Saturday, December 30, 2017

Rethinking Presidential Fawning

If you had three minutes with Donald Trump, what would you do?

I'd imagine most anti-Trumpers would get in his face and "talk sense into him". As if his 70 years on this planet had awaited penetration by their particular brand of sense-talking. Others would simply tell him off. Neither would help.

Here's what I'd do. I'd build as much rapport as I could. I'd look at him like the poor, unloved boy he clearly is, and make the encounter chummy, fun and humorous for him. I'd superficially agree with whatever rambling nonsense came out of his mouth (no biggie; we all spend our lives amiably agreeing with the rambling nonsense of family, friends, and coworkers, no?). And right when there was the slightest point of connection - any connection at all - I'd share.
You know, with my kookie career - writing about all these little restaurants run and patronized by immigrants - I've spent more time than anyone with those folks, mostly Moslem and Hispanic/Latino. Man, I wish you could have seen what I've seen. These are the kindest, most sincere, America-loving, hard-working people in this whole country. They're not lazy and complacent, like the rest of us. They actually get things done! In fact, most of what gets done in our country is thanks to immigrants, I really don't know how we'd survive without them!
Something like that.

But you know how such an encounter would play on video? Especially that superficial agreement with rambling nonsense? Toadying. Sycophantic. Dancing with the devil. Awful.

It seems bizarre to see so many powerful, idealistic people buttering up Trump. It appears that he's broken their will. But it's the only way in, even for benign persuasion. Presidents must make themselves persuadable - that's part of the job! And Trump could use more diverse persuasion - that's part of the problem! But we need to recognize that the sole channel of Trumpian persuasion - chummy rapport - presents like sycophancy and/or nefarious manipulation. Even when it's benign.

We're all becoming sensitized. When we spot even an iota of this rapport-building, we're ready to spit at the offending party. But while full-out Pence-ian testaments to the majesty of Dear Leader are obviously a whole other thing, we ought to consider whether the jolly camaraderie, which plays so poorly to third parties (think Billy Bush in that damned bus), might not always be what it seems.

Here's an example of that sensitization. NY Times reporter Michael Schmidt recently got a half hour alone with Trump, and treated him with deference, encouraging his free ramblings and dissemblance. He let him talk himself into various traps. As a result, Schmidt's been assaulted by the left for not hectoring and badgering him; for not confronting Trump with his errors and lies. It seems obvious to me that, if he'd done so, the interview would have been over before it began (or, at least, turned out less revealingly free and unguarded). To the left, Schmidt was kissing Trump's ass. To me, he took the one approach that might accomplish something worthwhile.

Here's an insightful Joy Reid Twitter thread about that same interview.

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