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Donald Trump’s Empty Governance

Donald Trump’s greatest political achievement is little remarked upon these days: He got elected. Because getting elected gave him immense power in our presidential system, the nation’s attention turned to his presidential actions, triumphs, tribulations, and approval ratings. But now it’s possible to assess his achievements. So far, getting elected is the greatest of them.

But the nature and significance of that achievement is widely misunderstood. Trump got elected by exposing the single most significant fact of political life in America in our time: that large numbers of Americans have lost faith in the judgment and leadership of the nation’s elites. This is a seminal development. Americans usually have trusted their elites to set the country’s direction and frame its definition. Trump brushed them aside with the back of his hand and galvanized the support of millions in the process.

To appreciate the magnitude of this, think back to the beginning of the 2016 election cycle, when America’s pols and pundits looked ahead to a campaign driven by issues and pronouncements crafted by elite thinking. When Trump crashed the reception and started throwing the stemware against the wall, he was immediately dismissed as too crude and uncouth to become president.

[1]

This article appears in the January/February 2018 issue of TAC.

But the New York billionaire possessed three distinctive attributes that propelled him to victory. First, he seemed to comprehend America’s status quo crisis—the disintegration of the old order that had defined the country since World War II. (See my article entitled “The Meaning of Trump,” in TAC’s March/April 2017 issue.) [2] Large numbers of voters understood immediately what he was saying, particularly since the crisis was largely ignored by the other candidates.

Second, he demonstrated that he was not stuck in the partisan ossification exacerbating the status quo crisis and generating governmental deadlock. As the old order began to dissolve, the two parties instinctively clung ever more tenaciously to time-tested positions, defaulting to an increasingly rigid groupthink and shunning compromise. The government seized up; dysfunction set in.

Trump sidestepped this rigid political thinking of both parties and crafted a new mix of issues cutting across partisan lines. He embraced traditional GOP positions such as reduced taxes, school choice, increased defense spending, and rejection of the idea of human-induced climate change. But he also took positions contrary to Republican orthodoxy—entitlement protection, attacks on free trade, rejection of austerity economics. And he manifested contempt for elitist nostrums embraced or accepted by both parties, including a hospitable view of mass immigration, America’s foreign policy adventurism since 9/11, and political correctness. This unorthodox mix suggested prospects for a new coalition capable of breaking the deadlock crisis and moving the country forward.

Third, Trump’s crudity and disdain for political niceties suggested that he meant it when he declared political war on the country’s elites—think tanks, the national media, the managerial class of government and business, intellectuals, Hollywood, and financial titans. He wouldn’t buckle when they fought back to protect their cherished policies and privileged standing.

What emerged from the campaign was a growing recognition (though many still resisted it) that the country stands at a fundamental crossroads—whether to follow the elite vision of globalism and antinationalism, with money, people, ideas, and cultures moving freely across increasingly indistinct borders; or to remain steadfast in its traditional nationalism and fealty to its Western heritage. Nothing less than the definition of America is at stake.

change_me

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Thus did Trump drive a wedge through the body politic, generating a great American split best understood through the most potent issues he forced into the American consciousness. They are: restraint vs. adventurism in foreign policy; immigration; trade; the plight of the working class; and political correctness. Trump meshed these issues into a successful electoral coalition in last year’s campaign; the question now is whether he can mesh them into an effective governing coalition.

Foreign Policy: Nothing accentuated Trump’s anti-establishment persona more distinctly than his assault on America’s promiscuous engagement in foreign conflicts. He railed against George W. Bush’s Iraq war and his nation-building ambitions. With typical brutality he even alleged that Bush and his top officials lied to the American people. He called America’s Afghan involvement “a complete waste” that should be ended. He excoriated President Obama for assisting in the overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and pursuing the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He called NATO “obsolete” and vowed to reduce America’s commitment to it. He decried the ongoing U.S. bellicosity toward Russia.

Trump didn’t foreswear all foreign entanglements. He expressed concerns about a rising China, particularly on the economic front, and he assaulted Obama’s contribution to the Iranian nuclear deal. He also called for the complete defeat of the Islamic State. But generally, he rejected the establishment view of America as an indispensable nation with a remit to spread democracy in far-flung regions and upend unpalatable dictators. He called for a strong America focused on the country’s vital national interests. Thus he placed himself in the tradition of what Walter Russell Mead calls the “Jacksonian tradition” in American foreign policy thinking (and political thinking generally). As Mead wrote in January 2017, “Many Jacksonians came to believe that the American establishment was no longer reliably patriotic, with ‘patriotism’ defined as an instinctive loyalty to the well-being and values of Jacksonian America. And they were not wholly wrong, by their lights.”

This was not a debate that the political establishment would have entertained had not Trump forced it into the campaign. As Mead wrote, “Not since Franklin Roosevelt’s administration has U.S. foreign policy witnessed debates this fundamental.”

Immigration: Nothing crystallizes the nationalism vs. globalism struggle as sharply as this definitional issue. The political establishment wanted to finesse it through the campaign to tamp down civic angers about border dissolution and the 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country (an ugly blot on the nation’s governing classes). The aim was to calm the waters until after the election, when the high-voltage amnesty issue could be dealt with in a more controllable legislative setting. Exhibits A and B in this farce were Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio, who evinced appreciation for popular sentiment on the issue in running for office but promptly returned to the amnesty project when the electoral challenge was over.

But millions of Americans were tired of this finesse, and Trump’s willingness to seize the immigration issue in his bold, even nasty way resonated with white working-class voters in states previously considered Democratic strongholds—particularly Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. This was pure populism at work—taking an issue dominated and closely managed by elites and casting it to the electorate for ballot box adjudication. Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment suggests the extent to which establishment liberals didn’t know what hit them.

