Will the Trump Fiasco Deprogram Presidential Cultists?

The current occupant of the White House may just be the right guy to deflate excessive expectations for the presidency.


Has Donald Trump been sent among us to demonstrate the foolishness of placing cult-like faith in the presidency?

I don't mean "sent" in the literal sense, of course. Maybe it's more like he slipped and fell among us, tumbling backwards down the escalator of history, to land on the presidency just in time to squish the hopes of a political also-ran who thought the office was hers.

Let's review just last week's parade of horribles (because this week's tales of poor judgment are coming too fast to keep up). There was the clumsy firing of James Comey, which managed to convert an FBI director about whom almost everybody harbored doubts into a martyr. He also left us to wonder whether it's worse that he thinks he originated the phrase, "prime the pump," or that he believes the Keynesian nostrum is a good idea. Then the White House apparently got pwned by a photographer for Russian state media, predictably feeding into the ongoing questions about the president's relationship with that country.

The overall impression was certainly not that of "a soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise," as Gene Healy of the Cato Institute described Americans' vision for the nation's chief executive in an article published nine years ago in Reason and even more relevant today.

Then again, Healy wasn't writing that Americans should view the presidency in that light—only that they've done so, to the detriment of the republic. Healy, who elaborated on his warnings in the 2008 book, The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, cautioned that Americans have piled impossible expectations on the office of the presidency, and increased its power to near-monarchical levels to match—but that authority is still unequal to the demands people place on the office.

"What makes presidents—usually aging, and not always physically fit, men—good models for action toys?" Vanderbilt University's Dana D. Nelson asked in Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People, published the same year as Healy's book. Pointing to the bizarre spectacle of presidents packaged as action figures and comic book characters like superheroes, she worried that Americans see the president "simultaneously as democracy's heart (he will unify the citizenry) and its avenging sword (he will protect us from all external threats." Continuously granting the presidency authority to match such unrealistic perceptions, too many people attribute abuses to specific officeholders without recognizing that the problem is now the office itself.

The office itself is the problem, that is, because as each president inevitably fails to live up to empty promises to, say, micromanage the vast economy, eradicate international terrorism, reform failed states into functioning democracies, and design health systems that deliver top-notch care at low cost, he insists on more power to get the job done. But that accumulating power is never equal to the demands placed on the flawed humans who spend so much time and energy pursuing an opportunity to disappoint the country.

And Donald Trump does seem to be disappointing much of the country, with a job approval rating hovering at just above 40 percent, including eroding support among his base. His missteps are the source material for many yuks at the president's expense—and rightfully so. Making powerful officials the butt of jokes is the healthiest treatment we can give them. How could we not laugh? The current occupant of the White House seems deliberately cast to provide comedians with endless material. Trump: Making Saturday Night Live funny again!

But while Trump's flaws are readily apparent—he practically rubs them in our faces—his inability to live up to expectations isn't unique, it's just more obvious than that of his predecessors. Did he make a hash of health care reform, improbably claiming that "nobody knew that health care could be so complicated"? But so did the last guy. Have we forgotten that the Affordable Care Act was wildly unpopular with the American people and that the scheme continues its slow-motion collapse?

That's because, once again, the Americans want the president (and the legislators with whom the chief executive still has to work) to deliver the impossible. "Americans want widely contradictory things from health-care reform," health care expert Michael Tanner notes. "They want the highest-quality care for everyone, with no wait, from the doctor of their choice. And they want it as cheap as possible, preferably for free."

Does Trump's foreign policy seem a little incoherent and prone to make big promises that are unlikely to be met? Well, mission accomplished, as somebody once said. Last year, a majority of Americans told Pew pollsters that they want the president to focus on domestic affairs while simultaneously maintaining the country as the world's sole military superpower. Try to keep that audience happy!

Yes, Trump is profoundly and publicly unsuited for the demands of the presidency, but so is every human who might be elected to a post that has become more the object of cult-like veneration than an administrative office of limited and defined power. Trump is the turd we can't polish, but they're all turds. We just can't pretend otherwise with this guy.

So maybe Trump has stumbled into his perfect moment—to demonstrate that the president is very definitely not going to live up to people's hopes and dreams. He just may be the right guy to deprogram our country's presidential cultists.

Or maybe we'll just hope for the next president to do better, with a few more tools to sweep away obstacles, of course.

