Last week, I went to a dinner event at social club of which I am a member but rarely patronize. You will guess why when I tell you I ran into a friend of longstanding—someone I know well, but hadn’t seen in a couple of years—and she greeted me with the exclamation, “Here’s a Trumpster!” I could see that that was partly for the benefit of the gents she was talking to, a sort of tribal-marking announcement (“He’s one of those, boys”) but I couldn’t immediately tell whether the glint in her eye was friendly or otherwise. She soon cleared up that ambiguity. I said something about “our president.” “He’s not my president,” she snapped, adding that Donald Trump was deeply unpopular and would probably be driven from office soon.
“Actually,” I offered, “his approval ratings are on the rise.”
“So were Mussolini’s,” came the icy rejoinder.
Got it. At least I knew where we stood.
One is encouraged to leave politics at the front door of this particular club (unlike London’s “Other Club” where Rule 12 stipulates that “Nothing in the rules or intercourse of the Club shall interfere with the rancour or asperity of party politics”). But so thoroughly pink is the majority of the membership that the issue rarely arises. For the herd of independent minds, unanimity is a consoling patent of authenticity. “We all believe this, ergo it must be true—indeed, it is invisible. It simply is.”
Hence a defining irony of the contemporary progressive (one cannot truthfully call it “liberal”) dispensation: convinced that their opinions represent not their opinions but, on the contrary, that they mirror a virtuous state of nature, they regard dissent not as disagreement but as either heresy or insanity. The former calls for condemnation or ostracism, the latter for pity tinctured by contempt.
Donald Trump has introduced several novelties into this dynamic. From the point of view of my (I suspect former) friend, Trump is both (never mind the contradiction) an impossibility and an affront. Everyone she talks to knows this.
And yet on the ground, in the real world, Trump is methodically pushing ahead with the agenda he campaigned on. That includes:
- Nominating judges and justices who can be counted on to interpret and enforce the law but do not endeavor to use the law to promote their social agenda;
- Addressing the problem of illegal immigration and securing the borders of the United States;
- Developing America’s vast energy resources;
- Rolling back the regulatory state, especially the administrative overreach of agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency;
- Pursuing policies that put America, and American workers, first, not to the detriment of our relationships with our international partners but through a recognition that strength and sovereign independence make nations more reliable actors;
- Restoring the combat readiness and morale of the United States military;
- Simplifying the U.S. tax code, making it more competitive for U.S. businesses and more equitable for individuals;
- Getting a handle on the unconstitutional and shockingly inefficient monstrosity ironically called the Affordable Care Act;
- Putting a stop to the obscene violation of due process that Title IX fanatics brought to college campuses across the country.
And many other initiatives large and small.
In all of these areas, Trump is proceeding not as a wrecking ball but as a deliberate, if often voluble and sometimes exasperating, agent of change.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised that, if elected, the American people would start “winning” again. “You’ll have so much winning,” he said, “you’ll get bored with winning.”
Now, almost nine months into his first term, how is he doing? Real unemployment is on the wane. The stock market is at an historic high. So is consumer confidence. Illegal immigration is down nearly 70 percent. America is now a net exporter of energy. Just a few days ago, Trump declined to re-certify the malevolent nuclear deal that Obama made with Iran, winning from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this commendation: “I congratulate President Trump for his courageous decision today. He boldly confronted Iran’s terrorist regime. . . . If the Iran deal is left unchanged, one thing is absolutely certain—in a few years’ time, the world’s foremost terrorist regime will have an arsenal of nuclear weapons and that’s a tremendous danger for our collective future.”
Just a couple of days ago, Trump, having been disappointed by a supine Republican Congress, issued an executive order that will make it easier for people to band together to obtain health insurance tailored to their needs (instead of being forced into federally defined, one-size-fits-all plans) while also ending the unconstitutional federal subsidies (unconstitutional because the money wasn’t appropriated by Congress) to big insurance companies, amounting to some $7 billion per year (the price of getting those companies on board with Obamacare in the first place).
In any normal world, these would be called significant accomplishments. But in the NeverTrump bubble, none of these victories can evade the protective refracting mirrors that intercept and distort the message. For months, the Huffington Post ran the following disclaimer after every article about Trump: “Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims—1.6 billion members of an entire religion—from entering the U.S.” Even now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 5 percent of news stories about Trump are positive.
Moreover, in the surreal and paranoid precincts of the NeverTrump bubble, fake news and outright fabrication proliferate. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to quit—say “sources”—only he isn’t. Chief of Staff John Kelly is keeping people from seeing Trump, is irritated by his tweets, is frustrated by the president’s behavior. Only he isn’t. As Kelly said at a press conference last week, Trump’s agenda is pursuing “what’s good for America.” Asked directly whether Trump’s tweets made his job more difficult, Kelly said “No.” Trump himself he described as a “decisive” and “thoughtful” man of action who was sometimes impatient with the slow-moving habits of Congress. His chief frustration, said Kelly, was with the press for reporting things that were simply not true. Asked by one reporter what he expected them to do, he said: “Maybe develop better sources.”
Kelly’s presser represented a wrinkle in the bubble—there are more and more of them these days—and it will be interesting to watch what happens when the wind finally changes.
Trump’s victorious battle with the NFL represents another wrinkle in the bubble. Football is supposed to be a beloved American pastime, not an opportunity for overpaid beefcakes to act out their adolescent political grievances. So far, it’s Trump:1. NFL: 0.
Over the past several weeks, one source of putative moral authority after the next has been snatched from the Left. The Harvey-Weinstein-Ben-Affleck-Oliver-Stone sexual assault nexus has broken a spell that not even mega-donations to the Clinton Foundation can redeem. When Donald Trump went to Warsaw and spoke up in defense of “Western civilization,” the NeverTrump bubble vibrated with cacophonous vituperation. How dare he!?
But he did dare, and just this week Trump upped the ante and announced that his administration was “returning moral clarity to our view of the world,” “stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values,” including those who condemn people for wishing one another “Merry Christmas.”
There’s a disturbance in the bubble. What just happened to the NFL and Hollywood is happening in many other avenues of our culture. Sometimes, when a thunderstorm is nigh, the wind suddenly shifts and picks up, the birds get nervous, and you can feel the storm arriving before the rain actually starts. I believe that is about to happen in American culture, though who exactly will be left standing out in the rain is a little unclear. I do expect, however, that fewer and fewer redoubts of anti- or NeverTrump complacency will remain as his policies continue to deliver winning scenarios for Americans. Maybe the next time I go to that club there will be less Mussolini and more comity.
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