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President Donald Trump is not playing three-dimensional chess while everyone else is playing checkers. Certainly, compared to his rivals—Republican and Democrat alike—the president is running circles around them. But the political feats that Trump has been performing are rooted in common sense. If anything, Trump has disproportionately benefited from the efficient combination of arrogance and ignorance on the part of his enemies.
Let’s be clear, though: Trump is not the idiot that his opponents would make him out to be.
To understand Trump, simply read his two books: The Art of the Deal and The Art of the Comeback. Then watch some old episodes of The Apprentice. That’s Donald Trump. What you see is a brash, wheeling-and-dealing, Manhattan real estate mogul who refuses to take “no” for an answer—and who has the ability to speak simple truths. He has applied this principle in every facet of his life—and he’s employing these features in his presidency to great effect.
Princeton University historian Julian Zelitzer writes at CNN.com that Trump, much to his chagrin, is “normal.” Zelitzer’s moment of truth was not brought on by the simple fact that Trump was able to win the presidency by toppling two political dynasties (the Bushes and Clintons). Instead, Zelitzer bases his “shocking” conclusion on snippets of an audio recording from 2016 that Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, surreptitiously made of the two men discussing a (purported) payoff to a Playboy playmate, who was threatening to divulge to the press the details of an alleged torrid affair from 2006.
As Zelitzer agonizes:
No, on this tape we hear a little bit of a methodical and controlled candidate who is trying to figure out how to handle a potential problem in his campaign—how to kill an embarrassing story. He listens, absorbs and responds. He knows what is going on, and he wants a workable plan.
A man who ran a multi-billion dollar global real estate empire makes plans?! Whodathunkit?
No Overarching Theory
To say that Trump doesn’t have a plan is misleading. Commentators in the media have been arguing that Trump lacks a coherent worldview for years. They’re wrong. The president doesn’t have some mystifying overarching theory that unites everything together. Such views of the world often are not only wrong but also usually dangerous.
You’re (thankfully) not going to get lectures from the president about the hallowed beauty of open borders and “free” trade; you’re also unlikely to hear Hegelian claptrap about history ending or arcing “toward justice” (whatever that means). Trump has boiled governance down to a few, businesslike issues (without losing sight of the fact that the United States is a country rather than a corporation)—all which redound to making (and keeping) America strong and competitive.
Unlike Trump’s rivals, the president’s transactional worldview is based solely on earned life experience as the world’s ultimate celebrity salesman (mainly, Trump knows from experience that people want what they want . . . and if you give it to them, everyone prospers).
Trump has identified that trade, immigration, and foreign policy have been completely out-of-sync with American interests. The president also recognized that the class of “experts” who comprise America’s internationalist, bicoastal elite, are either too ignorant or malicious to enact policies that would benefit the majority of Americans.
Telling the Truth About International Relations
Trump’s greatest insight has been that the postwar international order is fraying. The fact that the“Liberal International Order” is collapsing is not his fault. Heck, it’s not even entirely the fault of Trump’s presidential predecessors. It’s just nature. All things in this world—whether manmade or not—adhere to the law of entropy: once a system becomes too complex, it begins breaking down. This is precisely what the world has been experiencing.
What began as a system that universally benefited the United States in 1945 is all but gone today. Trump is the first leader to not only publicly acknowledge this fact, but also to act accordingly once in office. After all, many presidential candidates—notably George W. Bush in 2000—recognized these basic truths, too. But, once ensconced in the White House, these leaders became the very same swamp dwellers they had initially campaigned against.
Trump has acted with great alacrity—employing his transactional worldview—to make America great again for most Americans. His recent trade deal with the European Union is a part of this behavior. Some have argued that Trump ultimately sought to make a deal with the EU on trade in order to mitigate the effects of a potential trade war with China.
Maybe. What is more likely, though, is that Trump just wanted to get European tariffs on American goods lowered. Don’t read too much into it. Whatever benefits arise from this deal vis-à-vis our trade dispute with China are an added plus.
I recently joked that President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are both blowhards. They’re politicians, so being a blowhard comes naturally. And, anyone who tweets as much as Trump (out of necessity in most cases) is, by definition, a bit of a blowhard. But, Trump is our blowhard (and he is fun to watch and listen to).
Trump has been killing it as president precisely because he’s flexible and refuses to embrace any grand theory of governance. He just wants to make your community prosperous again, no matter what. I’ll take that any day over a philosopher as president.
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