NEXT: Report: Trump Gave Russian Ambassador 'Highly Classified Information' About ISIS

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Trump: Making Saturday Night Live funny again!


    1. I was going to say, it would be easier to resolve Syria's issues than make SNL funny.

    2. "Trump: Making Saturday Night Live funny again!"


    3. The Atlantic had a piece in their latest issue that speculated the cast and writers are starting to get burned out trying to keep up with Trump's shenanigans every week, and as a result their skits are getting lazier and lazier.

      It's particularly telling that they're having to rely on A-list celebrities to make the jokes hit home, as opposed to their own cast members.

      1. the cast and writers are starting to get burned out trying to keep up with Trump's shenanigans every week, and as a result their skits are getting lazier and lazier

        So you're saying SNL saw the Trump presidency coming in the mid-90s, if not sooner?

        1. I haven't actually watched the show since Norm MacDonald was doing Weekend Update, so I couldn't tell you from first-hand observation. It's based on what the Atlantic writer was saying.

  2. Of course the Presidency should not be a cult of personality.

    Since the media's goal is to come out of retirement after 8 years to question the President's agendas, it is very clear the agenda is to just have Trump Derangement Syndrome for the next 8 years.

    Comey is not a martyr except according to the media and who cares what they think about it. The other parade of horribles are just as hyped up by media and just as ridiculous.

    Unfortunately for the TDS folks, Trump has begun draining the swamp in spite of the media and those that did not vote for him.

    1. Comey is a martyr because he is, I'll go ahead and say it, a major source for a lot of reporters.

  3. "Will the Trump Fiasco Deprogram Presidential Cultists?"


    They all just want to cult harder.

    1. Needz moar top menz

  4. Not at all. People are STILL treating Obama like he was the fucking Messiah and with a straight face proclaiming that he never did anything wrong and had no scandals, and there are still millions of Hillary cultists out there who still think there's a way for her to become president and solve all the world's problems with her vagina.

    1. solve all the world's problems with her vagina.


      1. Somebody needs a vagi-hug.

    2. Hillary's vagina has never been the solution to any problem, ever.

      1. It was the cause of a problem for Web Hubble ...

      2. Sure it has, for in death all troubles cease.

        1. Shakespeare?

          "Out damned wet spot!"

  5. Nope. The problem to the cultists will never be the office, it'll be the team colors currently filling it.

  6. Will the Trump Fiasco Deprogram Presidential Cultists?

    No. Most people don't have a problem with an overly powerful executive branch as long as the "wrong person" doesn't get elected. The only thing they might take away is that elections suck and the next time the "right person" gets elected that person will be able to just declare themselves dictator for life and their sycophants will cheer them on. Trump is most likely not going to declare himself God-emperor, but he'll open the door for someone else to do it.

    1. ^^Methinks the nail has been struck on the head.

    2. Elections do suck and the cultists are the reason why.

      Athens had the solution for a legislature - random selection of citizens not election. Like a really huge jury - demarchy not democracy. The cultists are forced to serve not just be manipulated into voting.

      Switzerland has the solution for the executive - presidency by rotating committee with the newly elected starting at the bottom of the Cabinet. Or hell - make the executive branch the operational function of a more powerful electoral college that remains in service for four years. We have the damn thing in place. We don't have direct elections for Prez. It's about time that anti-cultists work to enhance the power of the electoral college - since both sides of cultists are heading to the same place of abolishing it.

      1. Or as William Buckley said, he'd rather be governed by the first 2000 people in the Boston phone book than the 2000 members of the faculty of Harvard University.

        1. The LP could further that as an idea rather than do the sameold stuff to select semi-nonexistent candidates for most downballot races. Just select and order a random list of eligible voters for each office (would prob have to exclude registered D's and R's since they have by definition already drunk the koolaid of the cult at all levels). Then have the county party contact them and ask them some basic 'acceptability' (not ideology nonsense) questions. The first one on the list who passes the questions becomes the LP candidate for that office.

    3. Unfortunately, you are right. Few people are pragmatic enough to realize that any power that they allow the president they like to wield will eventually be wielded by someone they don't like.

    4. Trump is most likely not going to declare himself God-emperor, but he'll open the door for someone else to do it.

      Quite the opposite. Hillary would have declared herself to be Goddess-emperor, and the press and Democrats would have been more than happy to crown her.

