David Frum had one of the better rants about Memorial Day, taking on the president after Donald Trump’s highly inappropriate Memorial Day tweet, which read more as a campaign message. Here’s Frum: “Donald Trump cares enormously about national symbols - the flag, the anthem - when he can use them to belittle, humiliate, and exclude. . But when it comes time to lead the nation in its shared rituals of unity and common purpose, Donald Trump cannot do it. He is, at most, president of slightly more than half of white America, and often not even that.”
Frum attributes it to a lack of empathy. That’s certainly plausible. It may also be that Trump just can’t stop selling no matter what the situation. Or he can just never pass up a chance to stoke controversy, because in business any publicity was (or at least might have been) good publicity. Or perhaps he just entirely misunderstands the job of president of the United States.
I’ve talked about this before in the context of how Trump has abdicated the “head of state” portion of his job. He’s been pretty consistent about this, from his unusually divisive inaugural address onward.
It’s impossible to prove any connection between that and his terrible approval numbers, but it seems fairly likely to me that it doesn’t help and may well hurt. Trump’s disapproval numbers have been even worse (by historical standards) than his approval numbers, and while there are many reasons for that, he’s hardly even pretended to try to be the president of those who oppose him for reasons of partisanship or policy or anything else.
I know: A lot of people never thought that Barack Obama tried to represent them. It’s certainly fair to argue that Obama failed in that regard - but it’s also easy to document plenty of examples of Obama performing the generic, boring, nonpartisan rituals that Trump repeatedly skips or fails at.
Frum worries with good reason about whether Trump’s failures in this area would make it difficult or even impossible for him to rally the nation in the face of a real crisis. I’d add: Even if that isn’t the case, or if such a test never arrives, he’s still doing plenty of damage.
Plenty of others sent out perfectly fine Memorial Day tweets honoring heroes who gave their lives for their nation and their families; I recall seeing nice ones from John McCain, George H.W. Bush and Obama, among others. It’s not very difficult to get it right. And it’s not too much for citizens to ask of their president.