When Ronald Reagan was president, some people were shocked to learn that he kept "banker's hours," working pretty much from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week. Given the demands of the most powerful job in the world, it seemed a dereliction of duty for him not to be putting in some more time in the office.
Reagan, however, had nothing on President Trump. Here's what Jonathan Swan of Axios reported on Sunday:
President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11 a.m., and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump's demands for more "Executive Time," which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us ... Trump's days in the Oval Office are relatively short — from around 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., then he's back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval. Then he's back to the residence for more phone calls and more TV. [Axios]
Swan also reports that Trump is working less than he did at the beginning of his presidency; you might recall that in the early days, Trump was surprised to find that managing the United States government, an enterprise with over two million employees and a budget of over $4 trillion, was more challenging than running a brand-licensing firm. "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier," he told an interviewer in April.
Well thank goodness he's found a way to lighten the load. And I mean that: Trump's "Executive Time" is a gift for all of us.
It's clear that Trump is much more interested in watching TV and tweeting than in slogging his way through intelligence briefings or economic reports. You only have to watch him speak for a few minutes to see that he can't stay focused on any one topic for more than a moment, which is just one of the reasons he's so attracted to cable news. And he often sounds like he'd be more comfortable sitting on the couch at Fox & Friends than at his desk in the Oval Office. He recently announced (on Twitter, of course) that "I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday at 5:00 o'clock. Subjects will cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News Media. Stay tuned!" Then when the day was upon us, he shrewdly chose to heighten the tension: "The Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media, will be presented to the losers on Wednesday, January 17th, rather than this coming Monday. The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!" Whatever else he isn't working on, he's working on that.
I suspect that this isn't a function of laziness so much as a simple dissatisfaction with the actual nuts and bolts of being president. Running for the office in the style he did suited Trump pretty well: He'd blow into some town, rant at a crowd of adoring fans for a while, get back on his plane and head home, then do the same thing the next day. It was more like a concert tour than a job — tiring maybe, but not all that hard.
But now he has to deal with all kinds of issues he has no interest in, and the presidency is short on instant gratification. As a developer he could say "Give me more gold leaf on those walls!", and boom, he'd get more gold leaf on those walls. Now he has to deal with 535 ornery members of Congress with their own agendas, an executive branch (and even his own staff) that sometimes seems to be trying to undermine him, foreign leaders that don't hide their contempt for him, and a news media that refuses to give him the praise he thinks he deserves. No wonder he's reluctant to emerge from his comforting cocoon.
In some industries and places — including Washington, believe you me — there's a prevailing belief that the way you demonstrate your value as an employee and the importance of your work is to log extended hours in the office. If you leave at 6, it must be an indication that you aren't committed to your organization's mission. This is a deeply pernicious idea, and its ubiquity is one of the reasons we in America are such slaves to our jobs compared to our peers in Europe, who in most countries are guaranteed by law as much as a month of paid vacation and holidays.
So perhaps with his Executive Time, Trump is striking a much needed blow for work-life balance. That could also explain why in 2017 he spent 116 days at Trump-branded properties, or fully one-third of his time in office. That included 73 days playing golf, no doubt a critical stress-reducer that keeps his mind and body sharp when he makes it back to his desk.
But the most important reason Trump's Executive Time is good for all of us is that when he's not in the Oval Office, the chances of him destroying the world are greatly reduced. If you think it would be better if Trump had less Executive Time, what is it you'd prefer he be doing? Making decisions and delivering orders to his underlings? That won't be good for anyone.
Back in November, Trump claimed, "I don't get to watch much television. Primarily because of documents. I'm reading documents. A lot." No one believed him, because of the copious reporting that he finds reading to be irritating drudgery at best. As Reuters reported in May, "National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump's name in 'as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he's mentioned,' according to one source." The great thing about cable news is that he'll never have to wait more than a few minutes before he's mentioned.
So let him sit in the White House residence, watching Fox News, tweeting, and calling up friends who will shower him with praise. Given the alternative of a hard-working Donald Trump, it sounds like about the best we can hope for.