Trump’s “toddler-like” behavior poses a threat to society during a time when presidential power is less constrained than ever before, according to author Daniel Drezner. 

He visited Brandeis on Thursday to discuss his most recent book, “The Toddler in Chief: What Donald Trump Teaches us About the Modern Presidency.” Drezner was later joined by Prof. Daniel Kryder (POL) in a question and answer session.  

Drezner, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, used an analogy of guardrails and a twisted road on the side of a cliff to explain the relationship between presidential behavior and the system of checks and balances. If America is a car driving down this road, two measures protecting it from falling off the edge are guardrails, referring to the system of checks and balances, and the skill of the driver, referring to the capabilities of a leader, he said. 

“I would argue that the guard rails have been wearing down,” he explained. “And now we have a driver that thinks he’s in a bumper car and that it is impossible to be hurt.” 

Drezner compared Trump’s behavior to that of a petulant child. “I’m not trying to insult toddlers,” he said. “They have to navigate their way through the world with severe cognitive limitations, but Donald Trump has no excuse.”

Drezner analyzed six key traits he found in both toddlers and President Trump, starting with temper tantrums. Characterizing these fits as “perhaps Trump’s most prominent feature,” he cited former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who claimed that his time working with Trump was “the worst he has ever been treated in service.” Drezner then explained that this trait has woven itself into policy decisions, claiming that Trump does not just experience anger, but acts on it. “There is a fair amount of evidence that Trump launched the strike on the Iranian General Soleimani because he got angry,” he noted.  

As he detailed the next character trait, a short attention span, Drezner said, “There is no evidence that Trump can sit through anything like a normal briefing.” Although he acknowledged the importance of brevity in the fast-paced job of a president, Drezner also noted that there is a difference between brevity and “giving Trump large three-by-five flashcards in big print.”

Drezner continued his behavioral analysis, detailing the role of poor impulse control, oppositional behavior and excessive screen time under Trump’s presidency. “The White House is now like a poorly run daycare facility in which poorly-paid workers constantly cycle through,” he said. 

He also spoke about Trump’s knowledge deficit, referencing an instance when the President did not know the significance of Pearl Harbor in American history. Quoting “The Monkey Cage,”  a section of the Washington Post devoted to political discourse written by Senior Editor Elizabeth Saunders, Drezner said that “presidents who are radically uninformed can’t even discipline their own staffers, which essentially gives cabinet and staff more autonomy because they know they can do things and it won’t be anticipated.”  

Additionally, Drezner argued that checks and balances do not matter as much as they used to. “Congress has ceded a lot of their constitutional powers to the president,” he said. “As a result, Trump has actually been remarkably empowered, even if he is a relatively weak leader.”

When the floor was opened to the audience, one attendee asked whether or not having a “toddler president” has placed the burden of parenthood on the American people. Drezner responded that more Americans are paying attention to politics and are now invested in the upcoming 2020 elections. 

“If there’s a virtue to Trump being president, it is that it teaches Americans that they should no longer take certain things for granted,” Drezner said.  

In his follow-up Q&A session, Kryder proposed an alternative explanation. Kryder argued that Trump is actually a high-functioning president, pointing out that rather than being a “doer,” Trump is a “damager.” 

“There is an extraordinary amount of damage being done to the democratic order, and in that interpretation this is a very high-functioning president,” Kryder said.   

Drezner ended his presentation by reminding Americans of their responsibility to vote. “Americans can grow the hell up,” he said. “After 2020, if Donald Trump is elected, he won’t be the toddler-in-chief. The toddlers-in-chief will be us.”