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The Meaning of Trump

The startling nature of Donald Trump’s political ascendancy is probably best illuminated through a sojourn back in time to early June 2015, in the days and weeks before the billionaire developer descended that now-famous Trump Tower escalator and announced his bid for the presidency. At that time, throughout official Washington and across much of the country, a conventional narrative prevailed as to what was likely to happen in the looming campaign year. Nothing particularly surprising or startling was anticipated.

When the country casts aside conventional thinking and charts out new directions, few linger over what was left behind. It seems axiomatic that, if the conventional view was wrong, it had little to teach us in the first place. And history, after all, doesn’t stop and wait for such ruminations as it moves forward with its crushing force. In such circumstances, the country naturally casts its attention forward.

But discarded conventional narratives often can teach us a lot about the state of the nation, particularly when they reveal wide gaps in thinking and perception between the political elites and the electorate at large. That was the state of American politics in early 2015, though few understood it fully at the time.

Among Republican officials and operatives, the conventional thinking went something like this: it is difficult to see how the GOP nomination can be denied to Jeb Bush. He has a famous name, widespread family connections, impressive money-raising prowess, and a pleasant demeanor. Moreover he’s well-positioned on the issues to appeal to the party’s conservative wing as well as to its moderate center. But it might be too late for the party in any event because demographic trends—fewer Republican whites in the electorate and more Democratic minorities—seem to be rendering the party obsolete. Unless Republicans can find a way to appeal to non-whites, and particularly to new immigrants put off by the party’s anti-immigrant tendencies, they will not likely elect another president. The Democrats will maintain a lock on the Electoral College.


And that meant, according to this conventional outlook, that Hillary Clinton likely would be the next president. She was smart, tested, universally known, a whiz at fundraising, and generally respected (her old reputation as a “congenital liar’’ having dissipated significantly by this time, though of course it was to reemerge later). On paper, she looked nearly unbeatable.

Thus did the elites and analysts and seers of both parties anticipate another Bush-Clinton battle, harking back to the last such battle in 1992 and keeping the country anchored in the politics that had prevailed in America throughout the 1990s and into the first two decades of the 21st century. Of course, subsequent history proved that narrative to be utterly wrong. But looking back, perhaps more interesting is what we now can see as its fundamental flaw—a failure to recognize that America was in crisis, and crisis times yield crisis politics. The campaign year of 2016 turned out to be a year of crisis politics writ large, manifest not just in Trump’s rise but also in the remarkable run, in the Democratic primaries, of democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator.

As the surprise-laden year unfolded, more and more analysts cast their thinking toward the angers and frustrations within the electorate that were driving the country in entirely unanticipated directions. Elements of the crisis now were seen and probed. But few captured its full magnitude.

It was nothing less than a crisis of the old order, a crisis of the crumbling status quo. Its most significant manifestation was the political deadlock that gripped official Washington and rendered it incapable of political action. Many saw this as a problem in itself, but in reality it was merely a stark manifestation of the status quo crisis. As the old order of American politics began to disintegrate, the two parties clung ever more tenaciously to their familiar and time-tested positions, defaulting to an increasingly rigid groupthink stubbornness and shunning any thought of political compromise. Far from grappling with the crisis of the old order that had descended upon America and the world, the party elites couldn’t even acknowledge its existence.

But the country was at an inflection point. It desperately needed a new brand of politics that could break the deadlock and set it upon a new course toward its future and destiny. In such times, a gap inevitably emerges between the political establishment, guided by the lessons of the past (increasingly irrelevant lessons, as it happens), and the electorate, always ahead of the establishment in seeing the need for new political paradigms, new dialectical thinking, and new coalitions designed to bust up political logjams and set the country upon a new course.

Back in the spring of 2012, The National Interest magazine published a special issue entitled: “Crisis of the Old Order: The Crumbling Status Quo at Home and Abroad.’’ (I note here, by way of disclosure, that I was National Interest editor at the time.) In an unsigned editorial, the magazine likened the gathering crisis to the turmoil that gripped America at the beginning of the Great Depression, captured by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in the first volume of his “Age of Roosevelt’’ series. Entitled The Crisis of the Old Order, Schlesinger’s book included chapters with such titles as: “The Politics of Frustration,’’ “Protest on the Countryside,’’ “The Stirrings of Labor,’’ “The Struggle for Public Power,’’ and “The Revolt of the Intellectuals.’’ Schlesinger portrayed a domestic status quo that could not hold. Thus, under Franklin Roosevelt, a new order emerged in American politics based on a far greater concentration of power in the federal government than the country had ever before seriously contemplated.

During this same time, the global status quo also buckled under a similarly severe strain. The Old Order—based on Europe’s global preeminence, British naval superiority and financial dominance, and a balance of military force on the European continent—had been destroyed with World War I, and no new structure of stability had emerged to replace it. The result was a period of flux culminating in World War II, which yielded a new order based on America’s global military reach, the strength of the dollar, and a balance of power between the U.S.-led West and an expansionist Soviet Union positioned in the ashes of war to threaten Western Europe.

The National Interest identified Franklin Roosevelt as “one of the most powerful figures in his country’s history’’ and said he essentially remade the American political structure. And then he remade the world. The result was a new order of U.S. global leadership, relative stability, Western prosperity, and global development. It was called Pax Americana, and it lasted nearly 70 years. The magazine added: “Now the new order that Roosevelt created is the Old Order, and it is in crisis, much as the Old Order at the time of FDR’s emergence was in crisis. The status quo, like the status quo in Roosevelt’s time, cannot hold. We are living in a time of transition.’’

