On King Solomon, Trump, and the Need for Standards
It is nearly one year since President Trump entered office as the 45th President of the United States. Of all the complaints of his term, President Trump’s behavior online, and offline has been a common complaint amongst the left and the right. For example, Peggy Noonan stated in the Wall Street Journal: “The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.”
Noonan wrote her opinion in July, and since then President Trump has not shown improvement. He has publicly argued with NFL players, politicians (domestic and foreign), and recently, LaVar Ball, a private citizen. Trump is not the only politician with a behavior problem. Roy Moore and Al Franken find themselves wrapped in sexual harassment/abuse scandals. As we near the end of 2017, and the President’s first year in office, we should reflect on the standards we place on politicians, and the voters that put them in office.
President Trump’s behavior has made me think of King Solomon. In 2 Chronicles, King Solomon, the new king of Israel famously asked God not for power or wealth, but wisdom. God grants Solomon both wisdom and knowledge. King Solomon’s wisdom and knowledge can serve as a standard we should seek in a president.
It should first be noted that asking for a leader to have wisdom and knowledge does not have to mean he or she needs to be Plato’s philosopher king. But, a president should have the wisdom and knowledge that fits into the nation’s conception of the presidency. These two concepts are tied into the umbrella phrase “acting presidential.”
Wisdom is acting with prudence and circumspection before the act. For a president, it means to remind yourself that, as president, you are a standard bearer of what is or is not acceptable behavior in political society. Further, a president further serves as a standard bearer for American interests abroad. His or her actions have an impact on how we as nation, and individuals are seen.
Wisdom is not brushing aside Roy Moore’s alleged misbehavior because he denied the accusations. Using President Trump’s logic, if denying accusations got one off the hook, then criminals everywhere would be free. Acting presidential should be acting when there is something to be gained from your action. What does calling LaVar Ball “a fool” going to achieve? Such action will not achieve the legislative accomplishments that he and Republicans desire.
If wisdom is acting with prudence and circumspection, than knowledge is learning (or knowing) what is needed to gain that wisdom. In essence, knowledge is working to achieve insight. Here, the president needs to develop the insight necessary to be a successful president. At the most basic level, the president’s insight should focus on the role the President plays, his/her powers, and the Constitution. A presidential candidate can never truly be ready for the duties of the office. However, a presidential candidate should have some knowledge of what they are about to step into, or a willingness to learn. More importantly, you do not have to be a part of the political elite to have this knowledge.
Andrew Jackson was not a member of the political elite when elected. Jackson however had insight into the role of the president. Although he was a states’ rights Democrat, President Jackson still understood the importance of the union. Famously, Jackson stood up for that principle at a dinner in honor of Thomas Jefferson declaring, “Our federal union: it must be preserved.” President Trump does not show this insight, or a willingness to learn. He attacks the Senate’s filibuster, denying debate on major legislation for political expediency, and publically calls out members of both parties if they act in a contrary manner. The Madisonian system does not allow for a “my way or the highway” system more akin to parliamentary politics.
The lack of presidential insightfulness that pushes “my way or highway” politics can spread beyond the halls of the White House. For example, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan cancelled a fundraiser for Republican Lee Zeldin because of his vote against the House tax bill. Speaker Ryan’s actions feeds into the “my way or the highway” mode which is the antithesis of the Madisonian system. Worse, the belief in party loyalty over civil debate or pragmatism then gets attached to the minds of Voters. For example, Senator Jeff Flake retired partly because his decision to vocally go against President Trump’s agenda was going to hurt him with primary voters.
In short, President Trump is no King Solomon. True, this is a high standard, and probably an impossible standard alongside Plato’s philosopher king. But, politicians should be held to high standards. Leaders influence the behavior of others, and in the case of politicians, represent us in government. The result of the 2016 election was an “anti-elite” election, not because of Hillary Clinton, but individuals being tired of governmental dysfunction. Voters want politicians to do the job they sent them to do. Politician misbehavior just continues the path of dysfunction, and voter frustration.
In policing these standards, we must also look at ourselves. If a candidate does not fit our mold, or standard, we should not vote for them. We also must be critical thinkers when it comes to the actions and words of our political leaders. More importantly, we must educate ourselves in the Constitution, and civics. For example, we need to understand that “my way” does not compute into James Madison’s political system. In short, citizens need to create a common civic norm(s) that don’t accept blindly what a politician says it is. It is up to everyone to uphold the standards necessary for a democratic society.