridges, but he worked to burn them. A rhetorical inaugural would have urged contemplation about the present and paid homage to the presidency and the constitutional system, but he spurned contemplation, focused on the future, and said nothing good about the office or the system. Instead a self-confident businessman attacked government. He disdained a tradition of altruism and pledged his administration to “America First”. At his investiture he vested power in “the people”, however clumsily, pitting them against the government of which he is the new CEO. A candidate who won with a divide and conquer strategy exhorted us to be unified and loyal to one another.

President Trump’s inaugural address ended with a raised fist reminiscent of Edward P. J. Corbett’s (1969) essay about the rhetoric of the open hand and the closed fist.  “The open hand might be said to characterize the kind of persuasive discourse that seeks to carry its point by reasoned, sustained, conciliatory discussion of the issues,” wrote Corbett (1969). “The closed fist might signify the kind of persuasive activity that seeks to carry its point by non-rationale, non-sequential, often non-verbal, frequently provocative means.” That seems a fitting description of the Trump we have come to know, although Corbett’s focus was on the raised fist of Black Power and anti-war protesters on the Left.  Corbett argued that the key element of rhetoric is choice and concluded that, “If rhetoric is, as Aristotle defined it, ‘a discovery of all the available means of persuasion,’ let us be prepared to open and close that hand as the occasion demands” (Corbett 1969).

Following Corbett we can be prepared to open and close that hand as appropriate, but the inaugural genre has until now been an open-hand moment.  President Trump’s inaugural address was a close-fisted repudiation of government, altruism, and contemplation.  His calls for unity and togetherness came as commands for unity and allegiance. He offered no assurances to females or non-whites or those aspiring to citizenship unless of course they hear themselves among the Presidents “they” who look at the sky, dream, and bleed.  Surely, President Trump’s inaugural address will have excited his supporters and worried his adversaries…and that should trouble him.

The American constitutional system was designed to complicate change. Rhetorically adept presidents with strong public support who built bridges to their critics still met with mixed success.  Now President Trump begins with a combative closed-fist anchored not in the Constitution but in the popular support of a public that already disapproves of his leadership.  He pits those people against the government he leads.  He offers little to those who fear and/or oppose him. Renounces our record of helping other nations and tells them it will be America First.  His address was more populist and combative than its predecessors; one could even term it “revolutionary”. His path forward will be challenging as he seeks ways to use the open hand and closed fist to forge the allegiance, unity, and togetherness he deems essential to “make America great again”. What could possibly go wrong?

References

Calfas, J. (2017, January 20). Poll: Trump approval rating hits new low hours before inauguration. The Hill. Retrieved 1/20/2017 from http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/315223-poll-trump-approval-rating-hits-new-low-hours-before.

Campbell, K. K.& Jamieson, K. H. (1985). Inaugurating the Presidency. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 15, 395-411. Retrieved 1/19/2017 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/27550215.

Corbett, E. P. J. (1969). The Rhetoric of the open hand and the rhetoric of the closed fist. College Composition and Communication, 20, 288-296. Retrieved 1/20/2017 from http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/pdf/355032.pdf.

Korzi, M. J. (2004). The president and the public: Inaugural addresses in American history. Congress & the Presidency, 31(1), 21-52. Retrieved from http://proxying.lib.ncsu.edu/index.php?url=http://search.proquest.com.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/docview/205929590?accountid=12725

Smith, C. A. & Smith, K. B. (1985). Presidential values and public priorities: Recurrent patterns in addresses to the nation, 1963-1984. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 15(4), 743-753. Retrieved 1/19/2017 from http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/27550274

Trump, D. J. (2017, January 20). The Inaugural Address: Remarks of President Donald J. Trump J. – As prepared for delivery. The White House: Briefing Room. Retrieved 1/20/2017 from https://www.whitehouse.gov/inaugural-address.

Dennis Jett – President Trump and US Ambassadorial Appointments

This is a guest post by Dennis Jett, Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of American Ambassadors: The Past, Present and Future of America’s Diplomats, published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

As was discussed in yesterday’s post and in a recent article, a significant number of American ambassadorial appointments are the result of a thinly veiled system of corruption that is as much a part of Washington politics as flag lapel pins. Ambassadors to the wealthiest countries are almost always large contributors to political campaigns. Furthermore, the greater the gross domestic product per capita of the country, the more the ambassador to it contributed. The same applies to the number of tourists a country receives. In other words, as an ambassadorial posting, London costs more than Lisbon.