The establishment had considered the issue closed—a fait accompli, with demographic trends produced by their own immigration policies locking in their cherished new “multicultural” America through the Democrats’ ability to woo the new arrivals. They didn’t calculate the absorption factor—the nation’s increasing difficulty in assimilating the growing immigrant numbers. By 2015, the proportion of foreign-born Americans reached nearly 14 percent, which history tells us is a kind of breaking point. The last time the country experienced such a percentage—between 1890 and 1910—it reduced both the numbers of immigrants and the numbers of non-Western arrivals. This was an inevitable result then, just as today’s pushback is inevitable now.

But the liberal elites don’t want a debate, as evidenced by their insistence on equating immigration concerns with racism. To them it’s perfectly normal to transform the nation’s cultural identity through an influx of people who don’t share its heritage—and acceptable to stamp those who object with a kind of civic opprobrium. No wonder Trump’s crude pronouncements on the issue resonated with millions of Americans.

Trade: In the 1990s, free trade became an elite mantra embraced by both major parties, influential think tanks, key journalists, and the federal government’s managerial barony. As America pursued multilateral open-trade agreements, however, the nation’s industrial base deteriorated, devastating America’s working classes. It became increasingly clear that other nations, particularly China, weren’t playing by the rules of the World Trade Organization and other multinational entities.

As Adams Nager of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has argued, China has deployed “the world’s largest export subsidies, even on a per capita basis, which distorts international trade in many industries, including steel, wind, turbines, solar cells, glass, paper, and auto parts.” Economic consultant and author David M. Smick, in his book The Great Equalizer, adds, “China’s major manipulation of WTO rules has damaged the global trading system.”

But the elites, with their globalist outlook, ignored this menacing phenomenon. An example was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who celebrated globalization in the late 1990s as involving “the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before.” To Friedman it was about “the basic human desire for a better life—a life with more choices as to what to eat, what to wear, where to live, where to travel, how to work, what to read, what to write and what to learn.” Friedman’s giddy encomium to this brave new world of petty materialism showed little concern for cultural sensibilities that could get crushed or for Americans whose livelihoods were threatened.

That was Trump’s opening. He slammed this elite consensus, portrayed himself as protector of beleaguered working Americans, and attacked many of the country’s major trading partners for not playing fair. It worked.

Plight of the Working Class: In addition to addressing this issue through trade rhetoric, Trump also sought to expose another significant development threatening middle class workers. This was the phenomenon known as “financialization,” defined by Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda as an “increase in the influence of financial markets, institutions and elites over both the economy and the other institutions of society, including the government.” The financial sector now dominates much of the U.S. economy—and uses its clout to influence Washington policymaking to its benefit.

Today’s Wall Street titans make money by moving money and taking a cut in millions of financial transactions. Unlike the industrial titans of the 19th and 20th centuries, including the much-maligned Gilded Age “robber barons,” these elites don’t build factories or products and don’t create many jobs. In fact, Mukunda and others argue that they retard economic vibrancy by forcing corporations through their purse-strings dominance into short-term strategies to the detriment of long-term financial health. Innovation suffers. The financial elites live off burgeoning cross-border capital flows that generate huge U.S. trade imbalances and gnawing economic troubles for ordinary Americans. Writes Smick, “This flood distorted the U.S. economy in favor of Wall Street and to the detriment of Main Street and set the conditions that led to the 2008 financial crisis. Most Americans knew exactly what was happening. Working-class incomes were flatlining. The American Dream was slipping away. Yet Washington policymakers hadn’t a clue.”

Trump declared that Wall Street was “getting away with murder” and vowed to break up New York’s big banks. His final campaign ad showed ominous photos of the New York Stock Exchange and the CEO of banking behemoth Goldman Sachs and called for curbing the political and business elites that had “bled our country dry.” He touted elements of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking, preventing securities firms and investment banks from taking deposits and barring commercial banks from engaging in risky securities activities. “I know the guys at Goldman Sachs,” he declared, adding they had “total control over Hillary Clinton.”

Political Correctness: No serious presidential candidate had ever taken on the forces of political correctness with Trump’s brand of pugilism. His rhetorical intemperance was part of it, a defiant poke in the eye to those who would silence conservatives by declaring their views outside the bounds of proper thinking. But he also took on leftists who denigrate elements of the American and Western heritage and who malign patriotism. A study by mathematician Spencer Greenberg, reported in ClearerThinking.org, indicated that anger over political correctness was the second most reliable predictor of Trump support, behind party affiliation and ahead of social conservatism, protectionism, and anti-immigration sentiments.

Once again it was Trump who touched this nerve while most others held back. It turned out that political correctness was roiling major segments of the populace far more than anyone perceived.

Bundling these issues into a powerful political salient, Trump crystallized a debate that for years had been brewing but not seriously joined—in ideological terms, between globalists and nationalists; in socioeconomic terms, between elites and ordinary citizens; in geographic terms, between the coasts and fly-over states; in foreign policy terms, between Wilsonian liberals and neoconservatives, on the one hand, and realists, on the other. He dominated the 2016 presidential debate as few politicians have dominated any recent campaign.

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But this campaign achievement won’t amount to much if Trump can’t parlay it into a governing coalition powerful enough to break America’s status quo crisis and move the nation into a new era. And that will require presidential success on a large scale. Thus far, it doesn’t appear that Trump is capable of that kind of success.

Begin with two of Trump’s five major issues—foreign policy and the big banks. As candidate he said he would get America out of Afghanistan; as president he sent in an extra 4,000 troops—and left open the duration of the U.S. military commitment. As candidate he decried NATO’s eastward expansion toward the Russian border; as president he embraced Montenegro’s NATO entry. As candidate he bewailed President Obama’s efforts to dislodge Syria’s Assad; as president he bombed Syrian forces on the basis of a chemical attack whose perpetrator was not proved. As candidate he expressed wariness of supporting Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen’s Houthis; as president he expanded U.S. support. His campaign declaration that NATO was obsolete seems all but forgotten.

