What united Trump fans was not so much a policy wish list that had been neglected by mainstream politicians across the political spectrum, but a heartfelt need to say “No!” to a political class that had long ago stopped listening.More precisely, there were people who got it, but they weren't prepared to accept it.
Understood in this way, Trump’s gleeful and truculent displays of contempt for longstanding norms regarding acceptable political behavior become much less difficult to comprehend. And yet no one really got it during the campaign.
The conventional view is that to be serious about policy in a democracy requires not only legislative goals, but also a sense for how legislation will in turn be adopted by agencies and bureaucracies. Not every President has come to the office with this skill set, but every President has sought to quickly figure out the mechanics of government in order to push through a legislative agenda. This in turn has required that the Commander-in-Chief learn how government actually operates. In short, the job has required gaining expertise in the management of a bureaucracy.In short, the perceived role of the president is in doing the things the talking head process worshippers yammer on about: that used to be limited to an hour of Friday on public broadcasting, and Sunday pregaming for the unchurched and unPackered, but with cable news one can have it any time, in any flavor.
Never mind that without the Failures of the Best and the Brightest, there'd be a lot less for the Superintendent of the Cold Spring Shops to grouse about. For instance, "Hope and Change appear to be eight lost years as far as fixing the international or the domestic saecular challenges." Thus, "[W]hen the old social order is coming apart, the outlines of what will replace it are often unclear. Did anyone really anticipate Trumpmania at this time a year ago?"
Imagine that you view government as basically a bunch of corrupt rent-seekers who also subscribe to a set of alien “liberal” cultural values, and who are seeking to impose those values on the whole of America. From that perspective, the terms “bureaucratic competence” or “policy seriousness” reveal themselves as elitist ruses. Trump’s very lack of attention to bureaucratic detail, by contrast, proves he’s not one of those swamp creatures that his candidacy was all about mocking and attacking.That the people who worship "bureaucratic competence" or "policy seriousness" are Sinclair Lewis fanboys who hold the yeomanry in contempt only strengthens his appeal.
When Trump calls for draining the swamp, what his fans hear, not incorrectly, is a rejection of politics-as-a-means-to-pursue-policy as such. “The swamp” that Trump purports to want to drain is all those people who treat policy as a serious business, and who believe that the policy practitioners should be respected (and financially rewarded) by the people who don’t take policy seriously. This insight also helps explain why Trump’s failure to get anything done has not cost him anything with his fans: As long as Trump keeps telling the fancy-pants boys where they can stick it, he’s accomplishing his primary purpose as far as they’re concerned. The real essence of Trump’s campaign, and now his presidency, is not about policy; it is about sticking a finger in the eye of policy expertise and conventional opinions about what constitutes political decency. Just having him up at the podium in the White House is literally a standing rebuke to the very idea that the purpose of politics is policy.That noted, between Constitutional separation of powers and bureaucratic hysteresis, business as usual goes on, and not well.
Despite all the chaos and performance art emanating from the White House, Mar-a-Lago, and various Trump golf courses, the supertanker of state continues to largely do the same things it has under Obama. We have maintained the same ineffective strategy in Syria and Afghanistan, though accompanied by rhetorical broadsides against human rights as a guiding principle of American foreign policy; the Affordable Health Care Act remains the law of the land, albeit administered a bit less well; trade policy hasn’t changed much yet, despite a fair bit of bluster; and deportations continue at more or less the same rate as they did under Obama.Mr Gilman notes that in the event of a real emergency, one in which a president has to act presidential, what comes next may not be amusing.
But there's something of the Last Judgement in his concluding words.
And finally, however valiantly the media and many members of the public may be fighting to prevent Trump’s destruction of the norms of decency and respect that underpin any effective and legitimate democracy, the longer he stays in office, the harder it will be to return to a politics predicated on the idea that policy outcomes should be the primary way in which we judge our politicians.Put another way, Mr Trump wins the election because the voters rejected the bad policy outcomes. That the political classes are spending more time with process worship, rather than, say, coming up with policy outcomes consistent with the wishes of the voters, suggests the airing of grievances and the wetting of trousers will continue.
Given how U.S. elites have signally failed to create a political economy that provides Trump’s fans with a steadily growing supply of panem, we shouldn’t be surprised that they prefer a President who at least they can rely on to deliver circenses. For when it comes to the performance of political grievances, Trump remains America’s greatest ringmaster.