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HomeCharles KrauthammerTweets and theater entertain, but Congress is the main event

Tweets and theater entertain, but Congress is the main event

The most amusing part of the Trump transition has been watching its effortless confounding of the media, often in fewer than 140 characters. One morning, after a Fox News report on lefty nuttiness at some obscure New England college — a flag-burning that led a more-contemptible-than-usual campus administration to take down the school’s own American flag — Donald Trump tweets that flag burners should go to jail or lose their citizenship.

An epidemic of constitutional chin tugging and civil libertarian hair pulling immediately breaks out. By the time the media have exhausted their outrage over the looming abolition of free speech, judicial supremacy and affordable kale, Trump has moved on. The tempest had a shorter half-life than the one provoked in August 2015 by a Trump foray into birthright citizenship.

Trump so thoroughly owns the political stage today that the word “Clinton” seems positively quaint and Barack Obama, who happens to be president of the United States, is totally irrelevant. Obama gave a major national security address on Tuesday. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s son got more attention.

Trump has mesmerized the national media not just with his elaborate Cabinet-selection production, by now Broadway-ready. But with a cluster of equally theatrical personal interventions that by traditional standards seem distinctly unpresidential.

It’s a matter of size. They seem small for a president. Preventing the shutdown of a Carrier factory in Indiana. Announcing, in a contextless 45-second surprise statement, a major Japanese investment in the U.S. Calling for cancellation of the new Air Force One to be built by Boeing.

Pretty small stuff. It has the feel of a Cabinet undersecretary haggling with a contractor or a state governor drumming up business on a Central Asian trade mission. Or of candidate Trump selling Trump Steaks and Trump wine in that bizarre victory speech after the Michigan primary.

Presidents don’t normally do such things. It shrinks them. But then again, Trump is not yet president. And the point here is less the substance than the symbolism.

The Carrier coup was meant to demonstrate the kind of concern for the working man that gave Trump the Rust Belt victories that carried him to the presidency. The Japanese SoftBank announcement was a down payment on his promise to be the “the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” (A slightly dubious claim: After all, how instrumental was Trump to that investment? Surely a financial commitment of that magnitude would have been planned long before Election Day.) And Boeing was an ostentatious declaration that he would be the zealous guardian of government spending that you would expect from a crusading outsider.

What appears as random Trumpian impulsiveness has a logic to it. It’s a continuation of the campaign. Trump is acutely sensitive to his legitimacy problem, as he showed in his tweet claiming to have actually won the popular vote, despite trailing significantly in the official count. His best counter is approval ratings. In August, the Bloomberg poll had him at 33 percent. He’s now up to 50 percent. Still nowhere near Obama’s stratospheric 79 percent at this point in 2008, but a substantial improvement nonetheless.

The mini-interventions are working, but there’s a risk for Trump in so personalizing his coming presidency. It’s a technique borrowed from Third World strongmen who specialize in demonstrating their personal connection to the ordinary citizen. In a genuine democracy, however, the endurance of any political support depends on the larger success of the country. And that doesn’t come from Carrier-size fixes. It comes from policy — policy that fundamentally changes the structures and alters the trajectory of the nation.

“I alone can fix it,” Trump ringingly declared in his Republican National Convention speech. Indeed, alone he can do Carrier and SoftBank and Boeing. But ultimately he must deliver on tax reform, health care, economic growth and nationwide job creation. That requires Congress.

The 115th is Republican and ready to push through the legislation that gives life to the promises. On his part, Trump needs to avoid needless conflict. The Republican leadership has already signaled strong opposition on some issues, such as tariffs for job exporters. Nonetheless, there is enough common ground between Trump and his congressional majority to have an enormously productive 2017. The challenge will be to stay within the bounds of the GOP consensus.

Trump will continue to tweet and the media will continue to take the bait. Highly entertaining, but it is a sideshow. Congress is where the fate of the Trump presidency will be decided.

© 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

Charles Krauthammer
Charles Krauthammer writes a weekly political column that runs on Fridays. He is also a Fox News commentator and appears nightly on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
  • Randy Harod

    A catalyst is the most powerful factor in making something new. Trump is a lightening rod catalyst of public opinion and is changing America even before taking office. He has given real hope back the the millions of hard working Americans that have been put in the wilderness to starve while paying more taxes by Washington DC. Tweets are brilliant and Charles is wrong again. They let Trump go directly to the people without the media warping, changing, splicing, or “interpreting” what he says. This is the only effective weapon currently available against a biased and lying media machine.

    • Moki

      You are so right.

    • Jerryb53

      Amen to that brother!