Nothing crystallizes this disparity between campaign rhetoric and presidential action more sharply than Trump’s new direction in the Middle East—a tight U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel. It seems based on the geopolitical goals of those two countries and a new U.S. willingness to direct its power and influence in behalf of those goals. Beyond the recent U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the three countries seem bent on getting a Palestinian settlement that confines Palestinian lands largely to the Gaza Strip, augmented by some Sinai territory from Egypt. The West Bank would be opened to increasing Jewish settlement. Geoffrey Aronson reported on TAC’s web site on December 12 that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently that the Arab Peace Initiative—a Saudi-sponsored proposal for Arab recognition of and peace with Israel in return for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital—was “effectively dead.” That concept had been the basis of U.S. policy for decades.

If America embraces this, it would destroy any lingering pretense of U.S. evenhandedness and the old concept of America as “honest broker.” In that event, the negotiations would unfold based on raw power.

As incendiary as this will be in the region, a far more ominous development is the increasing U.S. bellicosity toward Iran—again, directing American power toward the interests of Israeli and Saudi leaders who view the Islamic Republic as a mortal enemy. Trump’s preliminary actions to undermine the Iranian nuclear deal seem to be the first step in a campaign to isolate and pressure Iran, with regime change on a lot of minds. Certainly, that is the ultimate goal of the Israelis and Saudis, and Iranian leaders harbor no illusions about the end game.

Nothing Trump said during the campaign could have given voters any inkling of such a policy, which almost certainly will pull America into the Middle East morass attacked by Trump in the campaign as the folly of previous presidents. Indeed, his emerging Middle Eastern adventures would seem to negate the Jacksonian identity perceived by Mead. Based on this policy, Trump is no Jacksonian.

Further, Trump as president has emerged as a friend of Wall Street and the big banks. After railing against Big Finance and Goldman Sachs, he loaded his own administration with Goldman executives past and present, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; National Economic Council head Gary Cohn; White House counselor Dina Habib Powell; and Securities and Exchange chairman Jay Clayton, a partner at Goldman’s longtime law firm and husband of a Goldman vice president.

Trump also has sought to dismantle many financial sector regulations in the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, enacted after the 2008 financial crisis. He is not wrong in this; Dodd-Frank is problematic in many respects, largely because it squeezes private sector decision-making by burdening financial institutions with meddlesome government regulations enforced by managerial bureaucrats. But, after running against the big banks, Trump now seems to be in their pocket. And financialization, so disruptive to the country’s economy, goes unaddressed.

What would Andrew Jackson do? He would bust up the big banks, just as he killed the powerful Bank of the U.S. in his own day. But he wouldn’t do it by building up an intrusive governmental bureaucracy, impervious to democratic control. He would favor clean and simple action, more like the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which instructed financial institutions on what they could and couldn’t do in a mere 37 pages. That’s the populist approach, going after troublesome bigness in the private sector while also preventing governmental bigness. Dodd-Frank, by contrast, encompasses 848 pages of regulatory intrusiveness. Trump seems to lack the political sophistication to devise an approach that curtails big government and big finance at the same time.

That’s unfortunate because this kind of populism is necessary for Trump to build upon his electoral achievement. And if he can’t do that he can’t win reelection or lead America into a new populist era. He is, after all, a minority president, elected with just 46 percent of the popular vote. That poses a fundamental challenge.

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Minority presidents who want to become majority presidents generally choose one of three strategies. Bill Clinton sought to ignore his minority status on the theory that bold leadership would galvanize the nation and boost his political standing. His economic stimulus package, initial stance on gays in the military, early tax initiatives, and sweeping health care plan suggested a resolve to govern as a president with a big mandate. It didn’t work. Clinton’s overreach contributed to his devastating defeat in the 1994 midterm elections, whereupon he pivoted deftly to a more nuanced approach, called triangulation, designed to build up political capital steadily through small victories leading to ever larger victories.

Two presidents in the 1880s and ’90s, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, sought to surmount their minority status by governing from the center, avoiding high-voltage controversy and nudging the country along a path of least resistance. This didn’t work either. Voters don’t like status quo presidents. Both Cleveland and Harrison were tossed out after one term (twice for Cleveland, who served two nonconsecutive terms). This would seem to be a particularly risky strategy for Trump, given the country’s status quo crisis. When the status quo is crumbling, it’s time for something new.

Finally, there is the Richard Nixon strategy, which was also Bill Clinton’s approach after his initial two-year failure. Following his 43 percent victory in 1968 Nixon sought to govern by building new coalitions, scrambling old political battle lines, and generating new forces of politics to propel the nation in new directions. He broke away from many GOP dogmas with his outreach to China and his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, among other unconventional initiatives. He calibrated and assessed the political (and geopolitical) forces of the day so he could harness them to maximum benefit—for the nation and for himself. He wooed the 13.5 percent of the electorate who had voted for George Wallace’s third-party candidacy.

By wisely investing his modest political capital and then scoring ever greater governmental victories, Nixon expanded his store of political wherewithal and moved on to a 61 percent victory in 1972 (before Watergate brought him down).

This kind of sophisticated political calibration seems outside Trump’s capacity. He has scored few small victories that could be parlayed into larger victories. And his failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act resembled Bill Clinton’s disastrous health care effort. Further, he was stymied by the courts for months in his effort to curb inflows of people from predominately Muslim countries deemed to pose security risks. His foreign policy centerpiece—an effort to patch up relations with Russia—was destroyed by the Russia investigation, however justified or questionable its provenance. One could argue that these failures stemmed from the machinations of outside forces, but successful presidents outmaneuver such forces.

Further, Trump seems to lack the strategic acumen and powers of concentration required to craft a coherent political strategy made up of intertwined initiatives and actions. Nixon famously spent hours in his hideaway office in the Old Executive Office Building, jotting notes on yellow legal pads as he crafted plans to thwart opponents and woo new adherents. Trump spends hours watching cable news programs. His leadership approach is largely reactive, as described in the remarkable December 10 New York Times profile of his day-to-day activities. The piece, by Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, and Peter Baker, reports that Trump routinely spends at least four hours a day watching television, sometimes as much as twice that. The reporters add that Trump views “every day [as] an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation.”

