US President Donald Trump is a deeply unappealing leader to democrats within the US, and to most public opinion in Europe and outside America. Nevertheless, two years into his presidency he retains the support of much of his core constituency. Current predictions suggest the loss of control by the Republicans of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate, in the November 2018 elections. However, a second term as President cannot be excluded.
Beneath a public personality and a style of conducting politics that many find distasteful and unpleasant, he taps into substantive issues that have political traction.
Style: the twitterstorm
Much of the criticism of President Trump centres on style and personality. He appears from his overnight twitterstorms as hugely egotistical, impulsive, unreflective, combative and a bully. In his business and personal life, litigation seems to be treated as part of the normal cost of everyday transactions. Law is an instrument, not a principle.
In his business dealings the collateral damage from this way of acting was limited to private investors. The fear is that, in acting in this way as President, we are all potential collateral damage.
President Trump’s style of conducting politics raises fears among his critics that he is undermining American democracy. The underlying question is about how much importance we should attach to style in democratic politics.
For autocratic leaders and for authoritarian regimes, style matters a lot. They want to project strength, authority and to intimidate any latent opposition. However, there is also a long tradition among writers on politics that style also matters greatly for democratic societies.
Writers within a broadly democratic tradition differ in what they consider to be the most important feature of style for a democratic society. They also differ on why style is important. However, taken together, the common attention to style cannot be ignored.
At the same time, concerns about style in democracies point beyond Trump himself. The basic problem lies with the system that Trump exploits.