Consider some of the domestic elements of the current crisis. FDR’s power consolidation has created over time a collection of elites that has restrained the body politic in tethers of favoritism and self-serving maneuver. Wall Street dominates the government’s levers of financial decision-making. Public-employee unions utilize their power (they can fire their bosses) to capture greater and greater shares of the public fisc. Corporations foster tax-code provisions that allow them to game the system. “Crony capitalism’’ runs rampant. Members of Congress tilt the political system to favor incumbency. A national-debt burden threatens the country’s financial health. Uncontrolled immigration threatens the country’s sense of security and, for many, its sense of nationhood. The nation’s industrial base has been hollowed out, and the vast American working class—the bedrock of the FDR coalition—is squeezed to the point of desperation.

Overseas, challenges to U.S. global preeminence are emerging from a host of quarters, most notably from China, which wants to expunge American military power from Asia. The Middle East is aflame, largely as a result of mindless U.S. interventions there. Western civilization’s European heartland is threatened from without by mass immigration and from within by waves of populist nationalism bent on destroying the postwar experiment in political consolidation. Tensions are on the rise everywhere—between Sunnis and Shia in the Middle East, between the United States and Russia, between China and its neighbors, between southern and northern Europe over currency issues, between the United States and Iran. To say the world is operating today under an umbrella of Pax Americana defies any realistic conception of America in our time or the definition of peace in any time.

What seems remarkable now, thinking back to the early months of the presidential campaign season, is how seemingly oblivious nearly all the candidates were to the extent and depth of the crises gripping America and the world. Consider once again poor Jeb Bush. The media and the political class made much of his initial inability, when asked about his brother George’s invasion of Iraq, to deliver a coherent answer that incorporated any lessons to be learned from that far-reaching misadventure. But that was the least of his problems. Throughout his ill-planned and ill-fated political foray, he campaigned as if he thought he still operated in the day of his father. He spoke without force, which held him back in a time of potent political turmoil, but, more importantly, without any apparent sense of urgency, without any discernible recognition of the calamitous forces swirling around his ears.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz did speak in forceful terms, but his answer was to double down on his party’s hard-right attitudes and demands—to resurrect Ronald Reagan and then move boldly beyond him to galvanize a majority within party and country. It couldn’t be done. Reagan, a highly successful president, probably deserves a “near great’’ ranking from history. But he ran the country in an era far different from today. More problematic for Cruz, the country didn’t want the same old ossified positions of right or left that contributed so much to the country’s political logjams. It wanted fresh thinking, a new cluster of ideas and positions, a new dialectic of politics capable of pulling together new coalitions that could break the country’s deadlock crisis.

As for Clinton, she not only couldn’t speak in a political idiom that showed an understanding of the underlying realities of America’s crisis politics. She actually put herself forward as a champion of the status quo and, through some unfathomable utterances, a scourge of that working-class contingent that once had been such an integral part of her party. That helped open the way for Bernie Sanders, who spoke to the realities of our time and thus resonated with large numbers of liberal Democrats deeply concerned about the plight of the working class and the growing income and wealth disparities bedeviling the country.

But of all the presidential candidates vying for attention at the start of the campaign season, only Trump demonstrated a clear understanding of the country’s status quo crisis. Only Trump busted out of the old paradigms of partisan politics and fashioned a new cluster of issues and positions. He was the only candidate whose forcefulness of expression, as crude and unsettling as it often was, reflected an appreciation for the magnitude of the crisis confronting the nation. He projected himself as a man who wouldn’t trim and wouldn’t bow or scrape to anyone—not the big-money boys who own the other politicians, not the special interests taking their financial cut at every turn, not the industrialists (like himself in the past, he would state frankly) exploiting the system of crony capitalism and pay-to-play politics, and certainly not foreign leaders taking advantage of America’s soft and accommodating national temperament. Trump became the Willie Stark of 2016, the champion of ordinary Americans—Americans who saw that the game was rigged and who hungered for a politician ready to retrieve the wayward system and return it to the people.

Further, he shunned the rigid political thinking of either party and crafted an advocacy that cut across partisan lines in various ways. He embraced traditional GOP positions in calling for drastically reduced taxes, advocating school choice, questioning climate change as a product of human activity, and urging big increases in defense spending. But he also embraced positions that went against the Republican grain—including a rejection of budget balancing through austerity economics; a call to protect entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, that are generating huge unfunded liabilities; a promise to use tariffs and other barriers to counter what he considersed unfair trading practices by other countries; and a resolve to increase taxes on hedge-fund profits. None of this comported with standard Republican orthodoxy; indeed, some of it sounded a bit like Bernie Sanders.

It was this distinctive mix of policies that gave Trump his political propulsion in the GOP primaries and through the general election. But there was another factor—his often harsh, mean-spirited rhetoric that, while distasteful to many, gave others the sense of a man bent on charging through all impediments to implement his policies. Consider, for example, immigration, perhaps the most high-voltage issue of the campaign.

