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Trump and the American Future
Solving the Great Problems of Our Time
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2020 IS VITAL
If President Donald Trump is reelected, and especially if he can help elect a Republican majority in Congress, he will be able to consolidate the dramatic gains he has made and create a remarkable future for all Americans.
Further, if he is successful, he will cement his place in history among the great disruptive presidents who have shaped America. Victory in 2020 will put President Trump in the same league as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His opponents will be infuriated at this suggestion, but his record of achievements is already astonishing.
However, Trump’s supporters should not kid themselves. The 2016 election was remarkable, but not decisive. It was a beginning. The decisive election is in 2020. If the combined weight of the radical Democratic Left—including the news media, billionaires, and unions—can defeat him, then President Trump will be recorded in history as a temporary detour on the march to a radical, government-controlled, socialist-leaning America.
To understand the importance of winning both the White House and Congress, consider this simple contrast: Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Imagine how limited the range of options will be for President Trump and his administration if they are still fighting with Speaker Pelosi instead of working with Speaker McCarthy. Similarly, if Republicans keep and grow our strength in the Senate, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains in his post, steady progress toward a constitutional judiciary will continue. If President Trump has to confront Chuck Schumer as Senate majority leader, the real transformation of the judiciary will be virtually halted.
Of course, in reaction to Trump, the radical Democratic Left has become even more aggressive, and the deep state has become even more willing to resist him—even if it means bending or breaking the law.
One effect of the 2016 election and President Trump’s bold policy changes has been to polarize America more clearly than any time since the election of 1860. As a result of this polarization, the election of 2020 will force the American people to choose between two radically different futures.
The Trump team will be advocating dynamic new proposals to fix the nation’s problems, help relaunch the American economy after the coronavirus outbreak, strengthen the rule of law, and promote the culture of patriotism, which has historically defined American exceptionalism.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and the radical Democratic Left will be advocating extraordinary, deep changes in virtually every aspect of American life. These changes will be designed to centralize power in Washington bureaucracies, increase the influence of public employee unions, favor criminals over the police, impose radical societal values, and submerge America in globalism and multilateralism.
The Trump Phenomenon Behind the Trump Presidency
The radical Democratic Left (including most of the news media, Hollywood, and the academic world) has such contempt for President Trump that its members can’t examine facts and explore how we have gotten to this point. This lack of honest analysis distorts all their thinking and their reactions to the president.
To understand the Trump presidency, you first must look honestly at the man who creates it. As I wrote in my number one New York Times best-seller Understanding Trump, President Trump’s unique style developed from his upbringing. But you can understand a great deal about him as a leader and politician by looking at his candidacy in 2015 and 2016. Candidate Trump had been remarkably successful in understanding customers through his golf courses, hotels, books, beauty pageants, and his hit television show The Apprentice. He brought to politics and government the key understanding that voters are customers.
When he came down the long escalator with his wife, Melania, at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, to announce his campaign, he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that he had a built-in support network of the millions of people who had sustained The Apprentice for fifteen seasons. He knew that he had a good implementation team, which had successfully sustained a worldwide empire of properties. He knew he had an airplane that, as he liked to say, was better than Vice President Biden’s Air Force Two. He had been cheerfully fighting with the New York media for thirty years. He knew he didn’t need a handler or a spokesperson.
It was from this position of strength in American business and culture that Donald Trump surveyed the political field. He knew that there would be a lot of candidates. In the traditional world of professional politicians, they would be formidable. However, he knew that in the larger world of American consumers, these candidates and their consultants did not even exist. He was sure the competition would hire boring, narrowly experienced Washington professionals, who would put together boring, carefully calculated campaigns. Then, they would bore most people.
Candidate Trump knew three big things about reaching large numbers of people. In a sense this was the first building block of the Trump phenomenon. These were lessons he had learned marketing all his different enterprises:
Noise wins. Normal candidates would run around the country raising money to buy an occasional TV ad. Candidate Trump would get up in the morning and tweet to a growing following, including much of the news media. Then he would have a friendly call with Fox & Friends. Then he would do some radio and TV in local areas before the local primaries. Then he would have a rally with tens of thousands of people (all of whom brought their smartphones, took pictures and connected him to thousands more electronically). Then he would go on Sean Hannity’s show during prime time. It was impossible for traditional candidates with traditional consultants to match the sheer volume of noise Trump generated every day. Notice: He has never stopped doing this.
