Donald J. Trump (R-New York) can be described as the first “virtual president.” The Donald has two presidencies; a real one in the real world, and a virtual administration that exists only in cyberspace and on television.
The difference between the Virtual Presidency and the real presidency is stark. The virtual president is an outrageous, larger than life populist tyrant; that rules America with an iron hand. The Week contributor Damon Linker has even written of “Trump’s Virtual Tyranny.”
The real president is a weak yes man that staffs his administration with has-beens left over from Bush II, and bends over backward to please the party bosses and big-money campaign donors. The real-life Trump’s agenda has consisted of warmed over conservative social and economic policies straight out of the Heritage Foundation, and standard neoconservative Republican jargon on foreign issues.
The whole charade succeeds because Trump is a master of bamboozling the media. He knows how to downplay the traditional Republican agenda that will drive voters away and broadcast the populist nonsense to the mob.
Some Examples of the Virtual Presidency include:
- A virtual trade war. Trump is constantly threatening to impose tariffs on China, but never gets around to doing it. He reinforces the virtual trade war with a few real tariffs mostly on Europe and Canada that are designed to generate maximum soundbites but threaten no business interests.
- A virtual immigration policy. A few well selected policies, bans on Muslim immigrants, zero tolerance, etc. that make it look as if Trump is tough on immigration. When in reality little or nothing has changed. Numerous critics have pointed out that the only difference between the Trump and Obama immigration policies is the amount of media attention.
- High profile yet meaningless virtual battles over pointless hot-button social issues. The best example of this the national anthem feud with NFL players, it affects nobody yet makes it look as if Trump standing up for the flag and patriotism. It also makes Trump appear heroic to working class voters who find the players’ behavior offensive.
- Virtual racism. Pointless feuds with specific high-profile African Americans such as LeBron James or Beyonce. This makes it look as if Trump is defending the white race. When he is doing little or nothing for or against African Americans.
- Virtual antiracism. Meaningless symbolic acts like pardoning Jack Johnson; a man who has been dead for more than 70 years. These actions are designed to prove Trump is tolerant of Negros.
- Virtual feuds with foreign leaders. The latest of these is with Canadian Prime Justin Trudeau. Trump’s walk out from the G-7 and remarks were designed to offend Canadians. They were perfectly timed to get a response from Trudeau that played well with Canadian voters. The G-7 came right before the Ontario provincial One has to wonder if Trudeau and Trump rehearsed the whole thing.
- Virtual feuds with Congress and specific political leaders – such as U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). McCain’s illness means Trump will need a new foil. An obvious candidate is another reality TV pest; U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey).
- Outrageous social media outbursts that appeal to voters with a certain kind of authoritarian personality. A great example of this is Trump’s obviously hollow threat to give himself a pardon. The President knows he would be impeached for that. He makes the threat because it appeals to Americans that want a “strongman government” in Washington D.C. This is simply a continuation of a strategy that began in the campaign.
- The creation of a virtual government agency “the U.S. Space Force” for which there is no clear mission or plan. Though conspiracy theorists will undoubtedly wonder if the President anticipates alien invasion.
- Outrageous behavior designed to reinforce those outbursts and appeal to certain voters. A good example of this is Trump’s refusal to attend the Gridiron Dinner in which Washington journalists lampoon the chief executive. That is a risk-free means of scoring points with conservative voters that hate the media, without actually offending a single reporter.
Is the Virtual Presidency simply a reflection of Trump’s personality? The Twitter outbursts seem like a sort of game or joke he is playing on the American people and the media. One has to wonder if Trump is laughing at us every time we fall for his shenanigans.
Or is it a carefully-crafted strategy rooted in modern behavioral science and cutting-edge marketing. The way Trump is able to capitalize upon hot-button issues is uncanny. One has to wonder if advanced research or artificial intelligence from something like Cambridge Analytica or Palantir is directing the Virtual Presidency.
Beyond that it is not clear if the Virtual Presidency is good or bad. It might be a healthy phenomenon because it keeps intellectuals, journalists, and politicians from meddling in the day to day affairs of average Americans and the nation’s business.
The Virtual Presidency is well within our nation’s historical traditions. There has always been a certain amount of political theater associated with the presidency. That theater has grown with the media spotlight. Trump’s virtual presidency is simply the logical conclusion of trends that date back to George Washington.
One thing is clear, Americans will need to learn how to distinguish between the Virtual Presidency and the real presidency. If we cannot our nation might find itself without an effective government.