Watching politics right now is fascinating. If you believe, as I do, that it’s impossible to see reality in a completely accurate way, then you realize that everything we know is better described as a story about reality, rather than reality itself. And the story about Trump that is emerging is the story of a man torn by two sides.
The first side is Bannon. The guy who gave a platform to the most racist, hateful part of the Republican Party. The guy who called the media the opposition party. The other side is Ivanka. The woman who set up a meeting with her dad and Al Gore. The woman who married a Jew, is teaching her daughter mandarin, and celebrated Lunar New Year at the Chinese embassy. Viewed through that lens, Trump’s speech before Congress was Ivanka’s side winning out. Sure, he is still saying crazy things, but he’s saying that he’s willing to compromise and is using far more optimistic language than Bannon is known for. You’ll be hard pressed to see any major media outlets putting this in such plain terms, but nearly all of them allude to this in some way. The story of the angel and devil sitting on Trump’s shoulders whispering things in his ear, leaving only the question of which he’ll listen to.
Is this story accurate? That is to say, does it most closely resemble the way reality actually is? I don’t have a better story, but it feels very incomplete to me. The first hint is Trump’s clothes. During the speech, his suit fit much better. He ditched the bright red tie that hangs down to his knees in favor of a much more muted and tasteful black and blue tie. He ditched the big hand gestures he often uses during his more impromptu speeches. It may have been my imagination, but his skin and hair looked less clownish. He may be using more muted bronzer and hair dye. It is possible that he is feeling the history of the office weighing down on him, and he may be rising to meet it.
An old insight I take very seriously is to not pay too much attention to what the news is saying, but very closely listen to what it’s not saying. The news, by its nature, is about things that are unusual and rare. I pay more attention to when stories end. When it’s no longer in the media, that usually means what was rare is now common. That’s the time I really wonder about the implications of things like violent crime and endangered species. What stories are we no longer hearing? It’s been a few weeks since I heard how much Trump plays golf and ditches his press pool to eat at restaurants. I haven’t heard even one rumor about him wandering around the White House in his bathrobe and ditching meetings with his intelligence officials. That may mean he’s taking things more seriously. I believe it’s now just so common that it isn’t worth mentioning.
What am I getting at? I don’t believe there are two sides to Trump. There is just Trump and his obsession with appearances. He is starting to appear more presidential, but at heart he’s the same guy who thinks he’s too smart to get daily intelligence briefings. This is a good thing. It means he is still probably too inexperienced and incompetent to get his ridiculous policies put into law. I could be wrong. Maybe he’ll listen to the angel or devil whispering into his ear. But I think those are just a few voices among many, and ultimately he will do the things that look the best, regardless of the consequences. It’s worked for him so far. I hope that’s the case. The last thing I want is for him to be a competent politician.