Finally, Trump seems to lack the political vocabulary and expanse of vision to communicate meaningfully with the American people, to inject context and perspective into his expressions. Twitter provides a medium for quick-hit, reactive pugilism, but it is a far cry from the radio waves used by Franklin Roosevelt to converse with Americans about his hopes and plans for the nation or the TV medium exploited so successfully by Ronald Reagan. That kind of communication often can provide a rationale for why a president’s thinking and national ambitions deserve attention and maybe even support.

These limitations in Trump’s political persona have held him back as a national leader, as seen in his historically low survey approval ratings. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website, he has languished between 37 percent and 42 percent. His disapproval rating soared to 57 percent in August, an ominous number for any president. Recent first-year presidents generally have enjoyed approval levels in the 60s and almost never have descended below 50 percent.

This suggests Trump’s electoral base has shriveled since his inauguration. This is not a performance that gets a president reelected. Nate Silver calculates that an approval rating below 49 percent spells almost certain defeat for an incumbent.

♦♦♦

Thus do we see that Trump has not overcome the handicap of being a minority president. He still could do so, as Clinton did after his 1994 drubbing. But the question is whether Trump possesses the skills, temperament, and flexibility of mind to do so.

This is not to say Trump’s political situation is hopeless. Thomas Edsall, writing in the New York Times, recently admonished Democrats to “take a look at the vulnerabilities of their own orthodoxies” and recognize that Trump got elected for a reason and could repeat the feat if Democrats are complacent. He cites Trump triumphs that include three GOP House-race victories in 2017; Trump’s 82 percent approval rating among Republicans; his success with the current tax bill; his elimination of major regulatory policies through executive action; the Gorsuch Supreme Court appointment; two quarters of economic growth exceeding 3 percent; a soaring stock market; and unemployment at 4.1 percent.

But presidential success rests upon bigger questions—whether he can generate success and avoid pitfalls in the major areas of governance most important to voters. These include solid, ongoing economic growth, a foreign policy devoid of debilitating, out-of-control wars, avoidance of domestic unrest generating violence in the streets, major accomplishments in both domestic and foreign affairs, and absence of serious scandal. (For purposes of this analysis, I sidestep the Russia scandal investigation, as its outcome and significance remain speculative at this time.)

Thus, if the tax bill and regulatory actions generate the promised economic growth, that would be a major plus for Trump and no doubt would boost his approval ratings and buoy his chances for reelection. If he scores triumphs and avoids pratfalls in the other areas, he could become competitive in 2020. Besides, we shouldn’t underestimate the political impact of a Democratic Party clinging to identity politics, denigrating fellow citizens with differing views, and seeking to manipulate public discourse through political correctness.

As Edsall writes, “Many Democrats continue to have little understanding of their own role—often inadvertent, an unintended consequence of well-meaning behavior—in creating the conditions that make conservatives willing to support Trump and the party he is leading.” Edsall quotes author Karen Stenner as highlighting the actions of blue state elites in agitating red state Americans: “Not only are the values that the left takes for granted heatedly disputed in many sections of the country, the way Democratic partisans assert that their values supplant or transcend traditional beliefs serves to mobilize the right.” Trump no doubt will exploit this political phenomenon when the time comes.

But the auguries aren’t propitious. He’s abandoned much of the populist verve, particularly in foreign policy and financial thinking, that helped propel him into office. He’s flirting with a Middle East disaster with growing prospects of a Persian Gulf war. Seldom does he conduct a meaningful conversation with the people; indeed his rhetoric seems directed mostly at a declining base. His political capital is shrinking, hit particularly by such fiascos as his endorsement in the Alabama Senate race of Roy Moore, accused of sexual abuse against teenage girls. He’s pinned down by an independent counsel investigation that may or may not be based on substantive matters but which was precipitated in part by his own missteps in word and action.

It turns out that getting elected was the easy part. Far more difficult is governing in a time of crisis and crafting a sophisticated brand of politics, with accompanying attributes of command, that can lead the nation out of that crisis. If Trump fails, the political balance of power will tilt back to the party of the elites, and Democrats will get an opportunity to fashion a governing coalition. The big losers, if that happens, will be the Trump voters, who liked his Jacksonian populism and policy prescriptions during the campaign, but couldn’t foresee his governing vacuity.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington, D.C., journalist and publishing executive, is editor of The American Conservative. His latest book, President McKinley: Architect of the American Century [3], was released in September.

40 Comments (Open | Close)

40 Comments To "Donald Trump’s Empty Governance"

#1 Comment By RA On January 1, 2018 @ 10:48 pm

a “great leader”?! lol

Trump’s not a leader whatsoever. Our government is in free fall. Our international obligations wholly abandoned and reputation in tatters. If we get out of this without a nuclear conflict would be luck. Luck. This is unconscionable.

#2 Comment By MEOW On January 1, 2018 @ 11:07 pm

Trump Came on the scene like Haley’s comment. He portrayed himself as someone that would reverse immigration abuses, get us out of the morass in the Middle East, and take a close look at such anachronisms as the Federal Reserve etc. Then reality hit. His handlers called in their chips. He outsourced our foreign policy to AIPAC and the neocons, is letting what is ostensibly a foreign backing system control our currency, and I fear may be dispossessing millions of their hard earned, ever so flimsy, medical care and pushing large segments of the U.S. back into medical-coverage thrird world status. To be true he should just have trotted Netanyahu and Jared Kushner out and said – here is what you are getting when you vote for me.

#3 Comment By Whine Merchant On January 2, 2018 @ 12:33 am

Trump is incapable of the strategic thinking required of the office, and cannot lead those appointed to senior roles without a clear and consistent goal for them to achieve. His ADHD and narcissistic, reactive focus on the news cycle preclude genuine vision or perspective: Swayed by the loudest voice in the room or the shiniest cable outrage, he lurches for popular approval from a shrinking base of perpetually angry people.

