I am glad that Donald Trump skipped the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Saturday and instead went to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for a rally commemorating his first hundred days in office. He drew about 10,000 people, excoriated the swamp that is Washington, and dilated on many of the themes that put him in office: Immigration and the wall, jobs and economic growth, the bane of Hollywood and the corrupt media consorting with itself in D.C.
Naturally, the artificial but nevertheless ritually important 100th day of Trump’s administration elicited a huge disgorgement of commentary. The prize for the most surreal offering—at least, the most surreal I encountered—must go to David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker.
Remember “An American Tragedy”? That was Remnick’s truly unhinged response to Trump’s victory published on November 9 within hours of the election’s being called. “The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency,” Remnick wrote,
is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. . . . Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling [Really?] but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted.
Why was Donald Trump’s victory “a tragedy for the American republic”? In what sense can it be said that it was “a tragedy for the Constitution”? Here we are nearly six months later and the institutions of the republic are still chugging along. Presidency: check. Congress: check. The judiciary: check. All present and accounted for. Is anyone being rounded up and put in a gulag? It was Barack Obama that challenged the Constitution by serially ignoring the law on issues from healthcare to immigration. Exactly how does Trump’s victory represent the “triumph”—not only “at home” but also “abroad”—of “nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism”? The correct answer is “No how,” but Remnick is too besotted with his malignant fantasy to see that.
The problem—well, one problem—with all these assessments is that reality is not cooperating with the narrative. In fact, Trump is governing as a supremely conventional figure. The only “contempt” I see about is not emanating from Trump but from his blinkered critics who cannot bear the fact that someone won over their objections.
He said Trump’s victory would “set markets tumbling.” In fact, as many commentators have pointed out, we’ve seen an historic rise in markets as the world anticipates the effects of Trump’s pro-growth agenda. Leaving aside the whining females in pink hats and vagina costumes who seem to be scared of everything and everyone, do you know anyone—anyone—who is truly (as distinct from histrionically) fearful about Trump’s victory? Again, the honest answer is No. It’s all theater, make believe, self-indulgent posturing. Obama weaponized the IRS, the EPA, the Department of Education, and other entities to harass his ideological enemies. Trump has done . . . nothing, absolutely nothing to punish his ideological foes.
No, there is a reason that one should approach any column by David Remnick with a keychain that plays the theme from the Twilight Zone when you press a button.
So here we are, 100 days into the Trump presidency and what do we have? Normality. Trump is moving as quickly as possible to—gasp!—keep his promises. He has assembled the most impressive cabinet I can remember. He has nominated and had confirmed a brilliant and non-ideological Supreme Court Justice in Neil Gorsuch. Illegal border crossings are down by some 70 percent. He has moved decisively to cut onerous and counterproductive regulations. He has unveiled a plan to cut taxes decisively. On trade, he has demonstrated that he meant what he said about “putting America first.” Canada subsidizes its timber industry, therefore Trump has just imposed a tariff on Canadian lumber imports. This is not “protectionist.” It is fair trade. It is, in a word that Trump likes, “reciprocal”: free trade not as an abstraction but as a process that takes the behavior of all parties into account. There is no free trade without fair trade.
On the international front, he has met most of the world’s most important leaders. He has sent a decisive message to Syria (and its puppet masters, Iran and Russia) by attacking a Syrian air force base and destroying 20 percent of its air capability after Assad launched a sarin gas attack. He has also put the pudgy North Korean bad joke of a dictator on notice, surrounding him with immense American firepower while at the same time leveraging his new-found relationship the China’s President Xi to put pressure on Kim to abandon its nuclear program. If Trump succeeds in that gambit, it will be a diplomatic triumph of world-historical importance.
Meanwhile, what does David Remnick see? A few days before the actual date, he published another hysterical (I do not mean funny) screed in The New Yorker called, “A Hundred Days of Trump.” “[Trump’s] Presidency,” Remnick writes, “has become the demoralizing daily obsession of anyone concerned with global security, the vitality of the natural world, the national health, constitutionalism, civil rights, criminal justice, a free press, science, public education, and the distinction between fact and its opposite.”
Speaking of the “distinction between fact and its opposite,” how is David Remnick doing in that department? “[I]t’s worth remembering,” he writes, “that Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama were among those who came to office at a moment of national crisis and had the discipline, the preparation, and the rigor to set an entirely new course. Impulsive, egocentric, and mendacious, Trump has, in the same span, set fire to the integrity of his office.”
