Far too often, critics of the President are fond of emphasizing his ignorance of policy issues as evidence of his general incompetence. President Trump’s spotty business record filled with multiple bankruptcies, his chronic philandering, and his involvement in endless scandal evidence that the sitting president is a bumbling simpleton. The question of how such an incompetent man could become president has been the focus of intense scrutiny. However, such discussions ignore that what seems like chaos may actually be strategy. Mainstream news outlets have very little capacity for self-reflection in this regard and blame the Trump presidency on the frustration of white, uneducated men in the Rust Belt alone, a tragedy inflicted on the nation by the “forgotten men” of the American working class.
Beyond a brief admission of guilt by some news anchors in the aftermath of the election, few seem to acknowledge that the continuous coverage of the Trump administration’s scandals is by design, rather than coincidence. During his campaign, the abundance of reporting on his outrageous remarks generated more television exposure than anything made possible by even the most well-funded of ad campaigns. And as evidenced by his continued attendance at rallies of his supporters, Trump’s assumption of office has done little to stop his campaigning. Trump continuously references his victory over Hillary Clinton, a presidential candidate who has largely retired from public view since her loss nearly two years ago and repeatedly references his electoral college victory. In a White House defined by chaos, perhaps the only thing the President does routinely is monitor cable news networks like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox to congratulate his supporters and tweet scorn to his foes.
Donald Trump may only be distantly involved in the policy of his administration. But while his 4 a.m. Twitter rampages do little to instill confidence in his stability, President Donald Trump is without a doubt a genius. His perfectly-timed Twitter rampages, confoundingly vague public statements, and inflammatory remarks make for excellent cable news. Political reporters working in the Capital have more stories to cover than perhaps ever before. In the era of Trump, every tweet is cause to write a new article, every vague statement is subject to speculation on national television, and every inflammatory remark engenders outrage from his opponents and cries of “fake news” and “abusive press” from his supporters. The very language of his remarks is designed to proliferate rapidly through the public sphere. Pairings of monosyllabic words that are easily understood and easily remembered — like “fake news” and “deep state” — have moved through contemporary political discourse like wildfire. Despite being only dimly aware of his own administration’s policy, he is a master of manufacturing his public image. For those wondering how strings of racist tweets in the early hours of the morning and incessant references to a political opponent from two years ago could accomplish anything, the proof is in the pudding. His polling among Republicans according to Gallup is reported at higher than eighty percent approval for the entirety of the last year.
Besides inciting his foes and rallying his allies, the President’s tweets serve one other purpose. In the proverbial room of the 24-hour news cycle, Trump’s remarks take up all the oxygen. Criticism of his remarks is easily understood, easily written, and easily narrated. And while the nation balks at Trump’s open bigotry, misogyny, and inconsistent policy positions, the Republican political machine continues disassembling the basic functions of government. Scott Pruitt’s resignation amid accusations of almost incredible ethics violations was soon swept up as just another scandal in the tide of chaos unleashed by the administration, as has been the fate of the many children declared “ineligible” for reunification by federal authorities. President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un was covered with much fanfare and little scrutiny, an error which was only corrected several weeks after the meeting occurred. The deal once heralded as a “historic” summit has done little to stop Korea from continuing a nuclear arms buildup, again proving that the Trump administration doesn’t necessarily need to solve the problems it creates, but merely distract from them. For the American public, the actions of its federal government have become at once too terrible to observe and too confusing to understand. And for Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, it seems that is just how they like it.