It requires a bit of perspective to see the trend in Washington: nothing fails to succeed like success. When presidents have threatened the Washington condominium of Tweedledee liberal Democrats and barely distinguishable Tweedledum Republicans, and then were seen as successes, opposition flaked off in retreat.
So it was with Richard Nixon, who arrived in Washington with all the baggage from the Alger Hiss affair and the Helen Gahagan Douglas Senate election (in which she called him “Tricky Dick” and he called her “the pink lady-right down to her underwear”), and the Chequers smear, but moved with agility abroad and at home. The president ran gradually better in the polls and was widely respected by the moderate and conservative majority of voters. Of course it all blew up when he mishandled the Watergate affair, but for four years the glacial mass of his opposition melted steadily.
Ronald Reagan incited fears of extremism and was represented as a simplistic dolt who should still be selling 20-Mule Team Borax in a cowboy outfit on television. But he was amiable, a magic public speaker; his tax cuts induced an immense economic boom, and his defense build-up culminating in comprehensive anti-missile defense deescalated and ultimately won the Cold War. The alarmists fell silent and he did not really attack the great Washington sleaze factory’s activities, so they endured him and closed in behind him when he returned to California.
As was foreseen, the response of the solid anti-Trump press after the election was not that public grievances against Washington must be based on something, but rather that there were more racist, sexist, gun-happy, Bible-thumping, lager-lout philistines than had been appreciated.
Donald Trump has not just been a distasteful opponent, as the D.C. political establishment generally considered Nixon; or a convivial Californian outsider like Reagan, who changed economic and strategic course but didn’t attack pillars of Washington incumbency. Nixon and Reagan had contested numerous elections as Republicans, and despite the odd rhetorical flourish, weren’t going to do more than make course corrections from their Democratic predecessors, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
But Trump was different. He launched a movement, paid for his own campaign, (no ghastly fund-raisers with the dumb, opinionated rich), dismissed the Bushes, McCain, and Romney as Clinton-Obama sound-alikes, and frontally assaulted Wall Street, Hollywood, the national media, the lobby system, and every adult in Washington D.C. (which voted 96 percent against him).
Trump’s crushing victory in the Republican primaries was attributed to the weakness of the other candidates―he would hit a stonewall with Hillary. His victory over Hillary was a freakish product of the vagaries of the electoral system (from which John Quincy Adams, Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, JFK, and George W. Bush also benefited), and of Russian interference via Wikileaks and otherwise, and the conduct of FBI director James Comey. (Comey was at first praised for his “integrity” for recommending against indictment of Mrs. Clinton after recounting a sequence of her likely illegalities.) As was foreseen, the response of the solid anti-Trump press after the election was not that public grievances against Washington must be based on something, but rather that there were more racist, sexist, gun-happy, Bible-thumping, lager-lout philistines than had been appreciated.
In office, the fallback position of the irreconcilables has been that he could not get anything done. Yet he has dismantled the entire self-garrote apparatus promoting global warming and impeding off-shore and shale-oil production, and is dismantling and reversing the welter of financial regulation designed to promote the Dodd-Frank myth that Congress had lacked the authority to prevent the economic calamities created by official inflation of the housing bubble up to 2008, (with the full approval of the Congress). There is steady promotion of charter schools over the ignorance factories of the state school systems reduced to mockery by the teachers’ unions to which the Democratic Party is bound from sandal to mortarboard.
In foreign policy, though, it is early. The Iranians shriek that the Americans and Russians are replacing them in the Middle East with the Turks; Assad now knows that gassing civilians can be hazardous; Hamas pretends to accept Israel’s right to exist, and the North Koreans denounce China, which created this Frankenstein Monster and sustained it to irritate the West, and which is now reducing trade across the Yalu. The direction, however tentative, is away from the universal contempt for the Obama policy of simply ordering, like a dancing master, that America’s friends and enemies change roles and places.
Now it is Trumpism, and not the corrupt left, that is advancing in ant-like, unpublicized, but constant forward movement, every week. The House health care vote confirms Republican solidarity, just six months after Speaker Ryan declined to share a platform with candidate Trump. Trump’s followers, who knew it would be a slog, are solid at near his electoral result in the mid-forties in the polls. His outnumbered media supporters and talk-show and social media backers are in place, despite some grumbling about the Syrian Tomahawk attack from the magnificent Ann Coulter and some others. The intellectual left has gone all the way to the end of the diving board. Michael Kinsley (as intellectual as left-wing journalists get in the U.S.) declares the president a fascist, as if mentioning the side on which his hair is parted. Christopher Browning in the New York Review of Books, with a few pro forma distinctions, laboriously likened Trump with Hitler, at such length that the unwary might imagine that there was a comparison to be made.
The party of Jefferson and FDR is unrecognizable, but it can still be distinguished from a liberal ISIS. The president’s shortcomings are overly notorious, but his enemies are no longer of this world. He will win, and change the nation for the better.
The bizarrerie of the intellectual right is illimitable. My dear and esteemed friend George Will, after an acrobatic exercise in the columnar snobbery that Trump was unaware that Andrew Jackson died 16 years before the start of the Civil War, (Jackson was concerned about the danger of civil war throughout his presidency, as George knows and Mr. Trump was alleging), has fled into the television embrace of Rachel the Madd and Mika Buzzfeed at MSNBC, the most astonishing flight since Joachim von Ribbentrop went to Moscow. They have all walked the plank; President Trump has induced self-destructive political bilharzia in the deranged effigies of once-serious and important people. I still love them, but I grieve for them.
The rank and file Democrats have plumbed new depths of scatological banality. The party chairman, Tom Perez, occupies a post once held by serious people like James A. Farley and Larry O’Brien. But Perez cannot speak a public sentence without assimilating the president to excrement. The people won’t have it. The self-targeted Democratic torpedoes, which Trump had the tactical intelligence to goad and then to consign to due process, were the lies about collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, and the challenge to the president’s constitutional authority over immigration, (reinforced by ninjas smashing and burning at Berkeley, and the mobbing of travelers at airports around the country and overseas). The torpedoes will come home on those who launched them in the next few months, warhead-first and at high speed. Then, frenzied partisanship will start to give way to the instinct of self-preservation, and the locked-arm solidarity of the Never-Trumpers will start to break up. The party of Jefferson and FDR is unrecognizable, but it can still be distinguished from a liberal ISIS. The president’s shortcomings are overly notorious, but his enemies are no longer of this world. He will win, and change the nation for the better.