The problem, of course, was the large number of illegal immigrants already well-established in the country—some 11 million, according to estimates. This reality constituted a blot on the country’s political establishment, which had allowed U.S. borders to be breached on such a scale with nary a finger raised to stem it. And the political establishment had no answer for the resulting civic challenge, except to provide some form of amnesty as part of a “comprehensive solution’’ that promised secure borders as a trade-off. But this was incendiary to millions of Americans who remembered the last time this trade-off was put forward—and promptly flouted as the flow of illegal immigrants accelerated following a major amnesty program. Thus, none of the presidential candidates wanted to engage the issue in any kind of frontal way during the campaign. They would finesse it pending their election and then deal with it in a more controlled legislative environment.

Except Trump. “When do we beat Mexico at the border?’’ he asked during his campaign announcement speech, then added, “They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. … When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.’’ This now-famous peroration was so stark and brutal that many considered it politically disqualifying, a sign that this crude figure would flame out quickly on the campaign trail. But for many, tired of political elites talking endlessly about the border problem without any discernible intent on actually attacking it, Trump seemed to be the only politician who actually took it seriously. When he said, during the first debate, that the issue wouldn’t have received serious attention at that forum except for his having forced it into the campaign discourse, he was probably correct.

That’s the view, at least, of Harvard’s George J. Borjas, one of the country’s leading immigration economists. “A really good question to ask,’’ Borjas said in an interview presented in TAC’s last issue, “… is would he have gotten traction if he hadn’t shocked the system that way so early on? What he said, you can disagree with it strongly. But … it really provided an incredible shock by introducing into the debate something people don’t usually talk about very often.’’

We know now that Trump’s willingness to grab hold of the immigration issue in his bold, even nasty, way resonated with white working-class voters in states that previously had been considered Democratic strongholds—particularly Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, which provided his Electoral College victory margin. It was this kind of rhetoric, combined with his eclectic mix of issues and positions, that rendered feckless the conventional wisdom back in early June of 2015 that said inexorable demographic trends favored the Democrats in 2016 and would continue to do so indefinitely into the future.

But running for president is not the same as being president, and now Donald Trump faces a governing challenge that he may or may not be capable of meeting. The New York billionaire emerged the winner in the crisis politics of 2016 by convincing just enough voters in just the right states that he would be a bold and effective manager, willing and able to take on entrenched political elites throughout the political system to break the deadlock of democracy and create a winning new status quo for America. This will not be an easy task, and Trump manifests some traits of personality and temperament that could impede his chances for success.

One is his tendency to advocate often contradictory policies that seem to reflect a disjointed and incoherent worldview. He says he would like to foster a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians but nominates as ambassador to Israel a man whose vocal support of Israeli settlements on the West Bank would preclude any such agreement. He says the United States should cease getting into Middle Eastern wars but brings into his inner circle men who seem to be spoiling for a fight with Iran. He says that, in Syria, we should concentrate first and foremost on defeating the Islamic State, or ISIS, but he seems bent on introducing tensions into U.S. relations with Iran, which also is fighting ISIS. He even suggested that, had he been president when Iranian naval forces detained American sailors who had drifted illegally into Iranian waters, he would have shot the Iranians out of the water within their own territorial seas. He decries the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the country’s actions in bringing down Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi but suggests we should have seized the oil of both countries—that is, from countries that, by his lights, we should have left alone.

Second, Trump seems to lack a facility for getting below the surface of things. On the campaign trail, he often was sharp and crisp in attacking policies he didn’t like or in carving out his primary policy positions. But he seemed to lack the political vocabulary to get below the surface in ways that would allow him to engage in what might be called explanatory political discourse, the kind that provides narrative to the political conversation. Though often brilliant in operating upon the political surface—in seeing more clearly than most, for example, the nature of the American crisis or in crafting a provocatively effective message for the times—he often seemed incapable of giving meaning and context to his political positions. That wasn’t a problem on the political stump; in fighting for legislation, however, it could prove limiting. As scholar Aaron David Miller writes in his book on the presidency, The End of Greatness, “The notion that the president’s job is to create a story or a compelling narrative in order to teach and inspire is absolutely on target.’’ Certainly, the president’s rollout of his initial executive orders on refugees and immigration reflected his inability, or disinclination, to explain his actions to the American people as he proceeds. There was no compelling narrative here at all.

And, third, it isn’t clear that Trump possesses the political temperament to deal effectively with the kind of politics that inevitably emerge when the country struggles to move from an established era to a new and often frightening new day. The country is split down the middle—between those clinging to the era of globalism and those who despise it; between those who want to control immigration and those who think such efforts are tantamount to racism; between those who believe that radical Islamist fundamentalism emanates out of Islam itself and those who think such thinking is bigotry or Islamophobia; between those who view Trump’s election as necessary and those who consider it a threat to the common weal. These divisions, and many more, will complicate Trump’s effort to break the nation’s deadlock crisis and move the U.S. into a new era of consensus and internal stability. This will require an appreciation for the holdouts, those disinclined to buy Trump’s message or join his cause. Trump, after all, is a minority president; he captured only 46 percent of the popular vote, 2 percentage points below Clinton’s total. He can’t forge any kind of effective governing coalition with just those who voted for him. He will need to build on his base, and that will require more than just the political will and swagger he demonstrated in the campaign. It will require also large amounts of guile, persistence, deviousness, cajolery, and an appreciation for the sensibilities of the collective electorate—all applied in just the right doses at just the right time. So far, some of those traits have been notably lacking.

