21.1.18

TAKING STOCK.

We're into Year Two of the Trump presidency, and the Angry #Resistance continues to proclaim its anger and resistance.  I suppose that's a good thing, because the worst case scenario, according to more than a few proponents of that anger and resistance, is that we would all be dead by now.  Which isn't the case, dear reader, as I am posting this, and you are reading it.

The most trenchant observation about the past year came from CNN's Michael Smerconish, who described the Trump presidency as perhaps the "most consequential" of the Outsider Presidents era (as in Carter to Reagan to Clinton to Obama to Trump; the Bushes pere et fils comprising an echo of the Establishment Presidencies of perceived past days.)  Note: consequential simply means changing things, disrupting things, whether for good or for ill will be for others, perhaps historians not yet born, to evaluate.

Today, a roundup of skeptical, yet thoughtful, takes.  (You want the #Resistance takes, dear reader?  Find them yourself, they're easy enough to track down.)

Starting from the Deep Skeptical, consider James Kunstler.
Well, he made it through the year. I thought the f[***]er would be sandbagged by a claque of Pentagon patriots inside of three months, but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

What seems to be forgotten is that Donald Trump brought his own swamp to Washington, as in a history of hinky real-estate wheelings-and-dealings, stiffed vendors, bankruptcies, lowbrow TV hijinks, and dark adventures in the Manhattan nightlife of the late 20th century. So, it’s swamp versus swamp.

You may detect that I’m not exactly a fan of the president, but I rather admire his standing up to the permanent bureaucracy that we call the Deep State, and especially its elite poobahs, who have driven this polity into a deeper ditch than the voters realize.
That's not to say things couldn't get worse, but, a year on, we're still here and able to carp about it. And perhaps the foreign policy toughness is a good thing.

For The American Spectator, John Wohlstetter suggests, "In normal times he’d be a shoo-in for a second term."  Perhaps, the current normal times are times of continuing resolutions and government shutdowns and angry people yelling at each other on talk television, and yet those times have brought us three two-term presidencies in a row.  Perhaps, Mr Wohlstetter argues, Our President is his own worst enemy.
So why is our 45th chief executive so beleaguered, facing, in the view of many, electoral reversal in 2018 and a one-term presidency?

Consider these three: (a) presidential deportment; (b) huge policy shifts; (c) cultural rifts centered on multicultural and gender identity politics.
Mollie Hemingway leaves her usual haunts at The Federalist to say a few good things about Our President for the benefit of Swamp Insiders.
This may seem like an odd moment for saying so, but a year into the presidency of Donald Trump, I’m elated.

Trump was not my first or even second choice for president, but a full two years ago I predicted he would win. I also predicted he’d be a progressive president, which explained why I was not among his supporters and why I am so pleased now.
She's using "progressive" in the sense of Expanding the Nanny State and Making Wise Experts More Intrusive, rather than in the weaselly "progressive means making progress and getting things done" locution the losing Democrat candidate in 2016 fell back on.

He is, she notes, getting things done, and in a good way, in international affairs.
Trump’s foreign policy could be more restrained, but it’s far less interventionist than that of any of his recent predecessors, focused on national interest over nation-building or other less pressing and more expensive concerns. By trusting his military leaders to make quick decisions on the battlefield, in contrast to Obama’s desire to placate Iran and micromanage trivial moves such as helicopter deployments, Trump is crushing the Islamic State. Sanctions and other nonmilitary efforts are being used to keep North Korea at bay after the failure of denuclearization as practiced by presidents since Bill Clinton.
Not starting any new "limited wars" or "nation building" or what have you is probably a good thing.  As, perhaps, is being a brash outer-borough hustler in style.
Like most people, I don’t particularly like Trump’s rhetorical style, juvenile insults and intemperate disposition — on full display in recent days. At the same time, having followed his career for decades, I am not surprised that he wakes up each morning as Donald Trump.

And that boorish attitude has come in handy after decades of media bullying of conservatives. Ironically, the very lack of conservative bona fides that worried me two years ago means he’s less beholden to a conservative establishment that had grown alienated from the people it is supposed to serve and from the principles it ostensibly exists to promote. His surprising conservatism might also be the result of the absolutism and extremism of his critics, whether among the media, traditional Democratic activists or the anti-Trump right. If Trump were ever inclined to indulge his liberal tendencies after winning the election, the stridency and spite of his opponents have provided him with no incentives to do so.
That might be something for more conventional conservatives to emulate. It's not necessary to be nasty, but it's not required to appease abusive critics who won't stop abusing you just because you phrase your policy proposals more gently.

