By Ralph Nader
All signs point to Donald Trump becoming a jawboning president without equal in American history. That is, jawboning by exerting rhetorical bombast focused on people, corporations and institutions, with massive media propulsion behind the very personal presidency he will establish. It will be a natural daily extension of his boundless, easily bruisable ego.
Trump has embraced these tactics as both a candidate and president-elect. He went after Carrier Corp. (a subsidiary of United Technologies) and Ford Motor Co. for shipping jobs to Mexico, after Boeing for charging too much for the new Air Force One and after Lockheed/Martin for over-pricing its F-35 fighter planes.
Previous presidents, knowing they have the “bully pulpit,” have generally been averse to the sort of jawboning that singles out specific firms and persons. President Harry Truman did take on a newspaper columnist who criticized his daughter, Margaret’s, singing skills. President John F. Kennedy went after U.S. Steel and referred to price hikes from the industry as “a wholly unjustifiable and irresponsible defiance of the public interest.”
But generally, presidents do not want to be seen as bullies, preferring one competitor against another or frittering their presidential authority by getting into petty squabbles. In the midst of more serious matters of state, jawboning can be a serious distraction that alienates larger numbers of people who may side with the assailed.
With Trump, none of this may matter. He has said repeatedly that he always slams back twenty times harder than anyone who slams him. He revels in his 20 million Twitter followers and loves how his tweets are carried by the mass media. That gives him a personal “mass media” which he controls, unfiltered by his antagonists in the press.
Rather than playing the “going-through-channels” game in Washington, he’ll want to throw his opponents off balance through personal attacks, including attacks on members of Congress and Governors. He is into the psychology of human frailties, vanities and occupational vulnerabilities. He knows that jawboning one person, firm or politician will put others on the defensive, and wondering whether they will be next, or putting foreign powers off balance because of his furious unpredictability.
The downside for Trump is that he will be so absorbed in jawboning and rebutting critics that he won’t be paying attention to what his underlings are doing until trouble rises to his level for decision. Jawboning can lead to complex consequences when it comes from the most powerful office in the county.
Should Trump use jawboning to give corporate gougers of workers, consumers, taxpayers and communities some pause and restraint, if not produce outright reversal of policy, he can become the champion of the underdogs and those bullied. He’s already said that drug prices are too high. If he believes that plain fact, can you guess what he’ll do next with his tweet on a specific company or a pay-or-die drug costing patients $100,000 or more a year?
Trump is known not to like detailed immersion into issues or detailed briefings by civil servants. He likes to set the pace, establish the new focus of the day and, above all, get even with anyone who stands up to or embarrasses him. He seems to behave as if rules and norms do not apply to him.
The strange Trump personality can radiate in many directions. Some results may be beneficial. Others – such as in the case of a stateless terror attack – may worsen a bad situation because of impulsive and violent over-reaction, leading to a worsening situation overseas and damage to the national interests, civil liberties and other constitutional rights of the American people.
Want a New Year’s resolution? Stay alert, keep up with your fellow citizens at the Congressional grassroots, stay informed on current events, and always be ready to foresee and forestall initiatives by politicians and corporatists that recklessly or greedily gobble up your tax dollars and undercut your health, safety and civil rights.