The “Toddler in Chief”: what Donald Trump teaches us about the presidency in modern the United States

Le «Bambin en Chef»: ce que Donald Trump nous enseigne sur la présidence moderne aux États-Unis

According to the political scientist Daniel Drezner, in order to understand the behaviour and temperament of the current president of the States, it is necessary to refer to this as the child psychology teaches us about the toddlers of 2 years. For the United States, this is not auspicious.

  • Daniel W. Drezner, The Toddler in Chief: What Donald Trump Teaches Us about the Modern Presidency, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2020.

I can already hear the critics. Another work done by a leftist amateur who recycles rumors to break sugar on the back of a president who has committed other misconduct that do not conform to the orthodoxy of the politicians, “normal”. Even a book of psychology to gogo to demolish a president who does his job well.

Not at all. It is a work rigorous and well-documented, the author of which is far from being a leftist. On the basis of testimonies of members of the entourage of the president, most given under the guise of anonymity, but several provided under oath and under penalty of perjury, Daniel Drezner provides a portrait of the devastating behavior and temperament of the president, which correspond in all points to those of a toddler of 2 years.

Daniel Drezner moves to the center right of the political spectrum. He was a republican until the appointment of Donald Trump to the presidency. He is a professor of political science, author of numerous books and articles on the foreign policy of the United States, among other topics, a columnist and prolific blogger at the Washington Post and — as its object of study — user strong Twitter. It is here that the book took birth, a little by accident.

A string of tweets

From the beginning of the mandate of Trump, the total absence of relevant experience, the behavior is unexpected and the explosive temper of the president was evident. Its advocates wanted to be reassuring by stressing repeatedly that Donald Trump would eventually gain maturity in his post (literally, grow into the presidency). After watching the new president and waited in vain for the surge of maturity, Daniel Dezner has published the tweet below, where he says, in substance, that he “believe that the Donald Trump has reached the maturity it takes to play his role of president when his staff will cease to be treated as a toddler (toddler)”.

Day after day, he continued to scrutinize the reports in the written press, to learn the testimonials similar and added them to the tweet initial to create a series of tweets that now counts more than 1300. I’ve already devoted a post to this thread’s epic tweets (when Twitter launches the “Toddler in Chief”, 13 October 2017). It was already pretty clear at this point that a book would follow. Drezner was completed in December 2019.

A book serious

This book, published in the prestigious Presses of the University of Chicago is far from a joke. Even if Daniel Drezner has a feather engaging, which makes the reading accessible to non-specialists, it defends a thesis well-argued and thoroughly documented, according to which the best model for understanding the behavior and temperament of the president, the Trump is that of a toddler of 2 years.

In the chapters that form the heart of the book, six traits of her character are peeled. All parents who have survived the “terrible twos” of their offspring will recognize these traits. In each case, the chapter is started with an excerpt of a manual pediatric for parents. Then, Drezner supports his thesis on of the many examples from good sources.

