Politics vs. policy: Trump uses ‘rotten fish’ to distract the media; execution of immigration change was flawed

Published 7:12 am Thursday, February 9, 2017


Contributing columnist

Donald Trump has some strong personality traits that are sometimes difficult to appreciate. One of the stronger quirks is his obsession with impulse comments. On the other hand, his base considers these comments part of his authenticity. After all, a political candidate who is not programmed by the polls is more authentic and interesting.

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Some people believe his impulses are a serious character flaw bound to get him in trouble in the long run; per this group, it’s just a matter of time. One wonders how speech became the determinant of someone’s character while in truth it’s actions that define character. People say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment that they don’t mean or they never intend to act on.

Alternatively, others detect a pattern and a rationale behind his “impulse comments.”  They ask: Are the tweet’s strategic?

A review of the topics raised by President Trump reveal many are targeted at sacred leftist politically incorrect issues. The comments are like a rotten fish waved before a pack of hounds, the hounds go berserk and follow the fish wherever it is trailed.

The reaction accomplishes two things for President Trump: It diverts the bloodhounds in the media from other issues and it puts a politically incorrect policy issue on the table. The media fuels the outrage over what “everyone” considers a taboo issue. However, most ordinary people, particularly those in the “fly-over” states, are well and truly fed up with political correctness, so the net effect is the media loses more credibility and President Trump gains support among his base.

A recent “rotten fish” concerns “widespread voter fraud” in the 2016 election. The accepted wisdom is illegal aliens don’t vote; so, Trump looks delusional or deceptive. The comment invites pursuit, but there are risks to the pursuers. He may have evidence. Or, it may be Trump’s WMD moment. Only time will tell.

The current outrage is Trump’s “ban on Muslim immigration” — except it is not a ban on Muslim immigration; it’s a temporary suspension of immigration from seven failed middle-eastern states that cannot, or will not, provide the US with the information necessary to vet the immigrants. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Indonesia are NOT on the list because they can and will provide the vetting information. By the way, President Obama took a similar position, for the same countries, and for the same reasons.

I have two problems with Trump’s handling of this issue. The roll-out was poorly handled. He should have taken his time, thoroughly explained the policy, and its history in the Obama administration. This would have made it more difficult to demonize the policy and given DHS more time to plan the implementation.

My second issue is he did not consult/involve Congress about what he was doing. He is using executive orders too liberally. It would be a good thing if Congress asserted its authority by passing restrictions on the president’s ability to use executive orders to circumvent Congress. This would be a good thing for the current administration and for succeeding administrations.

President Trump’s tweeting is a good way to raise difficult issues directly since it does not allow the media to adversely frame the issue before the public hears about it. On the other hand, it is not a useful way to roll out a new public policy. The groundwork for new policies should be carefully laid and the policy explained to avoid misinterpretation and confusion. Furthermore, over-use of such a strategy will render it useless and perhaps irritating.

Bob Martin is Emeritus Boles Professor of Economics at Centre College.