I have given up on Trumpism. I realize this declaration will come as a surprise to some readers. I should mention, therefore, that it is a decision to which I came only after considerable reflection. It was not easy. I have plenty of friends who endorse Trumpism. I acknowledge that I did as well. I labored assiduously in those vineyards. But I have changed my mind.
A decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that I should declare the reasons that impelled me to this separation.
One factor was the increasingly surreal commentary that surrounds the whole enterprise of Trumpism. I have found that many of those discussing it would say the most bizarre things. At the end of the day, I simply could not reconcile what was being put forth under the banner of Trumpism with the political and social realities I saw operating all around me.
Everywhere I looked, I saw a vertiginous disconnection between what was described as Trumpism and what was actually happening. Eventually, the cacophony of cognitive dissonance was just too deafening. I realized that I could no longer support Trumpism.
In brief, I have concluded that “Trumpism” does not exist. Rather, it does exist, but only in the way a unicorn exists: in the dashing narratives of fabulists. “Trumpism” is an imaginary, mythical beast. Like the unicorn, it may be recognized from descriptions of its peculiar characteristics—for example, any self-respecting unicorn, as its name implies, has but one horn—and its exploits. But, again like the unicorn, it has only notional existence.
Just as there are many different stories about unicorns—some emphasizing its fierceness, some the magical healing powers of its horn—so there are different versions of that mythical figment, Trumpism.
To a large extent, “Trumpism” is a reflection or coefficient of disappointment. Donald Trump was not supposed to be President of the United States. Indeed, pundits, Hollywood celebrities, politicians from Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi on down assured us that the contingency was impossible. “Take it to the bank,” said Nancy Pelosi, “Donald Trump is not going to be President of the United States.”
“Yeah, yeah,” you might be saying, “that’s old news.” Well, yes, it is old news. But it is worth reminding ourselves of the steely certitude with which that prognostication was delivered. And it is worth reminding ourselves, too, about the reaction of the Mandarin class to the news that what was impossible on the morning of November 8, 2016, became actual in the wee hours of November 9.
A few days ago, on the first anniversary of that impossible reality, my friend Max Boot offered a revealing comment on the election at ForeignPolicy.com. “Exactly a year ago today,” he wrote, “the voters of America, in their dubious wisdom, choose the reality TV star and real estate mogul as our 45th chief executive.”
Query: why does Max say that the wisdom of America’s voters was “dubious”? For the same reason that Bill Kristol, to take another prominent NeverTrumper, is organizing a Committee Not To Renominate the President. Bill wants to liberate “conservatism from Trumpism.”
But what is the “Trumpism” from which he wishes to liberate us conservatives? Max Boot, Bret Stephens, and other anti-Trump pundits have told us repeatedly that Donald Trump is a “fascist.” What can that mean? They have read their George Orwell. They know as well as anyone that “fascist” in the context of modern American society is simply a term of abuse, a negative epithet impatient people apply to things and people they do not like. In this respect, “fascist” is a lot like “racist” when deployed on college campuses these days.
Donald Trump’s real tort, I believe, was to have somehow gotten himself elected despite the objections and without the permission of people like Max Boot.
Max confided that he went “to bed late on the evening of Nov. 8, 2016, in a daze, incredulous that my fellow citizens could elect a man so unqualified for the presidency.” The American people really let Max down. And they persist in their outrageous behavior. According to Max, “Trump doesn’t really believe in much beyond his own awesomeness. He didn’t run for office to get anything done; he ran to stoke his own ego and pad his own bank account by increasing his visibility.”
While you are waiting for evidence of these claims, Max wants you to know that he thinks “Trump has been utterly incompetent. Even if he wants to achieve more of his agenda, he doesn’t know how to do it.” He is, you see, “ignorant, petulant, unethical, avaricious, conspiratorial, nasty, shameless, bullying, egomaniacal.”
Quite a litany. But what this really means, I think, is that while Donald Trump’s election was supposed to be impossible, it is still utterly unacceptable. The fantasy of “Trumpism” is an expression of that state of affairs. Even before Trump was elected, some academic historians, fired by nostalgia for the radicals of the 1960s and their protests against the Vietnam War, created a group called “Historians Against Trump” to protest the “dangerous ideology of Trumpism.” “The lessons of history,” they intoned, “compel us to speak out against a movement rooted in fear and authoritarianism.”
