Newspaper article The Canadian Press

How Donald Trump Is Retooling Politics for the 21st Century

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

How Donald Trump Is Retooling Politics for the 21st Century

Article excerpt

How Donald Trump is retooling politics for the 21st century


This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Danny Lam, Research Associate Environment, Trade & Security, University of Waterloo

Donald J. Trump was the first candidate to become president of the United States without prior experience as a military leader, a politician or ever having held a senior government post.

As he delivers his State of the Union address this week, the president has the lowest approval rating of any modern-day commander-in-chief.

Yet he carries enough appeal to illustrate that what people say to pollsters isn't always how they cast their ballots. After all, polls overwhelmingly predicted Trump's electoral defeat in 2016, yet he won handily. Polls are now indicating a failed presidency. Is it?

Election rhetoric, more often than not, withers in the face of reality once a candidate becomes the sitting president. Not the case with Trump.

Henry Kissinger noted that Trump is different from most because he owes very few favours and debts to others. In that regard, Trump has had a freer hand than most politicians.

The Trump administration has seen more than its share of problems, not surprising given that an outsider group -- separate and distinct from the political class of both dominant parties -- has taken power.

Candidate Trump went through three sets of top campaign officials, and two top transitional team leaders, before he assumed office. He's now on his second set of White House staff and cabinet members. And today's Team Trump is beginning to deliver eyebrow-raising change in many areas, from defence to the economy.

Trump's message unfiltered

What has stayed constant, however, is Trump's approach to governing by bringing his message directly to his constituents by means that include Twitter and political rallies.

His speech and mannerisms not only reflect the aforementioned free hand, but also a fundamental break from the carefully crafted, controlled politician-speak that became dominant in the late 20th century in most industrialized democracies.

Trump-speak has barely changed since his campaign began. It's not classical politician-speak, which prioritizes an avoidance of publicly offending anyone. Making offensive comments, after all, can cost votes that could tip an election or derail a legislative agenda. Internationally, if a president routinely offends the country's foes and allies alike, delicate relationships are put at risk.

Measured and controlled speech that carefully avoids upsetting anyone and not playing fast and loose with readily disproved facts is what politician-speak is all about.

Politicians usually deal with any significant, legitimate domestic concerns by appeasement: Using "motherhood and apple pie" references in public statements, and delivering speeches that more often than not don't result in any substantive action unless it's a bona fide priority of their administration.

As long as not openly spoken of approvingly by those in authority, many alleged universal evils, like systemic racial discrimination, can quietly continue.

No spit-and-polish

Other ongoing concerns, like the investigation into Trump's alleged ties to Russia, allow opposing politicians to appear righteous and therefore exempt from the civility of politician-speak. Their targets can be openly denigrated, insulted and vilified.

Candidate Trump, and now President Trump, made a clean break from this 20th-century tradition by speaking to Americans and the world in a plain-spoken, homey and at times explicit manner free of the spit-and-polish that all democracies have come to expect of their politicians.

Frank Bruni, the New York Times columnist and no friend of the president, termed him a radically honest politician in some ways. …

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