[1]Trump’s mandate, defined by himself as well as events, is to generate economic growth at traditional levels, expand jobs sufficiently to bring discouraged workers back into the workforce, defeat ISIS and then bring America home from endless Middle Eastern wars, foster peace and relative global stability through strength mixed with creative diplomacy, establish an American consensus on the national direction, and maintain a civic calm within the American polity.

That’s a tall order. He might succeed. He might fail. Either way, the American people, in their collective judgment, will maintain an unsentimental view of it all. If he succeeds, they will reward him with their votes, and a new coalition might emerge. If he fails, they will fire him. And then the crisis of the old order will continue and deepen until, somehow, at some point, the voters manage to select a president who can get the job done.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is editor of The American Conservative. His next book, due out from Simon & Schuster in September, is President McKinley: Architect of the American Century.      

41 Comments (Open | Close)

41 Comments To "The Meaning of Trump"

#1 Comment By Williams Kumar On February 21, 2017 @ 3:04 am

This is perhaps the best study of the Trump phenomenon that I have read. It is neither supportive to the point of hagiography nor opposed to the point of not even paying attention to the forces that allowed Trump to become president in the first place. Excellent piece that I wish more level headed commenters on both sides would consider reading.

#2 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 21, 2017 @ 3:32 am

It’s a tall order improving the employment situation while simultaneously withdrawing from warmaking, since so much of the former now depends on the latter. That accounts for some of the seeming incoherence, which at best requires continuing to fund the military at high levels to avoid undermining employment in the short term, while simultaneously trying not to actually have them fight wars. A tough task indeed, since actual conflict profits weapons manufacturers as munitions are used up, which requires war.

#3 Comment By Gideon Marx On February 21, 2017 @ 7:55 am

You and others made one HUGE mistake in quoting Trump’s first Mexican comment.

You and antiTrump Hispanics FALSELY state that he said “They’re rapists.”

As with the phony “mocking the handicapped reporter’s disability” lie put out by the Washington Post at the time, so the CONTRACTION “they are” is NOT what Trump said!

He said (They’re bringing) “THEIR rapists.” Not “They (Mexicans) are rapists.”

This lie was just perpetuated by you here. There is a VAST difference between “Mexicans (they) are rapists” and “Mexicans are bringing their rapists”. The former condemns ALL Mexicans, which Trump never did; the latter referred to that subset of Mexican citizens who WERE rapists.

Together these two falsehoods have been essentialnpillars of the “Trump is mean” myth.

It’s time to correct it.

#4 Comment By Tim D. On February 21, 2017 @ 8:01 am

Quit dreaming. Trump has no mandate. Trump’s “ascendancy” is a clear-cut signal that our institutions are failing. Out of the people who bothered to vote for 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by, what, almost 4 million votes between Clinton and third-party candidates? The majority of the country don’t want Trump as president and strongly disapprove of his job performance.

Presidents need both legal consent and democratic consent to govern. Trump’s democratic mandate is nonexistent, and his legal consent is murky with the Russian hacking and Comey’s interference. And if his first month serves as an indication of how he’ll govern, it’ll be nonstop drama for the next 4 years.

#5 Comment By Lisa White On February 21, 2017 @ 8:03 am

I don’t disagree with this articles content however the author omits the resistance and opposition coming mostly from the left. Sure, Trump needs to provide leadership to bring compromise, but the outright hatred that is driving automatic and mindless resistance to Trump’s every effort hurts us all and serves only to prove the double standards and socialist destruction that half the country desires.

#6 Comment By Brian Kullman On February 21, 2017 @ 10:16 am

What Democrats should fear is that Trump will be followed by an American Margaret Thatcher: smart, politically experienced, principled, tough, and determined to make fundamental changes.

#7 Comment By John C On February 21, 2017 @ 10:32 am

Good article. Thoughtful and measured.

#8 Comment By tomas pajaros On February 21, 2017 @ 10:47 am

“Only Trump Realized America’s Status Quo Crisis”

Trump, plus 63 million who voted for him, plus millions more who voted for Sanders initially, plus 8million who voted for other candidates.

the “status quo crisis” has been apparent to many for years.

#9 Comment By Stephen On February 21, 2017 @ 11:04 am

Thanks, Gideon. I’m collecting a file of this kind of media distortion, and I missed that one.

Tim, you make three miscalculations here. 1) The clear-cut signal came from the American electorate. You cannot demonstrate institutional failure except by some sort of circular argument (Trump won, therefore our institutions have failed us). 2) Trump lost the popular vote. This failure to account for the system within which the campaign was fought, and within which the candidates strategized, is the muddy thinking that caused you to miss the clear-cut signal mentioned above. Those 4 million votes came from coastal California, Chicago, Boston, the Washington DC bedroom communities, and New York City, political environs vastly disparate vis-à-vis the rest of the nation. 3) On Trump’s performance rating, you are missing the fact that these polls are created by those same pollsters who predicted the Trump failure. Also, you fail to factor into this assessment the same thing the pollsters are missing — the horrendous behavior of publishers and journalists, a journalistic scandal of abysmal proportions. Just wait 3 months, Tim, and you will see what we are seeing.

#10 Comment By pop seal On February 21, 2017 @ 11:10 am

Regardless of the nuanced theories about President King Kong, he is stomping all over the status quo. I love it. His AG may be the biggest threat to “the usual suspects” occupying the corrupt swamp that is D.C. The prospect of watching colluded reptiles begin to swirl the drain as the water level starts to drop is like a wonderful dream. The nightmare is now theirs.
Could all of this actually be happening? Whining cup cakes and snow flakes in the leftist media tell me that it really is happening.

