The Trump Conundrum

Nobody knows where Trump is going. Does he?

President Donald Trump has packed an entire term's worth of controversy into his first hundred days.  There is hardly a supporter who doesn't feel betrayed by him on something and hardly an opponent who can't (secretly) identify something to gloat about.

Mr. Trump's most recent turnabout is his astonishing reversal on the budget.  The end result as signed differs relatively little from one Mr. Obama might have approved: the border wall is not merely unfunded but reportedly banned; Planned Parenthood continues to rake in millions; bureaucracies get raises instead of cuts; and even his supposedly historic defense increases are barely bigger than what Mr. Obama planned.

It should come as no surprise that the Never-Trumpers are already rolling out their I-told-you-sos amidst accusations of Trumpian fraud.  Mr. Trump misses his pre-presidential life, and, we are reminded yet again, never really wanted the job but expected Hillary to win.  Indeed, he recently complained in an interview that he was having to work harder now than in his previous (not exactly lazy) life, despite spending more time on the golf course as President than either of his two predecessors during the same time period.  As the Boston Globe snarkily put it:

It’s not the first time Trump has expressed surprise at the gravity of his job. Earlier this week, he spoke in an AP interview about the scope of the responsibility he has.

“I never realized how big it was,” he said. “It’s massive. And every agency is, like, bigger than any company. So you know, I really just see the bigness of it all, but also the responsibility. And the human responsibility. You know, the human life that’s involved in some of the decisions.”

Have we all been conned?  Did Donald Trump just run on whatever he thought would make people vote for him without any real intention of following through?  Or is he even now seeking a way out - perhaps, as Howard Stern suggests, trumping up a health scare and resigning?

Possibly - after what we've seen throughout the last year, we'd be fools to say something political was flatly impossible.  There are, however, other theories.

No Experience Needed?

President Trump is famously the only president ever elected with no prior political experience whatsoever.  Oh, he has certainly dealt with politicians countless times and bought them as needed; he has run a large and successful organization, and accomplished big things.  He's no slouch and no dummy.

Does he have the specific skillset required to extract votes from a small group of completely self-absorbed and largely amoral people that make up our Congress?  Many presidents have failed at this after spending an entire lifetime practicing the art of politics.

If you assume that Mr. Trump actually wanted to fulfill some of his more notorious promises in this budget, like building the Wall, then it's hard to avoid the feeling that the "world's best negotiator" got totally rolled.

But if there's one thing Mr. Trump hates to be, it's a loser.  The history of his career also shows that when the chips are down, he works harder and finds a way.

It's easy to imagine Mr. Trump assuming that, generally speaking, the Republicans in Congress would be on his side, at least sort of.  One can understand his shock at discovering that, no, precious few of them have any intention of actually doing the things that they campaigned on, like repealing Obamacare in full and at once.

In order to negotiate with somebody, you have to have some vague idea of what the other party might want.  Mr. Trump's experience in the business and entertainment world hasn't had to deal with this problem, because everybody there wants the same thing: money.

In Washington, on the other hand, various politicians want many different things.  Some want money, yes; others want power, or influence, or access.  Some may need some particular project for their home district.  Some may want national publicity; some may prefer adoring local newscasts.  A few revel in being publicly ornery and can't be persuaded no matter what.  And possibly a bare handful actually do believe in their platforms and promises and will only vote for moves in what they see as the right direction.

Mr. Trump has negotiated deals with many tens of different parties involved, each with their own interests but all revolving around money.  Has he ever had to broker a deal with hundreds of different independent power sources, each one wanting a whole panoply of often non-obvious different things?  Not many people have, and he's not one of them.

From this perspective, the disaster of Mr. Trump's 2017 budget is a necessary learning experience to a) get his attention and b) fuel his determination to come roaring back with a crushing victory.  And sure enough, that's what Mr. Trump himself is claiming, in tweeting about a "good shutdown" in September to clean up the mess when the deal runs out.  Translation: I'll have figured out how to kick their butts by then.

On the totally positive side, however, he isn't Hillary.  His stance on immigration, despite the unConstitutional injunctions by leftist judges against his sensible executive orders, has nevertheless led to illegal border crossings dropping to their lowest level in years because people know they'll be sent back, and he's ramping up deportations.  His Supreme Court appointment is pure gold from our point of view, and he's trying to protect religious liberties as we had hoped.

If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You Won't Get There

There's another possibility that conservatives fear, and that's that Donald Trump has no actual political principles at all; he'll just do whatever works.

In fact, this was part of his appeal: he has never portrayed himself as a truly doctrinaire movement conservative, and that's what many centrists and a fair few ex-Bernie voters loved about him.  Americans are tired of politicians claiming they have all the answers to everything when we all know they do not; it's refreshing to hear someone admit that maybe something will work, and maybe it won't.

The definition of "work" could present a problem, though: Is Donald Trump concerned about what works politically, that is, the "art of the possible"?  Or is he focused on what will work for the country, regardless of what other politicians say?

At times, it's seemed like the latter.  When he started his campaign, few other major politicians were willing to talk about the evils of illegal immigration, and none were willing to promise to build a wall and deport all the illegals.  Such a plan was far, far outside the Overton Window of things which are politically conceivable; through his constant rhetoric, Mr. Trump has moved the Window so far that the Wall is now, if not exactly likely, at least imaginable.  No politician focused on what is "possible" would have dared to try this, much less ridden it into office.

And in his first hundred days, it's often seemed like Mr. Trump was legitimately trying to deliver on his promises, no matter how appalling they might be to the elites so loathed by his voters.  Yet it didn't take those same elites very long to squash his efforts, the instant injunctions against his executive orders banning Muslim immigration being merely the most famous.  Since then, it doesn't seem like Mr. Trump has done much to actually push forward his stated agenda; indeed, he's allowed in even more risky Muslim refugees from Syria per day than Obama did.

Maybe Mr. Trump just wants to accomplish something, anything, he doesn't care what?  If this is what he's thinking, though, he's going to find out it doesn't work: Congressmen may follow a leader, but they'll never follow a follower.  And our Congress is too riven by its own divisions for a President of either party to just go along with the majority, because really there isn't one.

Anyway, Mr. Trump has always been a leader and never a follower - not always to the right place, but to somewhere.  It's in his nature to be on the move.

The question is, to what?  Our theory for a while now has been that Mr. Trump wants to bring back the glory days of America that he remembers from his youth in the 50s and 60s - with some adjustments, of course, such as preserving civil rights for blacks that were absent then.

This sort of America is certainly not a movement-conservative Utopia.  But it's a lot closer than what we have now, and if that's where Mr. Trump wants to go, it's a least a step in the right direction.

And maybe he will; only time will tell, as we watch him learn the ropes and give them good hard yanks as needed.  Like it or not, we're all in this together.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

At this point, I don't care who Donald Trump may have groped, screwed, shafted, or otherwise have done wrong. It's likewise hard to get worked up about whatever his perceived failures and betrayals may be after only 100+ days.

He isn't Hillary. That's good enough for me. Plus, the fact that he was the only person in sight talking about storming the temple and kicking over the tables is just gravy. No such talk was possible with anyone else.

The USA has made two attempts at suicide in the last 10 years, and I don't know how many more it can withstand.

May 7, 2017 10:53 PM
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