A President Like No Other: Trump and the Power of a Narrative
Matt Shaw
11 Apr

Trump's legacy could stretch far beyond his tenure. Header is a derivative work, using an official White House photograph by Shealah Craighead.

Without a doubt, Donald Trump’s presidency has become the kind of overtly-opinionated and conservative government he promised it would be.

His communication, his actions and his public image all represent a dramatic shift away from the traditional expectations of a president.

In many ways, what Trump has done has never been done before. “This administration is upending so many of the norms […] I think it has moved what is normal in the presidency,” said Fin Pollard, associate professor in American history at the University of Lincoln.

Mr Pollard added that, if Trump is re-elected in November, he could have a lasting effect on what is considered ‘normal’ behaviour for a president in the future.

Criticism of Trump’s conduct may seem overdone, but it’s a vital part of his job. “How he presents himself really matters, because a big part of what the presidency is, is how it’s performed in public,” said Mr Pollard, “And I think there is this gulf between how he performs it and how his predecessors have performed it.”

This gulf first became apparent during Trump’s 2016 campaign. Allegations of sexual misconduct, opaqueness surrounding taxes and avoidance of military duty should have seen Trump crash out of the race, in line with normal political expectations.

Despite this, his candidacy remained solid - perhaps even strengthened. During his time in the White House, Trump has flouted conventions at every turn, yet his approval rating remains steady. In fact, even as he fumbles the coronavirus pandemic, his figures have seen a boost.

Donald Trump with a COVID-19 testing device. Taken 30th March, 2020. Official White House photograph by D. Myles Cullen.

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How has Trump maintained and, in some cases, expanded on such an unwaveringly loyal group of supporters? The answer lies in his rhetoric.

From the beginning of his campaign for presidency, Trump positioned himself as anti-establishment.

This placed him in a unique position. As a billionaire with no previous political experience but a wealth of reality television appearances, Trump was not regarded as a ‘serious’ candidate by much of the mainstream media.

From this, a vicious cycle was born: the more they lambasted and scorned him, the more he would cast them off as biased and untrustworthy.

This played to his advantage, as a conservative base, already at odds with large newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post, was willing to align with such inflammatory messages.

As his campaign unfolded, this narrative continued, solidifying his support. Any criticism was seen as prejudiced or unfounded - the establishment trying to silence them.

“I think he's a lot better at playing the media game than anybody has given him credit for,” said Dan Birdsong, a lecturer in the department of political science at the University of Dayton.

“You would think that focusing on the president's […] racist or sexist comments would be negatives for him, but they turn out to work to his advantage because he set up the straw man of the media being the boogeyman,” he added.

President Trump addresses reporters. Taken 4th April, 2020. Official White House photograph by Andrea Hanks.

Ian Franks is the managing editor of 50 Shades of Sun.

In office, this has given Trump the ability to communicate in ways no other president could - and his Tweets are at the centre of this.

“The language he's prepared to use [...] the regular barrage of insults of opponents and whoever he's going after on any given day is of a different order to normal presidential behaviour,” said Mr Pollard.

At times, mixed in with the regular dose of disparaging remarks, there are more sinister comments. They can be anti-immigrant, xenophobic, sexist or something of another nature.
They often garner more negative attention, but this throws up smoke, allowing Trump to conduct other business in the background.

A good example of this is the recent controversy over his usage of the term "Chinese virus" to describe COVID-19. This comment distracted - even momentarily - from his poor response to the pandemic.

"His ability to refocus the media's attention on what he wants them to focus on, I think is his greatest strength," said Mr Birdsong.

Playing the media isn't new. But Trump's digitalised version of it has allowed him to act almost as he pleases, with minimised consequences.

Though his language and behaviour is widely criticised, it may set a precedent that remains long after the next four years.

In some ways, the president has already changed certain norms through his constant use of more extreme language and an unfalteringly partisan demeanour.

However, though Trump has undoubtedly become a president like no other, his actions may not encourage other presidents to be like him.

If Donald Trump has taught us anything, it's that everything can change.

"How seriously do we take the noise?" asked Mr Pollard.

