This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.
Let’s stipulate that Donald Trump is a vulgar, ignorant and often reckless narcissist. Yet he also may well prove a historical necessity, someone who, intentionally or not, has rendered apart a bi-partisan consensus well past its usefulness.
Religious people like to say that God works in mysterious ways. The same can be said about history. Bad players can have important long-term effects. With their mad ambitions Napoleon and Hitler established a continental idea now reflected in the more benign bureaucratic empire of today’s EU, while Karl Marx’s legacy led to a making of modern and economically independent China, now the world’s ultimate expression of state capitalism.
Rebalancing America and the world
Ever since the Second World War, America’s foreign policy, with the possible exception of the Reagan years, has been shaped by consensus. The United States was able to both lead and effectively subsidize the rest of the world. Initially, this made sense when the other major powers were either seriously weakened or under threat from the Soviet Union.
Trump has broken this model. His “America First” approach is crudely stated and has bad antecedents, but, frankly, where was the other strategy getting us? Europe, Japan and our other “allies” were getting rich while we sent our soldiers to fight and die. Playing nice for a generation did nothing to stop North Korea’s nuclearization or Iran’s aggressive expansionism.
Unlike his more idealist predecessors, Trump recognizes that every world leader — including Angela Merkel, Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron — seeks to enrich her or his own countries, even at other countries’ expense. Our competitors may be outraged when Americans selfishly play hardball, but perhaps it’s time to be asking for something beyond often empty promises.
The need to rescue the heartland
The foreign policy and trade policies of previous administrations benefited mostly the elite districts in the large coastal cities, but did much harm to the middle of the country. Globalism seems less glamourous when it means the loss of millions of jobs.
The addition of draconian climate change legislation under President Obama upped the ante, as Trump, or his handlers, intuited. Even as Silicon Valley and Wall Street looked to capitalize on green policies, vast parts of the country, particularly those dependent on fossil fuel production and cheap power for manufacturing, feared they were about to be abandoned.
So far, Trump’s attempt to reverse these trends has delivered more than could have been expected. Despite reports of ill-effects of tariff policies on manufacturers, industrial employment and production continue to grow after slackening in the last year of the Obama administration. Elections have consequences: the South has emerged as the nation’s premier growth engine while growth and demographic vitality has come back to parts of Midwest.
Unmasking the new class
Trump may be an awful person on many levels, but the reaction to him has exposed the arrogance within the country’s cognitive elites. Media coverage has been so unbalanced that even former President Jimmy Carter has expressed outrage. The hatred for Trump spans virtually all the cultural and major media with the exception of the hyper-partisan screamers of Fox News and talk radio. No surprise that the credibility of the media, notes Gallup, is at a historic low ebb.
On immigration, upper-class neighborhoods generally benefited from unregulated immigration. Trump’s MS 13 “animals” generally don’t prowl on the Upper East Side or Malibu but in more working and lower-middle class neighborhoods. For the gentry and some employers the undocumented represent Marx’s “reserve army of the unemployed,” keeping the rates for nannies, gardeners and dishwashers low.
The arbiters of opinion may be justified in thinking that the president and some of his supporters are “deplorable.” But as longtime Clinton pollster Mark Penn recently observed, it seems somewhat possible that “deep state” bias has fueled the drive attempt to nail the current president on any charge possible. Even longtime liberal lions, like civil liberties scholar Alan Dershowitz, have been disturbed by the Star Chamber-like proceedings.
Trump’s reign started in amateurish bungling, but he has managed, so far, to alter the political calculus far more than most detractors expected. Since last fall the Democrats have seen their advantage in congressional support plunge from a hefty 12 percent to barely 4 percent now. Even millennials are becoming somewhat less enthused about the Democrats, a pattern that could continue if the economy remains relatively strong.
Even if he takes a fall, Trump’s legacy will make it far harder for the establishmentarians of both parties to push trade, energy and immigration policies perceived as injurious by many Americans. Democrats, as former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown suggests, will have to stop acting like “another pack of screaming kids on the playground” and start to address the real concerns of voters.
After Trump, things will be different, no matter who is in power. It’s now widely accepted that America cannot be the world’s leader if it ignores its own basic interests. The age of high-sounding platitudes about the blessings of unrestricted globalism and open borders will be supplanted by a new realism that, if hopefully without Trump’s nastiness, will prove more congruent with national interest and those of the vast majority of Americans.
Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.