Politics is combat. Candidate Trump had learned in the 1980s that fighting with Page Six (the most widely read gossip column in New York) simply worked. His constant back and forth with the editorial board made him a persona in Manhattan—rather than an interloper from Queens. This public fighting made his first book, The Art of the Deal, a huge and continuing best-seller. When he entered the presidential race, he knew it was an enormous advantage to have the courage to fight—and to keep the audience’s attention. You could argue that he was such a good entertainer (and still is if you attend his rallies) that he totally dominated the stage through a combination of personality and skills. The other candidates were simply bewildered. In fact, even after watching the Trump campaign gather momentum for fifteen months, the normal, boring professionals advising Hillary Clinton could not find any way to cope with him.
Social media beats national media. In the fall of 2015, the Trump team began to really develop its Internet capabilities, which put Trump in a different league from everyone else. Because candidate Trump was interesting and advocating bold policies, which about half the country really wanted, he rapidly developed a massive Twitter and Facebook following. This following on social media allowed for free, instantaneous communication with the American public. It enabled the growth of self-recruited local advocates, who would take the messages to their friends and loved ones at work, the diner, the bar, or the family gathering. Furthermore, it was the growth of the massive online following that made possible the enormous rallies. As with all things Trump, these are not traditional rallies. They are massive focus groups, which inform the candidate (and now the president) what policies, arguments, and lines work or fall flat. No one else has anything like this capacity to interact with tens of thousands of people with such enthusiasm.
The other great advantage candidate Trump had was that he really believed in his own policies. He had been thinking about the presidency for at least thirty years. In 1988, after Oprah Winfrey had talked to him about his ideas about trade—that America was getting ripped off by countries that do not pay their fair share—she asked him if he would run for president someday. At the time he said, “probably not,” unless “things got really bad.” But if he did run, “he wouldn’t go in to lose.”1 In fact, on several occasions he had seriously considered running.
In political elections, many people love an outsider. Outsiders break up the current power structure and bring government closer to “we the people.” Candidate Trump could campaign as an outsider because he really was an outsider. He did not need think tank analysts, the Washington policy establishment, or retired bureaucrats to tell him what to say. He had reflected long and hard on the changes America would need to make if it was going to continue to be the greatest country on the planet. When he took on illegal immigration, he knew he was speaking for many Americans who were tired of a broken system that allowed cheating. When he said there were too many regulations and bureaucrats—that the swamp needed to be drained—he knew it resonated in small-town America. When he said that trade had been one-sided and made other countries richer while killing American jobs, he knew there would be a huge chorus of blue-collar voters who felt their government had sold them out. When he said America’s Middle East policies had become a trap, and young Americans were dying and being wounded with no ability to achieve victory, more and more Americans approved. When he said lower taxes, fewer regulations, and better trade deals would create jobs, he really believed it. As the only businessman running, Trump was confident he understood how to unleash the economy better than the politicians standing onstage with him.
Candidate Trump’s personal and policy certainty, when combined with his ability to entertain and brand, gave him an unstoppable advantage. No one else could have coined “Low-Energy Jeb” and made it stick. Yet, with every candidate, including “Crooked Hillary,” he was able to operate outside all accepted boundaries of traditional politics.
So when Trump became president, he continued these patterns to the delight of millions, the astonishment of many, and the hatred of some. One of the things that most upset the Republican establishment and the Left was the degree to which President Trump had been shaped by his career in business. Anyone who’s read Trump’s two best-sellers, The Art of the Deal and The Art of the Comeback, would have recognized that this was a very thoughtful, calculating, and daring businessman. He had made billions in the world of business. Furthermore, Trump was not a Harvard Business School manager who calmly ran a traditional, orderly system with experts. While Trump had gone to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (a superb business school), his real education had come from negotiating, construction, and customer satisfaction. He has a relentless, energetic, entrepreneurial mind and is the antithesis of the orderly leader of a traditional corporation (or government bureaucracy).