OPINION
A President Like No Other: Trump and the Power of a Narrative
Matt Shaw
11 Apr

Trump's legacy could stretch far beyond his tenure. Header is a derivative work, using an official White House photograph by Shealah Craighead.

Without a doubt, Donald Trump’s presidency has become the kind of overtly-opinionated and conservative government he promised it would be.

His communication, his actions and his public image all represent a dramatic shift away from the traditional expectations of a president.

In many ways, what Trump has done has never been done before. “This administration is upending so many of the norms […] I think it has moved what is normal in the presidency,” said Fin Pollard, associate professor in American history at the University of Lincoln.

Mr Pollard added that, if Trump is re-elected in November, he could have a lasting effect on what is considered ‘normal’ behaviour for a president in the future.

Criticism of Trump’s conduct may seem overdone, but it’s a vital part of his job. “How he presents himself really matters, because a big part of what the presidency is, is how it’s performed in public,” said Mr Pollard, “And I think there is this gulf between how he performs it and how his predecessors have performed it.”

This gulf first became apparent during Trump’s 2016 campaign. Allegations of sexual misconduct, opaqueness surrounding taxes and avoidance of military duty should have seen Trump crash out of the race, in line with normal political expectations.

Despite this, his candidacy remained solid - perhaps even strengthened. During his time in the White House, Trump has flouted conventions at every turn, yet his approval rating remains steady. In fact, even as he fumbles the coronavirus pandemic, his figures have seen a boost.

Donald Trump with a COVID-19 testing device. Taken 30th March, 2020. Official White House photograph by D. Myles Cullen.

Get The Locus sent straight to your inbox
Thanks for subscribing to The Locus!
Something went wrong. Sorry about that.

How has Trump maintained and, in some cases, expanded on such an unwaveringly loyal group of supporters? The answer lies in his rhetoric.

From the beginning of his campaign for presidency, Trump positioned himself as anti-establishment.

This placed him in a unique position. As a billionaire with no previous political experience but a wealth of reality television appearances, Trump was not regarded as a ‘serious’ candidate by much of the mainstream media.

From this, a vicious cycle was born: the more they lambasted and scorned him, the more he would cast them off as biased and untrustworthy.

This played to his advantage, as a conservative base, already at odds with large newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post, was willing to align with such inflammatory messages.

As his campaign unfolded, this narrative continued, solidifying his support. Any criticism was seen as prejudiced or unfounded - the establishment trying to silence them.

“I think he's a lot better at playing the media game than anybody has given him credit for,” said Dan Birdsong, a lecturer in the department of political science at the University of Dayton.

“You would think that focusing on the president's […] racist or sexist comments would be negatives for him, but they turn out to work to his advantage because he set up the straw man of the media being the boogeyman,” he added.

President Trump addresses reporters. Taken 4th April, 2020. Official White House photograph by Andrea Hanks.

Ian Franks is the managing editor of 50 Shades of Sun.

In office, this has given Trump the ability to communicate in ways no other president could - and his Tweets are at the centre of this.

“The language he's prepared to use [...] the regular barrage of insults of opponents and whoever he's going after on any given day is of a different order to normal presidential behaviour,” said Mr Pollard.

At times, mixed in with the regular dose of disparaging remarks, there are more sinister comments. They can be anti-immigrant, xenophobic, sexist or something of another nature.
They often garner more negative attention, but this throws up smoke, allowing Trump to conduct other business in the background.

A good example of this is the recent controversy over his usage of the term "Chinese virus" to describe COVID-19. This comment distracted - even momentarily - from his poor response to the pandemic.

"His ability to refocus the media's attention on what he wants them to focus on, I think is his greatest strength," said Mr Birdsong.

Playing the media isn't new. But Trump's digitalised version of it has allowed him to act almost as he pleases, with minimised consequences.

Though his language and behaviour is widely criticised, it may set a precedent that remains long after the next four years.

In some ways, the president has already changed certain norms through his constant use of more extreme language and an unfalteringly partisan demeanour.

However, though Trump has undoubtedly become a president like no other, his actions may not encourage other presidents to be like him.

If Donald Trump has taught us anything, it's that everything can change.

"How seriously do we take the noise?" asked Mr Pollard.

