Anyone who cannot resist the temptation to offer public predictions about public events invites and can expect public ridicule.
Even pre-eminent 20th-century American columnist and public intellectual Walter Lippmann, who was courted by presidents and prime ministers, is regularly remembered for dismissing in print then-New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt for being “no tribune of the people.” Lippmann wrote: “He is no enemy of entrenched privilege. He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President.”
Of the man who would integrate baseball in 1947 and win Rookie of the Year honors and eventually go to the Baseball Hall of Fame, New York’s most famous sports columnist, Jimmy Cannon, wrote that Jackie Robinson was a baseball player of only “ordinary ability” who would “never make the grade,” calling Robinson just “a 1,000-to-one shot.”
In this company, my own confident — and very wrong — call in the early fall of 2004 that soon-to-be-elected President John Kerry would not run for re-election in 2008 may not look quite so bad as it really was.
So rather than accentuate the negative about predictions, today it is time to celebrate a prophet who has not received anywhere near the honor he has earned. Not quite a year ago, this man, Dan Rottenberg of Philadelphia, whom I do not personally know, wrote, “As a financial journalist, I have followed Trump for more than 30 years — long before he aspired to the White House.” Based upon that experience, this now-75-year-old author, editor and reporter made the following unequivocal predictions:
“Trump will never release his tax returns. To do so would destroy his self-image as a successful businessman and generous philanthropist.
“Trump will never divest his businesses. They mean more to him than the presidency, because they’re central to his image and easier for him to control. (For that matter, Trump never really wanted to be president: As his first campaign manager acknowledged, Trump got into the race to raise his profile and enhance the value of his brand.)
“He will never give up his children as advisors, because he views them as extensions of himself; consequently, they’re the only people he trusts. (As Garry Wills astutely noted before the election, Trump literally has no friends.)
“He will resist holding press conferences, which involve confronting hostile questions. He will hold rallies instead, where he can bask in his supporters’ adulation.
“He won’t give up his Twitter account. For Trump, tweeting to his followers is not the means to some strategic end; it is the end. His need to vent transcends all else.”
The political prediction business is notorious about getting it wrong, especially when it comes to how a winning presidential candidate will act as president. The author of these prescient insights about our then-newly inaugurated 45th president wrote them for the Broad Street Review. Rottenberg, according to his bio, has also worked for The Wall Street Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia magazine and the Chicago Journalism Review and has written 11 books, including the memoirs of one of Philadelphia’s most honorable political leaders, Thacher Longstreth.
In an update this past September, Rottenberg, who attributes Trump’s behavior to a psychological condition called narcissistic personality disorder, wrote: “In any given situation, Trump will take the action that makes waves or creates headlines, even if it makes no moral, political, or practical sense. How else to explain his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, his decision to exclude transgender citizens from the military, his singular refusal to condemn with racists in Charlottesville, and his current attempt to deport 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants? From a narcissist’s perspective, how can you attract attention if you simply endorse conventional wisdom?”
The diagnosis may be from out of left field, but Rottenberg’s exceptional predictions of unpresidential behavior deserve a shoutout.
— Mark Shields is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.