To paraphrase a line from Charles Dickens, White House operations have recently exhibited the best of times and the worst of times.
When the hurricanes assailed Florida and Texas, we saw Donald Trump at his presidential best. The entire situation played to his strengths: He took quick action, coordinated various levels of government, declared states of emergency and expertly directed aid to the areas that were hardest-hit. He then visited the impacted areas, showing the type of compassion we want our leaders to exhibit.
This was vintage Trump and the president many longed for when he unexpectedly won the election in November. He was in his element, being decisive and pushing forward, much like the CEO he has been throughout his career. Trump relied on his instincts rather than consulting with others. He had a plan and put it in action, no questions asked and no hesitancy.
He had evidently learned the lessons from the heat that George W. Bush caught over his somewhat halting response to Hurricane Katrina and avoided that pitfall. Even his critics, who are always looking for an opening, were unable to find fault over his handling of these emergencies.
Then, this past week, we saw the other side of Trump: the impulsive boss who talks without a plan and sends tweets at 3 a.m.
First, at the United Nations, where diplomats gather, he refers to North Korea leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” later amending that sobriquet to “Little Rocket Man” at a rally in Alabama. At that same rally, Trump encouraged NFL team owners to fire players who kneel during the National Anthem.
In both instances, we see the qualities that served him so well during the hurricanes coming back to haunt him in other occasions. Actions that were seen as decisive in dealing with the storms seem ill-advised in other settings.
In all things, Trump acts intuitively. It is whom he is and, as he probably sees it, what got him elected in the first place. He is not used to consulting with others before making decisions. While this approach worked in the business world, it is short-sighted in government affairs.
At the Alabama rally, we saw Trump playing to the crowd. He loves these rallies where he gets to play the role of a celebrity. You must remember this is a man who built his name largely on reality TV. It is like being on “The Apprentice” again.
Trump does not have a base as much as he has a fan club.
In fact, I am not sure if Trump himself has especially strong sentiments on many social issues. However, his fans do, and he does not want to lose their support. So, when pushed, it sometimes seems he is looking to not disappoint evangelical Christians and others of strong beliefs who voted for him.
Trump still has supporters in the middle. These are largely individuals who are focused on the issues that impact their daily lives, such as the economy and national security. They care more about putting food on the table than about social issues.
If the president were to take advice, he would be wise to get back to those issues. In meeting with Democrats about health care at the White House, he showed a willingness to build consensus. While it angered some members of the GOP, Trump needs more of that type of approach that could find a common ground and get legislation moving forward.
The side of Trump that tends to be bombastic needs to give way to the side of the president that authored “The Art of the Deal.”
We need more of the president’s best of times and fewer days of his worst of times.
Jennifer Walton, Ph.D., is the chair of communication and media studies at Ohio Northern University