All the while, Xi Jinping uses soft power and his country’s stability to fill the gaps and assume America’s role in the world, make new friends [especially in Africa], and construct his ‘One Road – One Belt’ to ensure China is the new world economic power of the 21st century. Remember that Britain’s great economic empire and superior military strength on land and sea crumbled in less than a lifetime, from 1914 to 1945. The US is next…

Whatever his election slogans may have been, the true description of Trump’s behaviour is: Israel First & Make China Great Again!

Thank you –

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 2, 2018 @ 2:36 am

RA, thanks for the proxy elite view.

I always said, well before the election, that Trump was America’s last worst hope. Or at least, for the hundreds of millions of deplorables the elites don’t care about.

Things are about where the probability lay in that pessimestic assessment.

#5 Comment By John Thornborrow On January 2, 2018 @ 6:29 am

There is little chance of Trump becoming a great leader. He has no history of leadership and cannot rise above his personal pettiness to achieve that status. Most of all, he is paralyzed by his arrogant ignorance, demagogic superficiality, and mental instability. No, Trump will never be any sort of real leader at all.

#6 Comment By Stephen J. On January 2, 2018 @ 8:42 am

Interesting article I believe Trump fooled those that believed him. He has in fact proven that it is just a rotten political game show. Fools are us!
————————————————–
April 8, 2017
Donald You Fooled Us

Donald, you were elected into a big White House
Now you are acting like a warmongering louse
Bombing other countries as you think and see fit
Yemen and Syria you have already hit
Donald You Fooled Us

People believed you, when you promoted peace
Now that you are elected the bombings don’t cease
The war criminals are now applauding your dangerous sorties
You sent “59” missiles into Syria: is this your forte?
Donald You Fooled Us

Will nuclear war be your gift to mankind?
Unfortunately if this happens, nobody will be left behind
The destroyed planet will be all aflame
A hellish end to your mad reign
Donald You Fooled Us

You are now in the company of those that support terrorists
Is this what you want? Or do you need a Therapist?
Your credibility is shot, and there is no pun intended
Many of your supporters are now bloody offended
Donald You Fooled Us

You said if elected you would clean and, “Drain the swamp”
Now the swamp residents are now cheering your “pomp”
They know it’s a return to good old “business as usual”
And the people that supported You, are wondering if you’re delusional?
Donald You Fooled Us

People are fed up with double crossing politicians
That are, leading them down the road to perdition
You were believed, and that all this would change
But now, they realize it’s just a dirty political game
Donald You Fooled Us …

[more info at link below]

[4]

#7 Comment By Stephen J. On January 2, 2018 @ 8:43 am

Interesting article I believe Trump fooled those that believed him. He has in fact proven that it is just a rotten political game. Fools are us!
———————————————————————
April 8, 2017
Donald You Fooled Us

Donald, you were elected into a big White House
Now you are acting like a warmongering louse
Bombing other countries as you think and see fit
Yemen and Syria you have already hit
Donald You Fooled Us

People believed you, when you promoted peace
Now that you are elected the bombings don’t cease
The war criminals are now applauding your dangerous sorties
You sent “59” missiles into Syria: is this your forte?
Donald You Fooled Us

Will nuclear war be your gift to mankind?
Unfortunately if this happens, nobody will be left behind
The destroyed planet will be all aflame
A hellish end to your mad reign
Donald You Fooled Us

You are now in the company of those that support terrorists
Is this what you want? Or do you need a Therapist?
Your credibility is shot, and there is no pun intended
Many of your supporters are now bloody offended
Donald You Fooled Us

You said if elected you would clean and, “Drain the swamp”
Now the swamp residents are now cheering your “pomp”
They know it’s a return to good old “business as usual”
And the people that supported You, are wondering if you’re delusional?
Donald You Fooled Us

People are fed up with double crossing politicians
That are, leading them down the road to perdition
You were believed, and that all this would change
But now, they realize it’s just a dirty political game
Donald You Fooled Us …

[more info at link below]

[4]

#8 Comment By Lorenzo Bracy On January 2, 2018 @ 8:56 am

Is this self-parody? The article is replete with accomplishments. Nevertheless, the greatest accomplishment would have been the creation of the condition that made the rest all possible. Don’t watch now, but he is in the process of re-introducing the art of governance to the national republican party.

#9 Comment By Lorenzo Bracy On January 2, 2018 @ 9:01 am

Maybe you need to change the title? There is a jarring disconnect between the title and the content. There is an even greater disconnect between the apparent thesis and the facts. The man is incredible flawed and he has accomplished a number of very good things.

#10 Comment By grumpy realist On January 2, 2018 @ 9:09 am

Trump lurches from one reactive statement to the next. The only thing that matters in Trump’s universe is whatever sustains his own ego. He lashes out like a ADHD-afflicted toddler.

Unfortunately, the same mentality seems to afflict many of his followers. I suspect nothing good will come of this.

#11 Comment By Pear Conference On January 2, 2018 @ 9:51 am

In his campaign, Trump did rail against the conventional neocon wisdom regarding Iraq and other U.S. military interventions.

However, it should have been clear to all, even during the campaign, that Trump’s own defense policy was never going to be one of “restraint.”

Witness Trump’s own statements on taking all the oil from Iraq, about ISIS, and his repeated inquiries as to why the U.S. couldn’t use nuclear weapons [!]

More generally, witness Trump’s dog-eat-dog, zero-sum worldview and his open contempt for friends and foes alike.

#12 Comment By Thaomas On January 2, 2018 @ 9:59 am

“He embraced traditional GOP positions such as reduced taxes [primarily for high income people], school choice, increased defense spending, rejection of the idea of human-induced climate change [and elimination of expansion of health insurance].”

These positions on which he has had moderate success go directly against the material interests of the voters he addressed.

