President Donald Trump signs bill in Oval Office at White House

Trump’s rhetorical impact

Yuval Levin writes for Commentary about a critical element of Donald Trump’s approach to the presidency.

If you were prone to understatement, you might describe Donald Trump as a very unusual president. He came to the job from a career that mostly involved selling himself. Unlike every prior American president, he had never been elected to anything before or held any senior post in government or the military. His engagement with politics consisted of offering bombastic commentary. And that is also how he spent much of his time in office. Trump seemed to understand the power of the presidency as fundamentally rhetorical—a way of changing reality by saying it should be different, or insisting that it was.

In some respects, this blurring of the line between presidential talk and action has been with us for many decades. …

… But in the Trump era, we have witnessed a far more radical rhetorical approach to the presidency, which has treated presidential talk not as an enabler of government action but as its form and substance. Trump took speaking for his voters to be the essence of his job. He implicitly assumed that announcing a new policy or action was the same thing as undertaking it. And at times he even behaved as though declaring a new reality simply made it true. In the end, this rendered Trump a weakened president, and it should serve as a cautionary lesson to his successors about the nature of the office, and the sources of its strength. …

… His transformation of the judiciary will resound for a generation and will strengthen our constitutional order. He reoriented America’s approach to the Middle East, enabling an extraordinary alignment between Israel and a coalition of Arab states to isolate Iran. These are important achievements, and Trump deserves real credit for them. …

… But this list of accomplishments is short. And it doesn’t include the kinds of moves that led Trump’s critics to call him a fascist or his supporters to call him a statesman because, for the most part, those were just things Trump said without doing.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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