  • Angry outbursts (temper tantrums). According to the Academy of pediatricians, the toddler of 2 years old will tend to react to provocation by sudden anger. The episodes of anger of the president are so numerous that it is enough to type the words “Trump” and “rage” or “anger” on a search tool to see flood notices.
  • Short attention span. Everyone is aware of the inability of Trump-to-digest information on a sustained basis. It does not read memos longer than one page. After the first minute of a speech, it is no longer there. He received his briefings from national security to the spoon, mostly in the form of images.
  • Difficulty controlling his impulses. Some of the most important decisions of the presidency Trump have been taken under the influence of the impulse, without rational process of deliberation. Even if his disciples fans are convinced that he is a master of strategy, who plays “chess in three dimensions”, those who surround the president are formal: he has no sense of strategic planning and its actions are the result of first and foremost pulse is unpredictable.
  • Behavior oppositional. The behavior oppositional Trump is well documented. Above all, Trump defines his presidency in opposition to that of his predecessor. If Barack Obama took a position, Trump needs to go in the opposite direction (see my post: anti-Obama). If it is said that a gesture is in contravention to all the standards of the presidency, he perceives this as an encouragement to ask.
  • Deficit of knowledge. The american presidency is a position for which the person is not fully prepared. Most presidents can count on a past experience of public service or on a comprehensive knowledge of the history, constitutional law, economics or other relevant field. They come especially with the humility that allows you to be open to the expertise and learn. Donald Trump was elected to the presidency without concrete experience of public service or the military and, most importantly, displaying his monumental ignorance of the affairs of the State. The worst, according to Drezner, is that as a child of 2 years, he thinks he knows it all and refuses to admit this ignorance. When it is exposed to new facts for him, but as everyone knows, he insists to assign the discovery. Above all, even if his entourage remains appalled at his ignorance, he claims to know everything about everything. Tragically, this ignorance and refusal to admit his incompetence are now exposed to the great day in its management of the pandemic of COVID-19.
  • Screen time excessive. The pediatricians recommend to parents not to expose their toddler to the screens, but the president is a consumer compulsive television. He spends hours every day watching Fox News and the other networks of information and feedback to revel in all that concerned his own person. It is at this point glué on his screen that his advisors are sometimes reduced to pass their recommendations through interventions to Fox News.
  • And this is not all. Drezner also extends into the allure of Donald Trump for the toys and the distractions that accompany its function, its fixation on the military parades and other interests that are typical of a very young boy fascinated by machinery. He stressed his aversion to unusual foods and his appetite for fast food, its inability to manage changes in routine, his inability to compromise, and other traits typical of children 2 years of age.

A few lessons to be learned

Among the critics of the thesis, which he defended for a long time on Twitter and in his blog, the one to which Drezner give the least credit is the argument that Trump is a master of strategy hidden under her costume of a buffoon. The testimonies of his relatives are adamant it is false. A criticism that he accepts comes from those who accused him of being unjust to toddlers of two years. After all, the very great majority of children who exhibited these traits at the time of his swearing in today have five years or more and are out of the “terrible twos“. Donald Trump, himself, has not changed. It has not acquired the maturity that promised its apologists in 2017. Worse, he camped in his positions and has earned the insurance in his post, without necessarily mastering its scope and limits.

Drezner concludes on a somber warning. It is true that the presidency is not just about antics of the one who occupies the oval office. It is an institution that has many institutional constraints, we can compare it to the railings that line the roads are hazardous and which are the ultimate protection for the reckless drivers who lose control of their cars. To a large extent, these safeguards served their purpose avoiding the worst impulses of president Trump do not lead to the United States in a disaster.

We often speak, for example, “adults in the room” that surround the president and shall ensure that there exists a minimum of rationality in the actions of the administration. These adults, however, have mostly left the ship, and an entire chapter is devoted to the turnover of staff around Donald Trump, this toddler that no one is able to keep it under control. He must also worry about the erosion of most of the institutional safeguards that prevented its derailment turn into disaster. As already noted by other observers of his presidency, the erosion of these institutional safeguards represents a threat to the very survival of democracy in the United States.

Yet, the desire to “normalize” the behavior of the president Trump and see in it the expression of a new design more “modern” leadership and the presidency remains extremely strong. For republicans who have staked their political future on the cult of personality that has become the presidency, Trump and who are terrified to be themselves the target of his mood swings, it is too easy to rationalize the chaos of his administration, seeing in it a questioning of orthodoxy. In fact, toddlers are far better at destroying structures as complex as the rebuild and the work of Trump will be measured mainly by its success in weakening the american federal government.

Trump at the end of his chance

Of course, note Drezner, Donald Trump has been exceptionally lucky. He inherited a strong economy, and has driven blows of the deficits of gargantuan who maintain their illusions of success. Last December, his concern was vivid: “If one relies on the behavior of Trump as catalogued in this book, the prospect of a Trump to manage a real crisis—a terrorist attack, a global pandemic, a true confrontation with China – is truly frightening.” (p. 172) This pandemic, Americans live today and the management that, in fact, Donald Trump is actually frightening.

Drezner concludes with a warning to his fellow citizens (p. 178): “Donald Trump will not change. Expect that it acquires the maturity is a chimera.” If he was re-elected in 2020, this would mean that “the american electorate is suffering from a developmental delay as sharp as their 45th president. The toddler-in-chief, it will be us.”

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