The result was a style of abrasiveness, abruptness, and determination to rely on himself. He used the language of the construction worker rather than the smooth talk of an Ivy League professional. All of it drove the Republican establishment to despair and the Left to desperation.
So, Trump was interesting enough to win the nomination against competent but boring opponents. Then he proved tough and confrontational enough to defeat the Clinton machine. As her campaign grew more negative and nastier (attacking the “deplorables” and smearing Trump), the Trump campaign matched her punch for punch.
I can’t imagine any other candidate having the nerve and toughness Trump had when the Access Hollywood story broke. This would have doomed any other campaign. Clinton thought she could take advantage of it. Trump simply brought the women who had accused President Bill Clinton of sexually predatory behavior to the debate. Instantly, it was Trump on offense and the Clintons on defense. Of course, the aggressive, rapid counterpunch is an integral part of the Trump system and goes back to his Page Six fights. I have never seen him accept an attack without immediately and aggressively counterpunching harder than his opponent. This is not a function of personality. It is a deliberate habit he acquired through long years of practice in New York.
Election night 2016 was a nightmare for those on the left—unlike any they had experienced in modern history. At eight p.m., they were sure Hillary Clinton was going to be president. The next Supreme Court justice would be a liberal. The march of imposing radical Democratic values on the American people would continue. Many of them would have prestigious jobs in the Clinton administration.
Yet by ten p.m., it was beginning to be obvious Clinton would lose—and that meant Trump would become president. This was unthinkable. This outcome was so shattering that many on the left went into catatonic shock. Others suffered the political equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This condition became known as Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Many in the national news media, especially in Washington, don’t just cover the Left; they are active allies and personal friends of the left. They are totally intermingled by career, marriage, or education. They were as shocked and terrified by Trump winning as any left-wing activist. They had suffered George W. Bush winning the presidency in the Electoral College, despite having the minority of the popular vote. They had grown to deeply dislike Bush, but he had not gone out of his way to enrage them.
After Bush, their patience paid off, and they had what they saw as the golden days of the Barack Obama presidency: left-wing policies, left-wing appointees, left-wing bureaucracies. They enjoyed a left-wing foreign policy of apologizing for America, submerging America in global and multilateral institutions, and appeasing and paying our enemies. They saw enormous advances for new sexual-gender-ethnic rules as the law of the land. It was a happy time for leftists. Then, on election night 2016, this was all crashing and burning.
Even before Trump won the Republican nomination, there were some articles saying he would have to be impeached. The day after the election there were already anti-Trump meetings in cities across the United States. On Inauguration Day, the Washington Post published an article proclaiming, “the campaign to impeach President Trump has begun.”2 The day after the inauguration, there was a massive left-wing women’s rally on the Washington Mall attacking the new president.
President Trump’s Miscalculation
The biggest miscalculation President Trump and his team made early on was the failure to think through how bitter and deep the counterattack would be. Citizen Trump had spent a lot of time with Washington and state-level politicians. They had come to his office asking for money. He had golfed with them. A number had come to Mar-a-Largo to see him. He had gone to innumerable dinners for politicians. He had actively helped Mitt Romney in 2012 (I know because I was with him helping Romney in Las Vegas during the general election). In the traditional world of American politics, you run hard. Someone wins, and someone loses. Everyone accepts the result as if it were a sporting event. Then there is a period of working together before the next election cycle ramps up.
What President Trump and his team did not understand was how deeply they had challenged the very survival of the Left and the traditional establishment. The Trump victory was not a partisan victory within the playing field that had been created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933. Historically, Republicans had represented the conservative wing of the FDR consensus. Except for Senator Barry Goldwater, they had not broken out of that consensus. Even President Ronald Reagan (who had been a New Deal Democrat, supported President Harry Truman in 1948, and made commercials to help Hubert Humphrey win his first Senate race) was ultimately operating within the consensus except for his focus on defeating the Soviet Union.
If either Jeb Bush or John Kasich had won, those on the left would have been unhappy, but they would not have been alienated, threatened, and enraged. In fact, the insider style of Bush and Kasich probably would have guaranteed that they would have lost to Clinton—but they would have done so graciously, as Romney did in his loss to Obama in 2012.
