Those people who are openly dismayed that they see Trump ripping up the institutions and processes of sane stable government are wrong.
They’re also missing the point.
Trump often has the manner and superfical effect of a wrecking ball, but since 1997 in the UK and 2001 in the US, both countries have been decimated by the slow motion wrecking balls of New Labour, the Bush foreign adventures and the Obama Terror. Do I sound like some sort of right wing Trumpian monster? Possibly I do, but like many voters I am not ideological other than in the vague ‘less government in our lives would be better’ way. And like all voters there are specific issues that I would like to see dealt with. We can disagree on our wants and our priorities, but whatever they are, most voters want pragmatic government that works.
Why do I think Trump is not destroying the institutions of power? Well, it’s in the evidence so far. Charles Krauthammer’s take six weeks ago is pretty much spot on:
The strongman cometh, it was feared. Who and what would stop him? Two months into the Trumpian era, we have our answer.
Our checks and balances have turned out to be quite vibrant. Consider: The courts Trump rolls out not one but two immigration bans, and is stopped dead in his tracks by the courts. However you feel about the merits of the policy itself (in my view, execrable and useless but legal) or the merits of the constitutional reasoning of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (embarrassingly weak, transparently political), the fact remains: The president proposed and the courts disposed. Trump’s pushback? A plaintive tweet or two complaining about the judges — that his own Supreme Court nominee denounced (if obliquely) as “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” The states Federalism lives. The first immigration challenge to Trump was brought by the attorneys general of two states (Washington and Minnesota) picking up on a trend begun during the Barack Obama years when state attorneys general banded together to kill his immigration overreach and the more egregious trespasses of his Environmental Protection Agency. And beyond working through the courts, state governors — Republicans, no less — have been exerting pressure on members of Congress to oppose a Republican president’s signature health-care reform. Institutional exigency still trumps party loyalty. Congress The Republican-controlled Congress (House and Senate) is putting up epic resistance to a Republican administration’s health-care reform. True, that’s because of ideological and tactical disagreements rather than any particular desire to hem in Trump. But it does demonstrate that Congress is no rubber stamp. And its independence extends beyond the perennially divisive health-care conundrums. Trump’s budget, for example, was instantly declared dead on arrival in Congress, as it almost invariably is regardless of which party is in power
Not that I necessarily agree with all these opposing moves, the point is that there is relatively little absolute power outwith national crises and wartime, and all presidents must exist within a system. That system is entirely intact. Of course, in those areas where Trump has shown real skill, he gets little credit from the establishment.
The real damage occurred with his predecessors. The same happened in the UK under Blair, it’s happening now in various parts of Europe courtesy of the EU. Australia and Canada come and go a bit, but it really has been a classical Gramsci/Dutschke ‘long march through the institutions’. There is no better example of the occasionally overt nature of this than the US Supreme Court wrangling – surely all judges should be politically neutral in their work? If only.
Trump and inevitably, Brexit, are the most prominent examples of pushback against this infiltrative game changing. That’s all. And despite the risks and occasional misdemeanours, I welcome both. Particularly when I consider the alternatives. The Trump presidency so far, like Brexit and the associated Remain sulking, has done nothing that changes my mind on this.
There is a good analogy. When I was a teenager back in the 70’s the British cultural and music scene was hardly vibrant. Superannuated hippies made dull long winded and overhyped LP’s, gigs were often tedious doped up snooze fests. Even one’s parents were comfortable with it all. Then came punk. Not just a musical phenomenon (though the best is still great), more of a kicking over the traces cultural paradigm shift that was in some ways absolutely tremendous. The country had a totally different mood. And the Establishment suffered acute Fear and Loathing in response. But there was no threat, no real damage, no real animosity. It was fun. By 1981 it was over, pretty much, as the appalling New Romantics took over, and we’ve never had it again. Four years max.
In fact, as I survey in middle age the current music scene (indeed, nearly everything since the mid 90’s) I shudder at the complacency and derivative boring rubbish that is out there. Punk was great.
And that’s how I see Trump (and Brexit). How I hate the proclamations of stultifying conventional career progressing professional political types, of whatever party. Boring earnestness usually goes with platitudes, sanctimony, virtue signalling and complete ineffectivenness. That applies to all parties – though some are worse than others. If you become an apostate then the humourless horde try to destroy you. Trump is an antidote, possibly only temporary, like the Punk Era, but welcome all the same. He doesn’t give a toss, he’s spontaneous, he often means well, he’s unconventional**, deeply flawed, funny and rides his luck. His enemies almost uniformly underrate, dismiss and fear him, in one confused bundle. Good for him.
One of the mission statements of this blog is from the late John von Kannon: “If I can’t have good government, give me entertaining government”.
And you only have to look at who’s against him (and Brexit), to get that little heartwarming glow.
**fascinatingly, the day after I wrote this, here is the highly experienced Robert Gates – former CIA and Defence Secretary, with bipartisan support – talking about Trump:
Broadly philosophically, I’m in agreement with his disruptive approach. So in government, I’m a strong believer in the need for reform of government agencies and departments. They have gotten fat and sloppy and they’re not user-friendly. They are inefficient. They cost too much. I also think on the foreign policy side that there is a need for disruption. We’ve had three administrations follow a pretty consistent policy toward North Korea, and it really hasn’t gotten us anywhere. So the notion of disrupting and putting the Chinese on notice that it’s no longer business as usual for the United States I think is a good thing. Now the question is, obviously, in the implementation of disruption. On the foreign policy side, there’s the risk of being too spontaneous and too disruptive where you end up doing more harm than damage. Figuring out that balance is where having strong people around you matters.