bureaucracybusters

TWEETING AWAY HIS DIGNITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on July 4, 2017 at 12:30 am

If Donald Trump ever read The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman, he’s decided he doesn’t need it. And his ever-falling popularity among Americans clearly proves his mistake.

First published in 1532, The Prince lays bare the qualities needed by a successful political leader. At the top of this list must be creating and preserving a sense of his own dignity. Thus, he must appear to be a combination of mercy, faith, integrity, humanity and religion. 

As Machiavelli puts it:

A prince must take great care that nothing goes out of his mouth which is not full of the above-named five qualities, and he should seem to be all mercy, faith, integrity, humanity and religion. 

Since taking office on January 20, Trump has violated Machiavelli’s injunction on integrity with a vengeance. He has been caught in repeated falsehoods–so many, in fact, that the New York Times gave over its June 23 front page to a story headlined: “Trump’s Lies.” 

According to the Times, Trump “told public falsehoods or lies every day for his first 40 days.”

“There is simply no precedent,” went the Times‘ opinion piece, “for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers.

“No other president—of either party—has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.”

Donald Trump Pentagon 2017.jpg

Donald Trump

Machiavelli also advises:

[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude….

It’s hard to convey those qualities in a series of 140-character rants on Twitter. Yet, from the start of his Presidency, Trump has put his ambitions, excuses and rants on social media.

As CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer outlined in a July 3 article:

“Putting aside the specific content of the recent blasts from the Oval smart phone, the President’s ongoing Twitter storms make all leaders uneasy. The heads of government in most nations prefer a certain amount of predictability and decorum from other heads of state.

“To have one of the most powerful people in the room being someone who is willing to send out explosive and controversial statements through social media, including nasty personal attacks or an edited video of him physically assaulting the media, does not make others….feel very confident about how he will handle deliberations with them.” 

Trump’s apologists have fiercely defended his tweetstorms, claiming they allow him to bypass the media and “communicate directly with the American people.”

On June 29, Trump attacked the physical appearance of Mika Brzezinski, a frequent journalistic critic on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, his deputy press secretary, excused it: “The president has been attacked mercilessly on personal accounts by members on that program. And I think he’s been very clear that when he gets attacked he’s going to hit back.”

On July 2, Trump tweeted a video showing him punching a wrestler–with a CNN logo imposed over his face.

The tweet brought Trump widespread criticism. Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the video was a “threat of physical violence against journalists” and “beneath the office of the presidency.” 

Trump’s mania for tweeting has often led him to contradict statements by his administration’s highest officials. 

In early June, Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Qater because of its alleged support for terrorism in the Persian Gulf. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson publicly said that the United States hoped to mediate an end to the dispute. 

But the next day, Trump tweeted: “During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!”

Machiavelli urged rulers to safeguard their reputations:

Niccolo Machiavelli

…A prince must show himself a lover of merit, give preferment to the able, and honor those who excel in every art.

Besides this, he ought, at convenient seasons of the year, to keep the people occupied with festivals and shows….mingle with them from time to time, and give them an example of his humanity and munificence, always upholding, however, the majesty of his dignity, which must never be allowed to fail in anything whatever. 

Rulers who disregard this advice do so at their peril:

A prince need trouble little about conspiracies when the people are well disposed.  But when they are hostile and hold him in hatred, then he must fear everything and everybody…. 

…[The Roman Emperor Commodus], being of a cruel and bestial disposition, in order to…exercise his rapacity on the people, he sought to favor the soldiers and render them licentious. 

On the other hand, by not maintaining his dignity, by often descending into the theater to fight with gladiators and committing other contemptible actions…he became despicable in the eyes of the soldiers. And being hated on the one hand and despised on the other, he was conspired against and killed. 

Donald Trump has repeatedly violated these lessons. It remains to be seen if he will pay a price for doing so.

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