Nearly half a year into the new administration in Washington, it remains too early to tell how many of President Trump’s unquestioned pratfalls and errors in judgment, most of them resulting from emotional indiscipline, stubbornness, and political inexperience as well as the necessary thicker skin experience would have given him, are attributable to the President himself, and how many to the outrageous political obstacles, fraudulent legal claims and objections, deliberate misrepresentations, false innuendos and insinuations, leaks, and other acts of sabotage perpetrated by a flagrantly undemocratic opposition obsessed with the notion of having him removed from office.
So far as substantive policy goes, Donald Trump’s instincts have been mostly sound, the major exception being his embrace of Saudi Arabia and his promises to the Saudi monarchy, which clearly amount to a betrayal of the candidate’s oft-repeated campaign promise not to involve the United States in further entanglements and adventures abroad generally, and in the Middle East and Near East in particular.
For the rest, he has appointed a better than average Cabinet and moved at least as promptly as his predecessors did to act upon significant planks in the political platform he carpentered for himself. So far the President has reduced immigration by 40 percent, withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement, challenged the NATO countries to look more to their financial and other responsibilities for their own defenses, announced an end to America’s bullying and intrusive preoccupation with “human rights” around the world, nominated a solidly conservative Justice to the Supreme Court and got him seated on the bench, made a strong start at reforming his immediate predecessor’s highly politicized Department of Justice, called the DOJ off the backs of local police departments, moved against the Obama administration’s insane and obscene transgender policies, and instructed the heads of various federal departments to cancel regulatory orders (many of these having to do with environmental policy) issued by Obama’s appointees. As a by-blow, Trump, with the cooperation of Senator Sanders, demonstrated that the American political system no longer is well served by the mutual competition of the two “mainstream” parties, which are in the process of becoming four. That is a pretty good beginning by any standard. Meanwhile, the administration’s temporary failure in regard to the 90-day travel ban was wholly owing to the Revolt of the Judges: a flagrantly unconstitutional obstruction by the liberal courts of the President in carrying out his constitutional duties. The liberal federal judges interpreted statute law with regard to Trump’s actions as Chief Executive according to a parallel standard of legality based on their perceptions of personal motive rather than on constitutional prerogative, not to mention prudence and common sense. Similarly, the partial success Trump and Attorney General Sessions are having in bringing sanctuary cities to heel is attributable mostly to the refusal of liberal judges and politicians to take orders from Washington—no matter that the same people have been insisting for decades that states have no jurisdiction over matters regarding immigration, where the federal government enjoys sole authority.
Honest, or anyway forthright, liberals concede, if only from sensible self-interest, the extent of the Trump Effect so far. One of these is Susan Rice, Obama’s national security advisor, who wrote in the New York Times in early June, “President Trump has accomplished an extraordinary amount in a short time. With shocking speed, he has created havoc: hobbling our alliances, jettisoning American values, and abdicating United States leadership in the world.” Rice’s negative characterization of the President’s positive actions—entirely typical of the left’s response to them—demonstrates the extent to which progressives fail to understand not just what Trump is about, but how popular it is with that half of the country that put him where he is today. This failure of understanding and of the imagination leads to an irresistible temptation to try to embarrass the new President for doing what he was elected to do. “Trump’s tangle with Europe leads the continent to find partners elsewhere,” said the Washington Post (June 2); blissfully unaware that, for people who don’t think like a Post reader, the reflexive response is, “Go, and good luck to you, then!” As with our “allies” in NATO, so with our former “allies” in the Paris Agreement. It would be surprising had the thought not occurred to nonliberals that, our NATO allies having stiffed us financially for so many decades, our partners in the Paris Agreement might have been expected to have done likewise, given half a chance.
