The Never Trump cabal can now claim total victory. Unsuccessful at preventing Trump from winning the nomination or the general election, they have instead co-opted his presidency for their own policies and programs.
With the nomination of John Bolton, Never Trump interventionists have installed one of the unrepentant architects of the catastrophic Iraq War to head the National Security Council.
In recent months, ignoring and rejecting his own party’s convention platform, Trump has agreed to send lethal weapons to Ukraine. Besides accelerating the deaths of Ukrainians and ethnic Russians while laying waste to the civilian population of the Donbas, what advantage to the people of the United States does this military escalation provide?
Last summer, in one of the strangest speeches in American history, President Trump announced he would surge troop levels in Afghanistan—and then in the same breath admitted it was a mistake and something he didn’t really want to do. That should show the conflict here: Trump’s instincts versus the establishment sorts around him.
Never Trumpers are not so secretly celebrating. They got the president they thought they didn’t want. And now, pretending they still don’t want him, they can hardly believe their good fortune.
Achieving their foreign policy goals is just the icing on the cake. They also got the president to implement the entire Wall Street agenda: lowering taxes on the super rich; advancing huge subsidies to the medical insurance industry; keeping the Export-Import Bank funded; re-authorizing the ivory trade; shrinking the size of national monuments so that multi-national corporations can turn our wilderness areas into strip mines and clear-cut wastelands.
Then, just this week, in a reckless act of generational theft, Trump endorsed the second biggest budget in U.S. history, caving in to every demand and desire of the UniParty and the K Street lobbyists whom they serve.
In the 18th century, the cry went “Millions for defense, but not one penny for tribute!” Trump’s cry is “Billions for defense, but not one penny for a wall!”
Trump justifies his signature on the omnibus bill by claiming it was necessary for national security. But that claim rings hollow when comparatively little is allocated for the protection of America’s own borders and the defense of its homeland. Americans intuitively know that the real danger to their safety is not along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; it’s along the U.S.-Mexico border. But Trump’s own laudable instincts have been neutered by the globalist, interventionist generals and policy wonks who now populate powerful positions at the White House and the departments of State and Defense.
Many reading this might now protest: what’s wrong with passing the omnibus? Isn’t it providing the funds necessary for making America great again? But Donald Trump did not run for office on a platform of bloating spending; he ran on opposition to massive debt increases and specifically to many of the programs they pay for. The budget can be summed up in a paraphrase of a Broadway musical hit tune: whatever crony wants, crony gets.
Has there been a fiercer critic of the Iraq war than Donald Trump? Yet he promotes to the head of the NSC perhaps that conflict’s most vociferous apologist. Trump promised he would end the wars of choice, that he would refrain from taking sides in other nation’s internal conflicts. He called for a reasonable rapprochement with Russia with the goal of making America and Americans safer. He specifically said he would wind down the military commitment in Afghanistan as quickly and safely as possible.
His only bellicose pledge concerned ISIS, which he promised to destroy. As we have seen, that was one of the few promises he kept. In most other policy areas he has reversed his campaign pledges. His foreign policy is no longer America First; it’s evolved into the same, old, dangerous, meddling, interventionist program of the last quarter century. Trump has deepened U.S. involvement in Yemen, Syria, Ukraine, and Afghanistan without clearly defining the missions, the goals, and the risks. If voters had wanted this, they would have elected Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump.
Yet of all the betrayals, the war on nature is the most grievous and shocking. As someone who supported Trump from day one in June 2015, who has seen virtually every one of his speeches, interviews, and tweets, I cannot recall a single word about the national parks or monuments.
Had Trump forecast during the campaign how he would govern on environmental issues, would he have been elected? Could those narrow margins of victory in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa have gone the other way? With his appointment of Ryan Zinke to the Department of the Interior, Trump needlessly and recklessly alienated tens of thousands of voters who might otherwise have supported him and who may indeed have voted for him in 2016. Although its hard to discern exactly why the president’s poll numbers are as low as they are, it would be a mistake to discount the animus engendered by the unexpected assault on wilderness, open space, endangered species, and America’s magnificent national monuments.
The only national monument that Trump has failed to shrink is the Beltway swamp. In fact, judging from the continuing spread of McMansions in Potomac, Maryland and Falls Church, Virginia, he has effectively widened its borders. It’s as if the chants from all those packed stadiums during that long ago presidential campaign were “Fill that swamp! Fill that swamp!”
It is now abundantly clear why the Never Trumpers are tittering over their cocktails. Trump has staffed most departments of his government with establishment cronies and neoconservative zealots. He now presides over the implementation of their agenda. In effect, we’re getting a variation on what could be called the third Bush presidency—minus the decorum.
Trump’s is also the all-talk presidency: talk tough on illegal immigration, but fail to build the wall; talk tough on sanctuary cities, but fail to cut federal subsidies; talk tough on illegal immigration, then push for the biggest amnesty since 1986; talk tough against the Export-Import Bank, then fund it; talk tough on Obamacare, then fund big insurance to keep the subsidies flowing; talk tough on reducing taxes, then screw millions of homeowners across America by actually raising their taxes; talk tough on trade, then tiptoe around Mexico and Canada on everything that really matters; talk tough on the deficit, then sign the second biggest boondoggle spending bill in U.S. history.
Still, it cannot be denied: President Trump has accomplished much—for the establishment and their K Street lobbyists. They write the bills, Paul Ryan guides them through the House amendment-free, and Trump signs them in to law.
For those who packed those campaign rallies, who wore those red “Make America Great Again” caps, and for the rest of us mere plebs, Donald Trump’s presidency is best summed up by The Bard: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Ron Maxwell wrote and directed the Civil War motion-pictures Gettysburg, Gods & Generals, and Copperhead.