This pay-to-play system is not new. In 1971, President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, offered Ruth Farkas, the wife of the owner of a chain of department stores, the ambassadorship to Costa Rice in exchange for a campaign contribution of $250,000. Mrs. Farkas famously replied to that proposal by saying “Isn’t $250,000 an awful lot of money for Costa Rica.” Mr. Kalmbach went to jail for that and other crimes, and Mrs. Farkas went to Luxembourg as ambassador. Following the announcement of her nomination for the post she began to make contributions to Nixon’s campaign, which added up to $300,000, demonstrating that Europe costs more than Central America.

The corruption of the Nixon administration prompted a number of ethics reforms, including the Foreign Service Act of 1980. It states, in part, that ambassadorial appointments should normally go to career diplomats and that campaign contributions should play no part in determining when a noncareer person is nominated as ambassador.

The Act had only a very small impact in reducing the number of political appointee ambassadors, however, and they continue to number about 30 percent of the total. The exception was under President Reagan, where an aggressive White House personnel office, a weak secretary of state and a president disinterested in the details of governing, caused the percent to go up to 38 percent. This was accomplished by sending political appointees as ambassadors to obscure places like Rwanda and Malawi where normal only a career officer would be sent. The Reagan appointees were arguable some of the worst examples of public servants. The embassy in Rwanda, for instance, received an instruction ordering it to refuse cashing the ambassador’s checks because so many had bounced.

While in the earlier blog post there was discussion of theories that might help understand such appointments to high government positions, those theories are of no use when trying to speculate about what the incoming administration might do. The Foreign Service Act notwithstanding, a president has wide latitude about who he appoints as his ambassadors. The 30/70 ratio is more tradition than anything else and, as the Reagan administration demonstrated, can easily be ignored. Perhaps the only real limitation is that there are only so many countries to which political appointees aspire to be ambassador. Those nations where the diplomats earn hardship or danger pay do not attract noncareer ambassadors.

What might therefore be expected from the person that takes office of president on January 20th? If it had been Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, the 30/70 precedent set by previous presidents would undoubtedly have continued.

What will President Trump do? There is no way to judge. He has already broken with traditional practice by insisting that all the political appointee ambassadors currently in place must depart on January 20th. Normally, many of them would have been allowed to stay on until their successors arrived in order to smooth the transition.

One could argue that with few mega-donors, he might make fewer political appointments. The problem is, as with his potential conflicts of interest and ties to Russia, there is no transparency. The most common form of winning favor with a presidential candidate is for a person to bundle the contributions of his or her friends and colleagues and present it to the campaign. There is no legal requirement to reveal who is trying to buy influence in this fashion however.

In the last two presidential elections, the Democratic nominees have released the names of their bundlers, while the Republicans have not. Clinton and Obama put the names of hundreds of their bundlers on their websites. But as with their tax returns, the information on the bundlers for Trump and Romney remains a secret hidden from the voters.

In addition to the lack of transparency there is also the fact that Trump was the first candidate of a major political party in American history to have no experience in either government or the military. Trump, the anti-insider candidate, might appoint only outsiders as ambassadors. Think of the possibilities for a new reality TV show called Ambassador Apprentice.

His announcements for his ambassadorial appointments thus far have been governors for China and the United Nations, a businessman for Japan and his bankruptcy lawyer for Israel. One thing they all have in common is no experience in the federal government and a level of international experience that can at best be described as limited.

The nominee for Israel, David Friedman, is especially important to a president elect since he has declared bankruptcy six times. Friedman could charitably described as a little short on diplomatic ability, however, as he has said American Jews who support the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine are as worse than the Jews who assisted the Nazis in concentration camps. A majority of the American Jewish community would fall under that description.

One might think that lacking any background in foreign affairs beyond real estate deals, Trump might make a greater percentage of his nominations from the career ranks. As anyone in the intelligence community has discovered, however, Trump thinks nothing of denigrating career civil servants if he decides it in his best interest.