The current political turmoil in Washington that the administration’s enemies offer as proof of its basic incompetence and that appears to have taken aback even its friends, should come neither as a shock nor a surprise to anyone. It was a plain inevitability from election night forward. Donald Trump is the greatest threat in history to what the English writer Ralph Berry calls “a hugely powerful global concord—we do not have to call it a conspiracy—whose mighty forces bend the politicians to their will.” Trump was nominated and elected for his opposition to that concord, which is bi- or multi-partisan as the case may be, and the mighty forces—liberal, conservative, socialist, however they may style themselves—are merely reacting as realistic political observers must have expected them to do. Did the President-Elect’s supporters really suppose that, following his inauguration, the Republican establishment he mocked, humiliated, and finally defeated for the nomination would fall in behind him with offers of unconditional support for his agenda and undying fealty for himself? Did they honestly believe the Democratic Party, and liberals and progressives generally, would concede defeat and retire from the field to fight again in 2018 and 2020? Did they imagine that the globalist “concord” would graciously make room for Trumpism, to be followed by Wildersism, Le Penisme, Orbánism, and Five-Starism? Of course, none of these things happened, nor could have. Instead, a coalition of foreign governments, non-governmental organizations and agencies, and privately organized and funded ones have joined battle with the Democratic Party and its ideological allies to sabotage and destroy what they quite naturally view as the rogue regime in Washington, no less dangerous to the hegemony of their own mainstream political parties and institutions than it is to American progressive forces and liberal domestic institutions. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has been passing up a huge opportunity to condemn the propagandistic interference by dozens of foreign governments in American politics to an extent that must exceed Vladimir Putin’s wildest dreams, including most recently their encouragement of the 50 American states to ignore the federal government and implement the Paris Accord on their own. Mr. Ukrainian (Paul Manafort) must stand in awe of such supreme nerve.
Besides the Democrats, the establishmentarian GOP, and world “leadership,” President Trump has two other titanic forces to contend with. These are the media, which, their extreme ideological unanimity and partisanship aside, will never forgive Donald Trump for having beaten them at their own game while greatly reducing their power and relevance (they are determined to reestablish it by means of another great victory over another Great Satan in the White House), and the Deep State—as the creation and creature of liberalism, the largest Blue State of them all. Trump’s disadvantage with it, as with the Republican Party, is that he came to power without a party of his own to support him and his agenda, and without a group of allies sufficient to staff his government and to defy this state within a state that is as much a paid-up member of the global concord, and as powerful a one, as the Élysée Palace or the Reichstag. After nearly two years of hyperbolic, wearisomely repetitious, and finally annoying running attacks on Trump that the American public seems to have tired of long ago, the media may well be something of a spent force now, in respect of the President at least—not so the Deep State, which will require a few exquisitely targeted and politically primed cruise missiles to eliminate this critical threat to the American political system.
A political novice with superb political instincts who nevertheless is not a political creature in the sense, say, that William Jefferson Clinton is, Trump finds himself (whether to his surprise or not) confronting the dominant political forces throughout the world. Aristotle described man as a political animal. While he may or may not have intended this as a compliment, it has been taken as such for nearly two and a half millennia, no matter that men are still at one level of their being animals, and cheating and murdering animals at that. And, they are given at least as much to irrationality as they are to rationality. While classical liberalism suffered from an excess of rationalism, advanced liberalism in the 21st century is fundamentally irrational—under pressure especially, when it succumbs as it is doing today to actual hysteria. Trump and his people are bearing the full brunt of this organized and collectively directed emotionalism (much of it deliberate in the sense of being self-induced), with which they are coping at least as well as could have been expected. Undeniably, the President’s unconsidered (or ill-considered) tweets in such inopportune instances as the Supreme Court’s decision to review his two travel-ban orders have threatened him with real political damage. But what Trump has been subjected to since Inauguration Day is a type of psychological warfare of an intensity to which none of his predecessors had hitherto been subjected, an assault designed to weaken, demoralize, and distract the victim. In its determination to break the President down, remove him from office, and thwart all his plans, the left has resorted to “exposing” and attacking the most ordinary and innocent of executive functions, including the Chief Executive’s candid expression of his sentiments, preferences, and wishes to his appointed subordinates entrusted by him with the fulfillment of his policies, and the creation of “back channels” to members of foreign governments. As Pat Buchanan has noted, Col. Edward House was Wilson’s emissary to the kaiser and Whitehall, and Roosevelt employed Harry Hopkins as a messenger between himself and Churchill. “As for Trump asking Director James Comey to cut some slack for Flynn, it is understandable in human terms. Flynn had been a loyal aide and friend and Trump had to feel rotten about having to fire the man.” By casting suspicion upon and condemning such totally routine activity, the administration’s opponents are unwittingly working to create the impression that no American government has ever acted honestly or even legally, while giving their enemies an incentive to apply the same overscrupulous and wholly impractical standards of conduct developed to destroy the Trump administration to the behavior of liberal presidencies of the past, very much including Barack Obama’s two oft-challenged ones. The media are gleefully describing President Trump as “furious and frustrated” (the Washington Post). Of course, the President is only flesh and blood. “The snail’s pace of the FBI investigation,” Buchanan sensibly suggested, “explains Trump’s frustration. What explains the FBI’s torpor? If J. Edgar Hoover had moved at this pace, John Dillinger would have died of old age.” Comey, by leaking his conversation in the Oval Office with the President to the media, clearly intended to facilitate the appointment of a special prosecutor to go after Trump. The man invested with the job, Robert Mueller, not only preceded Comey as director of the FBI but is a personal friend of his. Newt Gingrich claimed early in June that Mueller was bringing onto his staff people inimical to the President and his agenda. Concurrently, a high official at the State Department, which has been collaborating with certain members of Congress to prevent the administration from pursuing détente with Russia, bragged of having blocked what he called “a win-win for Moscow.” President Trump has ample cause to be something more than “frustrated” by what amounts to a government conspiracy against him. The United States is presently in a state of Cold Civil War, both sides of which are headquartered in Washington, D.C.
