On Friday, Donald Trump began a 17-day vacation at his New Jersey golf resort, which became a huge news story, with CNN‘s Anderson Cooper, going as far as to call the president “The Vacationer in Chief.” Immediately, comparisons were made to how many days of vacation Trump’s immediate predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush got, and a familiar debate among pundits began anew over how much vacation is appropriate for a commander-in-chief.
For his part, the president claims he isn’t on vacation, but is simply working from New Jersey while the west wing is renovated. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether or not this is a vacation, but whether it is or isn’t a vacation, I don’t think it should be regarded as news.
Presidential vacations are great fodder for partisans. Ask a partisan democrat about them and they’ll say Trump is vacationing too much and that George W. Bush spent more time at his ranch than tending to matters of state. Ask a partisan republican about presidential vacations and they’ll say Trump is entitled to a vacation and Obama was too much of a beach bum.
But, the majority of Americans are neither partisan republicans nor partisan democrats. If you mute the chatter of partisans long enough, it becomes apparent that the majority of Americans don’t define themselves by who they vote for. This is why the so-called “undecided” vote sways our elections one way to another and why you have people who voted for Barack Obama and then turned around and voted for Donald Trump four years later.
The press often gets slammed for being elitist, and one of the primary reasons for that is the fact that what is newsworthy and important in the eyes of many journalists, isn’t actually something most Americans care about. The issue of presidential vacations is an example of the disparity between journalists and the public at-large.
The average American doesn’t care how long the president goes on vacation, or where he goes when he’s on vacation. The average American is smart enough to figure that the president probably doesn’t actually get to take a day off because the job is so intense that things like weekends, vacations and a full night’s sleep really don’t exist for the commander-in-chief. Anyone who thinks the president is able to clear his schedule for long enough to take even a few hours break from his job is probably kidding themselves.
Most Americans care about the economy, the safety and security of their families, their local schools, putting food on the table and planning their own family vacations. They may hear that the president is taking a 17 day vacation and think that is far longer in one stretch than they get to take, but they probably rationalize that the president has a much harder job than they do, and government jobs tend to have better benefits than the private sector.
This isn’t an issue to most Americans and it shouldn’t be covered like it is a huge news event. Partisans on either side will always criticize presidents for the pithiest reasons, because to a partisan, everything a president from the other party does has to be wrong. George W. Bush and Barack Obama were criticized for their vacations, Ronald Reagan was criticized for taking naps, and Bill Clinton was dogged for his grease-filled diet.
Most Americans are pre-occupied with wrapping up their vacations and getting their kids back to school right now, and they know that a presidential vacation is always a working vacation. There’s only one reason that the press covers presidential vacations the way they do: controversy drives ratings, subscriptions and revenue. The press should inform and not stir the pot.