      Trump is so hated by Congress and the media that his presidency will actually weaken the institution and prevent him from getting a lot done. Which is a good thing, and it's, incidentally, also what many people who voted for him believed. Because contrary to the projections of Democrats and progressives, Trump voters aren't blind idiots.

  7. Somebody's bottom is very sore.

  8. Trump only won because millions of stupid rednecks were so stupid that they voted against their best interests. The fact that he's fucking up nearly everything just proves that. Don't you read the news, 2Chilly?

    1. Deplorables. We like to be called Deplorables.

      Thank you.

    2. You seem not to understand that we shouldn't all be voting for our own best interests. That implies the federal government would then be expected to provide to us, what they have taken from others. We should be voting for the best interests of the republic, which is to restrict involvement of the federal government in our lives. You really couldn't come up with a better clich? than "stupid rednecks"?

    3. A double dose of stupid FTW......sparktard and tulpatulpatulpachameleon.

  9. No, this is a sequence of events to deprogram news media cultists.

  10. Trump's flaws are readily apparent?he practically rubs them in our faces

    Is this some kind of sick euphemism?

    1. Sick Euphemism was my street name back in the day. Sick E for short.

  11. Look, I don't have any more respect for this president than the previous one. But do you honestly think this "parade of horribles" is any worse than anything the previous (or any previous) president did in an average week and which was totally ignored by the press?

    Yes, the office is the problem but the media aren't exactly covering themselves in glory here.

    Trump: Making Saturday Night Live funny again!

    I can't even.

    1. "covered in glory" was my private boy scout nickname.

      1. Ooh my!

    2. But do you honestly think this "parade of horribles" is any worse than anything the previous

      Sadly, I think Trump's "parade of horribles" is actually better than what Hillary would have put in place.

  12. Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.

    So far, he's exposed the complete and utter corruptness of the media, the judiciary, the Democratic party, the mainstream Libertarian party, endless blogs, magazines, and information sources.

    He exposes the rampant imbecility of the intellectual class as they scramble to fact check jokes and refute sarcasm and open trolling

    The sunglasses have been distributed--we can all see the hideousness underlying everything now

    And the best part is that none of you seem to realize that. You keep prattling as if we're not staring at you in horror.


    1. Gary Johnson is the poster child for all that is wrong with the LP

      1. But our vote share is up 328%. Brazil's corrupt politicians and judges currently throttle every LP petition so the party is banned there. But now that 16% voted none-of-the-above in recent elections, the 33 looter parties are trying to amend the Constitution to require more than 3% of the popular vote to qualify for subsidized teevee. Currently the figure is 2%. The Gary Johnson example, with Sarwark's stewardship netting 4 million votes, is changing laws all over the world even faster than in These States.

    2. Sometimes it takes a fool to expose the corruption of the smart set.

    3. I think we all knew about this before Trump was elected, but I'm not sure any of us really understood the truth depths of how in-the-bag our Media really is. I'm sure some folks probably knew, and even probably called it and were laughed at as crack pots, but now old-school Media outlets are looking more and more like Alex Jones every day.

      Article V, anyone?

    4. Well I for one am enjoying the shit show.

      Regardless of how one thinks or [more likely] feels about the Trumpster, he has made two notable accomplishments:

      1. Kept an evil fucking progressive witch out of the White House.

      2. Appointed a decent jurist to the USSC.

      Now if he can just get one more justice on that body [has Ginsberger lapsed into a coma yet?] and any amount of deregulation before he is smoked or impeached, he will leave a worthwhile legacy.

      In addition to the effect of his just being in that office as a body blow damage to progressives everywhere.

      1. Agreed, its like watching "Bumfights vol. 4" per Iowahawk . I second that thought.

    5. "So far, he's exposed the complete and utter corruptness of the media, the judiciary, the Democratic party, the mainstream Libertarian party, endless blogs, magazines, and information sources."

      Excellent point. Even if you dislike Trump and most of what he stands for--and while also being smart enough to realise he had to be elected else Clinton would have been--you have to concede, despite all his ham-fisted handling of many things, he's exposed all those bastards for what they are. He is a figure polarising enough and loud enough to throw all of them into a tailspin so uncontrollable they forgot to conceal their agendas. They've just let it all hang out.

      And if you don't think Trump deserves thanks for at least doing that, you might be missing the real point.

  13. Oh, please.

    If the catastrophe that was the Wilson administration, the mediocrity that was the truth of Kennedy, the pit of slime that Slick Willie presided over, and the cluster grope that was Obama hasn't killed the "President as Savior" thing, nothing can.