When one considers the extent and weight of the now-globalized opposition arrayed against him, the fact that Donald Trump should have any solid accomplishments at all to his credit is astonishing, as Susan Rice admits.
Hard-fought and impressive as they are, these accomplishments are also necessarily incomplete. Still, the importance of Donald Trump is wider, deeper, more generalized than any executive order, appointment, or legislative feint suggests. His achievement so far, one that cannot be nullified, erased, or taken from him, is to have altered forever the nature and grounds of political debate in America, the Western world, and by extension those other parts of it that have looked for decades to the Unites States and Western Europe for their inspiration and their model, their understanding of modernity, and its anticipated successor. Trump is indeed the boy standing along the street as the emperor passes by on parade, with the difference that this emperor isn’t naked: He’s transgendered and in drag. What Trump has done, and continues to do, is hilariously mock, disdain, ridicule, and heap contempt upon the left’s most cherished shibboleths, and invite the country (and the world) to join with him in doing so. After Trump, certain liberal causes, obsessions, fantasies, fads, assumptions, prejudices, pieties, platitudes, and slogans will never quite look or sound the same again, have the same sheen, or carry the same ring. After Trump, certain obvious truths—truths as obvious as those the authors and signers of the Declaration of Independence believed they were stating—that could not previously be expressed in polite society will be a necessarily acceptable part of postmodern political discourse, something the so-called elites will no longer be able to deny, overlook, hide, or bury. Trump’s demystification and desacralization of the tenets of advanced liberalism is the final cause of the left’s uncontrolled fury, its uncontrollable hatred of the man, by far the greatest offense he has committed in their eyes: the liberal equivalent of the Sin Against the Holy Ghost, which Christ taught is the sole unforgiveable one. Recent elections in France, the Netherlands, and Great Britain have given the governors of the European Union a false sense of security in respect of what they scornfully dismiss as “populism,” a movement they are busy telling themselves has “crested, for the time being,” at least. Emma Elliott Freire explains in this issue how what European officials touted as a defeat for “populism” in the Netherlands was just the opposite, while Labour’s unexpectedly close-run campaign in Britain in early June signaled the strength of left-wing “populists” as well as right-wing ones. The European Commission can hardly be reassured by the unexpected electoral “success” of Jeremy Corbyn, who, though he amended certain of his views within a few days following the general election, had previously condemned the E.U. as undemocratic and an engine for transforming its smaller members into “colonies of debt peonage,” called NATO “a danger to world peace,” compared Israel to an Islamic state and supported an economic boycott of the country, and stated that as prime minister he would refuse to retaliate against incoming nuclear warheads with Britain’s nuclear arsenal. The arrogant, overbearing, and unrepresentative bureaucrats in Brussels are welcome, of course, to their opinion, which in any case encourages them to relax their guard against their formidable opponents (assuming, that is, that they truly believe the comfortable story they tell themselves).
In any event, it is thanks to Donald Trump that for the first time in more than a century and a half America is exerting a political influence conducive to the preservation of liberty and pursuit of essential human things vastly better and more rewarding than the pursuit of money, power, and aggressive ideological fantasies whose attempted realization can end only in a global tyranny supported and enforced by digital technology manipulated by bland monsters endowed with inhuman power of which history has never known the like.
Originally Published by Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture June 29, 2017