Really? How’s that, Dave?
But if Remnick gets high marks for the surreality of his disquisitions on Trump, Peter Wehner, one of those neutered conservatives that the New York Times likes to publish to show how broad-minded they are, has to get a prize for the most self-righteous. Wehner is never happier than when he discovers a fellow conservative who hasn’t quite lived up to his standards of moral rectitude. Thus Wehner several times upbraided Andrew McCarthy for being insufficiently sensitive to Muslim sensitivities and other matters. Saturday, to mark Trump’s 100 days in office. Wehner used his column in the Times to launch yet another attack on the President. Called “Mr. Trump Goes to Washington,” the piece grudgingly acknowledges a couple of Trump’s accomplishments (confirmation of Neil Gorsuch headlining the parade), but in essence it is a reprise of Wehner’s longstanding contention that Donald Trump is “The Most Massively Ignorant Person Ever To Run For President.”
You might think that is just par for the course, just the sort of thing that someone like David Remnick, a pink-hatted female, or someone who worked for MSNBC or CNN would say. The difference is that Peter Wehner is made of much finer moral stuff than you or I. It’s the pulpit tones of Wehner’s rhetoric that makes reading his columns like sitting in a classroom while someone runs his fingernails over the blackboard. “What troubles many of us,” he writes in the Times, “who have devoted much of our lives to politics is that we have a president who doesn’t believe in the higher purpose of his office, which is grounded in the conviction that governing well can advance the human good.”
Unlike Donald Trump, this homo erectus Peter Wehner exudes an aroma of “higher purpose,” concern “to advance the human good,” etc., etc. Unlike Trump, again, Wehner knows all about “the complexities” of politics, that “what worked on the campaign trail can’t possibly work over the span of a presidency. The 2016 campaign,” he writes, “more than any before it, showed us how extraordinarily wide the gap between what it takes to win the presidency and what it takes to govern has become.”
Just how does Peter Wehner know that? Again, it seems to be because he occupies a higher moral plane than those who had the temerity to elect Donald Trump. Hadn’t Wehner told them time and again—ad nauseam, in fact—how awful Trump was? They didn’t listen. Now they’ll find out. “I realize that this all sounds hopelessly old-fashioned and out of step with our angry, cynical times,” Wehner says in sorrow. “For many Americans, frustration with our political leaders, which is understandable, has transmuted into contempt for governing itself, which is dangerous—a trend that verges on a desperate kind of political nihilism.”
An entire disquisition could be written about the deployment of the words “anger” and “angry” by Trump’s enemies. Wehner castigates “our angry, cynical times.” Remnick anathematizes “the Trump Presidency [which] represents a rebellion against liberalism itself—an angry assault on the advances of groups of people who have experienced profound, if fitful, empowerment over the past half century.” Connie Bruck, writing in the May 1 New Yorker about Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon—the one man the Left might just hate even more than Trump himself—says that in the “brash huckster” Trump, Bannon “had finally found the figure who could express [the people’s] anger, leading the populist rebellion of millions of Americans who felt they had been left behind.” And so on.
The problem—well, one problem—with all these assessments is that reality is not cooperating with the narrative. In fact, Trump is governing as a supremely conventional figure. The only “contempt” I see about is not emanating from Trump but from his blinkered critics who cannot bear the fact that someone won over their objections. And if you want to see “political nihilism” in action, don’t look to Trump’s White House but rather to the streets of Berkeley, campuses like Yale and Middlebury, the pages of The New Yorker or The New York Times or any of the other reliably anti-Trump organs.
In Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein warned that “A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it.” There is a kindred sort of madness about the anti-Trump stalwarts. They are held captive by a picture. Reality had to be a certain way. Trump had to be a certain way: a sort of repository of everything small, and mean, and malevolent.
His unforgivable tort was to act normally, conventionally. Sure there were the tweets—they were something the Left could love to hate—but in a larger sense his behavior has been. . . presidential. Issuing executive orders, nominating judges and justices, encouraging legislation to further the agenda he had outlined on the hustings, generally doing things to keep the promises he had made. Trump’s opponents keep telling us how “angry” his supporters are. But their hysterical behavior reminds me of nothing so much as the famous duel between Settembrini, the suave humanist, and Naphta, the Jesuit radical, in Thomas Mann’s great novel The Magic Mountain. When Settembrini delopes, Naphta screams “You coward” and shoots himself in the head. I sometimes think some of our more extreme anti-Trump crusaders are only a few adjectives away from that unfortunate eventuality.