#13 Comment By Ken F On January 2, 2018 @ 10:18 am

Yet another article weaving clothes for the emperor. Trump’s policies have never had any depth. He got elected by throwing chum to the disaffected. His campaign essentially began with the heinous demagoguery of Obama birtherism, and he’s stayed on the low road ever since.

Trump’s “governance”, which should come as no surprise to anyone, has been to benefit himself and the ultra-wealthy at the expense of everyone else and the environment. Trump’s “deplorables” won’t see any benefit but will remain loyal because he has the courage to call those anthem protesters SOBs.

MAGA — I can’t think of a better example of irony.

#14 Comment By tz On January 2, 2018 @ 10:32 am

This sounds like something a closet #NeverTrump elitist at the National Review would write.
A leader hires workers. Generals command cavalry and infantry. They don’t fight themselves.

Trump’s vision? Fine.

Look at the Courts which will be a longer lasting legacy.
Fewer illegals and refugees.
Regulations slashed.

It would have been easy to pillory and penalize wall street, but that in itself woudn’t help main street. The tax and reg cuts do.

It would have been easy to do a bug-out of everywhere and let Afghanistan and Iraq decay into chaos, but instead he is extracting us – ISIS has lost 98% of its territory.

Israel? The US hasn’t been an “honest broker” since Carter, and it was the same elites promise and posture while doing the opposite game. It was our friends, the Saudis that the 9/11 terrorists came from.

Trump has accomplished more Conservative goals by being a visionary. This is hardly “empty governance”. The glass is 7/8 full, not 1/8 empty. That he is a leader and doesn’t micromanage is why he is winning for his base.

Also on the approval ratings, the country is polarized. No one who voted for Clinton will approve of Trump (and vice versa). You can see this with the GDP and Stock prices – Trump won’t get credit because he is Trump. NeverTrumpers can’t even bring themselves to admit Trump’s successes on the Conservative issues.

Also see Mitch McConnel’s approval rating for comparison – He keeps saying we just don’t have enough Republicans to defeat Obamacare – after he got the Senate, then the House, then the White House. But you won’t call him out or call his Senate Leadership “empty”.

#15 Comment By Peter On January 2, 2018 @ 11:39 am

Trump’s greatest achievement is a radical reconsideration of the rule of the law. Yet he casts not just the regulatory state into doubt but the entire validity of the Constitution of the United States. No doubt some people in this nation and beyond applaud the weakening of the United States’ system of governance, from the military (overextended, over-enlisted, and lacking vision) to the Congress (venal, corrupt, ineffective) to the executive (doddering, impulsive, vulgar). Citizens of any kind of moral and intellectual standing ought to oppose this. Trump has appointed to the judiciary some conservatives but also people who are less qualified than any random lawyer to serve as judges. He ignores legal restrictions on his income and plays by his own ethical code, appointing his family members and other unqualified cronies to important government roles. He has undone laws that protect the most important parts of the nation – our water, our children, our values, and he has done so for the enrichment of himself. A radical approach may have been needed in 2016 but after this shock our nation must pursue a rational corrective as soon as possible. In short, those who support Trump support a would-be strongman whose tenure represents the undoing of our system of limited constitutional governance. What kind of conservatism supports the undoing of the Constitution? What kind of republic yearns for tyranny? What kind of nation will the United States be if the people continue to undermine the basis for its existence?

#16 Comment By Chris in Appalachia On January 2, 2018 @ 11:59 am

Some of us elected Trump thinking he was an unpleasant drug – like chemotherapy- that might fight the cancerous growths of globalization and fictionalization and neocon warmongering in America. Now he seems like he is just another carcinogen.

#17 Comment By One Guy On January 2, 2018 @ 12:12 pm

Trump got a minority of people to vote for him by using the old politician’s method: Blame someone else for the voters’ poor lives. “It’s not your fault, it’s the Mexicans’ fault. It’s the Muslims. It’s the media, Obama, Hollywood. It’s the generals’ fault.”

Whatever “policies” he has are those of Congress (the tax cut) or those of Jared (the Jerusalem thing), or those of Fox. He has no original ideas, he just says whatever his base wants-like a good snake-oil salesman, I suppose.

#18 Comment By Lenny On January 2, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

It always amazes me when respectable people and thinkers try to attribute some rationale to Trump.
The man is a con artist (Ted Cruz and NY values remark), with a proven history of lying and steeling from people ( Trump university anyone). He understood that the so called Conservative base is a bigoted bunch ( deplorables) and he played to their bigotry to win the nomination.
His elevation to the POTUS is a combination of Comey, Russia, Bernie and 25 years of character assassination by the right wing propaganda apparatus against HRC, and he still lost the popular vote by 3 millions
The mask is off, and the midterms should give us a pretty good indication of where this country is heading.
Just a note of caution: If you think the majority of this country will continue tolerating being governed by a minority who has no problem colluding with Russia to keep their hold on power, think again.

#19 Comment By Michael Kenny On January 2, 2018 @ 12:56 pm

I have never swallowed the “nationalism v globalism” argument. What those Americans who peddle it are calling “nationalism” is simply a device which uses Putin as a useful idiot to break up the EU and exhume the Soviet Union, with the latter event serving to restore absolute US control over such parts of Europe as the US does not vouchsafe to grant Putin as a reward for his services. That isn’t “nationalism” in any accepted sense of the term. If there was an agreed definition of “globalism”, it might well be that. What it is is the restoration of the cold war world, in which every country is deemed to be a satellite of either the US or the Soviet Union but with the US remaining just sufficiently more powerful than the Soviet Union to retain the upper hand. Arguments about “America First” or “Make America Great Again” (Ronald Reagan’s slogan from 1980) are just propaganda arguments designed to facilitate the restoration of US global hegemony. That might be “globalism” but it certainly isn’t “nationalism”.

#20 Comment By David Nash On January 2, 2018 @ 1:01 pm

An interesting article, derogatory partisan commentary aside.