#11 Comment By Corwin On February 21, 2017 @ 11:13 am

The real problem is not so much with Trump, but instead the combination of Trump and the elected republicans in Congress and the state level. We are very clearly divided along party lines, with little overlap in desired policies, and are at roughly a 50-50 split. Even so, democrats and everyone else on the left has virtually no power at any level of government outside a few states like California or Vermont. With so little representation, and along with it checks and balances, we’re seeing the protests and fights taken to wherever they possibly can. This problem is only going to intensify the longer it continues. As it stands now, it would take roughly 55% of the vote for democrats just to draw even with the republicans. In a 50-50 split, that is not justifiable.

Another problem is that we saw what happened the last time a president was elected under similar circumstances as Trump and it did not turn out well at all.

I don’t put all of this on Trump, since he did, at least partially address many legitimate concerns during the campaign. But since then, he is going along with what the republicans in Congress largely want. For most of us, doing relatively well, but not at the upper reaches of the economy, we want stability. We want good public schools in our neighborhoods, even with some choice also available. We want a protected environment so we don’t have to breathe polluted air or drink fouled water. We want a financial system that is not looking to scam us on every single transaction. A good place to work with a living wage and safe working conditions.Throw in a decent retirement as well with social security. All of that is at risk because of President Trump, his appointments, the republican congress, and the republican led states. And the democrats have few options to block even the worst of what we are likely to get over the next 2-4 years. Hopefully, we’ll muddle through the next few years, if I’m being optimistic. But I think it more likely that at the end if his term, the establishment will have an even tighter grip on power than before, and the rest of us will be more vulnerable with fewer chances of falling through the cracks.

#12 Comment By Delbert Larson On February 21, 2017 @ 11:24 am

At the time of the rapist comment, the prevailing meme of the media was a report that many of the women and children coming across our southern border were being raped. It was a meme to generate sympathy for open borders. Trump responded that someone must be doing the raping, and it was likely others who were coming across the border at the same time. It was the story of the day, and Trump responded to it. The media then moved on to the next story of the day, and then the next, and then the one after that. But that original rebuttal of rapists lives on as it serves to score political points in some quarters. It would be best if the full context could be recalled.

#13 Comment By Nicholai On February 21, 2017 @ 11:25 am

Excellent analysis.
Trump must keep pushing ahead. No compromises are feasible.
Lisa, what possibly might be a compromise in the immigration?
We believe that the Johnson’s 1965 Immigration Law must be changed completely. And the number must be decreased from 1.1. million to 100,000.
We believe that the concept of “melting pot” simply doesn’t work.
We believe that representation of traditional ethnic and racial groups must be reinstated.
I could go on and on: about financial capital, trade, foreign policy, liberal terror in expressing any opinion – all across the spectrum of problems.
Unfortunately, the divide is too deep to find a Bill Clinton-like compromise.
That is why we believe that Trump doesn’t have an alternative but to keep going.

#14 Comment By jdl51 On February 21, 2017 @ 11:26 am

Trump won with 46% of the voters who even bothered to show up at the polls, and a whopping 27% of all registered voters. 54% of Americans who did show up to vote voted for someone other than Trump. I’m not sure he’s got the electorate figured out. Gaming the system he’s definitely good at, but most con men are. You’d think with those stats and his present approval ratings hovering in the low 40s, he’d try some kind of outreach instead of demonizing everyone that says even the most inane comments about him. I would think he’d have greater issues to contend with. But we all have our priorities.

#15 Comment By Flavius On February 21, 2017 @ 11:27 am

Robert Merry nails it.
Trump absolutely has a mandate: fix the country, the whole of it, that the self serving DC uniparty elites, the coastal 1 percenters, and smug big media have ridden into the earth.
If Trump can’t, the country will look for someone who can: it has had enough of lumping through as a deplorable. The deplorables united because they figured they had nothing to lose – and they were right.
If Trump doesn’t fix it, he’s gone; but the age of Clinton corruption and Bush nepotism is over.

#16 Comment By Henry Schwab On February 21, 2017 @ 11:30 am

This is an insightful article analyzing the Trump ascendancy. But two points need to be clarified. The first was handled by Gideon Marx in his comments relating to the “all Mexicans are rapists” canard.

The second relates to the level of Trump’s national support. While it is true that Clinton received more popular votes, I think it misses the point that, absent the two states of California and New York, Trump won both the popular and electoral vote. To my mind, this argues that Trump’s support is broad.

How deep that support is, however, rests on a tenuous base. The combined vote difference in North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania doesn’t leave much room for error. But that said, the margins in Minnesota, Virginia, New Hampshire and Nevada point out the same weakness for the Democrats.

In my opinion, Trumps viability comes down to his ability to deliver on his big three promises: immigration, jobs and Islamic terrorism. For that, he needs his party as well as a few Democrats in the Senate. So the next four years will be a showcase of how well he can apply his “Art Of The Deal” in the political arena instead of the business arena. It will be interesting to see if the same principles apply to both.

