Crisis of the White House Divided

President-elect Donald Trump greets House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Congressional leaders as he arrives for his inauguration ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)

In the first 100 days of the Trump administration, we have learned some important lessons about what it takes to be considered “presidential” by the establishment news media (both liberal and conservative), Hillary Clinton, the leadership of both the GOP and the Democratic Party, and NeverTrump conservatives. While possibly alienating much of his base, Trump has managed to bring together a divided Congress, winning plaudits from Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Mitch McConnell. Pelosi has gone so far as to urge Congress to cancel their April recess so that they can authorize what, to her mind, this very important and carefully planned war for regime change.

Here’s what we know:

Immigration ban from 7 countries? Unreasonable. Unconstitutional. Evil.

Border wall? Too expensive. Stupid. Won’t work.

Change your foreign policy on a dime and bomb a small war torn country, after promising to remove its sovereign ruler? “Beautiful!”Presidential!” So brave! “America is back!”

Forgive the snark, but the past weekend merits it. We’re all left with one burning question: what happened to Trumpism?

Let’s review.

Over the course of the election, Trump accomplished an incredible feat: he destroyed the legacy of Bush-era conservatism, and humiliated the neoconservative wing of the Republican party. The final nail in their coffin (so we thought) was his conquest in November, but the entire campaign can be viewed as a kind of march to the sea, burning one neocon stronghold after another until total victory was achieved.

Not only did he take out his major opponents during the primary, each of them mouthing the same invade-the-world-invite-the-world policy platform. He blew them away, one by one. At the South Carolina debate in February, 2016, Trump not only denounced our failed foreign policy of the past 15 years, shared by neocon and neoliberal alike, but he accused George W. Bush of lying about WMDs in Iraq. With GWB’s brother onstage and his mother in the audience, the SC establishment audience booed. But a few days later, in the reliable, evangelical, and red state, Trump won the primary handily. In that moment, the Bush legacy was defeated, and the dynasty wiped out.

A few months later in April, when his position as GOP nominee was all-but secure, Trump gave his first policy speech. It was on foreign policy. It was also the most radical position taken by Trump in the campaign. While his immigration policy decidedly went against the globalist establishment, and received far more attention from the media, it didn’t pose an existential threat to the Davoisie the way his foreign policy platform did. Building a border wall and enforcing existing immigration law is radical, to be sure. But there is no issue that the mainstream left and right junta agree on more than foreign policy, as shown by the sinister bipartisanship we have seen in the wake of this military attack on Syria.

Immigration and foreign policy are obviously tied together in the invade-the-world-invite-the-world strategy, but immigration is only about one country. Davoisie foreign policy involves a vision for the whole world. Donald Trump’s stated positions flew in the face of that oligarchic alliance. That’s why he explicitly defended the existence of the nation state. He wanted to finally put an end to what Decius once called, “endless, pointless, winless war.”

As Trump stated in that landmark foreign policy speech:

In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense. Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one foreign policy disaster after another.

They just kept coming and coming. We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.

We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed…

I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must only fight to win.

I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary, and I mean absolutely necessary, and will only do so if we have a plan for victory with a capital V.

Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction. The best way to achieve those goals is through a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy. With President Obama and Secretary Clinton we’ve had the exact opposite — a reckless, rudderless and aimless foreign policy, one that has blazed the path of destruction in its wake.

After losing thousands of lives and spending trillions of dollars, we are in far worse shape in the Middle East than ever, ever before. I challenge anyone to explain the strategic foreign policy vision of Obama/Clinton. It has been a complete and total disaster…

However, unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct. You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength. Although not in government service, I was totally against the war in Iraq, very proudly, saying for many years that it would destabilize the Middle East. Sadly, I was correct, and the biggest beneficiary has been has been Iran, who is systematically taking over Iraq and gaining access to their very rich oil reserves, something it has wanted to do for decades.

While many pundits questioned Trump’s sincerity on immigration, most people took him at his word on foreign policy. They had reason to do so: In his long public career, It is one of the issues on which Trump has been most consistent, particularly during the Obama years. His tweets on Syria since 2013, in particular, served as evidence that he wouldn’t back down on this issue: and why should he? What motivation could he have to betray his base of support on one of the issues that most divided those people from the NeverTrump camp?

In that same foreign policy speech, Trump said this of the Bush-era neocon pundits, or as Decius called them, the Washington Generals: “We have to look to new people because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing, even though they may look awfully good writing in The New York Times or being watched on television.” Here we are, a year later. Did he mean it?

The core of Trumpism was defined by opposition to globalism, to open borders, to unfair trade, and to endless war without any clear American interest. As I stated shortly after the election, the key to Trump’s success in the first 100 days would depend on how far he kept the neocons from access to power, and how much he relied on men like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, the men who defined that Trumpian vision during the campaign. It seemed clear that they knew what they were up against, and how hard they would have to fight to accomplish…well, anything.