The challenge for President Trump and his team during the transition was that they did not appreciate how deeply and profoundly they were challenging every aspect of the system. They were busy focusing on the personnel and policies of the new administration. Transitions are an enormous project, and for a couple of months absorb an immense amount of time and energy. So, the team focused on transition issues. Its members assumed the Left’s hostility was a temporary irritation that would go away as Americans reverted to the normal behavior of accepting that the winner was the Trump administration. This meant Trump’s team did not develop a strategy and system large and thorough enough to get ahead of the various assaults that would come from the Left. Yet the new administration’s policies and speeches virtually guaranteed a radical opposition campaign would turn into a war.
President Trump’s policies were a decisive, historic break with the Democratic-Republican establishment’s system, which is why there were Republican Never-Trumpers joining in the hostility. The Republican Never-Trumpers were further irritated by Trump’s style. Many of them were elegant Ivy Leaguers who could never appeal to the blue-collar workers who’d given Trump the margin of victory. They despised his blue-collar style, use of coarse language, and self-confidence.
The fact that Trump said the establishment was wrong on trade, the economy, military affairs, the Middle East, and a host of other issues simply infuriated them. He was equally infuriated by their efforts to supposedly educate him to their way of thinking. A good part of the first three years of the Trump administration was spent sorting out who wanted to educate President Trump (they virtually all left in frustration or were forced out) and those who wanted to implement the president’s ideas (they seem to be flourishing).
The Never-Trumpers were a symptom of how radically different President Trump was. But some of them were mostly useful to the Left as validators who could be put on TV: what Lenin would have called “useful idiots.” So the real problem for President Trump was the initial failure to recognize that he had declared war on the system, and the radical Left was going to declare war back.
A good case in point was the list of potential US Supreme Court nominees Trump had proposed. Candidate Trump turned to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation to develop a list of highly qualified conservative nominees for the high court. Liberals had gradually taken over the American Bar Association (ABA) (and as far as they are concerned, it should be the only standard-setter for judges). The Federalist Society had been growing in stature. In a Trump administration, it became clear the Federalist Society would play a major role, and the ABA would be ignored. This was a pointed but significant revolution in the power to define American values by defining who was fit to serve on the federal bench. It was a switch from the increasingly radical Democratic Left to a firm commitment to constitution-minded conservative judges.
Ever since Earl Warren became a US Supreme Court justice in 1953 (which President Dwight Eisenhower looked back on as one of his biggest mistakes)3 the court system had been moving to the left. It was the courts that had been the engine imposing radical rules on abortion, sexual behavior, immigration, crime, and more. Now, with the release of his list of ten conservative potential US Supreme Court justices, candidate Trump was threatening the heart of the radical-liberal system. None of us who supported candidate Trump fully appreciated that his success, like President Lincoln’s in 1860, would create a crisis of survival for his opponents. As Allen Guelzo, a Civil War historian, has written, the viciousness and intensity of language smearing Trump after the election closely parallels the language of South Carolina newspapers in 1860 and 1861, which saw Lincoln’s election as the death knell for their way of life.
The great challenge of wars of identity is that they become life-or-death. The election of President Trump, and his persistence in disrupting the old order, has created a backlash that is a matter of survival for the Left and for part of the establishment. This is why the intensity and the viciousness are so deep—and why the news media is so thoroughly dishonest. It isn’t just fake news. it is maliciously and deliberately fake news.
2020 Is about Survival
Similarly, the 2020 election is not a normal election. We can now understand it is not a contest between two teams operating within a common overall framework. Unlike any election in modern times, this is an election about which set of values will survive and be fully implemented. To President Trump’s credit, he really is as big a threat to the institutions and values of the Left as they think.
In his first three years, he has teamed with McConnell to fill a quarter of the federal judgeships, including placing two US Supreme Court justices. It is a truly historic pace. If President Trump is reelected and Republicans keep control of the Senate, it is possible that the Trump court system will have essentially replaced the liberal court system. Since the Trump team has cleverly insisted that new federal judges be under fifty, this change could easily last two generations. For the Left, this is a nightmare.
