A reminder of what presidential-ness looks like

There used to be something called being “presidential.” The rules of being presidential weren’t clearly enumerated anywhere, but they generally revolved around maintaining the dignity of the office and trying to be president of all Americans, not just your political base.

Those norms are breaking down. That’s really an understatement. The current incumbent in the White House sometimes amuses crowds at his rallies by explicitly mocking the idea of being “presidential,” which he equates with being stiff and boring.

The most recent ex-president, Barack Obama, observed many of those traditions, at least tonally (although I’m sure many of his detractors will disagree). Obama certainly maintained dignity during the handover to his successor and, since then, has kept a low profile even as that successor has been guided to a significant degree by an agenda to undo as much as he can of what Obama did.

Obama has carried some of those old norms of presidential-ness into his ex-presidency. He doesn’t say much publicly about Trump. He has stayed mostly out of the spotlight, but, as the midterms approach, he may be preparing to emerge a bit from the Cone of Silence, while still trying to maintain ex-presidential dignity. (For any youngsters in the audience, “Cone of Silence” is a reference to a recurring gag from the old 1960s spy spoof TV series “Get Smart.”)

Anyway, Obama spoke at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser last week in California and, although he managed to get through his remarks without mentioning his successor’s name, provided some analysis of recent events that struck me as smart reflections on what happened in the last election and since, and suggesting that lying and fomenting anger will not sustain a presidency in the long run. The former candidates of “hope” and “change” was still peddling those two abstractions.

Politico covered the event, and its full piece is here, but I thought a couple of excerpts from Obama’s remarks were worth revisiting:

Fear is powerful. Telling people that somebody’s out to get you, or somebody took your job, or somebody has it out for you, or is going to change you, or your community, or your way of life — that’s an old story and it has shown itself to be powerful in societies all around the world. It is a deliberate, systematic effort to tap into that part of our brain that carries fear in it.

All these people that are out here kvetching and wringing their hands and stressed and anxious and constantly watching cable TV and howling at the moon, ‘What are we going to do?’ — their hair’s falling out, they can’t sleep. The majority of the American people prefer a story of hope. A majority of the American people prefer a country that comes together rather than being divided. The majority of the country doesn’t want to see a dog-eat-dog world where everybody is angry all the time.

Obama mocked Trump and others for being among the angry:

They’re mad even when they win.


Reality has an interesting way of coming up and biting you, and the other side has been peddling a lot of stuff that is so patently untrue that you can get away with it for a while, but at a certain point, you confront reality. The Democrats’ job is not to exaggerate; the Democrats’ job is not to simply mimic the tactics of the other side. All we have to do is work hard on behalf of that truth. And if we do, we’ll get better outcomes.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/03/2018 - 03:13 pm.

    As Lincoln didn’t quite say

    Sometimes you can fool enough of the people enough of the time;
    particularly when they want to be fooled.

  2. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/03/2018 - 11:20 pm.


    Narcissists, liars, racists, misogynists, bigots, and Xenophobes are not presidential. Being presidential generally revolves around maintaining the dignity of the office and trying to be president of ALL Americans, not just the political base. Who is Trump’s political base? Those willing to stroke the president’s ego without requiring anything in return. Trump creates a problem, then claims he solved the problem he started, then Trump and his base chalk up an accomplishment. Trumps so called accomplishments generally need the caveat, “THAT’S NOT TRUE”. Trump is more than willing to destroy lives in his quest to be looked at as a strongman leader – you know like a dictator. Narcissists are incapable of working with others because that means sharing attention and narcissists can’t do that. Trump said several years ago he alone could run the country. Right there he was telling us he planned to run our democracy as an authoritarian. He is getting away with it because congress has abdicated their authority to Trump and the judicial branch is being pack by a president who is under investigation and someday he may need the Supreme Court to pass judgements affecting him – perfect. All future presidential candidates should be required to take a comprehensive psychological test to make sure a Trump like candidate never happens again. America and the rest of the world cannot afford another Trump, let alone this one. As we dilly dally with Trump’s behavior the rest of the world is literally laughing at us. Our greatest country in the world moniker is showing signs of being a falsehood. Human rights we hold up to others, our democratic ways that we hope will be a formula for other nations to follow, and all that constitutional stuff Trump is making meaningless for the rest of the world to see. If we can’t walk the walk, we can’t talk the talk.



  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/04/2018 - 07:10 pm.

    Three branches

    We are supposed to have three independent branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) forming a check on each other. That’s in principle.
    In fact, the Supreme Court is becoming a subsidiary of the executive branch, while Congress is abdicating its duty to form a check on the other two branches through its ‘advise and consent’ function, backed up by impeachment if necessary. BTW, judges can be impeached.

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