    • WBC

      Yes, Mr. Krauthammer, Congress is the lock that opens the door to the Trump reforms, butt Twitter and other social media are the keys to that lock. Those “tweets” to the people will motivate them to tell their representatives and senators to get on the band wagon and vote for the reforms he envisions to rid America of elitist type government.
      President Reagan did this and it worked. When he ran into roadblocks in the Congress (Democrats and Republicans alike) he went directly to the people and told them of his problem. The people put pressure on Congress and they (Congress) did what they were told by the people because Congress still understood who put them in office. Trump is already astute enough to be using the same tactics. The media will again be left dismayed and astonished at Trump’s astute abilities. He has the one thing that establishment politicians and the media lack—common sense, and he knows how to use it.
      Where Mr. Trump needs to keep a watchful eye, is on Congress and be wary of a double-cross. But I am confident he is astute enough to catch this as well. He’s already got the media and members of Congress flipping their bottom lips like a bunch of blithering idiots.

  • scruffyleon

    Since The Kraut is a NeverTrumper, he refuses to acknowledge The Trump Effect.

  • Art LeBeau

    There was a time I liked what Krauthammer wrote, but he cannot accept that “The Donald” is our president and I am glad he is. I look for great things to happen and especially that a great supreme court justice is selected. I have much unhappiness with judges and one in particular in Missouri. Judge Keith Sutherland and what he and a prosecutor did to a Jeffrey Weinhaus. Please read the injustice in the following and may our Lord Jesus work in this matter for justice.. Art LeBeau, Villa Ridge, MO (Christian & Conservative) read <

    • Wayne Peterkin

      I am ecstatic that Clinton lost and Trump won. However, there are a great many people who simply voted against Clinton and who are skeptical whether Trump is just a showman or will be a responsible, effective president. Dr. Krauthammer is one of them. Personally, I’m encouraged by many of Trump’s appointments thus far. Only time will tell, but those who doubt have reason to doubt and should not be dismissed until we see what transpires over the next six months or more.

  • Moki

    OK, I confess: I could not make myself finish reading this article and jumped, instead, to the comments, which I found to be much more to the point. 🙂

    • Jerryb53

      “Congress is where the fate of the Trump presidency will be decided.” So now Congress is relevant! They been irrelevant for the past 8 years under Obama and now Charles says they determine the fate of Trump’s Presidency. OH! I think Charles is talking about the backstabbing that Paul Ryan and McConnell and McCarthy and other Commie GOP will do. They are the Democrats best ally. They are the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Trojan Horse. Charles why don’t you talk about that. Answer..because your their mouthpiece.

  • scruffyleon

    Judging by the number and type of comments, Nobody likes Krauthammer. And few read him.

  • Jerryb53

    “The challenge will be to stay within the bounds of the GOP consensus.” He was voted to do the exact opposite. Both Parties are the same. It’s good cop, bad cop to give the people the falsehood that they care about America’s Citizen’s. Charles please stop giving us propaganda. The GOP has been guilty of that since Reagan left office and before Reagan was in office.

  • Jerryb53

    “Congress is where the fate of the Trump presidency will be decided.” So now Congress is relevant! They been irrelevant for the past 8 years under Obama and now Charles says they determine the fate of Trump’s Presidency. OH! I think Charles is talking about the backstabbing that Paul Ryan and McConnell and McCarthy and other Commie GOP will do. They are the Democrats best ally. They are the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Trojan Horse. Charles why don’t you talk about that. Answer..because your their mouthpiece. As are all the other Commie Media Stations.

    • Wayne Peterkin

      No, Dr. Krauthammer is talking about the proper operation of our government rather than the Imperial presidency that Obama ran. We are all hoping that Trump will respect our Constitutional and not try to rule over us by executive decrees, instead working with and through Congress. If Trump rules as Obama did, as a petty dictator, he will be no better than Obama. You need some counseling about that “commie” stuff. It’s pretty irrational to think that anyone who disagrees with you is anti-American.

      • Jerryb53

        You don’t think there are Communist in Congress? Alan West himself said there are over 50% of our Congress are Communists. Joe McCarthy was spot on with his finding of Communist in Hollywood, government and other areas of our Society and he was looked at as a conspiracy nut. It turned out he was right. You need counseling on your gullibility. Believing people like Charles who are mouthpieces for the NWO.