    1. Hell, the Liberal establishment hated Reagan, ran him down while he was in office, did their damnedest to make out that anything good that happened while he was in office was pure coincidence, and he STILL gets credit for anything good that happened while he happened to be at 1600 Penn.

      1. It turns out that it's hard to refute more money in your pocket, and even if someone tries no one cares to listen. That's one reason Trump will fail, and fail big. His policies aren't that different from the left in many regards, so there won't be an economic boom, and people will continue believing whatever the Media says about him.

        Not that he could get anything he wanted passed at this point, it seems, but perhaps that will change soon. One never knows which way the Trumpian wind blows. If his tax plan turns out to be good (which it looks pretty good at the moment) and gets passed we should expect an economic upturn after around a year or so. We shall see, but I don't think any tax reform measures will pass. The Democrats will never allow it, even if revenue goes up.

        1. Trump's 'deregulation' is being derided by all the usual suspects, which I think is a fair indication that it might be very good. Keep in mind that the entire incestuous cluster-hump known as Washington DC pretty much runs on regulatory influence. I may be overoptimistic, but I think they're crapping themselves.

          IF the deregulation is a lot more effective than The Wise would have us believe, that could well be enough to set off a boom. Even if all that happens is it ties up the regulatory parasites with fighting for their jobs, and this keeps them from actively doing harm.

        2. Sorry, BYO, but we're already seeing a boom. I'm taking as a bellewether the donations to WFMU in March, which, under the adverse conditions of this year's pledge drive, were spectacular. If they publicize enrollment figures this spring for children's football in the fall in the Pelham Bay Warriors club where I used to coach before I moved, that'll be an indicator too. Beats trying to measure the fur on squirrels.

  14. I remain dumbfouned that in this era of Trump there are still millions of progressives placing their faith the government as their personal savior. How does their brain deal with the big orange in the middle of it all? Is theirs a dualist philosophy that separate the infallible spiritual aspect of government from the sinful and fallen human beings who run it?

    And why, oh why, are they still clamoring to give Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions ever more buckets of power?

    1. Principals v. Principles is an applicable dualism. Heart v. Head is another. Total unconstrained power is fine, as long as it's wielded (even if inconsistently) by someone who makes you feel like they're Right.

    2. Oh, hell, Brandybuck, the Progressives have spent the last hundred years ignoring the simple fact that the first bunch any Communist Revolution systematically liquidates are the Progressive Intellectuals. Compared to THAT 'balrog in the room' what's a mere Elephant?

  15. The people really want a monarch who will brutally punish their enemies and bestow riches upon them. Congress is irrelevant, except for giving them access to the king or queen's largesse, and the judiciary is an annoyance.

    1. No no, the judiciary is the vehicle for gaining access to the wealth and provides cover for illegal government activity through 'deference' and 'constitutional reinterpretation'. Why do you think the Obama administration was so ecstatic about appointing so many judges? If you appoint people who think the way you do, why worry about constitutional restraints?

      You can already see how it works when the Judiciary are with you (Obama, SC upheld the ACA's mandates) and now we see what it looks like when they're against you (Trump's immigration EO's getting constantly blocked).

      Sure, these are only two examples and lord knows Obama butted heads with the Judiciary occasionally but I think we're about to see some real judicial stonewalling during the Trump administration. It's already happening.

      1. Well, a properly-functioning judiciary should be an annoyance to those in power. But when was the last time we had one of those? I guess I should have said "rubber stamp..."

  16. Right after this went up this was the next article--"Will Donald Trump Be the Most Deregulatory President Ever?"

    While the marching morons bleat endlessly about scoops of ice cream and where Russian dressing comes from, Trump is actually deregulating, actually doing things that libertarians have been demanding for decades.

    So, where are the 'big-L' libertarians?

    They're talking about 'Trump fiascos'.

    What was it I said before? Oh--yeah--


    1. Wait, but aren't those "big L Libertarians" also talking about Trump deregulating things?

      So really, your complaint is that this place criticizes Trump at all. Is that it? Maybe they should just focus on stories that only praise Trump. Just like Breitbart!

      1. See, jeff, you being one of the idiots, I didn't expect anyone could be found around you to read my comment to you with any more detail than the usual 'rrrhhhheeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

        But, since you responded, I'll give ya a shot--

        Intelligent people are starting to notice that every new Trump 'scandal' is turning out to be easily refuted--or often wholly made up bullshit while shit's getting done quietly in the background.