But now it seems that Trump isn’t listening as carefully as he once did to the people who got him elected. Instead, somewhat understandably, he seems to have turned to family members, bringing them closer into his inner circle; family members who may be well intentioned, but who do not seem to understand or ascribe to the Trumpian vision espoused by Donald Trump consistently during the campaign.

Having a variety of viewpoints in the White House isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the more pro-globalist Kushner cadre appears to be making a concerted effort to isolate and undermine the populist-nationalist thinkers who helped Trump define his campaign promises and policies. By demoting Bannon and promoting Kushner, Ivanka, and Dina Powell, Trump seems to have embraced the very ideas that we thought he had destroyed.

The meaning of Trump’s candidacy was clear. The meaning of his presidency is at stake.

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Peter Thiel exclaimed, “Instead of going to Mars, we went to the Middle East.” If Trump further involves America in the Syrian civil war, this is precisely what will happen to his own agenda for greatness. The Trumpian dream will vanish after one brief shining moment. Flight 93 will have become a reality.

No revolution is pure. Those who cry “Revolution betrayed!” are often unrealistic purists. Once you actually ascend to power, certain realities set in. But let’s have total clarity on this point: personnel is policy, and Trump wasn’t elected by people who wanted regime strikes in Syria and brinksmanship with Russia. Americanism, not globalism, was our credo.

If he continues to freeze out Bannon et al, he’ll receive accolades from the press, like Bush in 2004, but only for a while. The ecstasy over a new humanitarian war will fade, just as it does with any other fad. Eventually, he’ll have to win another election. And he’ll have to run on, and answer, a few simple questions: did he keep his promises? Did he put America first? Did he close the borders? Did he keep us out of senseless wars?

Or was he just another Bush?

About Marjorie Jeffrey

Marjorie Jeffrey is a PhD Candidate in Political Theory and International Relations and a veteran of Conservative, Inc. You can connect with her on Twitter @MarjJeffrey.

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6 responses to “Crisis of the White House Divided”

  1. There are other parts of the new president’s behavior which seem very odd.

    So many of Trump’s appointments (and from early on) have been dispiriting. E.g. Kevin McAleenan as Commissioner of Customs Border Protection. This choice of open-borders Obama holdover has caused many Border Patrol agents to feel betrayed by the Donald Trump they bravely spoke out for – the only presidential candidate they had ever endorsed as a body. Then there is Trump’s incoming chair of the Council of Economic Advisers who wants to double immigration. Mnuchin from Goldman Sachs being the deviser of economic policy; Pudzer, Obamacare Lite, no DACA repeal, no refugee slowdown, not making Kris Kobach Secretary for Homeland Security….

    President Trump has now become a riddle wrapped in an enigma surrounded by mystery.

    How did someone who outwitted everybody in the Political Class, Mainstream Media, Deep State, Academe &c, and whose message was clearly grasped by delighted huge audiences all over the country, and who has succeeded in business by having clearly defined objectives to which he stuck brilliantly (e.g. the re-creation of the failed NY ice-rink), become such a puppet of the Old Order in his preparations for office?

  2. Thanks Marjorie. Yep. We AG readers said we’ll hold his feet to the fire.

  3. This is an uncharacteristically poor piece of analysis in American Greatness, because it’s plainly obvious Ms. Jeffrey is unfamiliar with the differences between the Jacksonian nationalism school subscribed to by Trump’s longtime political mentor Jeff Sessions, along with Bannon, & Michael “Decius” Anton, and and the Jeffersonian isolationists such as Rand Paul — both of these schools are diametrically opposed to the putrid Wilsonian internationalism of the Bushes, Clintons, McCains, Rices (both of them), Rubios, and other creatures of the Swamp.

    Where the confusion has arisen is that many Trump supporters — and, apparently, Jeffries — conflated the Jacksonian and Jeffersonian worldviews, projecting their own hopes and dreams onto the Trump agenda, misinterpreting Trump’s (and Bannon’s, Sessions, & Anton’s) clear Jacksonian view as isolationism. [This I see firsthand, as I started & moderated the half-million+ Member “The Deplorables” group, which is the largest independent political group on all social media: Many dozens of Members are reporting posts opposing their view of the Syrian strikes as “trolling;” when in fact the confusion exists between these two anti-Wilsonian worldviews, leading to much agita.]

    Two separate issues are in play with the Syrian attacks in particular, and the Trump staff in general: First, was Thursday evening’s “Tomahawk diplomacy” in line with a Jacksonian worldview? The answer is a resounding yes: Note well Xi Jinping was sitting next to President Trump when the waiter asked him “would you like coffee, tea, or cruise missiles with your dessert?”

