bureaucracybusters

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED AND THE IGNORED: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 28, 2021 at 12:13 am

American Presidents—like politicians everywhere–strive to be loved. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, even the vilest dictators want to believe they are virtuous—and that their goodness is rewarded by the love of their subjects.

Second, it’s universally recognized that a leader who’s beloved has greater clout than one who isn’t. 

PERCEIVED WEAKNESS INVITES CONTEMPT

But those—like Barack Obama—who strive to avoid conflict often get treated with contempt and hostility by their adversaries.

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling.

Barack Obama

In Renegade: The Making of a President, Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s successful 2008 bid for the White House. Among his revelations:

Obama, a believer in rationality and decency, felt more comfortable in responding to attacks on his character than in attacking the character of his enemies.

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama was one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.

Yet he failed to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science:

A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good. And therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.

This explains why Obama found most of his legislative agenda stymied by Republicans.

For example: In 2014, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY.) sought to block David Barron, Obama’s nominee to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rand Paul

Paul objected to Barron’s authoring memos that justified the killing of an American citizen by a drone in Yemen on September 30, 2011.

The target was Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric notorious on the Internet for encouraging Muslims to attack the United States.

Paul demanded that the Justice Department release the memos Barron crafted justifying the drone policy.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Imagine how Republicans would depict Paul—or any Democratic Senator—who did the same with a Republican President: “Rand Paul: A traitor who supports terrorists. He sides with America’s sworn enemies against its own lawfully elected President.”

But Obama did nothing of the kind.

(On May 22, 2014, the Senate voted 53–45 to confirm Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.)

USING TOO MUCH FEAR CAN BACKFIRE

But Presidents—like Donald Trump—who seek to rule primarily by fear can encounter their own limitations. 

During a 2016 interview, he told legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward: “Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.”

As both a Presidential candidate and President, Trump repeatedly used Twitter to attack hundreds of real and imagined enemies in politics, journalism, TV and films.

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Trump fired almost 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions that had somehow offended him.

Related image

Donald Trump

The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

As President, he aimed outright hatred at President Obama. He spent much of his Presidency trying to destroy Obama’s signature legislative achievement: The Affordable Care Act, which provides access to medical care to millions of poor and middle-class Americans.

Trump also refused to reach beyond the narrow base of white, racist, ignorant, hate-filled, largely rural voters who had elected him.

And he bullied and insulted even White House officials and his own handpicked Cabinet officers. Trump:

  • Waged a Twitter-laced feud against Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General. Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.
  • Repeatedly humiliated Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus—at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about. On July 28, 2017, Priebus resigned.
  • Tongue-lashed Priebus’ replacement, former Marine Corps General John Kelly. Trump was reportedly angered by Kelly’s efforts to limit the number of advisers who had unrestricted access to him. Kelly told colleagues he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of military service—and would not tolerate it again.

If Trump ever read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, he had clearly forgotten this passage:

“Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time….Whoever acts otherwise….is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him.”

And this one:

“Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred.”

On that point alone, Trump proved an absolute failure. He not only committed outrages, he boasted about them. He aroused both fear and hatred.

Or, as Cambridge Professor of Divinity William Ralph Inge put it: “A man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he can’t sit on it.”

Trump nevertheless tried—and paid the price for it. On November 3, 2020, 81,255,933 fed-up voters evicted him for former Vice President Joe Biden.

And despite committing a series of illegal actions to remain in office, he stayed evicted.

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