Foggy Crossroads

By | 2019-02-17T21:39:27-07:00 February 17th, 2019|
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On January 28 I wrote here that Donald Trump had always known that some of his promises, “e.g. opposition to abortion, stopping alien migration—were so integral to his identification with his supporters that any blatant infidelity to them would finish him,” and that his signing a “government funding bill without any money for a wall or barrier along the southern border, reversing oaths,” likely signaled the end of the Trump era. “Increased ruling class power and militancy,” I wrote, “left Donald Trump with two shining alternatives: you must use the presidency’s power on [your voters’] behalf fullyas you never did when it would have been so much easier to do soor abdicate the leadership of America’s Deplorables to whomever might claim it.”

Trump’s bravura performance in El Paso on February 11 was a quintessential act of national leadership. His words and manners to a cheering audience—half of whom likely were once Democrats—were such as to energize a majority of Americans to reject every aspect of leftist dominance. Especially forceful and persuasive were his promises to fulfill the key promises on which he had been elected: building “the wall,” and ending at least the most horrific aspects of abortion. The ruling class’s increasingly brazen insistence on importing migrants, and on undisguised infanticide helped. First, “the wall.” Better late than never. Yes, he had signed that bill without funding. But the next one would include some, and he would get the rest by declaring a national emergency. Nothing would stop him. The political road forward seemed clear.

Reality is foggier. The bill Trump signed on Feb. 15 explicitly prohibits, procedurally, using any of the “wall” money before the end of the fiscal year. Explicitly, it increases legal pathways to illegal entry, and sets up legal challenges to the use of national emergency funds. It is one big poison pill. That makes clearer than ever the alternative between full use of the president’s powers and abdication. As the 2020 election gets closer, either “the wall” will exist, or it will not.

Trump slid into this bind as more than half his presidency slid by because he relied on the Republican Party’s establishment. This reliance was his choice. Nobody else’s. Recall that Trump won both the nomination and the presidency by running as much against the Republican part of the ruling class as against the Democrat part of the ruling class.

Since the Republican Party is part and parcel of the ruling class that is ruining America, relying on it to make America great again was doomed to be self-defeating.

Our problem’s practical core is that we have a ruling class that controls one of our major parties absolutely and the other substantially, but do not have any party that opposes the ruling class. Donald Trump was elected with the expectation that he would work with anti-ruling class elements wherever they might be found to transcend both parties. Instead, he started and has stayed with Republican leaders whose primary interest is the Republican party’s cohesion. For Trump to blame Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell for being who they are is an attempt to pass the buck. Presidents don’t get to do that.

What is to be done with the Republican party is now the practical question, for Trump first, then for the voters. The Wall Street Journal’s Feb. 14 reaction to Trump’s announcement of the National Emergency was that it splits the Republican Party, implying that the sooner it fails, the better. Two days later, WSJ longtime columnist Peggy Noonan, though sympathizing with that earlier opinion, noted that the problem with the Republican Party is broader: “As the earnest, dimwitted governor of Virginia thoughtfully pointed out, [current U.S. laws] allow the full-term baby to be born, then make it comfortable as they debate whether it should be allowed to take its first breath or quietly expire on the table. A party that can’t stand up against that doesn’t deserve to exist.”

But the Republican Party has no wish or capacity to act against infanticide, or against any major ruling class trend. The voters had already figured that out. They voted for Trump because they wanted someone to lead a real anti ruling class party.

We do not know what Trump has in mind with regard to the Republican Party, or how far he intends to use his powers. The Wall Street Journal editorial board thinks it knows, and advises him, as George Aiken advised regarding the Vietnam War, to declare victory (or partial victory while blaming others for what is lacking and promising to do better in the future), and withdraw. The WSJ editors expect that, were Trump to retreat behind pretense, his Deplorable groupies would follow him to defeat in 2020. The Republican establishment could happily return to following the Democrats and to crushing conservative dissent.

But Trump knows (or does he?) that the Deplorables are not stupid, and that a spreading sense of betrayal among them is the one and only thing sure to defeat him and to deliver him, friendless, to ruling class revenge.

On the other hand, Trump really might carry through in deed the role he previewed in his El Paso rally. In that case, through Obamian-Bushite behavior toward existing law (selective enforcement, executive orders) and Jacksonian behavior toward the courts (“now let them enforce it!”) he would create pressure on the Republican establishment to bet their jobs on the outcome of the next election. For which outcome he would set the agenda.

Regardless of what Donald Trump will do, we know that our ruling class has no way of moderating the course on which it has set itself, and that, hence the rest of Americans have no choice but to fight for their own freedom, whether under Trump’s leadership or whomever’s.

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Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

About the Author:

Angelo Codevilla
Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).