Beware of Trump derangement syndrome, Democrats
Back in 2003, conservative writer Charles Krauthammer coined the term "Bush derangement syndrome" to describe people who had gone off the rails with their hatred of President George W. Bush.
The crazy was only starting to begin.
Six years later, conservative author David Horowitz warned that criticism of President Barack Obama was approaching "over-the-top hysteria," which he branded "Obama Derangement Syndrome."
"Conservatives, please," he wrote on FrontPageMag.com. "Let's not duplicate the manias of the left as we figure out how to deal with Mr. Obama. He is not exactly the anti-Christ, although a disturbing number of people on the right are convinced he is."
After President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address, I am ready to send a version of Horowitz's message to congressional Democrats. As I used to hear an old Chicago Democratic ward boss say: Don't get mad, get smart.
Don't just sit on your hands and pout while President Trump takes advantage of the one thing he knows how to do better than most of his fellow politicians do: video salesmanship.
I take no glee in making this critique. I'm not a fan of Trump's politics, his vulgarity, his exaggerations and his outright falsehoods when he speaks. I don't like the way he deliberately drives wedges between racial, ethnic and gender identity groups and blows dog-whistle kisses to the intolerant right.
But the congressional Democrats who decided to sit silently and visibly displeased throughout the speech, even when it touched on issues or developments of which they approved -- like a record dip in black unemployment. The Democrats are displeased understandably that Trump brags about that statistic as if it reflects a trend that started on his watch, when it actually began in 2011 under Obama.
And Democratic leaders are right to note that they did nothing nearly as rude as Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina who shouted "You lie" during a similar speech to Congress by President Obama in 2009.
But, ah, it is not the facts or ideas that make a difference in the political impact of major events. It is the optics. As long as Trump is seen by his supporters and persuadable moderates as reaching out to other races and standing up for America, the details don't matter. It's how people feel about you that counts. In his mastery of those "instincts," as Trump likes to explain, he comes closest to Ronald Reagan, the nation's only other president to come from the entertainment industry.
Like Reagan, Trump's stagecraft at the State of the Union was outstanding, befitting a man who spent most of his adult life building his brand as a celebrity through celebrity gossip media and his own reality TV shows. More comfortable with ad libs to a rally crowd than with reading a TelePrompTer, he filled the speech with call-outs to guests in his audience that had poignant, tragic, heroic or uplifting stories to tell.
Reagan, in fact, was the first president to amplify the impact of the State of the Union Address by calling out notable audience members in 1982. He had one guest that year. Trump had 15 this year.
Such is the power and majesty of the State of the Union. In the hands of a savvy entertainer or pitchman -- Reagan and Trump were both -- the majesty of the occasion can easily make any political adversaries look small.
So whatever message the Democrats had in mind as they decided to protest by refusing to stand or clap for Trump, it didn't have much of a chance against Trump's stagecraft. He seems to enjoy making smoke come out of his opponents' ears -- like the professional wrestlers with whom he used to work in the WWE.
Show public anger at Trump? Go ahead. He welcomes it.
Yet, ironically, Trump actually showed surprisingly significant movement toward the Dems in his speech. Sure, he might reverse himself later, as he has in the past. He's already getting pressure from the right, for example, for his surprisingly progressive offer of a "pathway to citizenship" for immigrants brought here unlawfully as children. Conservative Breitbart immediately branded him "Amnesty Don."
But, as long as the option is available, Democrats, don't let Trump derangement syndrome stop you.
You owe it to yourselves and your constituents to work with this president as much as you would want Republicans to work with the next Democratic president.
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