#17 Comment By Colorado Jack On February 21, 2017 @ 12:17 pm

Tim, you say the majority of the country strongly disapprove of Trump’s job performance. That’s not correct. The Real Clear Politics average shows 50.5% disapproval of Trump. That’s total disapproval: some of those people disapprove but not strongly. For example, the most recent YouGov/Economist shows “strongly disapprove” at 38% and “somewhat disapprove” at 9%. Browsing through the various polls, it is clear that a lot of people strongly disapprove of Trump’s job performance, but they are not anywhere near a majority.

There’s also a factor not captured in any poll I know of: Some people disapprove of Trump because he has welshed on some of his more extreme promises, such as on torture and the “Dreamers.”

#18 Comment By James Richards On February 21, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

Generally a fair and reasoned article. For the sake of brevity I’ll simply say that it’s very encouraging to finally have a President that appears to care about ordinary Americans and is an advocate for America rather than a constant critic. And BTW, I believe that there was large-scale voter fraud in recent elections and that a long overdue “audit” will show exactly that.

#19 Comment By Waste Nottingham On February 21, 2017 @ 12:25 pm

“lost the popular vote by, what, almost 4 million votes”

Take away california, Tim, and Trump won the popular vote for the rest of the nation. This is why we have an electoral college, btw, to better reflect the will of the *nation* as a whole, and prevent (nation) states like California, Texas, New York, Florida from dominating and ultimately determining every national election.

I live in California in the Sacramento area. To this day I still have not seen one Hillary for President bumper sticker. Someone explain that.

I was in SF on Nov 17 & 18 and did not see a single one as well.

The Sacramento Bee ran a story yesterday about Trump’s immigration policy and the first roundup netted 75% criminal aliens. The forum comments for the article were overwhelmingly in favor. I estimate ten to one. Go figure.

#20 Comment By James Richards On February 21, 2017 @ 12:38 pm

Tim D is correct in that our institutions are failing us. The first two that come to mind is the MSM and academia.

#21 Comment By Phrank On February 21, 2017 @ 12:59 pm

Good article, by I think Victor Davis Hanson’s February 20th article is better. What Trump is attempting isn’t “new” or “revolutionary,” it’s simply a return to a system the worked tolerably well until it got yanked first hard-right by hubristic neo-cons and then hard-left by deranged communists. “If Trump’s agenda hits 3 percent GDP growth or above by 2018, then his critics — progressive shock troops, Democratic grandees, mainstream media, Never Trump Republicans — will either shift strategies or face prolonged irrelevance. But for now, ending Trump one way or another is apparently the tortured pathway his critics are taking to exit their self-created labyrinth of irrelevance.”

#22 Comment By cajomu On February 21, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

Two comments:

First, the “estimate” of 11 million illegal immigrants is highly suspect. That number has been bantied about for a decade, while people have continued to stream across the southern border. The real number is probably 2-4 times as many. The number is important because, if it’s only eleven million, illegal immigration is not a major problem but, if it is thirty or forty million, it is a crisis.

Second, if Trump fails, it won’t be because of his many faults. It will be because Congress is still run by the people whose first choice for president was Jeb Bush and whose second choice was Hillary Clinton.

The real questions about Trump are (1) is he truly is the iconoclast he claims to be or does he simply likes to play the role of provocateur and (2) does he have the courage to use the full power of the presidency to defeat the establishment.

Only time will tell.

#23 Comment By GMason On February 21, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

Astute observations, but I would make one small point. The author states that Trump challenges the status quo, but then falls back into defending it.
Who knows, maybe it is possible to have settlements AND a two state solution? At the very least, you don’t give away your best bargaining chip before you’ve even begun negotiations. Because Trump does not hem himself in with the reigning paradigm, he is free to propose more creative solutions, at least some of which will be successful, and in ways that those still thinking inside the box couldn’t have imagined, much less accomplished.

#24 Comment By Will Harrington On February 21, 2017 @ 1:41 pm

Tim D

Or it could very well be that Trump’s election is an indication that the institutions put in place in the Constitution are still working. The purpose of the Electoral College was to prevent the tyranny of the masses that is a danger all democracies are subject to. There is a reason we are not, and never have been, a democracy. They inevitably become tyrannies as the people are bribed with their own money. The Electoral College is not an institution of democracy, it is an institution of the Republic designed to protect the republic from the whims of a mere majority and to protect small states from being oppressed by a few small states.

#25 Comment By Patrick C. On February 21, 2017 @ 1:43 pm

I agreed with the basic premise up to the point where the author starts dissecting the current state of affairs, vis-a-vis the governing by Trump. This is in keeping with the author’s ability, probably reluctantly, to properly assess Trump, but only post hoc, and now, back to assessing in real time, and going forward, is completely and once again clueless as to the real meaning of what Trump is actually doing and accomplishing by way of his administration’s picks for key positions and a cogent policy of making sure his campaign promises are delivered. Trump is reaching beyond the beltway constituencies, as he had during the campaign, and is building on that coalition building in order to more firmly position himself, as the “deal maker in chief” to make those deals. That’s seems to be lost here.

So, in the end, the article is a ‘give the devil his due’ hit piece, one in which the author is suggesting that, while Trump had understood the “crises” with the status quo, he will eventually hit the wall, as Trump is, per this author, in the end, not all THAT smart. That is the one ‘lesson’ this author seems to not have gotten, that Trump won precisely because he indeed IS that smart. Please, sir, do grab a clue.

