Wow. Just wow. I’ve never been more shocked by anything in politics. Monday night my friend and former colleague Freddy Gray, now at the Spectator, called and I told him that there wouldn’t be any Brexit-type shock, that most journalists were biased but the pollsters were skilled and professional, and that I doubted I’d take a 25–1 bet for Trump for real money. Of course, I added, I’d vote for him, thought his campaign was on balance pretty wonderful, etc. But the point was to build a base for next time, when a more normal politician—Christie, Cruz, Tom Cotton, Pence, or an as-yet-unknown figure from outside politics—would take up Trump’s issues, especially immigration, and run with them.
Working-class counties all over Pennsylvania and the Midwest that Obama had carried comfortably went for Trump—something that should, but won’t, give pause to the progressive commentariat now inundating us with their lamentations about racist America. I voted for both men myself, and hope dearly the meeting between Obama and Trump on Thursday is substantive, wry, and interesting to both in ways neither would ever have anticipated. For months I had been visualizing the moment, sometime in 2017, when Obama realized that Hillary, with her hawkishness and neocon coterie, threatened to undermine the basic tenets of his foreign policy. That now is never going to happen. So conversely, I hope that Obama now finds it in him to tell Trump, “you know you’re probably right about Russia, and I gave the Hillary and the neocons in the State Department too free a hand in trying to expand NATO right up to Russia’s borders.” After which Trump can reply that the Iran deal is something that shouldn’t be scrapped and ought to be built upon. One can hope, anyway.
Trump’s eloquent speech in the early hours of the morning carried in it all the seeds of an effective beginning to his administration. He made clear we would seek hostility with no country. He has a clear mandate to nominate Scalia-like justices to the Supreme Court and to stem illegal immigration—beyond that, he has a clean slate to move in almost any direction. Now the important thing is to hope and pray Trump governs well, and to do everything we can to make that happen. I hope his administration reaches out to some of the reformocons, Reihan Salam and his group, and that they don’t give him a cold shoulder. Progress toward peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict is obviously off the table: Trump received the support of many right-wing Zionists, who are very much with him on several important issues. But it doesn’t matter in the short run—no American president was going to bring about a two-state settlement anyway. In the near to medium future, Israel will face growing pressures to allow West Bank and Gazan Palestinians to vote, but that’s Israel’s problem.
It gets lost in the campaign hurly-burly, but Trump has shown extremely good judgment in reaching out to Washington insiders on some issues. I was glad Jeff Sessions was mentioned explicitly last night, and brought on stage: he is the most knowledgeable figure about immigration in the Senate, and his former aide, Stephen Miller (who joined the campaign) played a key role in drafting Trump’s formal immigration positions. There is already a Capitol Hill intellectual infrastructure concerned with immigration that bypasses “white nationalism” and bigotry of any sort, centered on the Center for Immigration Studies, run by Mark Krikorian. If Trump had started out speaking about high immigration rates by noting, dryly, their impact on American wages, school budgets, infrastructure, and government-assistance payouts, no one would have noticed. Instead, in his announcement last June, he said something demagogic. It worked. But formulating an immigration policy that serves the interests of the American people—rather than people all over the world—is very much a possibility, and requires no demagogy at all. It’s a very normal thing for a country to do.
More than most presidents, Donald Trump needs our help. He doesn’t bring with him a big network of policy people, professional politicians, and their staffers. He forged a campaign on the triad of issues Pat Buchanan wrote three books about—trade, immigration, and foreign policy—and took the correct (i.e. Buchananite) positions when no one else in the Washington establishment did. That demonstrates either uncanny political judgment or astonishing opportunism—or some combination of both. But putting together a team to implement this agenda, or part of it, rather than a default Paul Ryan-style agenda will take diligence and skill. The transition—the staffing of a Trump administration—will be critical. Trump is a smart man, and sensitive in unexpected ways. He is also a loner, brash, intemperate. He will soon find the limits of the presidency.
Americans are setting off into uncharted territory. We needed to do that. The trajectory we were on—good working class jobs disappearing, accelerating entry of unskilled immigrants, the creation of an ultra-liberal Supreme Court that will shape the law for generations, collapsing infrastructure, rising crime, escalating attacks on police officers, political correctness enforced at increasingly insane levels—was simply awful. Had it continued, the America most of us grew up in would be gone forever. Now we have a chance to Make America Great Again.
Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.