    If we apply Rahm Emanuel’s doctrine of “never let a crisis go to waste,” we note that the recipients of the message fall into five camps:

    1) People domestically & worldwide who regard the use of chemical weapons as a Big No-No: By ignoring its’ use, we risk the use of WMD’s as a “new normal” …And one of these days, they could be used against our troops somewhere;

    2) Kim Jung-Un and his patron Xi Jinping: Keep in mind Kim just ordered the use of a WMD (VX binary nerve agent) in a Malaysian airport terminal, in a brazen demonstration to his potential customers that they have it and it’s for sale. North Korea is cash-starved due to sanctions, and Kim would sell his own mother to a whorehouse if it would give him desperately-needed hard cash. North Korea represents an existential threat to our allies, and in short order, to us. If you’ll notice we turned around the USS Carl Vinson and sent “100,000 tons of American diplomacy” to park off the east coast of the Korean peninsula. When you combinethis with SecState Tillerson’s pronouncements in the last 10 days that we’ve run out of patience with North Korea, and almost out of patience with their patron China, you’ll see that, in this light, it’s almost as if Assad’s misguided use of sarin was serendipitous;

    3) Trade hawks: President Trump always looks for “leverage” against adversaries; and in fact, going into the mini summit, there were rumblings in the base DJT would “sell out” on trade in exchange for North Korea. His “Tomahawk diplomacy” gave him extra leverage against the Chinese;

    4) The domestic Left: This instantly dissolved any notion that Trump is Putin’s blond-headed prison bitch;

    5) The #NeverTrump Wilsonian Progressive Neocon 2.0’s in both parties and among the wankerati at National Review and Commentary: When even Fareed Zakaria waxes “Tonight, Donald Trump became President,” then you know dispatching the 60 cruise missiles was a smashing success, giving him desperately needed political cover. As long as he does not bog us down in another Neocon 2.0 “endless war,” and instead treats this as a one-off bitch-slap, this is a perfectly structured, expertly devised Jacksonian strategic move.

    When he’s seated at the Resolute Desk, looking over President Trump’s shoulder is a portrait of Andrew Jackson: I’d say he’s smiling about now.

    Note that there’s still one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite make sense: Steve Bannon argued against this surgical strike.

    Dan Schwartz
    Cherry Hill, NJ

    • Shoshana Bryen of the Jewish Policy Center just published Punishment as Foreign Policy, where she makes the point that use of chem weapons also crossed Israel’s Red Line: By not responding to the attack, there was a distinct possibility that Syria/Iran would transfer these weapons to Hizbollah; and if they attack Israel with them…

    • Please see Hamiltonians, Jeffersonians, plus Wilsonians and Jacksonians (December 2001) for a thumbnail description of the four schools, themes of forein policy, originally defined by Walter Russell Mead.

    • For more detail, please see The Carter Syndrome: Barack Obama might yet revolutionize America’s foreign policy. But if he can’t reconcile his inner Thomas Jefferson with his inner Woodrow Wilson, the 44th president could end up like No. 39, by Prof. Mead on 4 January 2010.

  4. “The meaning of Trump’s candidacy was clear. The meaning of his presidency is at stake.” Right on! Trump needs to hear your voice and the voices of the millions who voted for him. One cannot be a populist and ignore the populace. Gannon is the one person we deplorable types have confidence in – diss him and we’re dissed. Of course, that would make Hillary even more happy.

  5. I think the problem goes deeper. You cannot conduct foriegn policy if you are ignorant.

    You cannot make America greant again if you are ignorant. Observe Sean Spicer’s statement attempting to argue that President Assad is worse than Hitler, because Hitler “did not sink to using chemical weapons.”

    This statement is indicative of ignorance of horrible proportions. The White House is justifying an act of war against a country that never attacked the United States by claiming that Hitler never used chemical weapons and yet we attacked Nazi Germany – so clearly according to this logic we are morally justified in attacking Syria.

    The fact of the matter is that Americans are simply too ignorant to conduct viable international politics. One of the main reasons they should stay out of global affairs is because they know nothing about them – and this ignorance extends to the highest levels of government.

    Such ignorance is not a problem for a republic, but is catastrophic for an aspiring empire. Republican citizens do not have to know much about history or foriegn cultures so long as they tend piously to their own house. But as soon as you start trying to moralize and teach the world about democracy, as soon as you give yourself the right to bomb other countries in the name of truth and justice – and then you get up and make a claim like that… Who are we kidding?

    The world is rightfully laughing at America now. I think shame would be the appropriate response of a truly Christian people.

    To anyone who thinks there is some well thought out strategy behind this Syria strike – I think we should take Sean Spicer at his word. The “Reducto Ad Hitlerum” just reached its’ most absurd moment.

    Mr. Spicer probably is likewise unaware of the fact that Nazi Germany never attacked the United States of America, and that the III Reich only declared war on the United States out of a duty to its’ Japanese ally. Can a decade go by without America bombing countries that never did anything to America? Can the American people be spared of this horrible fate that their ignorant government seems hell bent on forcing upon them?

    Watching Sean Spicer talk about Hitler was an embarassment. Does anyone think that other countries are looking at this and “learning” about democracy from it? Should we now expect the Syrians to take such history lessons from Mr. Spicer?

    This is no better than President Obama’s ignorance in Ukraine.