In his first three years, Trump’s administration has repealed seven regulations for each one it has written. It is the largest deregulation effort in American history, and it is building momentum. By the end of a second term, so much power may have been moved from Washington back to states, local governments, businesses, voluntary organizations (including religious organizations), and individuals, the influence of Washington on our everyday lives will be back to a pre–Lyndon Johnson level. It might even be approaching the level of the 1930s. For the elitist Left, which totally distrusts the American people, this undoes eighty years of work.
President Trump has broken two generations of bipartisan, international, elitist efforts that submerged American interests in global interests and structures. President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord on behalf of American jobs. He demanded revision of trade agreements that hurt American workers. He insisted that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations pay their fair shares for their own defense (something both Bush and Obama asked for but did nothing about). And he has described Western civilization as something worth defending. President Trump has again and again infuriated those in the foreign policy and national security establishment who see their decades of work going down the drain.
To a lot of people’s surprise, President Trump is the most pro-life president in our history. His willingness to go to the March for Life and give a full-blown defense of protecting innocent life is a real breakthrough. Former pro-life presidents were always cautious about being too closely and publicly identified with the pro-life movement. In some ways, past presidents would treat it as if its members were so-called deplorables, speaking to them by telephone even when the march was right outside the White House. Trump has been willing to be seen with his allies even if (and especially when) it drives his opponents crazy. At a time when a former Democratic presidential candidate said flatly there was no room in the Democratic Party for anyone with pro-life views, the contrast could hardly be clearer.
The list goes on, but consider one last example: President Trump has been profoundly and consistently committed to fighting for religious liberty. He has argued that religious beliefs are as legitimate as sexual orientations. In all these steps, he angers the secular Left—including many in newsrooms across the country. It is just one more example of the clash of two worlds we are living in and the threat to the Left’s world that President Trump represents.
When you look at the totality of the Trump agenda, you can see why the Left thinks its survival is at stake. However, in the transition period, and for at least a year afterward, the Trump team could not bring itself to believe that this war from the Left was as big, angry, and vicious as it has turned out to be. The Trump team’s responses were too small and fragmented to meet the scale of the assault.
A key part of the reelection campaign—and the second term—will be adapting to and getting ahead of these attacks.
FRENZY, CORRUPTION, AND CONFORMITY
Aside from being interested in beating President Trump for its own survival, the radical Democratic Left is also dealing with someone who is antithetical to its views.
The American left has a tradition of self-righteous certainty, which has metastasized into a totalitarian belief that any other view is not only wrong, but it cannot be tolerated. The uniformity of views on college campuses are enforced by who gets tenure. The uniformity of views in the news media are enforced by who gets hired and promoted. In Hollywood, if you do not parrot the Left’s line, you will be ostracized and unemployed (unless you are a big box-office star). It was this drive for conformity that ultimately forced Speaker Pelosi to proceed with an impeachment she had resisted for months.
Because there is such uniformity, when the Left gets together it has no reality check. People explain to each other how supposedly evil President Trump is. Then they convince themselves that if he is that evil, then anything they say or do against him is legitimate. Then they begin moving toward hysteria and clearly crazed comments: We will all die in the next twelve years if we don’t act now on climate change; Immigration and Customs Enforcement resembles the Gestapo; American immigration centers with recreation facilities and medical care are concentration camps. Now, since everyone on the left nods and chants the same emotional-but-crazy things, there is no check on what they can legitimately do to stop the evil they have identified.
This vehement passion is what leads to support of sanctuary cities, no cash bail systems for criminals in New York, abortion after a birth, blanket support for health care for illegal immigrants, and district attorneys who refuse to work with the police or prosecute criminals. At each step, the Left gets a little crazier. Since only the true believers are allowed in the room, there is no one to ask if these ideas really make sense or are good for Americans.
Theodore H. White described the radical shift on the left in his book The Making of the President 1972 as transitioning from the liberal ideology to the liberal theology. White argued that it was the harsh inflexibility of the emerging liberal theology that doomed the George McGovern campaign to a catastrophic defeat.
- On Sale
- Jun 23, 2020
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Center Street