Over the past year, we have been treated to, or rather forced to endure, the unsavoury aspects of a president’s personality. Over the past year, we have tweets and public statements that show us something that is usually hidden. We see a president’s feuds rather than his compromises, his grudges rather than his forgiveness, and his boasts rather than his humility. For his supporters he is telling it like it is. Yet, far from removing hypocrisy he wants to impose his own by replacing the presidential persona with his own.
The President’s behaviour is similar to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon who were often crude, vulgar, and cruel in private. In public, they presented a different persona to fulfil their presidential responsibilities. They had to adopted a persona that respects common decency since the president is the highest public figure. They respected the office and its public role. They accepted its constraints. What the President has done is blur the two realms through social media and his own personality to avoid these constraints. In particular, he has done this to define himself against the media. The media upholds an expected presidential persona by holding him to account, which in turn filters his public persona to the public. However, the issue is not his struggle with the media nor is it the President’s unwillingness to accept hypocrisy.
To justify his behaviour, his supporters and defenders argue that presidents hide their private vices and that lie to the public with their public virtues. Robert Mercer, for example, claimed he funded Milo Yiannopoulos to attack what he saw as the hypocrisy of those who would shut down free speech in the name of political correctness. In this, though, he refused to accept a view that a society rest upon a shared or common opinion that has to be defended and is not open to “debate.” We can see this respect for the common opinion when previous presidents were genuinely embarrassed to have their private indecency revealed or known. They respected the office and the presidential persona. By contrast, the President broadcasts it, he is *proud* of it, and most importantly, he is celebrated for it by his supporters. They think this reflects the world as it is so they want the world to know he is crude, he is boorish, and he is vicious. Except it doesn’t. Instead, he manipulates the public with his behaviour. He does this for effect and to reshape the presidential persona to his ends, not the public’s.
The President’s behaviour means that his persona supplants the presidential persona. To do this, though he has to undermine any institutions, such as the press, that reminds the public of the presidential persona and the public good. The President and Mercer attack the press or common decency as “fake news” or political correctness so that they can redefine common decency to enhance, not resist, the President’s persona. If they succeed, a private good will supplant the public good.