        So why's a big L libertarian publication so stuck on the BS instead of focusing like an arrow on the crap they really wanted until it was Trump doing it?

  17. Journalist perceptions of how average people perceive Trump are so far off the mark . . .

    1) The Comey firing wasn't perceived as a fiasco by average people outside the circle of progressive activists and the media.

    2) The word "Keynesian" makes average people's eyes glaze over.

    3) Coordinating with Russia against ISIS in Syria isn't much of a fiasco to average people either.

  18. Is the news media even faintly aware of how average people perceive them?

    "WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' trust and confidence in the mass media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly" has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media."

    ----Gallup, September 16, 2016


    I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Trump didn't win despite negative coverage in the media; Trump won because of the way he was covered in the media.

    32% isn't just relatively bad either. The highest percentage of Americans who said they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media was once as high as 72%. Gallup says the number dropped 8% to 32% in the year before the report date--and, yeah, that coincides with the time period when Trump's campaign was covered.

    If journalists stayed up all night trying to think of excellent ways to get Trump reelected, they could hardly come up with any better idea than to write articles like this one. No wonder Trump hardly had to spend any money! The media did all the heavy lifting for him--and he didn't have to pay them a penny.

    1. Like pulling down a corrupt temple. Which may be the only way to rebuild it.

      The media don't report, they proselytize. Most of them seem to believe that is their job, not to inform you but to convince you.

  19. The only real cult is the never-Trumpers. Those that support Trump do so for his campaign promises and as of today, those commitments appear to be solid.

    I will not renew my Reason mag subscription as it is no longer one that delivers well-reasoned articles.

  20. One can surely hope now, couldn't they.

  21. Grownups read the platforms and aren't surprised. The only real difference between "both" entrenched media kleptocracy factions was this business of trying to ban coal and oil over climate pseudoscience. Teevee doesn't compare platforms so even bookies were surprised. Teevee is also subsidized by the Nixon amendment to the tax code to ignore small parties. People also are programmed to place faith in messiahs. This particular Republican need only crash the economy again with asset forfeiture looting and then we may be rid of them for a couple of decades. Plus the number of followers of mystical faiths is dwindling. The best news yet is that Eastern Europe is discovering Ayn Rand. Libertarian parties are pullulating faster than the looters can ban, censor, deny or ignore them. It's a new dawn!

    1. You don't need to ban coal. Coal is dead since fracking is so much cheaper. Trying to prop up coal is putting sticks under a dead horse. It's stupid interventionism trying to curry favor with a small group of loyal Trump supporters.

  22. No, of course it won't. when Trump was nominated, I joked with friends that I thought that the one good effect of his presidency would be that the Left would suddenly "re-discover" the brilliance of the Constitution's systems of checks and balances and separation of powers. And now they have, demanding that Congress stand up to Trump. This is after spending the previous years backing Obama's executive orders on immigration months after he stated publicly that he did not have the power to do so, and justifying those actions by saying "Well, Congress refused to act, so he had to do something." Also after not criticizing people accusing Republicans (like Sen Cotton) of treason for pointing out that the Iranian deal would not have the power of a treaty since it was not ratified by two thirds of theSenate. As soon as another liberal Democrat gets elected, people on the left and in media will since the praises of strong executive action. And it works the other way around too. Many of the people who objected to Obama's overreaching are now praising Trump's executive action.

  23. I guess the "media industrial complex" will cover Trump links to Russia to try to rub under the carpet then others had done the same thing from what I read on Newsbusters. http://www.newsbusters.org/blo.....tel-russia

  24. Has Donald Trump been sent among us to demonstrate the foolishness of placing cult-like faith in the presidency?

    No. Donald Trump was elected by people who despise the "cult-like faith in the presidency" that Democrats and progressives seem to have. Everybody I know who voted for Trump was holding his nose and saying "well, he isn't Hillary, and he is not going to pass as many bad laws as she would have".

    I think when people are talking about "cult-like faith in the presidency", they are progressives projecting their own delusions upon others.

  25. You would think the foolishness of this and the last 2 administrations would make the case for Libertarians and reinforce the reason for limited government.

  26. Why aren't Nazi swastikas and Communist hammers and here sickles equally offensive? My question is provoked by the fact that I saw a kid wearing a CCCP T-shirt whilehere I was at the gym

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.