A benefit of living in a stable, wealthy and free nation ought to be freedom from frantic fear. As the presidency of Donald Trump lurches along, loss of peace of mind among the American people is his biggest and most tangible failure.
Folks are freaking out. For the president, whose role is supposed to be akin to parenting the nation, the fact that so many of his charges can’t sleep or relax or hold a serious discussion at any volume below a feverish bellow should be terrible news. But Trump doesn’t see it that way, nor do his top staff members, folks for whom the term “minions” seems to have been invented.
To most presidents, a day of leadership in which 99 percent of the media’s attention and 99 percent of the nation’s eyeballs are glued to him is a very bad day.
Historically, the default crisis mode of presidents addressing top aides when the spotlight shines bright is, “Get these people off the streets and off my back. Placate them. I have a tee time at 8:30 a.m. with Jack Nicklaus, and I always snap-hook my drives when the media are on my back and the hordes are marching. Leak something about a Southern governor equating same-sex brunch dates to men marrying multiple underage turtles. Change the narrative.”
Trump is exactly the opposite, and has been for decades. He hates it when the spotlight is off him. His preference probably would be for positive attention over negative, but hyperintense positive attention is hard for a president to come by.
That’s because this is truly a great nation: highly stable, broadly prosperous, very free and fairly fair. It’s not perfect, but as human experiences go, being American in 2017 is mostly top-notch. That makes Trump the doctor of a very healthy patient, the dad of a lovable kid banging out straight A’s at Harvard University and building houses for homeless people all summer.
In such a case, the top directive ought to be, “First, do no harm.” You know how you can tell when a president is doing no harm? Less than two weeks into his term, we’re not thinking about him, talking about him, arguing about him and debating how his impeachment hearing will go down.
The constant attention and anxiety in response to Trump, senior strategist Stephen Bannon, Attorney General-nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions and representatives Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway is justified. And some Trump supporters, who voted for him hoping he would control what they saw as destabilizing influences like immigration and terrorism and job flight, are becoming nearly as uneasy as Trump haters at his destabilizing behavior.
When officials purposely lie — whether it’s about the crowd size or the intent of an executive order or millions of imaginary votes cast by imaginary immigrants here illegally — then demonize those who point out the lie, everyone understands that he or she is seeing a cabal. And most Americans understand you can’t trust a cabal, even one that appears to be on their side at the moment.
It does not have go on this way. Trump can order his minions to rein it in, normalize their actions, and follow protocol in enacting the changes he promised voters. In fact, it cannot go on as it has.
Americans shouldn’t have to tolerate a government that constantly fills us with anxiety and fear. And we won’t.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.