Where is the fear? Where the authoritarianism?
I believe that one of the great embarrassments confronting the persistent anti- or NeverTrumpers has been, pace Max Boot, the utter failure of their fantasies about Donald Trump to materialize. He was supposed to be a horrible, xenophobic, racist, militaristic cad, but how has he actually governed?
I have several times, in this space and elsewhere, provided periodic reality checks comparing the hysteria of the anti- or NeverTrumpers to Trump’s actual accomplishments. The list of those accomplishments grows longer and more impressive as the months go by.
By the time his first term is out, Trump will have remade the judiciary as he promised he would, in the image of Antonin Scalia, that is to say after the fashion envisioned by the Founders, who thought the judiciary was the “least dangerous branch” because, commanding neither the army nor the power of the purse, judges had to rely solely upon the rational power of judgment. Congress would make the laws, judges would merely interpret them, making sure they accorded with the principles laid down by the Constitution.
On the run-up to the election of 2016, many conservatives fretted about the fate of the judiciary. What would a Clinton presidency mean for the future of the Court? “If Clinton is elected,” I heard many of them say, “she will complete the left-wing drift of the Court that was pushed along by Obama. If the court goes, so does the country.”
So why aren’t they cheering what Donald Trump has accomplished with his judicial appointments?
Not that his accomplishments end there. I don’t want to rehearse again all that he has accomplished in his first ten months. It is true that he has had to deal with a recalcitrant Congress, which has refused to proffer much legislation for him to sign.
But just think about these subjects: illegal immigration (down by more the 60 percent), energy (America is now the world’s biggest producer of energy), unemployment (4 and a bit percent), growth (3 percent for two quarters running), the market (up more than 5,000 points since November 2016), regulation (huge progress in turning back the counterproductive regulatory environment that has stymied American business), consumer confidence (the highest it’s been in a generation), the military (revitalized), taxes (a bracing if imperfect plan wending its way through Congress), Iran (declining to recertify a deal that paved the way for Iran to become a nuclear power). Et, need I say, cetera.
And beyond the raft of particular accomplishments, Trump has also articulated some important larger principles. In Riyadh, he rallied large parts of the Arab world against Islamic terrorism. At Warsaw, he underscored the importance of defending the values of Western civilization—values that include cultural as well as political values. Before the United Nations, he defended the value of national sovereignty as the most reliable guarantor of liberty. Just a few days ago in South Korea, he reminded the world that when it came to defending America’s interests, his administration had committed itself to policies very different from the accommodationist policies of past administrations.
Does all this add up to Trumpism? I would say “No, not really.” To my mind, both Trump’s enemies and many of his friends are conjuring with a reified hypostasis that functions as a vessel for fears or hopes but which, in the cold light of day, lacks any independent substance.
There are leaders who promulgate -isms or “doctrines.” The so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, for example, articulated a Soviet policy of tenacity when it came to conquered territory: no territory once brought under the Soviet sphere was to be allowed to leave the Soviet sphere. Pundits discerned in Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet policies the lineaments of a “Reagan Doctrine,” but I do not know that Reagan ever articulated it as such.
But when it comes to Donald Trump, pragmatism overwhelms ideology. Which is why I believe that there no such thing as “Trumpism.” Its putative author is constitutionally averse to the spirit that would give substance to the -ism.
Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly was onto something essential about his boss when, in his powerful press conference last month, he observed that Trump’s agenda was “what’s good for America.” That is to say, he has no “agenda” as that term is often used, i.e., no set of hidden or ulterior motives for his policies. He simply wants to pursue initiatives that are good for the country: policies that will “make America great again.”
In the course of that press conference, Kelly described Donald Trump as a “decisive” and “thoughtful” man of action. I think his record to date corroborates that description even if his style (those tweets, those off-hand remarks) offend the delicate sensitivities of those who have not gotten over the fact that someone not of their tribe had the temerity to garner the support of enough people to be elected to the Presidency without their permission. I am a supporter of Donald Trump, but “Trumpism,” I conclude, is just a name.
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