Former New York Mayor Ed Koch was famed for asking, “How’m I doing?” This week marks the One Hundred Day benchmark of Donald Trump’s presidency, a feat that a year ago would have seemed as improbable as a Cubs World Series title. How’s he doing? Depends on who you ask.
As president, Trump has kept the promises of the candidate: stiffen the border, curb illegal immigration, “Build the Wall,” a certain applause line from last year’s campaign. He has revitalized the military, avenged Syria’s chemical killing of children and babies, and restored respect to our foreign policy there and elsewhere, showing how feckless Barack Obama had been.
He has signed one executive order after another to assail business regulation, restore confidence, and help miners and other “deplorables” smeared last year by Hillary Clinton. Sadly, Trump has not yet roused Republicans and independents to back repeal and replace of the calamity a.k.a. Obamacare, which would trigger tax reform, leading to the infrastructure plan backed by Democrats and Trump.
Big picture: Trump needs W’s – wins. Forget tweets, which appeal to those already convinced, can be counter-productive, are unpresidential, and should be unconstitutional. Trump’s admirable meetings with labor and business groups are also essential, but insufficient. Instead, he needs to reach America through the only medium to reach every living room: once radio, today television.
Trump should use TV to get Republicans, independents and responsible Democrats to make Congress see the light, or at least feel the heat. Many tell Trump to use Ronald Reagan as an example. Trump should — in eye contact, voice variety, the tilt of the head — the style. But a better model is Franklin Roosevelt. For one thing, FDR originated the term “the forgotten American” that Trump appropriated last year. For another, their priorities overlap: culture, defense, above all, jobs.
Like FDR, Trump is an optimist, each born into New York wealth. Like Trump, Roosevelt never gave a hoot about ideology. Give him a problem, and he set to try anything. If it didn’t fly, he tried something else. That’s The Donald. Both hate to be alone. Each feels that they thrive with chaos all around. The difference is that at this point FDR had bonded with a majority of the populace — unlike Trump.
To change that, he should consider a series of bi-weekly TV talks, conversing with the public, a simple talk among friends. FDR’s radio speeches reflected his thoughts and syntax. In 1944, he hilariously ridiculed GOP leaders who charged he had left his dog behind on the Aleutian Islands and sent a destroyer back to get him by defending “my little dog Fala.” Such a TV series might reflect the private Trump to complement the Oval Office’s.
Roosevelt grasped that shorter and more vivid were better and more personal: radio, ideal for his born-for-the wireless voice. Trump lacks that instrument, yet he can compensate by recalling that politics’ fuel is trust — and that FDR ran on America’s. Trump so far has kept his word. The best way to continue keeping it is for polities to work. Taking America into his confidence will help them, as he did in his campaign.
Thus, he should work with a speech coach to strengthen his voice, as John F. Kennedy did in his 1960 campaign. Trump and writers should aim ad nauseam for the quotable quote, like FDR’s “the arsenal of democracy.” In the end, America felt for FDR with all the notes of emotion played by friendship or something deeper. I am not sure Trump is the type to stir friendship. I do believe he can stir rapport.
Last Election Night, a Rust Belt tide began lapping at Mid-America. “Voters showed up in an astounding number,” said analyst Mike Barnacle, an “avalanche” of working-class voters leaving FDR’s party for Trump. They swept the largely rural, often Democratic section of upland named “Appalachia” starting in lower New York and ending up in Alabama, backing the one candidate who treated them with respect.
FDR used the term “Forgotten American” for those who felt alone and voiceless, even stigmatized, from a small town, an inner city, most often then a farm. Trump felt the same longings of those Americans last year. Think of actress Jane Darwell as Ma Joad in film’s "The Grapes of Wrath," saying, “We’re the people.” Those people won the election of 2016. They desperately need Trump to be persuasive now.
Curt Smith is the author of 16 books, his newest "George H.W. Bush: Character at the Core." He is a former speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush, Associated Press “Best in New York State” radio commentator, and senior lecturer of English at the University of Rochester. Mr. Smith writes twice monthly for Gatehouse Media Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.