#26 Comment By Rob On February 21, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

Trumps voters will only grow. People forget all of those who thought his loss was inevitable (including me). They will be there for him the next time around. Leadership involves getting people to do what they need to do, even when it hurts a bit. The narrative now against him is mostly fake news (we used to call it “spin” when someone twisted the meaning of something to make a point that the data didn’t support). The problem with this fake news (like, say, the supposed “muslim ban”) is that in ends up giving Trump a lot more leeway when something real comes up. Mainly because we have been innoculated with the fake stuff and don’t know what is real any more and blow it all off. To much “WOLF” calling will hurt the Democrats.

#27 Comment By Blake On February 21, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

“Thus did the elites and analysts and seers of both parties anticipate another Bush-Clinton battle”

It is tiring to see this line of thinking dragged out over and over again. EVERYONE anticipated this battle, not just the elites, its just that a ton of people WANTED something else. That doesn’t mean they expected this to happen.

#28 Comment By Robert Barron On February 21, 2017 @ 3:33 pm

Brilliant. (Then again, this article roughly parallels my thinking of how Trump was able to eviscerate the Republican primary field, and then go on to defeat Hillary Clinton). Trump is neither a Republican or Democrat. He’s a populist. That’s how he ran. That’s how he will (attempt) to govern. But as a lifelong Republican turned Democrat, it’s not hard for me to see how the solutions that both parties have been advocating for years (especially my former Party) aren’t working for the working class. Is it any wonder that millions of them voted for Trump? Now, if his Presidency is a success, America succeeds as well. But if not…for the reasons the author mentioned….well, the Country suffers as well. I suspect the next four years will be unlike any we have seen previously; and 2020 will be fascinating, in and of itself.

#29 Comment By Edward Walsh On February 21, 2017 @ 3:48 pm

Let me just say, as a liberal, Trump will never move beyond his original sin of spreading that racist, bigoted rumor about Obama’s birth. That told me everthing I needed to know about Mr. Trump and the people who supported him.

I think it is truly amazing how little Republicans seem to care for basic respect in our national politics. Yes that may seem antagonistic, but frankly, with Trump in the White House, it is meant to be. Everything is, “Yes he’s rude but.” There is no “but” for me. That isn’t how I was raised, that isn’t the belief system I thought we all had. Maybe if we lived in an autocracy I would say, “Yeah he’s a jerk so what.” But we live in a democracy. These rules of fair play, turnabout and yes, mutual respect are not frivolous things, they are essential to rational political discourse.

#30 Comment By steveb On February 21, 2017 @ 4:00 pm

This analysis credits more intelligence and strategy to Trump than he deserves, probably because the author is a conservative and is somehow hoping that his conservative policies can somehow come out of the cluster F**k that has been the Trump presidency so far. However Trump has no actual constituency and Ryan and McConnell have their own agenda and way more experience than Trump so any substantial policies will come through them. Those policies are the ones that pretty much got us into this mess. That means that if you think about it the conservative elites are still in control and nothing has changed except the name at the top of the ticket. Those who are apparently trying to oust those elites are the old tea party types and Trump, neither of them are actually capable of building anything as they have only demonstrated how to be destructive. Brannon has Trumps ear and he is explicitly trying to destroy things. Gridlock is looking pretty good now.

In any case, I have no doubt that Trump voters will continue to vote for him no matter how badly he objectively fails, we are in a post reality presidency now. They are extremely resistant to any factual evidence and are disconnected from any source of real news so there is simply no way they will not believe that he is spectacularly successful, he will tell them he is successful after all. The only reason Trump would not be re-elected will be if the apathetic folks that usually don’t vote finally decide that they have had enough and vote Democratic in those swing states. Sanity will not be restored from the Republican side, it is too far gone.

#31 Comment By Egypt Steve On February 21, 2017 @ 4:10 pm

@ Gideo Marx, re: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.’’ ”

Sorry, but the notion that he said “their rapists” doesn’t wash. “Their rapists” would be another object of “bringing. “They’re bringing their rapists” is nonsense, even for Trump, who I will give credit for otherwise speaking in complete sentences in this rant.

#32 Comment By Mark Thomason On February 21, 2017 @ 4:15 pm

The Trump phenomenon was born in the early reactions to the assumption of “Bush III vs Clinton II.”

Those who took comfort in that lost.

Those who were appalled and thought it a curse that must be avoided won.

Bernie would have served as well for that, maybe better, if Hillary had not wrapped up Democratic insiders before he ever appeared.

#33 Comment By Rosita On February 21, 2017 @ 4:18 pm

Sorry but I consider this article nonsense. Too much credit is given to Donald Trump for something he demonstrated little foresight for. Numerous political actors warned against the status quo being untenable, TAC’s own Pat Buchanan should be given more credit and recognition for consistently espousing this message for decades. All Donald Trump did was correctly gamble on NOW being the opportune moment to exploit economic, cultural and racial anxieties; and he did so in the most pedestrian and ham-handed approach of the garden variety demagogue. Others on this thread have rightly made the comparison of Trump and Trumpism to Chavez and the Chavistas. Trump did not and never has had the intellectual and ideological foresight to predict the collapse of the status quo; after all was it not just a year ago that Trump was ideologically aligned with the pro-capitalist; neo-liberal economic and cultural world order? A world order he personally relished, exploited and openly capitalized upon? Many of his supporters want to believe now that he is the vanguard and protector of WWC Americana; that is their right in a democracy but let’s keep the story straight about the man’s past behavior, motivations and track record.

