Trump: The Hedgehog President

In their book Presidential Greatness political scientists Marc Landy and Sidney Milkis argue that the success of a president rests on his ability to “engage the nation in its struggle for its constitutional soul.” Moreover, they posit that a great president is he who is able to “stage a conservative revolution” that brings about change and establishes a lasting legacy. A “conservative revolution” in this context is to be understood as significant progress within the bounds of the Constitution and not as a political ideology in itself.

Formulated and published at the very turn of the 21st century, these standards of greatness are perhaps more valid today as they have ever been in the history of the United States. And as America stands in the threshold of the Trump Era, we hope that the incoming president meets, at least halfway, the measure of the stature of the aforementioned standards.

Whereas Donald Trump was able to effectively engage the nation on the campaign trail under the centerpiece banner “Make America Great Again”, his ability to do so as sitting President of the United States will require much more than a well-fashioned political slogan. Yet if Trump is able to bring to bear the renaissance-like essence of his central message his could be a presidency of self-evident relative greatness.

Now, what does it mean to “Make America Great Again”? It begins by leaving behind the “leading from behind” brand of leadership that President Obama wore and still wears as the badge of honor of his presidency. Needless to say, thanks to Trump’s victory, that badge is wearing and irreversibly tearing, once and for all this coming January.

Interestingly enough, Obama himself contributed to Trump’s ability to erode his “leading from behind” badge. He did this by governing in great measure through executive orders, orders that can and, in Obama’s case, most likely will end up being annulled by the power of the pen.

But that, after all, is the nontransformational nature of most of the changes Obama brought about. To his chagrin, the political winds have blown in a rightward direction and the wide brush dripping in red that is held by the president-elect will efface the blue coats he passionately stroked onto the international and domestic canvasses; strokes illustrating extremely liberal stanzas that ironically enough will come to a full stop as an unconventional conservative song starts to be sung.

Albeit well intentioned and eloquently articulated, Obama’s stanzas have lacked a cohesive leitmotif capable of intertwining its many intricate parts into a functional whole. In other words, Obama has behaved like the fox that the Ancient Greek poet Archilochus compared to the hedgehog in the following fragment:

“The fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing… There exists a great chasm between those, on the one hand, who relate everything to a single central vision… a single universal organizing principle... and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unconnected and even contradictory.”

Obama’s “pursuing many ends” style of governing has not necessarily panned out. Trump’s “single universal organizing principle” of “Making American Great Again” could very well turn him into the big-picture, goal-oriented, engaging-beyond-lecturing hedgehog president that this country needs after eight years of foxlike thinking in the White House.

This possibility has yet to meet the resistance of Washington and, worse still, Trump’s own inflated ego. The former will be fierce, but not insurmountable. The latter is the one Trump must fear and work on the most taming it with wisdom and self-awareness, seeking counsel on a daily basis. Failure to do so will sooner or later cause his own persona to backfire on him. Hence, he should learn to be meek and even, at least every now and then, turn the other cheek.

In Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, played by the late actor Richard Harris, asked himself how he would be remembered. “How will the world speak my name in years to come? Will I be known as the philosopher? The warrior? The tyrant...? Or will I be the emperor who gave Rome back her true self?” He said this because Rome had become too bureaucratic, proud and aloof from the matters affecting its citizenry. Such is, in a sense and to a certain degree, the predicament affecting the USA nowadays.

Marcus Aurelius wanted to make Rome great again by restoring the republican system or what is otherwise known as a government of the people, for the people and by the people. But he feared this would not come to pass when his efforts met the force of the political status quo. Reflecting on this matter, he said, “There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter.”  

The idea of “Making America Great Again” is like that whisper even when the whisperer has been elected President of the United States. Making the whisper a reality without it vanishing will require keeping the whisperer grounded, focused, and accountable lest he become conquered by the office he has conquered or get blinded by the power that now binds him. To steer clear from the manacles of the latter, Donald Trump must govern by understanding that he is to be a great president for the people as opposed to a president who thinks himself great and in actuality, falls short of the standards for presidential greatness, especially in matters of personal character.

Jonathan D’Oleo is an author and speaker trained in economics and political science in the US and the UK.

