"We've got serious problems, and we need serious people. And if you want to talk about character, Bob, you'd better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I'll show up. This a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up."
The American President
Directed by Rob Reiner
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Stormy Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti announced that he's considering a run for president in 2020. Of course, anyone, including Mr. Avenatti, who wants to run for president is certainly allowed. He's a fine lawyer and a hell of a voice for the Resistance. Maybe not presidential material, though. This particular announcement portends one of the myriad downsides of the Trump presidency: because a television con-man managed to win in 2016 (with copious assistance from the Kremlin), every B-list celebrity, along with fringe tabloid characters, are operating under the misapprehension that they, too, can be president. If a clown like Trump can do it, anyone can!
Imagine the 2003 California recount election but on a national scale. This is absolutely a possibility. Trump has devalued the presidency to the point where nearly everyone thinks the gig is a no-brainer, requiring little more than a Q-score and a few guest appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher. Therefore, it's possible -- perhaps likely that the Democratic slate of candidates in 2019 and 2020 will be festooned with unserious weirdos and tabloid stars muddying the works and dragging the serious contenders down to a more Trumpian famous-for-being-famous level.
Paraphrasing what Sorkin and Michael Douglas said in The American President, this is a serious job intended for serious people. Yet Trump, so far, has managed to prove that anyone can sashay between the raindrops and get away with being a completely incompetent chief executive while still enjoying a not-entirely-awful 40-45 percent approval. To date, Trump hasn't accidentally leaned on the "launch" button while ordering "lunch." But it's only a matter of time when his incompetence gets us into a serious fighting war. It's bad enough he's such a villain, with his jihad against the press and his internment camps for children, but so far Trump has proved that a total novice can scurry through the job without any mushroom clouds -- yet.
Trump's ascendancy also proves American voters are often confused and easily misled -- too many of us are willing to vote for incompetent candidates who totally lack presidential acumen. Therefore, other novices have noticed the Trump loophole and are busily planning to exploit it for fame and power. While Avenatti seems like a smart lawyer and a ferocious political animal, he simply doesn't possess the experience or seriousness we need to correct this massive glitch in the space-time continuum created by Trump, Putin and Fox News.
We're on a collision course with Idiocracy, and we need serious, sober men and women on the Democratic side who are willing to fight Trumpism and the devaluing of public service by illustrating how presidents are supposed to comport themselves. Endorsing a roster of empty suits and B-listers will not solve anything, even if they happen to have a "D" after their names. The "D" has to mean something -- it has to be synonymous with seriousness and expertise, with a respect for public service and the long history of presidential traditions that serve to maintain consistency and continuity. Seeing movie star X or television pundit Y on a debate stage likewise sends the signal to voters that it's okay to take unserious people seriously.
But in my darkest hours, I feel like the presidential ship has sailed -- that making a case for a return to presidential presidents is old fashioned. The Trump-shaped hole in the wall might be too big to suture. It's possible that presidential debate stages will gradually ejector-seat qualified candidates from the field in lieu of reality show doofuses who only know how to push their names into supermarket checkout aisles.
The damage from the Trump presidency has taken on many forms, and this could be one of the most destructive. Our presidential campaigns are rapidly spinning out of control, with dark money and foreign intelligence agencies tipping the scales, and with cable-produced game shows replacing appropriately boring debates, complete with sound effects, laser lights, glossy stage sets and commercial breaks underscoring how it's all just a goddamn show. Everything Howard Beale forecasted in Network.
Those of us who are still tethered to reality have an obligation to drag the process back to where it ought to be: destroying Trumpism with fire and blocking anyone who fails to rise to a level of appropriateness commensurate with the seriousness of the job.