Chris Honoré: POTUS and the presidential pivot
This intense political season (which still continues) has indeed been fertile ground for language, meaning words/metaphors/images that have been created not just by politicians but also by the mainstream media, meaning electronic and ink on paper.
I thought it might be interesting to peruse one of those words, though it may have become a bit frayed verging on outright cliché-dom.
Since the inauguration, my favorite is “pivot,” co-opted from that moment in basketball when a player makes an abrupt turn or rotation while keeping one foot stationary. It also means a politician can take a position or adopt a strategy different from the one taken before, often characterized as a thoughtful assessment, resulting in a deliberative change in strategy. The word hypocrisy might come up.
Pivot remains, still, the word du jour when the political glitterati and the pundit class describe their observations of the Trump presidency.
But consider first the Republican primary, followed by Trump’s presidential campaign: both were raucous, reckless, running along a precipice of racism, and scandal (who can forget the hot mic riff with Billy Bush on the Access Hollywood bus?). The list is far too long to include here. But taken as a whole, it all still seems mind-bending and head-shaking and pointed toward a Hillary election victory.
Which leads me back to the word pivot. Since “day one,” when Trump took the oath of office, until today, the media, voters, as well as the congressional leadership have been waiting for a presidential pivot. While there are exceptions (his hard-core base), most have anticipated that the office would make its weight felt and Trump would re-brand himself as a serious person who understood why an individual in uniform followed him, just a few steps behind, carrying what is euphemistically known as “the football,” carrying the nuclear codes.
Most assumed that just walking into the history-laden White House and then standing in the Oval Office would be transformative. The cowboy of the campaign would experience an epiphany of sorts and emerge humbled by the gravitas, newly deliberative, grounded, and intent on being “president of all the people.” Therein is the pivot that has often been spoken of and anticipated. The office would redefine the man and not the other way around.
But in the months since the inauguration I have often heard members of the press opine that Trump is a 71-year-old man who is who is unlikely to change. He enjoys a White House steeped in chaos with staff pitted against one another as if he is writing new chapters for the novel, “Lord of the Flies.” He conducts policy (domestic and foreign) via tweets. He plays checkers while world leaders play chess; or as some have called it, “three dimensional chess.” He watches hours of cable news that often substitute for his daily intelligence briefings.
The press briefings, led by Sarah Sanders, press secretary, appear to be a version of “Fight Club.” Who can forget, even for a New York minute, “the Mooch” conducting a press conference and radio interview that will live on in the annals of White House scatology?
Trump continues to cling to that journeyman image of “draining the swamp,” an interesting metaphor that is ultimately devoid of meaning, yet still resonates with his intractable followers. He obsesses still about “the wall,” failing to mention Mexico but insisting that it will be solar. And does anyone truly know his position on DACA? “I love the ‘Dreamers’ but they have to go.”
He has created an era of post-truth, or, as Kellyanne Conway said in an interview, “alternative facts.” He dissembles with abandon, almost as if telling the truth would serve, but a lie is preferable.
Trump’s track record regarding race has always been sketchy, starting with his support of “The Birther Movement,” then the wall, followed by the Muslim ban. His Charlottesville rant put another nail in that box.
So, to sum up, waiting for a pivot is like hoping to defy gravity. This president is who he is. And the above doesn’t even begin to mention the tenacious and ongoing special counsel investigation that signals that “The Russians are Coming.”
— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.