Michael Mandelbaum, for The American Interest, offers five theses by which the Trump presidency is consequential.
  1. Donald Trump is conducting an unusual presidency.
  2. Donald Trump has governed as a Republican President.
  3. Donald Trump is a populist -- of a certain kind.
  4. Donald Trump may -- or may not -- be threatened by the Mueller investigation.
  5. Donald Trump helped make sexual harassment a major national issue.
Read the article for the supporting details.  As you do so, understand these caveats.
The President is the head, but far from the totality, of the federal government. And the work the federal government performs does not determine everything important that happens in the United States. Trump the President emerges from a number of accounts, not all of them of undisputed accuracy, as an unattractive personality poorly suited to the job he holds: ignorant, impulsive, indolent, and intellectually out of his depth in the Oval Office. The Trump presidency after twelve months, however, has a record of governing that stands apart—or at least semi-detached—from the office-holder’s personality. The appraisal that follows, therefore, has as its focus the presidency rather than the President.
To Victor Hanson, there has been a sea change in presidencies, distinct from the personalities of Barack Obama or Donald Trump. "Whatever Donald J. Trump’s political past and vociferous present, his first year of governance is most certainly as hard conservative as Barack Obama’s eight years were hard progressive. We are watching a rare experiment in political governance play out, as we go, in back-to-back fashion, from one pole to its opposite."  There, dear reader, is the material for future election campaigns and future doctoral dissertations alike.
In other words, free-market economics, deterrent foreign policies, and conservative cultural reform that are championed in the abstract in think tanks, on radio and television by conservative pundits, and in magazines and journals by conservative intellectuals are currently being put to work concretely in the real world, a rare occurrence. Or they’re being implemented as least as much as possible with a president and a Congress of the same party behind them and within a set tenure.

If the economy grows, if the world is calmer and the U.S. stronger, if average Americans acquire more income and more jobs, and if the culture encourages greater stability and virtue, then the conservative experiment will have worked. If all that does not happen, we cannot blame it on the bad Trump messenger, the incompetent Republican Senate, the biased or the squabbling conservative House.

Those on the conservative side believe that the Obama regnum showed that progressive economics, foreign policy, and cultural protocols led to a weaker, more unfair, poorer, and less cohesive America. But such beliefs are easy to hold when you’re out of power and more prone to find faults than solutions. To paraphrase Aristotle, it is easy to be virtuous when asleep.

The true test of conservative solutions is to see how things are after four years of a strongly conservative president, with at least two years of a Republican Congress.

To those who think that Trump’s personality makes him an unrepresentative avatar of conservatism, his supporters would say, “Persuade us that better conservative messengers could have been elected in 2016 America — and that they would have governed to the right of Trump in his first year.” Like it or not, Trump turned out to be a hard-core conservative, and yet one whose rhetoric, comportment, and feistiness appealed to people who had never before voted for hard-core conservative agendas.

The nation did not suddenly become liberal in 2008 or conservative in 2016. Rather, in both years it rejected blas√© centrism — first trying out a left-wing deviation from establishmentarianism, then in frustration turning to a right-wing antidote to both the failed medicine and the original diseased status quo.
Further confounding the story, the experiment with outsider presidencies might not yet be over, with Oprah boomlets still rattling around social media.

I'll give the final word to an unnamed Australian observer.  Trump’s First Year: Truth Gets Lost In Hysteria.
The visceral and often irrational disdain for Donald Trump displayed by otherwise seemingly high-functioning adults is beyond easy explanation.

Here we are a year after his inauguration and large elements of the media, academia, left-of-centre politicians, their followers and even many centrists still recoil at the very mention of his name, treating him as a dumb, dangerous and illegitimate President.

It is silly and deluded. It also plays to Trump’s strengths, affirming his claim to be a Washington outsider opposed by the broad political establishment and misrepresented by most of the media. It only underlines his narrative about insiders resisting his efforts to “drain the swamp” and rejecting the mandate he carries from mainstream voters.
Perhaps, this observer notes, the self-appointed elites ought check their privilege. "Beyond whatever he achieves as President, Trump might prove useful for the clarity he brings to the jaundice in the political debate and the growing chasm between mainstream political concerns in western liberal democracies and the predilections of the people charged with policy development, implementation and analysis."  That note comes with a dash of constructive self-criticism.
It seemed safer to stick with orthodox political awfulness rather than to risk awful unpredictability. Yet voters were attracted by that very unpredictability. They wanted to shake up the system. The attraction of Trump as a disrupter was obvious, especially for working (or under-employed) Americans away from the wealthy, liberal cities of the northeast and west coast. It was strange so many commentators gave him little chance given his poll deficit was often margin-of-error territory.
A year on, the world has not ended, and the Angry #Resistance have not yet changed their tone.  We shall see, dear reader, who will be mugged by reality this year.

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