In their book Presidential Greatness political scientists Marc Landy and Sidney Milkis argue that the success of a president rests on his ability to “engage the nation in its struggle for its constitutional soul.” Moreover, they posit that a great president is he who is able to “stage a conservative revolution” that brings about change and establishes a lasting legacy. A “conservative revolution” in this context is to be understood as significant progress within the bounds of the Constitution and not as a political ideology in itself.

Formulated and published at the very turn of the 21st century, these standards of greatness are perhaps more valid today as they have ever been in the history of the United States. And as America stands in the threshold of the Trump Era, we hope that the incoming president meets, at least halfway, the measure of the stature of the aforementioned standards.

Whereas Donald Trump was able to effectively engage the nation on the campaign trail under the centerpiece banner “Make America Great Again”, his ability to do so as sitting President of the United States will require much more than a well-fashioned political slogan. Yet if Trump is able to bring to bear the renaissance-like essence of his central message his could be a presidency of self-evident relative greatness.

Now, what does it mean to “Make America Great Again”? It begins by leaving behind the “leading from behind” brand of leadership that President Obama wore and still wears as the badge of honor of his presidency. Needless to say, thanks to Trump’s victory, that badge is wearing and irreversibly tearing, once and for all this coming January.

Interestingly enough, Obama himself contributed to Trump’s ability to erode his “leading from behind” badge. He did this by governing in great measure through executive orders, orders that can and, in Obama’s case, most likely will end up being annulled by the power of the pen.

But that, after all, is the nontransformational nature of most of the changes Obama brought about. To his chagrin, the political winds have blown in a rightward direction and the wide brush dripping in red that is held by the president-elect will efface the blue coats he passionately stroked onto the international and domestic canvasses; strokes illustrating extremely liberal stanzas that ironically enough will come to a full stop as an unconventional conservative song starts to be sung.

Albeit well intentioned and eloquently articulated, Obama’s stanzas have lacked a cohesive leitmotif capable of intertwining its many intricate parts into a functional whole. In other words, Obama has behaved like the fox that the Ancient Greek poet Archilochus compared to the hedgehog in the following fragment:

“The fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing… There exists a great chasm between those, on the one hand, who relate everything to a single central vision… a single universal organizing principle... and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unconnected and even contradictory.”

Obama’s “pursuing many ends” style of governing has not necessarily panned out. Trump’s “single universal organizing principle” of “Making American Great Again” could very well turn him into the big-picture, goal-oriented, engaging-beyond-lecturing hedgehog president that this country needs after eight years of foxlike thinking in the White House.

This possibility has yet to meet the resistance of Washington and, worse still, Trump’s own inflated ego. The former will be fierce, but not insurmountable. The latter is the one Trump must fear and work on the most taming it with wisdom and self-awareness, seeking counsel on a daily basis. Failure to do so will sooner or later cause his own persona to backfire on him. Hence, he should learn to be meek and even, at least every now and then, turn the other cheek.

In Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, played by the late actor Richard Harris, asked himself how he would be remembered. “How will the world speak my name in years to come? Will I be known as the philosopher? The warrior? The tyrant...? Or will I be the emperor who gave Rome back her true self?” He said this because Rome had become too bureaucratic, proud and aloof from the matters affecting its citizenry. Such is, in a sense and to a certain degree, the predicament affecting the USA nowadays.

Marcus Aurelius wanted to make Rome great again by restoring the republican system or what is otherwise known as a government of the people, for the people and by the people. But he feared this would not come to pass when his efforts met the force of the political status quo. Reflecting on this matter, he said, “There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter.”  

The idea of “Making America Great Again” is like that whisper even when the whisperer has been elected President of the United States. Making the whisper a reality without it vanishing will require keeping the whisperer grounded, focused, and accountable lest he become conquered by the office he has conquered or get blinded by the power that now binds him. To steer clear from the manacles of the latter, Donald Trump must govern by understanding that he is to be a great president for the people as opposed to a president who thinks himself great and in actuality, falls short of the standards for presidential greatness, especially in matters of personal character.

Jonathan D’Oleo is an author and speaker trained in economics and political science in the US and the UK.