Wednesday, January 04, 2017


On Monday night, House Republicans voted to end the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics. By yesterday morning there was already a tremendous amount of pressure on them to abandon this effort, as Carl Hulse of The New York Times acknowledges. Donald Trump then weighed in, and objected only to the timing of the change, not the substance, as Hulse also notes:
Deluged by angry phone calls and bad headlines, chagrined Republican officials say they were well on their way to abandoning the ethics revisions adopted Monday night in a closed-door party meeting before Mr. Trump weighed in via Twitter and suggested that the overhaul shouldn’t be a top priority, urging Republicans to focus instead on taxes and health care.
And yet here's how Hulse's story is teased on the Times front page:

As Greg Sargent points out, many mainstream-media headlines gave all or most of the credit for the reversal to Trump:
* CNN: “House Republicans pull plan to gut independent ethics committee after Trump tweets.”

* The Washington Post: “House Republicans back off gutting ethics watchdog after backlash from Trump.”

* Politico: “Trump tweets disapproval of GOP move to gut congressional ethics office.”

* Bloomberg: “House GOP reverses on ethics change after Trump criticism.” ...
In all likelihood, Trump will always get headlines like this, because American journalists love the Green Lantern theory of the presidency, and they think they finally have a Green Lantern president. Ezra Klein wrote this about the Green Lantern theory in 2014:
According to Brendan Nyhan, the Dartmouth political scientist who coined the term, the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency is "the belief that the president can achieve any political or policy objective if only he tries hard enough or uses the right tactics." In other words, the American president is functionally all-powerful, and whenever he can't get something done, it's because he's not trying hard enough, or not trying smart enough.

Nyhan further separates it into two variants: "the Reagan version of the Green Lantern Theory and the LBJ version of the Green Lantern Theory." The Reagan version, he says, holds that "if you only communicate well enough the public will rally to your side." The LBJ version says that "if the president only tried harder to win over congress they would vote through his legislative agenda."
LBJ seems like a Green Lantern president in retrospect, but as Klein notes, he had large congressional majorities, especially after the 1964 elections, and the opposition included many moderate and even liberal Republicans. Also, he came into office with a great amount of goodwill after the Kennedy assassination. He was a persuader, but at least in the early years of his presidency he never faced the united opposition Barack Obama and Bill Clinton experienced.

Trump's party is itching to get to work transferring money and power to the rich, and the president-elect is on board with that agenda, so there's inevitably going to be cooperation, sometimes, perhaps, after initial disagreements. The same goes for Trump and big business: Companies have applauded Trump as he boasted about saving American jobs in cases in which few jobs have actually been saved, or new job programs were in the works even before Trump's election -- and that's understandable, because these companies want the huge tax and regulatory breaks Trump and the congressional GOP promise.

But the press likes to believe that the Green Lantern approach is what gets the job done. Klein again:
Ron Fournier, a prominent Green Lantern theorist, offers a fairly typical prescription for presidential success:
He could talk to the media and the public more often with a more compelling and sustained message. He could build enduring relationships in Washington rather than being so blatantly transactional with his time. He could work harder, and with more empathy, on Capitol Hill to find "win-win" opportunities with Republicans.
Or he could send a couple of angry tweets, after which his apparent antagonists appear like putty in his hands, while the current crop of Ron Fourniers swoon.

With congressional Republicans and big business, Trump is pushing on an open door -- they're on his side already. I'm betting that China, North Korea, Iran, and ISIS won't be quite as willing to tremble before Trump's mighty tweets. But whenever Trump wants to seem like a superhero, in the domestic area at least, his allies will cooperate -- and the press will lap it up.


rclz said...

I almost don't care if Trump gets the headlines if we can push him to do what we want. For instance if all it takes is the public to raise hell about things like the ethics committee, how about when the congress tries to gut healthcare and medicare we do the same and see if we can't get Trump to want to grab the good headlines and be the good guy by either tweeting that Ryan's plan is BS or vetoing whatever bastard child of Ayran Rand he comes up with? If that's what it takes to get that insecure, ego manic to do what's right for the country so be it.

Professor Chaos said...

Jeezus, Kim Jong Un doesn't get press coverage this fawning!