Posts Tagged ‘political status quo’

The Non-Accidental Presidency

January 7, 2018

Donald Trump didn’t want to be president. History had another idea.

Donald Trump in New York on election night, 2016.

Donald Trump in New York on election night, 2016. PHOTO: MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES

If this column had a hobby horse through 2016, it was that Donald Trump didn’t want to be president. Our fear, after the election, was that he would basically refuse to take the job fully on.

Whatever its flights of fancy, Michael Wolff’s new book documents this most interesting reality, from which all the administration’s early chaos flowed. His entourage, right up to election night, believed “not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be.”

This was obvious at the time except to Never Trumpers who were too busy trying to protect their reputations from a Trumpism that didn’t exist, from a guy who represented much less than they imagined, malign or otherwise.

One sorry upshot is that a significant part of the conservative commentariat is missing the great political story of our time because they can’t stop writing about themselves.

Along the way they also muffed what parties are for. In a two-party system, they aren’t, and can’t be, vessels of immutable principle.

The parties—specifically the Republican Party—turn out to be one more American institution capable of bending without breaking, affording (in this case) a way for voters to register exhaustion with the political status quo, even if the end result has the flavor of an accident.

Though, when an accident has so many authors it begins to seem like something more. Hillary Clinton and her Democrats whiffed on the biggest hanging curve in history. Barack Obama, after the 2008 financial crisis, chose to focus on redistribution rather than restoring the economy’s dynamism. If this had been anything resembling the wise choice, Mr. Trump would not be president now.

Even FBI chief James Comey admitted to a mild case of nausea due to the likelihood that the bureaucracy’s (foolish and improper) intervention on Hillary’s behalf helped elect Mr. Trump.

Meanwhile, the press still looks for the Russia collusion narrative somehow to repair matters. Coverage of Mr. Wolff’s book dwells inordinately on a Steve Bannon quote calling Don Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin lobbyist “treasonous.”

Read on, and by “treasonous” Mr. Bannon means “stupid.” The Trump campaign should have sent a cutout to meet a Russian emissary far from Trump Tower. Any “dirt” on Hillary should have been quietly channeled to Breitbart “or maybe some other more legitimate publication.”

In other words, the campaign should have played the Russia angle the way those pros at the Hillary Clinton campaign did.

Now a 70-year-old grandfather with a 10-figure stake in our status quo world (even if it’s not as big a 10-figure stake as he likes to pretend) is president despite himself.

His violations of the “norms” are perhaps not as apocalyptic as the Chicken Littles say. They are certainly unlikely to be emulated by whoever comes along next. In the meantime, he’s playing his role usefully.

His corporate tax reform was overdue. His curbing of Washington’s regulatory excesses leaves the country better off. There is movement on North Korea’s nukes, a problem that four presidents conspired to dump in Mr. Trump’s lap. His immigration and trade actions are more difference-splitting than the press likes to admit.

Apparently we are meant to learn from this episode that a president can find his way without being a scholar of public policy.

Yes, Mr. Trump’s fibbing is annoying although it allows him to unload stances by denying he ever took them. The many now calling him an idiot fail to perceive how completely they would appear to be idiots if they left their cozy, familiar, reinforcing milieus and landed themselves over their heads in a job like the presidency.

Mr. Trump still has a problem with women. His sexual attitudes, which he once flaunted for branding purposes, are basically those celebrated in the mass media circa 1979, though the same attitudes apparently still have a hold on many middle-aged male journalists, judging from recent scandals.

But voters knew about Mr. Trump’s past and elected him anyway. He can always claim that, in his experience, women considered it flattering when a celebrity billionaire made a pass at them. He’ll have a microscopic point and need it, because Democrats are sizing up his sexual past as the next battering ram now that Russia is not panning out.

And then, poof, his presidency will be over before you know it, and will be looked back on (like every presidency) as a mixed bag. Yet here’s betting Mr. Trump will leave in his wake a political world more open to hopeful possibility than the world that, during 16 years of Bush-Obama, showed itself mainly capable of doing one stupid, or at least ultimately unproductive, thing after another.

Appeared in the January 6, 2018, print edition.