A President Like No Other: Trump and the Power of a Narrative
Matt Shaw
11 Apr

Trump's legacy could stretch far beyond his tenure. Header is a derivative work, using an official White House photograph by Shealah Craighead.

Without a doubt, Donald Trump’s presidency has become the kind of overtly-opinionated and conservative government he promised it would be.

His communication, his actions and his public image all represent a dramatic shift away from the traditional expectations of a president.

In many ways, what Trump has done has never been done before. “This administration is upending so many of the norms […] I think it has moved what is normal in the presidency,” said Fin Pollard, associate professor in American history at the University of Lincoln.

Mr Pollard added that, if Trump is re-elected in November, he could have a lasting effect on what is considered ‘normal’ behaviour for a president in the future.

Criticism of Trump’s conduct may seem overdone, but it’s a vital part of his job. “How he presents himself really matters, because a big part of what the presidency is, is how it’s performed in public,” said Mr Pollard, “And I think there is this gulf between how he performs it and how his predecessors have performed it.”

This gulf first became apparent during Trump’s 2016 campaign. Allegations of sexual misconduct, opaqueness surrounding taxes and avoidance of military duty should have seen Trump crash out of the race, in line with normal political expectations.

Despite this, his candidacy remained solid - perhaps even strengthened. During his time in the White House, Trump has flouted conventions at every turn, yet his approval rating remains steady. In fact, even as he fumbles the coronavirus pandemic, his figures have seen a boost.

Donald Trump with a COVID-19 testing device. Taken 30th March, 2020. Official White House photograph by D. Myles Cullen.

How has Trump maintained and, in some cases, expanded on such an unwaveringly loyal group of supporters? The answer lies in his rhetoric.

From the beginning of his campaign for presidency, Trump positioned himself as anti-establishment.

This placed him in a unique position. As a billionaire with no previous political experience but a wealth of reality television appearances, Trump was not regarded as a ‘serious’ candidate by much of the mainstream media.

From this, a vicious cycle was born: the more they lambasted and scorned him, the more he would cast them off as biased and untrustworthy.

This played to his advantage, as a conservative base, already at odds with large newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post, was willing to align with such inflammatory messages.

As his campaign unfolded, this narrative continued, solidifying his support. Any criticism was seen as prejudiced or unfounded - the establishment trying to silence them.

“I think he's a lot better at playing the media game than anybody has given him credit for,” said Dan Birdsong, a lecturer in the department of political science at the University of Dayton.

“You would think that focusing on the president's […] racist or sexist comments would be negatives for him, but they turn out to work to his advantage because he set up the straw man of the media being the boogeyman,” he added.

In office, this has given Trump the ability to communicate in ways no other president could - and his Tweets are at the centre of this.

“The language he's prepared to use [...] the regular barrage of insults of opponents and whoever he's going after on any given day is of a different order to normal presidential behaviour,” said Mr Pollard.

At times, mixed in with the regular dose of disparaging remarks, there are more sinister comments. They can be anti-immigrant, xenophobic, sexist or something of another nature.
They often garner more negative attention, but this throws up smoke, allowing Trump to conduct other business in the background.

A good example of this is the recent controversy over his usage of the term "Chinese virus" to describe COVID-19. This comment distracted - even momentarily - from his poor response to the pandemic.

"His ability to refocus the media's attention on what he wants them to focus on, I think is his greatest strength," said Mr Birdsong.

Playing the media isn't new. But Trump's digitalised version of it has allowed him to act almost as he pleases, with minimised consequences.

President Trump addresses reporters. Taken 4th April, 2020. Official White House photograph by Andrea Hanks.

Though his language and behaviour is widely criticised, it may set a precedent that remains long after the next four years.

In some ways, the president has already changed certain norms through his constant use of more extreme language and an unfalteringly partisan demeanour.

However, though Trump has undoubtedly become a president like no other, his actions may not encourage other presidents to be like him.

If Donald Trump has taught us anything, it's that everything can change.

"How seriously do we take the noise?" asked Mr Pollard.

Get The Locus sent straight to your inbox
Thanks for subscribing to The Locus!
Something went wrong. Sorry about that.
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