If I understand what the author is saying, he claims Donald John Trump had a great opportunity to realign American political strictures, and is pi$$ing it away. I should think that the next person to follow this path (if there is one) would be somewhat more politically savvy than Trump. (As it seems he is locked into the notion he is on a reality TV game show titled “Celebrity President”.)

More importantly, there have been a large number of articles lately on TAC which claim the old Left-Right ideological spectrum is obsolete. About time to figure this out, as it has been obsolete for a number of decades.

There is also the presumption that present American stumbling on the international scene will allow a permanent rise of some other country to take over the world hegemon. That is entirely possible. It may even be probable. But it is far from a certainty. That’s the interesting thing about “history”. What looks obvious in the sharp glare of 20-20 hindsight is almost never so apparent at the time.

#21 Comment By collin On January 2, 2018 @ 1:05 pm

Donald Trump’s greatest political achievement is little remarked upon these days: He got elected.

Well you can describe for any elected President and it seem like elected Presidents should really have to write “I don’t have my (Opponent Name) to kick around” And really if Trump continues to knock HRC in 2018, the midterms will be a Bloodbath for Republicans. A lot people don’t like the Clintons or the Obamas, but really don’t want to see Trump go after them either. That is Sean Hannity crap and good for 20% of the population.

I think the simplest advice to Trump is lose the phone charger and let the good news dominate the headlines.

#22 Comment By JK On January 2, 2018 @ 2:55 pm

Both major candidates in the 2016 Presidential elections were right in the faults they found in each other. Trump saved the Known Universe from a Clinton Presidency. He then went on to live up to all the dire predictions made by his opponent about his own Presidency. A Presidency turning out as an unmitigated disaster. The sooner Trump goes away, the better.

#23 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On January 2, 2018 @ 3:09 pm

Trump is the only change agent in contemporary American politics, along with Bernie Sanders. If Merry won’t cut him considerable slack for that–well, then Merry is part of the problem, a blind leader of the blind, and someone George Will would be glad to have a beer with. (Not that anyone can imagine George Will having a beer.)

#24 Comment By Jon On January 2, 2018 @ 3:15 pm

Those who wanted to end crony capitalism have elected a capitalist par excellence with his cronies.

#25 Comment By georgina davenport On January 2, 2018 @ 3:35 pm

What “populism” will Trump embody in 2018 given the swamp he had brought in 2017?

#26 Comment By Patrick On January 2, 2018 @ 3:51 pm

As with most elections in my lifetime, the last presidential election came down to a choice between which candidate seemed less dangerous to our nation.

It appeared one candidate would have a candidacy like Richard Nixon always hated by the opposition, always under an investigation searching for an impeachable offense and shifting positions to become more liberal in attempts to gain favor with those he believed were moderates.

The other candidate demonstrated a long history of corruption, a belief that she was above any law and the ruthless destruction of anyone who stood in the way of her political ambition. She didn’t need to hire incompetent Cuban burglars to steal information about political opponents, because, when she was the First Lady, the FBI delivered the files of her about political opponents to her office. She had complete contempt for the law, and had an FBI and Justice Department that would protect her by blocking any significant investigation of her shady schemes to gain personal wealth or increase her political power.

The great tragedy of Donald Trump’s election was the Republican Primaries. The media turned the process into a personality driven circus. There was no meaningful debate about issues, and those who were able to articulate conservative principles were ignored or support divided between multiple candidates instead of a consolidating behind one candidate.

I didn’t have much confidence for the Trump Presidency and he is performing beyond my expectations. I didn’t think that Trumps presidency would even last and that is one reason that I voted for him. I feared that Clinton’s insatiable lust for power would have made her perhaps the most dangerous president in our history and it may have been impossible to remove her from office.

As bad as President Trumps presidency may be, will the Democratic Party have anyone who can meet the radical standards that the party requires for nomination and then be considered fit for office by the majority in Red States? If there are not a catastrophic failure during the next few years President Trump will likely win a second term.

#27 Comment By Patrick Hart On January 2, 2018 @ 4:52 pm

I need some help understanding the term “elite,” which is commonly used by conservatives to describe liberals but is now being applied more broadly to any “establishment” politician. Elite seems to be applied to those who are college educated and who are usually white collar workers–two things I though almost every American parent raised their kids to pursue–an education and better paying jobs. So, why do conservatives (mainly) look down on people who have a college education and who occupy better paying jobs?

#28 Comment By EarlyBird On January 2, 2018 @ 4:55 pm

Trump never had the ideas, principles or vision to be great. His first and last interest is self promotion, and hearing applause. It’s really that simple.

Rather than drain the swamp and do anything new or original, he’s just a standard Republican corporatist: cut taxes, cut regulations, cut federal nature reserves and all of this will. All Hail Reagan!

#29 Comment By Tzx4 On January 2, 2018 @ 5:06 pm

Won’t get fooled again…….Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Trump’s governance is so far classic GOP racial, economic elitism,and exclusionism on steroids, meth, and a healthy dose of acid.
The ultimate irony is that his election was enabled by conning a large number of those who were already dispossessed by decades of policies that enabled the economic elites into thinking he was on their side.
The man is truly the Con-mander in Chief.

#30 Comment By Barry On January 2, 2018 @ 7:02 pm

“Trump got elected by exposing the single most significant fact of political life in America in our time: that large numbers of Americans have lost faith in the judgment and leadership of the nation’s elites. ”

No, the most significant fact was that a large number of Americans will vote for whomever has an ‘(R)’ after their name.

#31 Comment By Janek On January 2, 2018 @ 9:44 pm

Good, fair and diplomatic assessment of the first year presidency of D. Trump. I do not agree with the part of the author analysis where he says that it was, then candidate, D. Trump who won the campaign and became the POTUS. The campaign for D. Trump won the social media and his team of analysts of the big data probably at Cambridge Analytica. His main points and slogans in the presidential race were picked from the social media by the Big Data analysts, not by D. Trump, and that was what his electorate was concerned most and laudley complaining about on the social media. Yes, D. Trump won the election running on his social media supplied slogans, but D. Trump forgot during his campaign and after as the POTUS that ‘there is always tomorrow’, and that tomorrow will come to hunt him sooner than he expects, unless of course that in the mean time he and his handlers do not start some major international conflict with unforeseen consequences. I hope that that will not happen.

