I am not a Trump supporter and all my cognitive biases mobilized to stop me from writing this article but my desire to be unbiased and speak the truth plainly won the battle in the end. President Trump just showed America his true potential as a unique leader in his first unscripted truly presidential moment and I believe he deserves kudos for that. On Wednesday, February 28th, 2018, he brought together bipartisan lawmakers to the White House to discuss taking concrete actions to reduce the incidents of school shootings in America. It was revolutionary and here are some of the reasons I think so:
First – it allowed a revealing look at our politicians and their politicking
He had an entire one hour long, relatively informal discussion with key lawmakers on both sides of congress about the gun violence issue in a transparent manner in front of the media. Wow. This allowed the American public to see our politicians in an unscripted format discussing directly with the president about how to make our schools safer from mass shooters. I found it revealing in the same way reality TV provides a public peak into the private lives of people and their interactions. I saw aspects of their personalities, thinking and communication styles, quirks, and characters that could only be unmasked by the right dose of tension and spontaneity created through the bizarre political alchemy of Donald Trump at the helm with the cameras rolling.
I saw aspects of their personalities, thinking and communication styles, quirks, and characters that could only be unmasked by the right dose of tension and spontaneity created through the bizarre political alchemy of Donald Trump at the helm with the cameras rolling.
I noticed the nervous and fidgety fingers and hands of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that seemed to accentuate when Trump talked tough on bump stocks. I noticed Sen. Diane Feinstein’s (D-CA) modest and respectful attitude towards the president and how contagiously joyful she was when the president’s suggested that Feinstein’s proposal for an assault weapons ban should be added to a bipartisan gun reform bill sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Feinstein honestly seemed equally happy that the two parties were going to collaborate for once as she was that her proposal was being considered. With Trump playing part therapist and part master facilitator with the media spotlights shining brightly I could see how genuinely passionate and emotional Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was about the dangers of childhood exposure to extreme violence through television and video games. It was all very revealing, but I may have learned more about Trump than anyone else during the meeting.
Second – doing it with the cameras rolling was a strategic way to pressure a compromise
Having the pressure of the public media present while having this critical discussion was a strategic move by the president as a method to prod bipartisan agreement between polarized actors. Trump adeptly exploited this unique circumstance by putting many politicians on the spot to make decisions that would be hard to backtrack on after public agreement. This was a smart technique as many politicians are averse to appear unreasonable or unable to compromise in front of the public, particularly with new elections looming. For example, he put Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on the spot asking if he would be open to integrating other proposals (including democratic ones) into his bill to make it more “comprehensive”. Trump started off by using a technique from Persuasion 101 by first strategically praising Sen. Cornyn’s proposed bill and then added that, “it would be nice if we could add everything on to it,” in reference to raising the minimum age for purchasing an AR-15 from 18 to 21, amongst other proposals. While Trump was touting why he prefers comprehensive bills over a bunch of separate focused bills, Trump periodically lightly patted Sen. Cornyn on his arm in a reassuring gesture that seemed to invisibly communicate, “its ok to be open to this.” Was this one of Trump’s covert “deal making” skills working for the benefit of our country, bridging a partisan divide live in front of the cameras? Interesting.
Trump periodically lightly patted Sen. Cornyn on his arm in a reassuring gesture that seemed to invisibly communicate, “its ok to be open to this.” Was this one of Trump’s covert “deal making” skills working for the benefit of our country, bridging a partisan divide live in front of the cameras? Interesting.
Third – Trump’s openness and sensitivity to points made by both sides was stunning
I’ve never been a fan of Donald Trump. In fact, I was a Bernie supporter and have always been a fan of Obama. But, I was absolutely impressed with Trump’s flexibility and ability to hear and appreciate different points of view. His use of body language and unique communications to surreptitiously enable the different sides to be more flexible and open stunned me, and likely stunned many others present in the meeting. He was in rare form. In fact, he even seemed kind, thoughtful, and respectful – aspects that were antithetical to my conceptions of him. For me, that was shocking and showed me a side of Donald Trump I didn’t know could exist and I even considered the possibility that he could change for the better. Part of me hated that I liked him during these discussions. Was this the Trump Kellyanne Conway fell in love with?
Part of me hated that I liked him during these discussions. Was this the Trump Kellyanne Conway fell in love with?
Fourth – he spoke truth to power
It was unbelievable. He literally told Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) to his face that he’s “afraid of the NRA” and then mildly chuckled smugly. He referred to the lawmakers present when he matter-of-factly stated, “Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified.” He proclaimed in that the NRA, “has great power. They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it. What do I need?” He even brought the NRA down to earth, making them appear feebler – being led by three ordinary men that Trump called by their first names stating, “I had lunch with them – with Wayne and Chris and David, on Sunday.” He directly told the NRA leadership over the lunch, “We got to stop this nonsense! It’s time.” This is the kind of systemic shake up that comes from the intrepid ability to speak truth to power. Trump’s unpolished, un-phony, and direct manner can stimulate the conditions for real systemic changes in our country. What types of changes will be stimulated remains to be seen.
It was unbelievable. He literally told Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) to his face that he’s “afraid of the NRA” and then mildly chuckled smugly.
Fifth– he showed true leadership
It is a well-known fact that a healthy dose of confidence makes a speaker more persuasive and is key to leadership. Trump’s confidence in the past has manifested primarily as arrogance and self-absorption. But now, I honestly believe that all the intensive public scrutiny and criticism of both his character and decisions, combined with the existential fear of having a constant dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over him while the FBI investigation continues, has led Trump to be a bit more introspective and humble. This has indeed impacted him, and that impact seems to be growing in visibility in his public appearances over the last few months. This has even led many to begin to feel sorry for him, seeing him as a victim of fake news, conspiracy, and other hate or bias. The humbling and increased self-reflection Trump has garnered from these trials and tribulations seemed to culminate during this meeting on gun violence. His tempered confidence was just right for real leadership.
The fact is Donald Trump is growing and changing as a human being, as we all do. It’s not really that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it’s just harder…but possible. He admits himself that he is learning. After all, “he’s new at this.”
As the great pendulum that represents our nation swings from Bush to Obama to Trump, we must learn and adapt as much as possible from both the good and the bad experiences, for this is where we truly derive our greatness.
This all being said, Mueller’s investigation continues, and President Trump and his administration are facing exponential existential crises daily. As the great pendulum that represents our nation swings from Bush to Obama to Trump, we must learn and adapt as much as possible from both the good and the bad experiences, for this is where we truly derive our greatness. This is the fount of wisdom that drives all great societies to continue to grow, improve, and serve as a beacon of light to the world. I didn’t write this article because I now think Trump is great or that he has made America great again, but I feel morally compelled to say when he acts great, and that day was Wednesday.