Business reporters specialize in taking fluctuations in stock indices and turning them into compelling stories of cause and effect. It’s a game. With so many forces at work, it is impossible to say exactly why the market went up two points or down three on most occasions.
But every now and then, there’s a narrative that is compelling, as in this Wednesday’s surge in the market following President Trump’s address to Congress.
My opinion is that none of the details of the speech mattered, at least to the market Wednesday morning. What mattered was President Trump’s overall performance, which can only be described as presidential.
There’s a phenomenon in public opinion called the rally effect. It’s a surge in public confidence as a response to demonstrated leadership in a time of crisis. Like soldiers in battle, our hope and trust is renewed when we see our leader standing tall amidst the swirling and otherwise terrifying forces around us.
When President George W. Bush responded to the crisis of the 9/11 attacks, he did it in a manner that was entirely fitting for his office and the moment. The result was increased confidence in our nation’s leaders and our government, at least for a time.
The “crisis” of more recent days is the anxiety among many Americans that our national government is unraveling, our democracy threatened. The perceived threat: the Trump administration itself.
Please note that this is the sentiment of some, not all. There are numerous Americans who have great confidence in and enthusiasm for our new president.
But for a substantial percentage of the population, the overall conduct of the administration is a cause for concern, even alarm.
President Trump’s address on Tuesday was his first presidential leadership moment as president. While he clearly favors his own style of engaging many things, President Trump revealed that he appreciates some of the demands for performance placed upon any president that transcend even his strong preferences. Tuesday’s speech declared that President Trump understands that president of the United States is a role that must define the one who is cast to fill it at least as much as, if not more than, the person who is president can define the office.
Wednesday morning’s Wall Street leap was the resulting rally effect moment. A short-term thing, but a good thing.
Any public officeholder must come to terms with the demands of his or her office. Once in office, we become not merely ourselves in a new job, but the representation of the office and the people it was created to serve. The office insists on its due. And our embrace of or resistance to it will have much to do with the legacy we leave behind.
Our legacy will be determined, in part, by the policies we promote. But it also will be dependent upon the extent to which we allow the office to mold us into the image of the public servant it calls us to be.