        • Wayne Peterkin

          Of course there are, but the problem is less prevalent than you seem to think. I doubt that Allen West said any such thing, but he may well have accused half of Congress for leaning socialist since the entire Democratic Party has shifted in that direction. And regardless of the abuses to our Constitution, what is hoped is that we will begin to turn that ship around and begin eliminating those abuses. I happen to be a big believer in our Constitution as written and intended. What gets tiresome is the vilifying of anyone who does not agree with the views of an extremist like yourself. Charles Krauthammer is a mouthpiece for himself, period. You have a right to disagree with him but you do NOT have a right to smear him with false BS.

      • unadorned

        “respect our Constitutional [sic]”. Our constitution has been a dead letter since, at least, the Civil War.

        If Washington and Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton could come back, the first thing they’d notice would be that the federal government now routinely assumes thousands of powers never assigned to it — powers never granted, never delegated, never enumerated. These were the words they used, and it’s a good idea for us to learn their language. They would say that we no longer live under the Constitution they wrote. And the Americans of a much later era — the period from Cleveland to Coolidge, for example — would say we no longer live even under the Constitution they inherited and amended.

        • Wayne Peterkin

          No doubt true, but are you suggesting that we should turn our backs on the Constitution rather than trying to fix the abuses? BTW, some amendments were appropriate which is why they permitted them.

          • unadorned

            What part of what I wrote didn’t you understand?

  • Jerryb53

    Charles read this about flag burning. It is not a Constitutional Right……

    Soldiers Don’t Fight So Protesters Can Burn Flags
    By John Horvat II
    Soldiers Don’t Fight So Protesters Can Burn Flags
    “His fight is oriented toward the defense of order.”
    Protesters are burning and trampling upon the American flag again. When veterans counter-protest against this behavior, some people suggest that they should not protest saying soldiers die so that others might have the freedom to burn the flag in the public square.

    This “soldiers-die-so-protesters-can-burn-flags” slogan has become a mantra repeated everywhere. Many people find a bizarre beauty in this tragic contradiction. They understand neither freedom nor flag.

    RTO mini2Free Book: Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go

    Flag burning is wrong, purely and simply. Deep down everyone knows it but many are afraid to admit it. However, they should at least realize that they insult the soldier when saying he dies so that others can burn the flag.

    Such conclusions used to be obvious in times when objective standards of right and wrong were universally recognized. Prohibiting flag burning was enshrined in law for decades without any threat to the freedom of citizens. Moreover, such a prohibition is, even now, supported by many common-sense Americans who wish to see the flag defended by a constitutional amendment.

    But this is not obvious to others in these times of moral relativism. Such people follow the worn-out liberal dogma that confuses freedom and license. They define freedom as doing anything one wants to do as long as it does not hurt others. This is to misunderstand natural liberty. This liberal way of thinking turns “freedom” into a means of justifying the practice of vice, gratifying passions or dividing the nation. This kind of “freedom” resents authority, order and restraint of all types. Inside this definition, they invent the “freedom” to burn the flag.

    Of course, this idea of freedom is contrary to the classical notion of “ordered liberty” that has always associated freedom with virtue and self-restraint. Those who exercise self-control over their passions become free to pursue so many other goals. On the contrary, those who give in to their passions are enslaved by them.

    Thus, the true nature of freedom is the faculty of choosing the means toward an end that is perceived as good. The choosing of an evil reflects a defect of judgment not a proof of freedom’s proper functioning.

    What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration?

    This distinction of freedom is particularly true of the soldier. The soldier does not fight forthe “right” to do whatever. His fight is oriented toward the defense of order.

    marines in Iraq
    “those who think soldiers die to defend flag-burning misunderstand freedom’s true nature.”
    His moral universe makes a clear distinction between right and wrong because his life depends upon it. He puts force at the service of the good and directs his action against the forces of evil. The soldier does not give his life to defend disorder. Rather his fight implies a rule of law that limits the activities of people so that order might exist in society and true freedom might flourish.

    To suggest that a soldier might die so that others can have the freedom to do something wrong goes against everything the soldier stands for. Thus, the soldier does not fight, for example, so that others might have the “freedom” to have abortions. Likewise, those who think soldiers die to defend flag-burning misunderstand freedom’s true nature.

    Wounded soldier Iraq
    “Attacking and burning the flag is like attacking the soldier.”
    They also do not understand the flag.

    The flag is not just a piece of cloth. In these times of extreme individualism, many want to hijack the flag and turn it into a symbol of a person’s right to pursue happiness without any social commitments.

    But that is not the flag’s meaning. The flag is a visible symbol that invites individuals to think beyond their self-interest. It represents a moral commitment to the common good of the collective entity called America.

    The visible flag represents the invisible bonds that link Americans together as a people. It expresses those common ties that unite Americans past, present and future.

