{{featured_button_text}}

Donald Trump has converted me into an unrepentant and unwavering conservative.

No, I haven’t started wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat or acquired other Trumpian paraphernalia. I’ve become a conservative in an institutional rather than ideological sense.

All the president’s norm-breaking and tradition-tossing make this nonpartisan White House watcher yearn for the past, when time-honored customs and practices helped shape the conduct of this nation’s chief executive.

Reverence for the office and what it represents in the U.S. and abroad should never be lost, regardless of the person who calls 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. home at a given time.

Trump is fond of saying he’s “unconventional.” His unconventionality, however, extends far beyond policymaking or day-to-day governing, leading to a lamentable judgment. His unscripted public statements, rally orations and Twitter tantrums transport him to a domain far, far away, beyond the sphere where he could be any kind of role model for the young or a premier symbol of America to the world.

The former reality-television star often sounds like a radio shock jock, with outbursts of blue language reddening the faces of countless parents with children nearby. We’ll refrain from quoting examples to maintain journalistic decorum and also avoid citing nasty nicknames he employs for perceived adversaries.

But it’s not just his out-of-bounds language weaponized with poison-tipped insults. Trump treats other institutions of American democracy — the intelligence community, the bureaucracy, the Federal Reserve Board, the judiciary, journalism and others — with disdain, whenever he’s infuriated with an action, decision or story.

Rather than the “America First” philosophy he advanced in his inaugural address, it seems closer to a “Trump First” orientation. He referred to a section of the Constitution as the “phony emoluments clause,” the implication being that it shouldn’t apply to him.

Once more, call me conservative, but the Constitution sets forth government practices and should have meaning for every American, whether in power or not. Beyond that, when collaboration among institutions, critical for executive branch leadership, becomes subordinate to a my-way-or-the-highway mentality, constant friction results. Nothing gets accomplished.

Register for more free articles
Stay logged in to skip the surveys

At a recent rally in Dallas, the president resuscitated a comic routine from his 2016 campaign to poke fun at the office he occupies. Appearing before a crowd of 20,000 supporters, Trump claimed that “being presidential is easy. All you have to do is act like a stiff.”

The shtick of the stereotypical stiff turned a sitting president into a would-be actor, playing at being a conventional speaker with robotic gestures and pedestrian phrases. “Ladies and gentlemen of Texas, it is a great honor to be with you this evening,” he intoned to begin the little skit.

Somehow or other, as far as I’m concerned, Theodore or Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan don’t deserve to be mocked for their public speeches, and neither do several immediate successors to George Washington. The alleged gag reduced respect for previous occupants of the White House, showing a president more interested in entertaining an assemblage of admirers than governing the country’s citizenry.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

It’s possible that Trump is such an outsize personality that the presidency will return to normal — with expected behavior and practices observed — when the next president is inaugurated. But in today’s political and media environment, that prospect isn’t certain.

In a new book, I propose the creation of what’s called a “Council of Presidents” to bring together former presidents and the incumbent in occasional meetings to discuss issues or problems facing the nation. Whether Trump or another Trump-like president would ever take time to meet with this informal council is doubtful. But this type of council would provide the highest federal officeholder with advice from veterans of Oval Office decision-making.

The objective in establishing such an advisory board would be to foster stronger connections between the institution’s past and present, providing greater continuity within the presidency itself. Moreover, the bipartisan nature of the group might signal to the public the significance of working together in hopes of decreasing the political polarization so debilitating today.

As the 2020 campaign moves into high gear, is it too much to expect the presidential aspirants to be avowedly old school in how they view and approach this republic’s most powerful — and symbolic — elective position?

Norms, customs and traditions deserve renewal and restoration in the opinion of this “conservative.” All of us forfeit a share of America’s democratic heritage when historic practices no longer have meaning — or become cheap punchlines for someone attempting to entertain an audience.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Robert Schmuhl is a professor emeritus of American studies and journalism at the University of Notre Dame and the author of “The Glory and the Burden: The American Presidency from FDR to Trump.”

1
1
1
0
1

Load comments