Wednesday 26th May 2021

by Patrick Sullivan, Chairman and Chief Executive of Parliament Street

“Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the holy cross. I will not say it shall be so, but rather I will say: here in this world he changed his life. But many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic jacet Arthurus, Rex quondam, Rexque futurus.

–     Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur (1485)

“Though Merlin sware that I should come again

To rule once more; but, let what will be, be”

–     Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King (1859)

“I learned a lot about myself during these hard times; I learned about handling pressure. I was able to home in, buckle down, get back to the basics, and make things work. I worked much harder. I focused, and got myself out of a box. Don’t get me wrong – there were moments of doubt, but I never thought in negative terms. I believe in positive thought and positive thinking.

I learned a lot about loyalty – who was and who wasn’t. There were people that I would have guaranteed would have stuck by me who didn’t, and, on the other hand people who I had made who when it came time to help me, didn’t lift a finger.”

–     Donald J. Trump, The Art of the Comeback (1997)

In 1997, Donald J. Trump published his third book, The Art of The Comeback. Now, in 2021, President Trump is making plans for the greatest comeback in political history, as he seeks to join fellow New Yorker Grover Cleveland in the ranks of those holding the presidency of the United States for two non-consecutive terms. Prior to the pandemic it appeared that President Trump was bound to win a landslide re-election in November 2020 on the back of a booming economy. The pandemic changed everything. Joe Biden’s American Grandpa offered the electorate the empathy they were yearning for. President Trump could not provide this whilst at the same time as presenting the most positive face possible given the circumstances, so as to reassure the markets and to ensure that further uncertainty didn’t cause a financial collapse in the midst of a global pandemic.

            Donald J. Trump also wanted to make Americans smile in what was a dark and difficult time for everyone and that meant presenting a sunny demeanor even when he literally had the weight of the world on his shoulders. I for one was immensely grateful that President Trump, who throughout his career has often played along with jokes at his own expense, made the comments which were interpreted as him asking whether there would be a way to inject something with the properties of bleach into the body to clean out the virus. Trump says the comments were delivered in jest and looking at the results they were extraordinary.

By putting himself out there as the butt of the bleach joke, Donald Trump managed to break the tension caused by the pandemic and bring joy to so many people who had been having trouble finding reasons to smile. This was that rare moment in history where most of the world was engaged in a collective chuckle crossing language and cultural barriers. Laughter it is said is the best medicine and with little regard to the personal and political cost, President Trump administered the treatment. It would have been difficult to provide both optimism and empathy in the moment. Trump provided the optimism to get through the worst of the crisis and Biden was elected to give the American people the collective hug they needed after the worst was over.

          With Trump out-of-office some might forget how he got there in the first place. In 2016 voters in Britain and America had had enough. The 21st century had begun – 9/11, the War on Terror, the war in Iraq, the Great Recession, austerity, the Syrian refuge crisis and the rise of ISIS – it had been non-stop since September 2001. Every time you turned on the news it was depressing. Then you had Trump who suddenly did what the War on Terror could not – deprived the terrorists of their most effective tool – the oxygen of publicity. Trump destroyed ISIS by depriving them of airtime – that was not his strategy but Trump provided a spectacle that drove cable news ratings higher than that of “terror porn” of the preceding decade and a half. When America voted for Trump, they voted to change the channel from what had preceded it and who offered better television than Donald J. Trump.

         Donald J. Trump may not be a trained psychologist but he understands his audience. Unfortunately, the media did not give him the credit he deserved for keeping America calm during the crisis. They roundly criticised his long press conferences after the medical experts had said their part and imparted the information they needed to impart. Receiving this information although important caused heightened agitation and anxiety amongst the audience. President Trump instinctively knew that the audience, for the good of their mental health, needed to decompress after assimilating the necessary information. Using the power of the bully pulpit he split the White House coronavirus briefings into two. The first part of the briefing would be focused on imparting information where the American people would learn what they needed to, even though the receipt of this information caused agitation and anxiety within them. The second part of the briefing forced the American people to decompress by watching an episode of Celebrity President after the briefing part of the briefing. This meant that by the end of the White House briefing the American people had all the information they needed but their anxiety and agitation had in large measure dissipated, meaning they were not taking their frustrations out on themselves or their loved ones after the briefing.

          Having a pit stop between presidencies might behoove Donald J. Trump well. By most accounts he is looking rested and recharged having enjoyed the bright Florida Sun for the last four months.  President Biden is going to have a tough time of it, as the post-Covid world looks increasingly perilous. This means that it is likely he will be running for re-election with the political headwinds against him, just as they were for him this year. This will be especially true if the economy goes south. These problems, which in fairness, for the most part, are not of Biden’s own making, would have been Trump’s problems had he been the one sworn in on 20th January. President Trump would have received the blame for all of it. It is much harder for his opponents to blame him when it is their man sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

          As Donald J. Trump is the overwhelming prohibitive favourite for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, he would be well advised to do sit back and watch events unfold, whilst allowing the public a hiatus from The Trump Show.  As anyone involved in the production of television would tell you, you don’t want to overexploit a popular program.  For the past five years, cable news in the United States has been Trump 24/7. In Britain, before the pandemic, when the headlines weren’t about Brexit, they were about Trump. On occasion you had perfect media synergy between the two biggest stories of the day and the headlines were not about Brexit or Trump but Brexit and Trump! The Trump Show, even his fiercest critics would admit, has been a ratings bonanza.  Just as The Apprentice had hiatuses between seasons, so too must the electorate have a hiatus from President Trump if he is to mount a successful comeback in politics.

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