Donald Trump lives in the impulsive world of Twitter. While tweets do put him in closer contact with the general population, the Twitter world he favors is an uncritical sphere inhabited by those who have no critical capacity for levels of analysis. Watching him during his recent press conference was to watch someone with few powers of reflection. He does not weigh his words; he has instant reactions. He is not critical.
Several pundits have compared last week’s Trump press conference with the final presidential address of Barack Obama. Trying to solidify his legacy, Obama gave a farewell address that he hopes will be remembered alongside George Washington’s and Dwight Eisenhower’s memorable speeches. Obama was measured and reflective in trying to place his presidency in perspective - obviously from his own perspective, but nonetheless beyond the immediate moment. He was trying to be critical. (It is obviously more difficult to be critical of oneself than others.)
The comparison between Trump’s press conference and Obama’s speech is significant. One was emotional; the other was highly measured. One was spontaneous; the other was highly studied. Granted that a news conference is not the same as the narrative of an outgoing president, but the comparisons reflect two very different styles and personalities. Trump is reactive, Obama is highly disciplined – even the tear when speaking of his wife was wiped away in a most impersonal manner.
Trump and Obama represent two extremes. Trump is not critical at all. Obama may be too critical, too reflective to be able to connect with the emotions of his constituents. (Michelle Obama has been able to find the right balance between measured eloquence and passionate rhetoric. That is why she is so respected and admired.)
What exactly does it mean to be critical? To be critical is to form an opinion from a perspective. To be critical, one has to step back from a situation to place it in context. There is nothing negative about that. It requires observing what is going on and then analyzing why it is happening from a certain distance.
Being critical can be shown when a parent observes a baby crying. The first observation is that the baby is unhappy. An impulsive reaction would be to pick the baby up or to yell at the baby to be quiet. A better second reaction would be the observation that the baby is crying for a reason. The baby is hungry, tired, etc. That would entail a distance from the initial reaction and a second level of analysis.
Modern technology has not helped us to be critical. For example, sending tweets is impulsive. Tweets are first levels of expressions that people use to present their feelings. Tweets require no second level of analysis or perspective. Much like babies crying, tweets are simple emotional expressions.
Being President of the United States requires many levels of analysis. It requires observing what is going on, and then analyzing what the observation entails from different perspectives. It also requires considerable reflection about how to respond to the initial observation. In the baby example, it would mean reflecting on whether or not to feed the child right away, to change the baby or put the baby to sleep. In other words, there is more just an impulsive reaction to pick up the child or to yell at the baby to be quiet.
Donald Trump is the first Twitter president. He won the election because he reflects our times; he is impulsive and not reflective. He is far from being critical. (Perhaps that is the advantage of having inherited considerable wealth from his father.) Will he become reflective? Can he become critical?
A very wise mentor taught me that when people accuse me of being too critical, I should respond: “I measure 1 meter 72, weigh 75 kilos and my father never left me a fortune. If I am not critical, I will not earn a living.” Obviously, his lesson was that being critical was something positive. Donald Trump’s impulsiveness is far from positive.