Don't confuse Trump's nastiness for strength

Don't confuse Trump's nastiness for strength
© Getty Images

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE’s presidency has turned the country upside down. Night is day. Black is white. Allies are adversaries. Truth is fiction. A new television advertisement from his re-election campaign is the latest example of that. 

We live in a day when parents strive to teach their children good manners, and at a time when the world is in desperate need of increased civility. But in the new ad, Trump’s campaign unabashedly boasts that he is “no Mr. Nice Guy.” 

Thank you, Captain Obvious. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump has been described as, and accused of, many things. Being a nice guy is not one of them. His base does not seem the least bit bothered by that. Some of his true believers even mimic his obnoxious behavior at rallies and elsewhere.

Their tolerance of Trump’s consistent self-focus and rudeness reminds one of what Franklin D. Roosevelt supposedly said in 1939 of Anastasio Somoza, the ruthless, but decidedly non-communist, dictator of Nicaragua: “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch.” 

A majority of Republican voters seem happy to have Donald Trump as their son of a bitch. Why remains a mystery. With the exception of Richard Nixon, none of the GOP’s modern-day leaders have been viewed as such.

Indeed, there is no recent historical evidence to suggest that being prickly, insulting or threatening is a good way for presidents of either party to get things done. That is not to say that a president should be a pushover or soft. But there is a difference between being no-nonsense and being mean. 

Being a successful leader means finding a balance between being tough as nails and gracious as the day is long. Generally speaking, those who succeed put their own egos in check, are kind, friendly and genuinely welcoming to many points of view. They are rarely disagreeable, offensive or vulgar. They know that kind of behavior almost always results in failure.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s not just a theory. Think of Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterMichelle Obama receives Grammy nomination for audio version of memoir Does Trump have a bunch of 'losers' to thank for a growing economy? Jimmy Carter 'up and walking' after brain surgery MORE. He was often grumpy and impatient, sometimes because he believed that he was the smartest person in the room. He may well have been, but that was beside the point. Because he was convinced of his own superiority and often spurned offers for friendly cooperation, Carter doggedly pursued policies that ultimately turned out poorly for America, and his presidency was not viewed as successful. 

As his successor showed, having inviolable principles and being nice are not mutually exclusive. Ronald Reagan was a fierce and uncompromising advocate of the proper function of government in our society and America’s place and role in the world. But he was also someone whose kindness, decency and selflessness made him very hard to dislike. He knew it, too. Once at a press conference when veteran White House reporter Sarah McClendon prefaced her question with accusatory language, Reagan smiled and replied: “How can you say that about a sweet fella like me?”

As a result of his personal charm, and accompanying widespread national popularity, Reagan was able to shake up Washington and get things done. 

Trump is no “sweet fella,” and he doesn’t try to be. He is who he is, and it would neither be useful nor fair to say to him, “Don’t be you.” Insulting people and kicking them when they are down is a defining element of his personality and brand. He would argue that this style has gotten him pretty far in life, so why change now? Besides, were he to launch a “charm offensive,” it would likely be quickly derided as inauthentic.

Some have said it is smart politics for team Trump to embrace his inner SOB. Clearly, it won’t change, and his base likes it. But we should not confuse nastiness with strength. 

And let’s not forget that a critical part of being president is to model behavior to which parents can point as an example for their children. There’s something wrong when a parent has to tell a child not to behave as the president does.

It’s been said that to make an omelet, one has to break some eggs. True, but that doesn’t mean one should smash them ferociously. That would likely result in pieces of shell getting mixed in. Rather, it would be better to carefully and gently crack the eggs against the bowl. That way, the end product will be not only delicious, but also free of any sharp or dangerous elements that can ruin the omelet and cause harm to those who consume it. 

What’s most troubling about the Trump campaign commercial is that it normalizes and seeks to make valuable a type of behavior that most people – especially parents – eschew. Maybe the president should read the first lady’s “Be Best” literature.

Mark Weinberg is a communications consultant and executive speechwriter who served as special assistant to the president and assistant press secretary in the Reagan White House and director of public affairs in the office of former President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of the best-selling memoir, “Movie Nights with the Reagans” (Simon & Schuster).