History erupts in Paris first, and then it spreads. An old order dies and is reborn as a new one. Macron is hoping that even if his popularity is dipping below 20 percent, he can win again if the alternative is Marine Le Pen and her far-right Rassemblement national. But in fact, the alternative may be socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. In Macron’s failures, I see one potential future coming into view: Mélenchon in France, Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom, and Bernie Sanders in the U.S.
Not only in Macron’s failures, but in Trump’s. Yuval Levin writes about the Mueller report’s detailing how the subordinates around Trump routinely refused to execute his foolish (and possibly illegal) requests. This, says Levin, is a warning sign:
It is not hard to see why Trump’s senior staff treat him as they do. They understand better than any of us that his distinct disabilities as a decision maker have to be accommodated in some extraordinary ways to prevent them from exacting terrible costs. But these extraordinary accommodations are unlikely to be sustainable in truly extraordinary circumstances. We can hope that the country is lucky enough to avoid a serious crisis of some kind that requires a functional emergency-management response under time pressure. Maybe that will happen, we are a very lucky country, after all.
Or we can hope that Trump’s advisers, and especially his national-security and economic teams, have worked out some procedures for emergency decision-making that take account of the unusual problem they face. But it isn’t easy to see how this could be done in any way that could be both effective and legitimate.
In any case, all of that is a lot to hope for. The peculiar willingness of Trump’s people to ignore or disobey him is a blessing and a curse. But more than anything it is a warning sign that ought to be taken seriously by anyone in Congress or in the executive branch who is in any way in a position to help prepare our government to handle serious emergencies.
Can anybody say with a straight face that Trump’s has been a successful presidency? Yes, he’s had some wins (two Supreme Court justices, for example), and no doubt he has had to fight an entrenched system that wanted to destroy him. But overall, in terms of formulating policy, leading the Congress and the country to rally behind those policies, and executing them, this has been a failed presidency. He has many enemies, but the most effective one is … Donald Trump. I find it difficult to make a positive case for Trump’s re-election. The negative case — that a Democrat would be worse — is much easier, and indeed I might vote for him in 2020, because the Democrats are competent and espouse things that are dangerous and even insane.
But having to vote for Trump because as awful as he is as a chief executive, he’s not as bad as what one imagines a Democratic president would be — that’s pathetic. I don’t have a lot of confidence that there are enough voters willing to take another chance on Trump to return him to office. If, God forbid, there is a serious national crisis between now and Election Day 2020, we could be looking at the event that made President Sanders a lock. But even if things continue along as they are, has Trump addressed the economic insecurity that drove Obama voters to go for Trump (versus the neoliberal Clinton)? Yes, the economy is doing well now, but that’s not the same thing as dealing with the structural problems that make so many people precarious.
Bernie has a plan for that. It might be a bad plan, but he has thought about it, and he can argue for it. Trump? He tweets and blusters. He also appoints good federal judges, which gets him far with me, but there aren’t too many of us who see that as a make-or-break thing. Frustrated Americans have tried a populist Right government. Now maybe they will be willing to embrace the far Left.
If this happens, we on the Right will have to think hard about the incredible opportunity handed us in 2016, and that we blew. It would have been a real tragedy, in that Trump was perhaps the only Republican who could have beat Hillary, but also the only Republican who had no idea at all how to govern, and whose personality made it highly unlikely that he could succeed in office.
I don’t want to step off this without losing MBD’s main point, which is that Macron has failed to build a credible centrist politics. That’s not the same as Trump’s failure. Trump has failed to build a successful populist-nationalist politics. There are no centrist alternatives on the Democratic side, save Joe Biden, who might or might not run, and if he does, he will probably lose the nomination, because he’s out of step with the time and his own party. The failure of Macron could bring to power Marine Le Pen, but MBD apparently sees it more likely that the far-left Melenchon would take the Elysée (no doubt because it is impossible to imagine the urban Macronistes voting for a Le Pen under any circumstances). Similarly, in the UK, the hot mess that is the Tory Party could bring to power the farthest left government Britain has ever seen.
I still believe that populism-nationalism is the best bet we have to hold the United States together. But we are years away from seeing a conservative leader capable of embodying it. I believe Tucker Carlson was right in this interview from late last year. Excerpt:
Do you think he has kept his promises? Has he achieved his goals?
No. His chief promises were that he would build the wall, de-fund planned parenthood, and repeal Obamacare, and he hasn’t done any of those things. There are a lot of reasons for that, but since I finished writing the book, I’ve come to believe that Trump’s role is not as a conventional president who promises to get certain things achieved to the Congress and then does. I don’t think he’s capable. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system. I don’t think the Congress is on his side. I don’t think his own agencies support him. He’s not going to do that.
I think Trump’s role is to begin the conversation about what actually matters. We were not having any conversation about immigration before Trump arrived in Washington. People were bothered about it in different places in the country. It’s a huge country, but that was not a staple of political debate at all. Trump asked basic questions like’ “Why don’t our borders work?” “Why should we sign a trade agreement and let the other side cheat?” Or my favorite of all, “What’s the point of NATO?” The point of NATO was to keep the Soviets from invading western Europe but they haven’t existed in 27 years, so what is the point? These are obvious questions that no one could answer.
Apart from asking these very important questions has he really achieved nothing?
Not much. Not much. Much less than he should have. I’ve come to believe he’s not capable of it.
Can’t drain the swamp if you don’t understand hydraulics and engineering. That is the lesson of Trump.