There are two other unique characteristics about Trump’s first month in office, which did not make my top three takeaways but which, nevertheless, may become more relevant descriptors of Trump’s presidency down the road if they persist or are not addressed. These issues have continued to be important well into Trump’s first 100 days in office, so for this reason I felt it would be relevant to make a brief post discussing them.
- Political Inexperience:
To put it bluntly, Trump’s presidency has, so far, resembled a month-long amateur hour. Not only is Trump the most politically inexperienced individual to be elected U.S. president (having neither prior military experience nor experience as an elected official), but many of his Cabinet members also lack expertise in their respective posts. Exactly one-third of Trump’s 15 Cabinet nominees have absolutely zero prior government experience, and at least as many lack relevant qualifications for the post they will be heading. To give a few examples: Ben Carson (Department of Housing and Urban Development) has never been involved in housing policy; Rick Perry (Department of Energy) was not aware of the Department of Energy’s role in safeguarding the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons; Betsy DeVos (Department of Education) is a Republican donor with no public school background; and Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency), while not an actual Cabinet nominee, has sued the very agency he will head at least 13 times.
In theory, bringing in political outsiders having private sector experience has its benefits. It has the potential to prosper innovation and provide ingenuity in an entrenched, far too stagnant bureaucracy. In practice, however, the downfalls of this approach have already become evident. It takes only the disastrous, botched rollout of Trump’s immigration and refugee executive order (“Muslim Ban”), which led to over 700 people — many of whom otherwise had valid work visas, green card status, or permanent legal residency — being detained in the first weekend of its implementation, to see that. If similar situations of haphazard implementation repeatedly arise, it’s only a matter of time before the political inexperience of the Trump administration starts to better resemble, and be perceived as, something far more dangerous: incompetence.
2. Information Overload:
I’m referring to two distinct, albeit related, phenomenon here when I use the phrase “information overload.” On the one hand, I’m referring to information overload in terms of media coverage on what the president is doing on a day-to-day basis. On the other hand, I’m also referring to it in terms of the ability to determine the accuracy of said coverage in an age of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” The particularly excessive information overload occurring during Trump’s presidency is, in my opinion, partly a deliberate political strategy by Trump and partly a byproduct of the age of social media. Trump, an expert at manipulating news, understands how to dominate the 24/7 news media cycle and divert attention away from the substance of his policy decisions. He accomplishes this, in part, through regularly tweeting extravagant claims and accusations, ranging from personally calling a judicial decision “terrible” to belittling Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s clothing line, which far too often get as much coverage as his actual policies. The result being that, even though Trump is not necessarily doing more in his first month than past presidents, every tweet or comment he makes is so sensationalist that in today’s media it is considered newsworthy, resulting in an oversaturation of news that distorts what actually matters.
This problem of information overload has been compounded by the rise of “fake news” on the media’s side and “alternative facts” on the Trump administration’s side, to the extent that people do not know what information to trust. Fake news is a phenomenon that gained prominence during the 2016 election, referring to the spread of misinformation either via traditional media or social media with the intent of misleading others. However, many in the Trump administration now use the term “fake news” more loosely to refer to any type of news that is negative/biased. For example, Trump has called traditional media outlets like CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, and the New York Times fake news to varying degrees, particularly when their stories rely on anonymous sources. While the mainstream media was clearly anti-Trump in its coverage in many cases and while the overreliance on anonymous sources and some dishonest reporting has left much to be desire, it is also clear that Trump is just labeling any news that is critical of him as fake, even in instances when the evidence says otherwise.
It’s not like Trump is any more credible than the news organizations he derides. Since Trump’s election his administration has constantly been touting “alternative facts,” a term coined by Kellyanne Conway in an attempt to dismiss factually incorrect statements made by Trump and his team. As president, Trump (and his administration) has made not just claims that lack any sort of proof (i.e. Obama wiretapped Trump Tower and millions of illegal immigrants voted to prevent me from winning the popular vote), but also statements that are 100 percent, unequivocally false (i.e. the murder rate in the country is the highest it has been in 47 years, only 109 people were affected by executive order on immigration, I had the biggest Electoral College win since Regan, etc.) Regardless of what you think of the media’s credibility overall, Trump is worsening the problem: in Trump’s limited time in office I’ve witnessed some of the most blatant disregard for facts or any semblance of objectivity that I’ve ever seen in politics — and that is frightening.
There has always been bias in politics and the media, but it is reaching a point beyond that of, for lack of a better word, intellectual dishonesty. There are people who support Trump that genuinely believe everything he has to say, there are others who hate Trump and trust every word uttered by critics in the media, and then there is the vast majority of people somewhere in the middle that do not know how to, or have the time to, process and check the validity of the conflicting news they are fed. Having an administration that deliberately makes unsubstantiated claims and a media that prioritizes sensationalism over accuracy has made it increasingly difficult for the American public to distinguish the important from the trivial, the factual from the fictional — and what a disservice to American democracy that is.