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Syracuse University professor: Trump 'perfect president' for 24-hour news cycle

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Vice President Mike Pence applauds as President Donald Trump arrives in the Kennedy Garden of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 1, 2017, to speak to the Independent Community Bankers Association. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Before becoming president, Donald Trump graced the New York tabloids for years and his celebrity status grew when he starred in the NBC reality show, "The Apprentice." 

That, according to Syracuse University professor Kendall Phillips, is what sets Trump apart from his predecessors in the White House. 

"He came with a deeper understanding of what celebrity can accomplish," Phillips said in an interview with The Citizen. "Every president and presidential candidate becomes a celebrity. Trump is really the first person to come as a celebrity into the presidency in the modern era." 

Phillips, a communications and rhetorical studies professor, provided his analysis of Trump's first 100 days in office by focusing mainly on the intersection between the Manhattan real estate mogul and popular culture. 

Trump's connection to pop culture will be the subject of a course Phillips will teach in the fall at Syracuse University. 

Among the observations made by Phillips is that Trump has been more public as president than past occupants of the White House. When presidents typically make key decisions, the issues are discussed in the background before any public announcements are made. 

Trump has broken that tradition by being public with what's on his mind. Using Twitter, he's tweeted thoughts on many issues ranging from North Korea to trade. 

"Most presidents have felt that their public face is very important and they have weighed what they say in public and how they say things in public very carefully," Phillips said. "With Trump's presidency, lots of ideas are floated randomly and chaotically." 

Trump's use of Twitter isn't necessarily a negative for him, though. Phillips noted that it's not unprecedented for a president to attempt to deliver unfiltered messages to the masses. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, used fireside chats to communicate to the American people. 

By using Twitter, Trump can take his message directly to the people and avoid the press, which he's referred to as "dishonest" throughout his presidential campaign and since being sworn in as president. 

"It absolutely fits in with his campaign narrative about himself," Phillips said. "He's unfiltered. He's not a politician. He's not trying to please everybody. In terms of his base, they see the Twitter tirades of being a genuine example of someone who's not going to play nice as most politicians do." 

Trump's tweeting, which can come at all hours of the day, also gives newspapers more to write about and cable news stations something to cover. For that reason, Phillips views Trump as the "perfect president" for the 24-hour news cycle. 

He compared Trump to former President Barack Obama, whose White House was more deliberate with its media strategy. It's not that there was a lack of headlines about the Obama presidency, but Trump, Phillips said, gives media outlets "news that can fill 24 hours." 

"Trump gives people a news story almost hourly — a new executive order, something he says," Phillips said. "He is constantly sending material. He's the perfect president for that (news) cycle. We just want to see what he's going to say next." 

And that's one way Trump's first 100 days has altered the presidency. Phillips said Trump, from a news and pop culture standpoint, is "absolutely central to everything." 

The big question, though, is whether Trump can be successful. Phillips didn't assess Trump's policies, but did say that the first few months of the president's term demonstrates why high political offices need people who understand politics. 

Trump's success could persuade other high-profile business leaders or celebrities — Mark Zuckerberg, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson — to run for political office. 

"It's just a fascinating moment in American cultural history where we really are asking questions about what the presidency is meant to be and recognize that the presidency is not a fixed office," Phillips said. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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