So, as Yogi Berra once said “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  A theory about presidential appointments won’t help and the world will have to await more Tweets from Trump Tower.

One thing about which there is no doubt is that whoever gets to serve as ambassador for the next administration will have a foreign policy that will be a challenge to defend. If one wanted to make American embassies and ambassadors bigger targets for terrorism, it would be harder to think of a more effective way to do that than the rhetoric like banning all Muslims from entering the United States, torturing terrorist suspects and murdering their families.

William Crotty – A Trump Presidency

This is a guest post by William J. Crotty, Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Chair in Public Life at Northeastern University. He is the author and editor of Winning the Presidency 2016 (Routledge, 2017)

Donald Trump won the most divisive and most extraordinary presidential election in the modern history of the United States. His campaign broke all the rules to the extent they existed; was the subject of endless controversies, any one of which would have derailed his predecessors; threatened to put his opponent in jail if he won; and refused to agree to accept the results of the election – unless he won. He built a campaign on personal insults, accusations (true or not), wild charges and threats. And it worked! He beat an established, well-informed, prepared and committed opponent in Hillary Clinton.

Trump is a world-class salesman, he can sell almost anything, as the campaign showed. His behavior, actions and targets were unpredictable. They did make for good television and he dominated the coverage.  And, little reported, while running presumably full-time for president, he continued to manage his international business operations in the middle of campaigning, even opening a new golf course and a landmark hotel not far from the White House. I take this to be a clear statement as to his priorities. He did not appear to take the presidential campaign overly seriously, refused to prepare for the debates and relied in both the prenomination and general election phases of the campaign on his instincts and judgments as to his opponents and their weaknesses as he saw them, approaching situations much as he did in his business dealings.

What kind of president then can be expected? I think we know the answer. Donald Trump has no concern for tradition, previous history, institutionalized decision-making (he depends on himself), international agreements and commitments, or much of anything else that has come to define the sphere of concerns an American president must deal with. He will act as President much as he has in the campaign. He will do things his way. He will depend on what he thinks important or what interests him at the moment, will continue to be unpredictable in how he approaches given situations, will see international relations in terms of trade opportunities, will conduct negotiations on a one-on-one basis and will nurture his financial empire.

Clearly there are problems in all of this, in relation to NATO, national security (he distrusts these agencies), terrorism, the Middle East, Russia (he respects Putin), China, Western Europe, Mexico and so on. It will be an unsettled and likely difficult period that could invite disastrous consequences, large or small.

Domestically his early nominees for office – Wall Street insiders for the top economic posts; military generals for national security/defense positions and opponents of climate change, environmental regulations, public education and so on to lead the agencies that deal with such concerns – have shown that he will make good on his campaign promises. He has committed to investing heavily in the military and in nuclear weaponry, not a good sign for a man, unrestrained in practice, who takes a hostile view of those he considers opponents. As he has said, he will prioritize an “America First” approach to the world. He has pledged to end immigration, return undocumented immigrants (11 million in number) to their home countries, set tariffs and end free trade agreements. Confrontations are likely.

He has promised a neoliberal deregulated economy and a tax restructuring even more favorable to the accumulation of wealth by Corporate America and the handful of billionaires (like himself) at the top of the income hierarchy. He has vowed to abort Obamacare and Medicare and will do his best – he has Republican majorities in both houses of the Congress and on the state level in governors and state legislatures – to make good on his promise. The theatrics of the election campaign managed to hide a world view exactly the opposite of what so painfully has been built over the generations. It promises to be an extremely difficult four (or eight), or more years. Political analyst David Remnick (One Bridge: The Life and Times of Barack Obama, 2011) sees Trump’s election as “a constitutional crisis” and “a tragedy for America.”

He writes:

There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event – and it’s a stretch – is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve (Remnick 2016).

Most Americans are not optimistic as the full dimensions of the election and the potential consequences for the nation, present and future, become apparent. It was an election built largely on the anger of the economically bypassed, an indictment of both political parties and their priorities over the last half century.  Should Donald Trump succeed in his design of a new national and international order, the United States and the rest of the world could well enter a period of one-man rule in a weakened democratic state. It is an outcome no one should welcome.

 

Notes

  1. David Remnick, “An American Tragedy,” The New Yorker, November 9, 2016.

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/an-american-tragedy-2