Politics

Trump’s ‘Big Stuff’ and ‘Little Stuff’ and How to Know the Difference

President has an abundance of impressive accomplishments in only two years, but the list of distractions seems endless

Image Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Recent headlines constitute a microcosm of the Trump era: reports of sustained economic growth, new records in a long-running bull market, an 18-year-high in consumer confidence, real progress on NAFTA renegotiation (if we can still call it by its “old” acronym), and an Iranian economy careening toward collapse, thanks to Trump’s punishing U.S. sanctions (and the promise of additional sanctions come November).

All of these are substantive accomplishments. All are familiar items on a to-do list regularly updated by a White House administration and conservative media serious about keeping an accurate score.

And then there is the other side of the president’s world:  an unprecedented revocation of a former CIA chief’s security clearance, the Manafort verdict, the Cohen plea deal, needless controversy over how long the White House flag remained at half-mast in honor of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), new revelations of administration infighting in a Bob Woodward exposé, and never-ending, withering criticism directed at the once-favored son, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The contrast is startling. It’s the big stuff against the small stuff; needlessly complicated stuff; personal stuff; issues we-do-not-usually-have-to-worry-about stuff.

The big stuff improves economic outcomes for millions of people, empowers job creators, makes the country stronger, and reassures many heretofore forgotten folks in flyover America that Washington, D.C., is truly listening to their concerns — and acting!

The president’s big stuff is typically accompanied by elements of populism and nationalism — and that’s OK.  Many Americans had had enough of “you didn’t build that” and associated Obama-era apologies for our wealth and well-established cultural values.  To boot, a long record of big-stuff success is also the way a politician secures his or her re-election, a chicken in every pot (or healthy 401K), as the case may be …

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As noted, the small stuff is by definition far less substantive than the big stuff.  In a hyperpolarized culture, however, it generates as much or more media attention. Indeed, there is a reason cable television ratings remain sky high during the Trump era.

Here, less substantive includes an endless number of mini-dramas and subplots. Most particularly, there is the omnipresent Russia collusion narrative, a storyline that somehow continues to receive daily attention despite its abject failure to produce any corroborating evidence over the past two years.

The apparently limitless jurisdiction of special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of happy Democratic contributors/prosecutors/investigators may indeed continue to produce sensational headlines about former Trump associates, including indictments and prosecutions for misdeeds that have nothing to do with Russia and were allegedly committed many years ago.

One wonders whether the left-leaning cable networks could continue in business without Mueller’s operation, but I digress.

The small stuff extends to self-imposed wounds, from Stormy payoffs to missed fastballs (e.g., post-Charlottesville, post-Putin summit, post-McCain passing).  These were and are relatively easy occasions to note the obvious: Skinhead racists are evil, Putin is not to be trusted, McCain is a certified American hero.

How many times a week am I approached on the street by a like-minded Trump supporter and queried as to why such tweets continue when they so often trump (excuse the pun) important and often positive accomplishments of this president? Answer: More than I care to count.

Parenthetically, it is the small stuff that is so often the predicate for the seemingly daily condemnations from GOP Establishment types. You know, those who remain in denial concerning the results of Nov. 8, 2016.

For this subgroup, Trump is the archetypical killjoy. He questions their assumptions. He challenges their status quo. He stubbornly refuses to adopt traditional behaviors associated with POTUS, and he does so with an abrasive confidence (arrogance to many) that is truly unique.

I do not pretend my answer satisfies the typical questioner. It generally acknowledges that the query is legitimate because positive news should never get stepped on. But I hasten to add a caveat:

It just may be that such regular order is simply not possible with this president, that his disruptor ways will always swamp (pun intended) accepted rules of political communication, that large swaths of working-class America happily identify with this rejection of the status quo, and that to adopt a more recognized process would simply not be … Donald J. Trump.

This final observation is important. Today’s culture alternatively describes my takeaway as “it is what it is.” The Trump world version is closer to “what you see is what you get” – traditionally that for which the general public clamors — and, by the way, what helped take down that once impregnable blue wall. The modus operandi almost assuredly will not change.

Alas, many on the Left — and more than a few on the Right — will never accept this reality.

Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich was Maryland’s chief executive from 2003 to 2007. He previously served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump and the End of Washington’s Regular Order.”

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