    Indeed, the flag belongs to no political party, social class or special interest lobby. It belongs to everyone and rises above the petty intrigues and politics of the day. The flag honors a collective vision of what America was, is, and might be. It is the celebration of what is called the unitas ordinis, that unity of order that makes up America. It is a symbol of the commitment made by all Americans to be a member of the nation.

    “The union from this selfless giving is so great that flag and soldier almost form a single whole.”
    That is why the soldier fights for the flag and is buried with one draped atop his coffin. It is symbolic of his giving of his entire self to the common good of the nation. The union from this selfless giving is so great that flag and soldier almost form a single whole. Attacking and burning the flag is like attacking the soldier.

    Thus, when protesters burn the flag, they are burning the symbol of this moral commitment to be part of society, the very commitment needed if solutions are to be found for the problems afflicting the nation.

    When protesters burn the flag in the public square, they are not just burning a material piece of cloth, but rather a symbol that does not belong entirely to them. The flag belongs to all Americans. Flag-burning is wrong because they are destroying something that belongs to others and have no right to deface.

    It is natural that people take measures to stop the destruction of something that belongs to them. That is why veterans gather to defend the flag they fought for. As members and soldiers of the nation, the flag is also theirs. Such an act of injustice is an injustice against them as well.

    That is also why flag-burning has always been banned. Public flag-burning is an anti-social act, a provocation to violence, a disturbance of the peace and a suicidal denial of national identity.

    In such cases, the nation has always had the right of self-defense. If corporations can defend their trademarks against infringing abuse, how much more reasonable it is for Americans to protect their flag from desecration.

    These considerations are not politically correct. They probably will not convince those who believe freedom includes the right of self-destruction. But in these times of moral relativism, they need to be said and re-iterated. Soldiers do not die so that others might do wrong. Freedom is not license. The flag belongs to all Americans. Flag-burning is wrong.

  • Wayne Peterkin

    I might quibble with Charles’ assertion that Trump lost the popular vote by a sizable margin, first because there were a lot of non-citizen votes that cannot be quantified but most of which were for Clinton and second because California alone accounted for more than the difference as did New York. Remove either of those left-wing enclaves and Trump had a clear majority.

  • parthenon1

    Donald Trump is the Teddy Roosevelt of this century ! Charles is right when he says congress is where the real show is going on. So we the people must keep our elected office holders feet to the fire and demand they help Trump and not hinder him just to please former large donors and PACS. If we the people are correct then the high costs of elections and campaigns will be greatly reduced. (Every new congressman or senator immediately after taking office is told by “the party” (either one) how much in contributions they have to raise for the party. Its so much it takes twice the time the responsibilities of actual law making duties. With this in mind we must get term limits for all elected federal office holders and to limit the $ spent on elections to one years salary for the office. Our fore fathers planned government service to be given by proud thankful leaders who ae giving back the thanks for living in America almost like community service. . . .NOT A WAY TO GET RICH AND HAVE A LIFETIME HUGE PENSION AND SPECIAL INSURANCE PLUS EVEN MORE PERKS NOT AVAILABLE TO REGULAR AMERICANS.

    • Jerryb53

      ” Charles is right when he says congress is where the real show is going on. ” Charles got that wrong, what he should have said was Congress is where the real coup is going on.

  • unadorned

    “to stay within the bounds of the GOP consensus.” You mean the GOP who hated Trump because he ran on a platform of immigration control and free trade, the GOP who has never done anything worthwhile for its constituency, the GOP who allowed ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ to be dumped, the GOP who helped the Left in everyway to “elect a new people”, the GOP who has never stood up to the democrats and instead gave Obama everything he asked for—that GOP?
    Well, I don’t think he should worry about their consensus, he needs to stick to the consensus of his voters— unless he wants to be a one-term president.

  • Another Guest

    Another hit piece by craphead. Chuck doesn’t even understand the difference in a Constitutional Republic and a Democracy.

  • Out In Right Field

    This is hardly a first. Ever heard of Teddy Roosevelt?

  • Jim Strom

    Charles you miss the point entirely…. Tweets are a response to lack of accurate reporting . If you fix the lack of accurate reporting along with the liberal Demoncrat biased reporting , the tweets will fall off . Oh by the way , what’s wrong with Entertaining ? I like the Tweets .

  • stevenlehar

    Oh be quiet Krauthammer! You were opposed to Trump from the very start. This is just peevish bickering by a guy who just doesn’t GET it. I don’t listen to Krauthammer any more. This is not just an error in judgment, its an error in world view!