Politics & Policy

The Breitbart Presidency

President Donald Trump answers questions about Charlottesville, August 15, 2017. (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)
Donald Trump is slip-sliding toward a crisis of legitimacy.

If Van Jones was right that a moving tribute to the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL in a speech to Congress earlier this year was the moment Donald Trump became president, Trump’s news conference on Tuesday was the moment he became a Breitbart contributing editor.

Charlottesville has been a diminishing event for President Trump. He has been unable to summon the moral authority of his office, even though this wasn’t a difficult test.

It doesn’t take political skill or crisis-management ability to show largeness of heart. Future historians will marvel that one of the most damaging events in the early Trump administration came in a botched response to a neo-Nazi rally. Even Jake and Elwood Blues could have gotten this right.

Over the past few days, Trump hasn’t spoken as the leader of the country, or even leader of one party, but as a leader of an inflamed faction. This is why it was almost unthinkable that he would give a unifying talk, as any other president would, at the funeral of Heather Heyer, the young woman slain in the vehicular attack by an “alt-right” protester.

Trump’s sensibility is highly unusual for a politician — let alone for the leader of the free world — but very familiar from the internet or social media. As his Trump Tower news conference in the wake of Charlottesville showed, his level of argument is at the level of a good Breitbart blogger. He would absolutely kill it in the comments section of a right-wing website or trolling a journalist.

Moreover, it appears that he’s happy for his presidency — to paraphrase adviser Steve Bannon’s notorious description of Breitbart — to be a platform for the “alt-right” and in exactly the same sense. Trump doesn’t want his administration actually to be “alt-right.” But he is keenly aware of the political energy in the fever swamp. He learned this during his time as a birther and during a campaign when sundry haters, s***posters, trolls, and bots provided air cover. So he wants to do the minimum necessary to distance himself from it and the maximum possible to associate himself with it.

This would explain his shockingly conflicted reaction to Charlottesville. Some of his sentiments — including the contention that there were “fine people” protesting alongside the Nazis — would be outrageous enough if uttered by the proverbial blogger rather than a man standing in front of a lectern affixed with the presidential seal of the United States.

Trump’s news conference was a tour de force of “whataboutism,” one of the most important rhetorical tools of the pro-Trump internet. The “alt-right” marched on Charlottesville? Well, what about the “alt-left”? Robert E. Lee’s statue is coming down? Well, what about George Washington? It’s not that these aren’t legitimate points. They are. But they were used, as whataboutism so often is, as cover for Trump’s failings and to obscure rather than sharpen distinctions.

Charlottesville highlights how the problem with Trump is not the crudity of his expression. This, at times, can be part of his charm and makes him a distinctively powerful communicator. It’s the crudity of thought and feeling. These qualities can’t be dismissed in an office whose occupant is supposed to represent the nation.

The media coverage of Trump has been consistently catastrophist since January. Whenever there is an outrage, pundits talk as though it’s the end of his presidency. This is too dire. So long as Trump has the right enemies, namely the mainstream media and PC culture, there is a floor to his political support. But he is slip-sliding toward a crisis of legitimacy. This is the significance of the dissolution of his business councils. It’s not unthinkable, should this trajectory continue, that a time could come when some Republican officeholders refuse to visit the White House.

If they wouldn’t feel comfortable at the Breitbart editorial offices, why would they want to show up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

    READ MORE:

    Steve Bannon is Out

    Charlottesville and Identity Politics

    How Trump Mishandled Charlottesville

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2017 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More