Donald Trump will never be an “engaged” president in the ways most Americans expect and demand. It’s not because he is unwilling, though he is. It’s because he lacks the intelligence, integrity, and character necessary to engage in the awesome responsibilities America trusts to presidents, and because he has spent 40 years very publicly flaunting his personal shortcomings.
Journalists and media analysts are desperate to provide evenhanded, fair-minded assessments of Trump’s conduct of the presidency. In a normal presidency, images and a few well-chosen words are usually enough to signal to one and all that a capable and powerful leader is devoting his ability and influence to solving or healing or even just coping on behalf of his country. This is so because those worthy of the office have also established reputations for seriousness and public service.
Donald Trump has a very well-established reputation. Anyone not living under a rock for the past 40 years knows that Donald Trump is decidedly un-serious and that his energies and loyalties are entirely self-directed. This is a man born with a $200 million trust fund who has used his money and his intense selfishness to fail upward in life.
The salient point here is that no emergency or crisis will help The Donald “pivot” toward seriousness. Superficial signs of presidential engagement (which are really the only logistically feasible signs a president can send the public most of the time) only reassure the American people when the president has established a reputation as a good and capable leader. America knows that Donald Trump is a terrible leader with limited capabilities, which is why no photo-op or well-read statement will ever be enough to erase Trump’s well-earned and highly publicized reputation for immaturity, dishonesty, and incivility.
The fact that an honest assessment of Donald Trump’s conduct as president forecloses the possibility of a substantively positive assessment without drastically reducing the standards by which we measure presidential performance has to be honestly admitted and dealt with.
Trump is a failed human being in almost every respect. Pretending that he might “grow” into the toughest job on earth is moronic. Pretending that the signs of engagement that signaled confidence and competence in past presidencies can be interpreted similarly during the Trump presidency is not useful and may even be dangerous.