Wisdom//

Is the Age of Likable Leadership Over?

The way we think about our country has completely changed.

The American flag flies outside the U.S. Capitol before sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
The American flag flies outside the U.S. Capitol before sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“Can you believe that disgusting, offensive man sitting in the White House?”

“We condemn the president’s tweet on the events in X, Y, and Z.”

This is the only consistent messaging we’ve heard from Democrats since 2016. Not only is it tired and uninspiring — it’s unsuccessful. Taking the moral high ground has landed them with a Supreme Court justice in Brett Kavanaugh and a travel ban that was upheld by the highest court in the land.

President Trump is not a decent, honorable person. In fact, many of his most ardent supporters accept that as fact — and did when they cast their ballots for a candidate who talked about grabbing women by their genitals and shooting people in the middle Fifth Avenue without consequence.

Perhaps Democrats’ failure to accept this behavior comes from its novelty: This trend of outrageous and offensive rhetoric is unorthodox, to say the least.

Throughout our country’s history, we’ve chosen leaders who we liked and respected. People we wanted to spend our time with — who we maybe even looked up to. Barack Obama won the hearts of Americans with his charismatic media appearances on late night television and daily pickup basketball games. “He’s just like us!” they thought. Though a controversial president after all was said and done, George W. Bush beat out both of his opponents in polls asking which candidate they’d rather grab a beer with and then went on to win both elections.

Something seems to have changed.

In August of this year, a Quinnipiac University Poll found that only 31 percent of American voters like President Trump as a person. He may not have won the popular vote, but we know for sure that more than 31 percent of voters supported him in the 2016 election. Not to mention that when this poll was conducted, the president had an approval rating of 41 percent. There’s a notable dissonance here: Americans may not be crazy aboutDonald Trump the person — but many are willing to disregard their disdain for his character in support of his leadership.

The president has kept his promises on multiple tenets of his campaign platform. That is not to say that Trump hasn’t told thousands of lies in his time as president or that there are assurances he hasn’t delivered on. It remains to be seen if Mexico will pay for a wall along our Southern border or if our immigration system will be reformed to exclude any immigrants “who have hostile attitudes toward our country or its principles.”

Unfulfilled promises aside — if you’re a Trump enthusiast, there are more than a couple of wins you are celebrating, and those wins make it a lot easier to drown out the bombastic rhetoric and the compulsive lies.

As the president’s first year in office came to an end, he followed through on one of the most central issues he campaigned on: tax cuts. Regardless of the impact this bill has had on Trump voters — or lack thereof — Trump used this accomplishment as proof that he meant what he said in 2016. Perhaps more importantly, the president took this as an opportunity to claim ownership of an economy that was already growing. Though President Obama enjoyed 75 straight months of job gains and cut the unemployment rate by more than half during his eight years in office, the passing of the tax bill to Trump was the perfect moment to take credit for any and all economic prosperity to follow.

Which was great timing — as the economy has been incredibly strong over the last year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to set new records, having surpassed 25,000 for the first time in its history at the start of the 2018. While it may not be “the best in our country’s history” as the president would like you to think, it is undeniably strong. Unemployment is at an 18 year low. Considering the economy was the top issue of importance to voters in 2016, this bodes very well for the president.

President Trump also recently renegotiated NAFTA — an agreement he often described as “the worst trade deal ever made” while on the campaign trail. The new deal, titled the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), is considered a good deal that will actually benefit American industries. USMCA requires that 75 percent of a car be produced in North America to avoid tariffs opposed to NAFTA’s 62.5 percent. It also demands that 40 percent of that production be done in factories offering a minimum wage of $16/hour. These amendments to the original agreement are good for American workers.

Perhaps the biggest winners of the last two years are American CEOs. Deregulation and corporate tax cuts have set them up for success. Though it comes at the cost of weaker government institutions and the rejection of climate change, this means more money in their pockets.

So at the very least, Trump voters can defend their president by citing these promises kept, even if they did come with a side of Stormy Daniels.

But there were a lot of traditionally conservative voters who weren’t ever fully on board with Donald Trump’s campaign platform. They loathed the call for walls to keep out Mexican “rapists.” They hated the reactive tweets. But one word was enough to sway them: judges. Since taking office, President Trump has confirmed TWO lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court. As of summer 2018, the president had also successfully confirmed more federal appeals court judges than Barack Obama and George W. Bush combined at the same point in their presidencies. Politics aside, Trump has already made a huge impact on our country’s judiciary — one that will far outlast him or his presidency. If you’re a conservative voter, you don’t have to be excited about sharing a beer with the guy to appreciate that.

Of course, there are consequences. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that about 80 percent of voters report being “concerned that the negative tone and lack of civility in Washington will lead to violence or acts of terror.” The majority of those respondents hold President Trump responsible — rather than Democrats, Republicans, or the media. This result is sharply divided on party lines, as is expected — but 45 percent of Independent voters also held Trump accountable. We will never know if it was Trump’s abhorrent messaging that inspired a man to walk into a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh and kill 11 people. Or if his tweets and petty nicknames encouraged a man to send numerous pipe bombs to the president’s favorite subjects: former Democratic officials and leaders. But we do know that many Americans believe the president’s rhetoric — the same rhetoric we heard from him before he was even elected — could endanger them and their families. Yet, many stuck with him as he equivocated “both sides” protesting in Charlottesville and as migrant children were separated from their parents at the border.

We all want to support a leader that we genuinely like and respect AND who will deliver on a platform we believe in. One that serves as a role model for the rising generation of American leaders AND follows through on executing their agenda. These two years have made it seem like it has to be one or the other — not both.

Last week election results paint a different picture. Perhaps It does pay to be likable. CNN Exit Poll data shows that 16 percent of voters were participating in midterm elections for the first time. These voters chose Democratic candidates by 26 points over Republicans. Americans rejected many of the candidates and issues the president rallied for: Only 42 of the 75 candidates he endorsed won their elections, and the electorate identified healthcare — an issue Democrats campaigned heavily on — as their issue of top importance.

There is hope — hope that morals and ethics still have a role to play in the American leadership. Performance is important, but people want a role model AND an effective leader, and they’re willing to show up to the polls in record numbers — for an election where the president is NOT technically on the ballot — to show it.

Americans voted for change. With two years left on the clock of the most untraditional and outrageous presidency our country has seen, let’s see if they get it.  

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