#34 Comment By s On February 21, 2017 @ 4:33 pm

We ah blessed to live in Trumplandia and to be led by a man whose vision shines the brightest. His common touch–not to mention his cabinet of billionaires and multimillionaires and announced policies that will increase their obscene wealth through tax cuts–will continue rallying the poor, downtrodden masses and make them believe that he alone can lift their misery and lead them to Utopia on earth. Praise da Lord.

#35 Comment By Ken Hoop On February 21, 2017 @ 5:29 pm

Commentor Edward Walsh defending Obama against Trump’s birtherism.

“Maybe if we lived in an autocracy I would say, “Yeah he’s a jerk so what.”

Try this, Ed and you’ll gain moral perspective:

“Yeah, he’s a reckless drone bomber of innocents but don’t blame Kenya for birthing him.”

#36 Comment By Dan D. On February 21, 2017 @ 9:46 pm

An excellent, well-balanced piece of journalism. You identified both the myriad problems and pathways to the solutions. It is not clear whether President Trump will succeed, but it will be a very interesting four years.

#37 Comment By David On February 22, 2017 @ 5:22 am

Big mistake in this article.
“If he succeeds he will be rewarded… “. True.
“If he fails he’ll be fired..”

YOU will be fired-

#38 Comment By rhine-gold cowboy On February 22, 2017 @ 9:55 am

Same old Reaganite wine in new bottles. The giveaway is the assertion that we are living under a world order created by FDR. That world passed decades ago.

#39 Comment By Jones On February 22, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

Several comments say Trump would have won the popular vote if you take out—California, or CA and New York, or all of these and Washington DC, etc. . . .

This is ridiculous. You might want to get rid of California and New York, but — they might also want to get rid of you. Whose fault is it that more people want to live in California than . . . wherever these Trump supporters are? The state of California on its own is the 6th biggest economy in the world, bigger than France. And New York is not exactly an optional part of the United States. New York City is the biggest, most powerful city in the country and perhaps the most important city in the world — and of great historical importance to the country. The fact that much of what Trump supporters believe requires defining these places as somehow not part of America, does rather a lot to discredit their view of America.

#40 Comment By Tim D. On February 22, 2017 @ 10:09 pm

The major problem with our institutions involves the Russian hacking and Director Comey’s refusal to follow federal protocols. The Russians hacked the RNC too, and the Republican response is… do nothing. Michael Flynn is the third person to be sacked because of his ties to Russia the other two being Paul Manafort and Carter Page. Trump himself is an admirer of Putin and even asked on live television for the Russians to meddle in our elections. Pathological dislike of Democrats has become so intense that many Republicans are now becoming willing enablers of Russia’s transgressions at home and abroad. The Russians cannot be trusted, and seeing Republicans warm up to them is unprincipled and I dare say unpatriotic.

Comey’s actions warrant scrutiny too because his actions are a clear violation of federal officials to not undertake actions that can influence elections, let alone the perception that they are. Yet he did it anyway, releasing more info about the Clinton “scandal” while withholding sensitive information about Trump’s ties to Russia.

Our allies are increasingly worried about the erratic behavior of our president. Tillerson, Pence, etc. are all making trips around the world to assure allies that Trump didn’t mean what he’d say, we’ll uphold our treaty obligations, etc. It’s embarrassing to say to our allies our president’s word is worthless, but then again, Trump’s word is like a degree from Trump University, worthless. Our allies are also worried about Trump’s Russian connections, and upon investigation it appears people Trump has done business with in the past appear to be agents of foreign governments like, you know, Russia.

Trump doesn’t have a mandate, let alone the perception of one. The majority of voters do not want Trump for president. This may be rectified 4 years from now if he wins the popular vote (e.g. like Bush in 2004), but it’ll become increasingly problematic if that isn’t the case. No democratic form of government can survive for long if it’s perceived to be illegitimate. If it caters to the exclusive needs of the minority at the expense of the majority, it can lead to illiberal democracy as we’re seeing in other countries like Poland. It’s dangerous because it becomes nigh-impossible to mitigate corruption among public officials because one-party control ensures a 100% protection racket where the state protects the guilty and prosecutes the innocent. In this case, the Electoral College is a hindrance, not an asset.

About California, two can play that game. Let’s pretend that the 80,000 voters who gave Trump Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania don’t exist. Clinton wins.

I refuse to give Trump the benefit of the doubt because I expect the utmost from professionals as I would doctors and teachers. He knows nothing about foreign policy, national policy, and very little about domestic policy. (Surprisingly, he seems to understand the basic tenants of health policy, but that’s about it.) He doesn’t understand how government cannot be run as a business, and it’s showing in epic disasters like the travel ban, which could have been avoided had it been vetted through proper channels. The more Trump feels he’s failing, the more likely he is to lash out, as we’ve seen with the courts. Even his own Supreme Court nominee thinks his attacks on the judiciary are completely inappropriate and disturbing.

Trump lacks the qualities of competent presidents. Ultimately he’s a needy, insecure man with a pathological need to be liked. Secretly, he wishes he was the Hypno Toad from Futurama so he could get people to do this all the time:

#41 Comment By Jeffery Martin On February 23, 2017 @ 10:07 am

Mr. Walsh..it is breathtaking for you to point to Republicans as having lost civility and common decency in political discourse. You need to get out more. Now for the good part..for once in a very long time I feel as if I am back in the United States of America.