For the record, OneOldCop never completely agreed with those who believed a successful business person would automatically be a good choice for President of the United States. The idea that a Ross Perot, a Donald Trump, a Bill Gates or an Oprah Winfrey could be more successful in the White House, or a governor’s mansion for that matter, than a seasoned politician is suspect, if not naive. It is possible a successful private sector leader could be an effective president or governor, but running a business is different from running a governmental entity, as President Trump is finding out.
Admittedly, in the early days of the republic, presidents and other elected officials came from what one might call the private sector or business world. They came from that background because politics was not a profession. Elected office was initially a form of service, not a career. That has not been the case for decades.
With that said, this piece is not about how successful or effective President Trump will or will not be. He may turn out to be a successful president, or he may turn out to be the Republican Jimmy Carter. However his presidency turns out. He is changing the game.
Traditionally high-ranking public figures have been careful about responding to bogus, unjustified or slanderous attacks. They might issue a lukewarm denial, or in extreme cases a strongly worded defense of their actions. Certainly there were some cases many people remember such as “I am not a crook,” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Still for the most part, responses to serious accusations, including totally false ones are limited and measured.
One reason for this hesitancy is the high standard of proof needed if a public figure wishes to challenge slanderous or defamatory comments legally. A public figure; politician, movie star, sports figure, or Kardashian; must prove the person making the comment knew it was untrue and made or published it for malicious reasons. On the other hand, if one average citizen makes defamatory comments about another, the injured party might only need to prove the comment was untrue and damaging.1
A second reason public figures normally ignore verbal and written attacks is the cure may be worse than the disease. For example, consider the following:
Several decades ago a U. S. Attorney was publicly accused of corruption and professional misconduct by a local newspaper. The attorney filed suit against the newspaper, eventually winning a cash settlement. He was able to show the newspaper published the allegations against him, knowing they were false, in an attempt to harm his career and political future.
One would think the attorney would be on cloud nine. He had a victory. He proved his case. He received a cash settlement from the paper. He had been cleared of any wrong doing in court. The reality was his victory in court was a classic example of winning the battle and losing the war.
Each time he took action to disprove the accusations, the newspaper was legally able to rerun them as part of the story that he was defending himself. The paper was legally able to publish the false accusations at least four times while the attorney was trying to defend himself. By the time the attorney proved his case and the paper paid the judgment against him, he was ruined politically and professionally.
A similar situation occurred a few years ago with a District Attorney in New York. In this case, another politician accused the attorney of obstruction of justice. The attorney fought back publicly and legally, winning a judgment against the local sheriff of all people. However, as with the case of the U. S. Attorney many years ago, this attorney’s political career was over.
Based on cases such as these, public figures are advised to minimize their response in situations of this nature. They are told to roll with the punches, and not engage in combat with the media. Obviously, Donald Trump does not believe in that strategy.
It is likely no one in the president’s family or administration is happy with his penchant for hitting back at critics through social media or verbal assaults. Under normal circumstances, such behavior is a classic mode of political suicide. For example, his social media slap at the couple who anchor a morning cable news show resulted in a new allegation against him, and a rehash of other questionable comments. Additionally, his behavior has the other side of the aisle calling for legislative action to remove him from office due to mental instability.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If President Trump continues to attack those who attack him, he runs the risk of jeopardizing his agenda and his reelection. The problem is that traditional political wisdom may be wrong in the current situation.
Many think the media is determined to attack him for anything he does. Given the nature of the political turmoil in the country at the moment, those who feel that way may have a point. Whether they are correct or not is in some ways, not the question. The question now is, what happens if the president’s strategy fails?
President Trump, by designs or temperament, has engaged in a battle with the news media in all its various forms. If he is able to prevail in this contest, he has set a new tone for politicians in the future. The old adage about not picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel will be a quaint saying from a bygone era. The president will have proved that in the age of the internet and social media, the media establishment is no longer invincible. If he loses, it is likely the future of politics and policy in the United States will be dictated by the media for the foreseeable future.
1. The issue is a bit more complex than one can explain in a paragraph, and OneOldCop is not a lawyer. For a better understanding of the issue, there are multiple online sources one can access for additional information.
© OneOldCop – 2017
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