The Monday Morning Teaser

Like a lot of the media, I struggle with how to avoid normalizing Trump’s behavior. He’s been behaving this way consistently for three years, so on that time scale whatever he’s doing today is normal; it’s what we’ve come to expect from him. And yet, I think it’s important never to lose sight of just how abnormal Trump’s behavior is: Presidents do not act this way, and we hope they will never act this way again after he leaves office.

His recent behavior regarding Iran — not just the Soleimani assassination itself, but the way he and his administration have presented it — has been extremely unpresidential: self-aggrandizing, partisan, and disrespectful to Congress, to our allies, to the previous administration, and to any American who was not part of the 46% who voted for him. But after three years of similar behavior, how can I express the abnormality of it all?

This week I decided to take a history tour to remind us all what “presidential” has meant until now. I went back to FDR’s speech after Pearl Harbor, and looked at the subsequent history of presidents talking to the nation about major military moves: JFK’s Cuban Missile Crisis speech, Eisenhower announcing the Korean armistice, George W. Bush telling us that our Air Force had started bombing Afghanistan, Barack Obama announcing that Osama bin Laden was dead, and several others. (I found examples from every modern president but Ford.) Those speeches all demonstrate a particular tone that defines “presidential” and exemplify an attitude that we have come to expect from our leaders.

Until now. Trump is such an abrupt departure from the established pattern that the differences stand out immediately. (LBJ’s Gulf of Tonkin speech, for example, was just a few months before the 1964 election, but Johnson is this non-partisan: “Just a few minutes ago, I was able to reach Senator Goldwater, and I am glad to say that he has expressed his support of the statement that I am making to you tonight.” Imagine Trump reaching out for support to some Democratic leader, and mentioning that fact to the public.) When we call him “unpresidential”, it’s not just an insult; it’s an objective observation.

Anyway, that post — currently titled “Remember Normal Presidents?” — should be out around 11 EST. The weekly summary, which will cover the more immediate Iran news, impeachment, tomorrow’s Democratic debate, and a number of other things before closing with some amazing wool-based animation, should be out between noon and 1.

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