#32 Comment By mrscracker On January 3, 2018 @ 9:54 am

EarlyBird says:

“Trump never had the ideas, principles or vision to be great. His first and last interest is self promotion, and hearing applause. It’s really that simple.”
********
I think self promotion was all Mr. Trump originally intended, not actually becoming the GOP nominee. Voters channeled their anger against the system and made him into an authentic candidate.
Considering everything, I think he’s done rather well so far. Even if his administration acts clumsily, he’s been keeping promises made during his campaign. At least some of them.

#33 Comment By One Guy On January 3, 2018 @ 12:35 pm

@mrscracker-it’s not just “his administration” that’s acting clumsily. Of course Trump supporters would never admit he could be clumsy, any more than Trump would admit it.

Let’s review:
Build the wall
Ban all Muslims
Repeal and replace Obamacare
Investigate Hillary
Get troops out of the Middle East

What a fine record. But hey, he did nominate a SCOTUS justice that was presented to him.

#34 Comment By mrscracker On January 3, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

One Guy,
well, Mr. Trump sure wasn’t my first choice as president, but so far I think he’s made some good judicial appts.-of course, depending on one’s point of view-and that’s not limited to the Supreme Court.
He got a huge tax reform bill passed.
He got rid of the individual mandate, even though he didn’t get rid of Obamacare as a whole. But I think other parts will change down the road.
He’s pulled us out of the Paris Climate agreement.
Recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel (I realize few other readers of TAC will be excited about that, but I think it’s long overdue.)
Reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy &
defunding UNFPA among other pro-life issues.

I think the border “Wall” idea is pretty silly. But I realize it’s more symbolic than anything else. Nothing’s going to stop folks from coming here if they want to badly enough. Meanwhile the border fences are ugly & environmentally harmful. They don’t do much to discourage migrants but they do negatively impact wildlife migration.
I’m glad if criminal traffic from Mexico & elsewhere is reduced/stopped but the average folks coming here for work or do business aren’t a threat & should be able to more easily come & go. US border town stores are hurting right now & have lost much resale business from dwindling Mexican shoppers.
Just my thoughts.

#35 Comment By swb On January 3, 2018 @ 4:38 pm

All Donald is really capable of is inflaming white people against something. Choose a minority or any other convent scapegoat and blame all the problems in the audience on them. You don’t even have to be consistent or rational about the targets, change them or reverse them it does not really matter. That got him elected because there are still enough of those folks around in a few key rural states to pay off, but that is not the majority of the voters. That is not even worthy of an election win as it reflects more on the stupidity of his supporters than any actual brilliance of him or his team. David Duke would be president if he had Donald’s money and free publicity.

This posting is just an attempt by the author to try to salvage some sort of viable story out of the failures of the conservatives from top to bottom to actually have competent leadership. He wants you to believe that the problem was in Trump after his election, not the rot and corruption in the conservative movement that brought him to power. Even after Trump is gone, the conservatives that elected him will still respond to the same appeals from the next conservative.

#36 Comment By connecticut farmer On January 4, 2018 @ 10:00 am

Mr. Merry’s comparison of Trump to Nixon and Clinton while unavoidable only serves to highlight Trump’s Achilles heel–his lack of any political experience whatsoever. As such it is ironic that “Trump the Anti-politician” while a major source of his attraction to so many voters disaffected with the status quo turns out to be a negative quality once he is called upon to steer the ship of state.

#37 Comment By Rosita On January 4, 2018 @ 11:29 am

Delicious to see the mental and moral contortions that Trumpists have to make. Trumpism has been shown to be as corrupt, self serving and incompetent as the much hated neo-liberalism and ‘elite’ world over. I find it telling that Steve Bannon’s primary indictment of Trump and his family is how corrupt, stupid and self serving they are……and how quickly they were willing to sell ‘populist, nationalist’ ideals down the river for a song. The irony of Steve Bannon admitting as much cannot be lost on anybody. Only silver lining is that the cannibalism within the Right is emboldening the opposition and a cautionary tale about hubris.

#38 Comment By One Guy On January 4, 2018 @ 7:45 pm

@mrscracker, thanks for the reasoned response. A few things:

He’s also made some judicial appointments so bad that they had to withdraw.

He didn’t “get a huge tax reform bill passed”. He was going to sign whatever Congress passed. Trump had nothing to do with it-the vote was along party lines. If Peewee Herman were president, the vote would have been the same.

The other things you’ve mentioned, I’ll concede-but they don’t make my life any better. I give them a big, “meh”. As for the Wall, I told his supporters over and over that it wouldn’t and couldn’t happen, but hey, “Trump means what he says”. Now where did those goalposts go?

#39 Comment By Cassandra On January 7, 2018 @ 9:27 pm

What a pleasure to read a comment section with intelligent comments and mostly all grammatical and mostly correctly spelled words! Not a single “libtard” or “Drumpf” in sight.

I agree that Trump doesn’t deserve much credit for the little that Republicans accomplished. He seems to have forgotten about the little people in building an administration from Goldman Sachs and abandoning his promise to increase taxes on the rich. The only people proven right about him have been HRC and the Democrats and Never Trumpers.

It seems incredible that apparently Fox News is determining government policy and Roger Ailes is running the country from his grave. And Trump’s campaign was fashioned of slogans based on far right and anti-intellectual notions. What way will the pendulum swing next?

#40 Comment By litvac120 On January 8, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

Cassandra, spelling software helps, as far as what
you applaud as “intelligent Comments”, they are
more likely to come from people who watch CNN.
If these are the readers of TAC, they would
be more at home with TR or employed as Iranian
trolls.