American Presidents and Uneasy Minds

“Hey look, in the mean time, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not.” – Donald Trump, Interview with Time magazine, March 22, 2017

This was a response from a United States President. Donald Trump got defensive after an interviewer asked if his credibility was important. Boy, do I ever feel better after that response! Since March, when he made this comment, his credibility continues to plummet. In light of the recent investigations within his alleged ties to Russia, the White House publically stated he did not disclose classified intelligence information with Russians. Then, he took to Twitter to say he had every right to share information with Russia. That may be true, but he also contradicted himself. There is that credibility issue again. The fact that he even met with them, without inviting American media (Russian media was there) in the middle of this investigation is a huge red flag. With every public speaking event, with every interview, and even every tweet, the current president has me worrying about his sanity, his abilities to lead a nation, and his feelings towards the American people. I believe he thinks he can run the nation like a business. Some voted for him because they thought that would be better. Yet, those who run businesses are not public servants and usually do not have to ask permission. The president is a public servant and almost always has to ask permission. Trump cannot handle that reality; he can barely handle speaking in full sentences.

I realize that sounds like I took aim at some low hanging fruit. Donald Trump is not good with words, which is a bigger problem than his supporters may think. What a president says is important. Their words can have deeper impact on the nation than anything else they do. One of the most important roles of a president is to put the people’s minds at ease. It sounds silly with everything they are responsible for, but it is true. The best example of this was in 1929 when all hell broke loose one sad Tuesday afternoon when the market crashed, families lost their entire savings, and businessmen in their blue Berge suits jumped head first from tall, New York buildings. The United States did not crumble after such a devastating economic downturn, or after many other chaotic historical events. Why? Many historians attribute that to either hope or at least a sense of security. Not this alone, of course, each historical event has its own unique circumstances, but we can often find some commonalities that make some current events pretty predictable. The argument when looking back on the Depression is a President doesn’t exactly have enough power to fix a bad economy. Yes, he can create policy to sway it a certain direction, and those directions can often lead to either prosperous or disastrous destinations, but there is more to it than that. What kept the Great Depression from spiraling out of control? It was getting people to have enough faith to take that risk again, and put their money back in the banks. It was giving them hope again.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legacy was not just creating socialist policy to get people back on their feet; his main job was to restore the public’s confidence. He did not do that just with promises and policy, but with “conversations” with the American public. He spoke to them in a series of radio conversations, The Fireside Chats, to ease worried minds, and to stop the chaos and despair from plunging the nation into further economic disaster. Though, ultimately, it would take a world war to pull the nation completely out of the Depression, the market had to start moving for the hopelessness to at least begin to end, when jobs or even a decent meal was hard to come by for thousands of people. That took restoration of confidence.

Moving forward to events people in my generation actually lived through, we can look at what happened after 9/11 when thousands of lives were lost before our eyes on television screens. When, yet again, in New York City, people were plunging head first from those tall buildings, this time trying to escape flames. Fourteen-year-olds kids, like myself, had to go to school in a daze and overcome with these disturbing images, hearing adults talk about war, and what that meant. Was it going to be like those scary things I saw in my textbooks? I knew so little then; I did not know how privileged as an American girl that I would never really see that terror, but I was indeed terrified. So were our parents. Many people had differing opinions about President George W. Bush, but he gave a speech, as presidents are supposed to, promising to protect his citizens. Americans who were horrified of dying at the hands of what he later called the “evil doers.” With his words to reassure Americans, who felt their very existence and freedom was under attack, he said “Our Country is strong, a great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” Just to take pause, I am not here to glorify president Bush; with his words in the years to follow, he lied to the American people, led us into a failing war that resulted in the loss of both American and Iraqi lives, and he failed miserably at helping poor families after the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. There are countries he is not allowed to enter because he committed war crimes. We cannot forget that. What I can say, though, is he helped move people forward after a serious national crisis, when people were living in fear of terrorism. He did it with his words, which even if you grew to hate him, were undeniably powerful.[1]

Although I have been arguing that it is how our president makes us feel is one of their most important jobs, when you ask experts what a president’s most important job is, they will tell you it is to protect our system of government.[2] It is not our safety or our individual security. But how do you make a society function if people feel panicked, unsafe, and like they cannot trust their leader? The law may not take this specifically into consideration, but human beings are emotional creatures. That is what helped Donald Trump win the election. Which brings me to right now. So far, Donald Trump is failing his most important job as a President, by both my definition and the definition of the experts. He is not putting people’s minds at ease, and he doesn’t really seem to know how. I listen to his press conferences, and some of his speeches, searching for some deeper meaning, and what I find is a narcissistic man who can barely finish his sentences, let alone give me anything to hope for. Instead, he is doubling down on some of his worse campaign platforms, he is singling out Muslims (Bush had bad policy, but his rhetoric was infinitely better when it came to talking about Islam), he is attacking the LGBTQ+ community, even though he promised to protect them, he is backing a potentially dangerous healthcare bill, he is putting people in his cabinet who have little experience, but tons of money, and he is barring specific press outlets, legitimate news sources that he claims are fake, from White House Press conferences. Anyone who has studied history knows; we have not seen anything like this, or at least to this extent, in American politics. We have seen it in other countries, and never has it turned out well.

I am trying not to be that emotional citizen who bases her choices and opinions on my feelings instead of on fact. That is a huge mistake, but I am terrified. It has only been four months, and every day I wake up to a headline describing a new assault on democracy. This is not an overreaction. This is based on his policy and the word choice from him, his cabinet, and his press secretaries. It distracts me on a daily basis. If not in a proper state of mind, it creates almost crippling anxiety. I am not the only person experiencing this. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that therapists are learning techniques to help with people’s anxiety about the president. They have not seen so many people talk about the same thing with such fear since 9/11.[3] That should shock you because 9/11 was an attack by an enemy; the patients were not upset with President Bush. People right now are afraid of their own president. He is actively attacking our rights on a daily basis. He cannot protect our form of government, because he thinks he is above it. Unless they are big business owners, and/or his rich friends, the president doesn’t seem to ever make the American people a priority. Therefore, he is not putting anyone’s mind at ease. If this path continues, Americans have a rocky road ahead of them economically, politically, and mentally.

LHO

Cover image property of: Huffpost.com

[1] I would argue his words worked too well. Though Americans moved past crippling fear, many came out the other side wishing for vengeance. Fear was not diminished from this speech, and in many cases as time went on that fear morphed into racism and Islamophobia, which still plagues our nation. Bush maintained decent rhetoric, though, when talking about Muslims. He often avoided using the work “Muslim,” in his speeches when talking about radical terrorists in the Middle East, and gave a speech on September 20, 2001, declaring Muslims should not be singled out or attacked. Rhetoric is just words, and sometimes contradicted by actual policy, as was the case when Bush had the FBI detain 1000 Muslims and Arabs in the U.S.

[2] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/what-everyones-getting-wrong-about-the-presidents-no-1-job/

[3] http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-ln-trump-therapists-20170223-story.html

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