In life, there are defining moments. At their best, they may be acts of heroism, selflessness or extraordinary kindness. At worst, they are acts or phrases that simply sear the national psyche and are never or not soon forgotten.
For people in public life, defining moments can literally make them or break them. In a campaign, a candidate and his or her team only hope that if a favorable defining moment comes they will be smart enough and fast enough to take full advantage of it. And, countless hours are spent seeking to avoid the moment that negates much of the good one might otherwise have done.
Consider these brief excerpts and you get the picture:
“Ask not what your country can do for you….”
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall…”
“I am not a crook.”
“Read my lips….”
This August will long be remembered as a time that provided a defining moment for President Trump. Every armchair quarterback can judge just what the moment meant; however, what is clear is that Mr. Trump sought the opportunity to speak his mind on the tragic events in Charlottesville. He found the moment in the lobby of Trump Tower. He spoke and most were outraged with his message and even his usual defenders were silenced.
It was a defining moment that provided instant reaction followed by some strong moral action.
Within a few days, a group as unlikely as the chief executive of Walmart, an individual leading more than 2 million employees who see 100,000,000 customers a week in their stores along with the members of the nation’s Joint Chiefs of Staff who lead America’s military were separating themselves from the views expressed by President Trump. Presidential advisory committees were shut down ahead of all their distinguished members resigning. These were not hastily made political statements. These were carefully considered expressions that took the moral high ground.
Now, we should ask, just how do we move on?
Will this President ever travel without protests?
Will we ever listen to a Presidential speech read from the teleprompter without wanting to wait a few days for the “real views” to emerge?
Can congressional leaders be persuaded by a presidential call for action on important legislation?
Can the American people be moved by Presidential proclamation?
If political leaders ask the nation to move forward to advance an agenda, will anyone really follow?
The defining moment that came days ago has weakened the presidency. About this, I am certain. The critical issues that need to be addressed in Washington in the weeks ahead are the same: health care, national security, the budget, infrastructure, the debt ceiling, tax reform and a serious drug crisis to name a few. Now, only with strong legislative initiative and bipartisanship in our nation’s Capitol will these issues advance. Whether today’s Congress is up to this task is unclear, but even they must know, regardless of party, that in August President Trump managed, at least for a time, to achieve a kind of lame duck status only seven months into his term as president making their obligations all the greater.
Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.