Even in the week that he is nominated by the Republican party for the presidency of the United States, intelligent people fail in droves to understand what Donald Trump has accomplished. It was disappointing to read the editorial in this newspaper on Tuesday that “a Trump presidency would be a descent into the uncertainties of anger, bitterness, and division … a recipe for disaster.”
This is a widespread view, but it is bunk. It reminds me of Tom Wicker’s prediction in The New York Times the Sunday before the inauguration of Richard Nixon in 1969, that the president-elect would “blow up the world,” and by Scotty Reston in the same newspaper about 12 years later that Ronald Reagan would be a complete failure who would ride back to California like a disillusioned cowboy after his first term. As the world knows, but may have forgotten, Nixon ended school segregation and the draft and the endless riots and the skyjackings and the assassinations, reduced the crime rate, founded the Environmental Protection Agency, opened relations with China and a peace process in the Middle East, extracted the U.S. from Vietnam while retaining a non-communist government in Saigon, and signed the greatest arms control agreement in world history with the U.S.S.R. while re-establishing American nuclear superiority, and was re-elected by 18 million votes. The subsequent Watergate nonsense, tawdry though it was, doesn’t alter the fact that his was one of the most successful presidential terms in U.S. history. It is probably better remembered that Reagan produced America’s greatest economic boom of the 20th century and bloodlessly won the Cold War, and was re-elected by 15 million votes.
I don’t predict the same level of success for Donald Trump, but such a performance is more likely than the triumph of bigotry, discord and international conflict that the Post editorial, in the prevailing conventional wisdom, foresees. These parrots of gloom should be celebrating the fact that one of the only moderates among the Republican candidates won. Senator Ted Cruz pitched his campaign to the Bible-thumping corn-cobbers with M16 rifles in the rear windows of their pickup trucks and announced that God had told him to run. Trump and Sanders are the only candidates who favour universal health care, and Trump, contrary to a great deal of unfounded over-reactive comment about him, never said anything remotely antagonistic about women, gays, African-Americans or Latinos who came to the U.S. legally.What the world has witnessed, but has not recognized it yet, has been a campaign of genius. No one in history has come from an apolitical background to take over complete control of one of the great American political parties. World-historic generals, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower, were recruited by party grandees. Newspaper publisher Horace Greeley for the Democrats (1872), and utilities executive and lawyer Wendell Willkie for the Republicans (1940), were nominated, but they won narrowly, did not take over the party organization or put the party elders to flight, and had no chance of winning (against Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt). The Trump candidacy was greeted with howls of derision — the cognoscenti conducted a Bataan Death March retreat. Trump couldn’t get more than 20, 30, 40 per cent, would be trashed at the convention, would splinter the party, would be waxed by Mrs. Clinton (who has had problems enough coming in ahead of a campy Vermont socialist and avoiding an indictment).As Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio observed as he left the race, having been bombed by almost a million votes in his home state by Trump (who, remember, had no “ground game”), “There was a tsunami coming that no one except Mr. Trump saw.” These earthshaking lamentations for those identified in both parties with the failures of the past 20 years are completely implausible. Trump didn’t give us the immense housing bubble and terrible financial crisis, over a decade of war in the Middle East well conducted by the military but leading to colossal strategic and humanitarian disasters, the doubling in seven years of the $9 trillion of national debt accumulated in the previous 233 years of American independence, and an endless sequence of foreign policy humiliations: disappearing red lines, a nuclear sell-out to Iran, and unprecedented cheek from the penurious Russian mountebank Putin, allowed to pretend he has the force of Stalin.These wailing commentators should be asking why the powers that be of both parties didn’t lift a finger while 12 million illegals flooded into the country, and why the authors of these fiascos, after 60 years of triumph over the Great Depression, Nazism, Japanese imperialism and international communism, suddenly became an elite of idiots who could not run a two-car funeral, apart from the expertise and courage of the armed forces, mis-deployed though they were. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can’t utter the phrase “Islamist extremism,” the president called the Fort Hood shooting by a jihadist “workplace violence,” and told the joint chiefs of staff that the greatest danger facing America is climate change. What sclerosis has taken hold that the great achievements and generally high level of competence of 10 administrations, five of each party, (FDR to Bush senior), suddenly was warped into this nightmare of serial self-inflicted blunderbuss wounds, causing great collateral damage in the world?Donald Trump saw it and none of those who governed and legislated for a living did (apart from, to a degree and through such rose-tinted glasses his vision is blurred, Bernie Sanders). The country has tried changing parties in the White House and the Congress (Tom Foley to Newt Gingrich, who is not “odious” as the Tuesday NP editorial claimed, merely flakey, to Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and now the more promising Paul Ryan). By any normal criteria, the whole governing elite should be sent packing, bag and baggage, foot, horse and guns. The commentariat should be celebrating the fact that Donald did the necessary to round up the Archie Bunker vote, and it is little wonder that it is now almost half the people, but is a moderate in all policy areas except illegal or hostile immigration and unequal trade deals; and that Hillary has managed to drive off the loopy left. If we were now witnessing a contest between Sanders and Cruz, there really could be an impending catastrophe.Now that Trump is the nominee, having come from the political wilderness and paid for his own campaign, he will drastically scale back the stylistic infelicities (which are as disagreeable to me as to most serious people, but are just part of his shtick). He is not ideological and will make the system work — he is, as he never tires of telling us, a deal-maker. In foreign policy, he will be neither trigger-happy like George W., nor an other-worldly pacifist like Obama. He will spend a billion dollars of the Republican party’s money reminding the country that legally and ethically, Hillary is carrying more dead weight cargo than the Queen Mary. He and Hillary will now both campaign toward the centre, but whoever wins, this is the last stand of moderation. One more debacle like the past four or five presidential terms, and the animals will be released. The paint-ball parks, the shooting ranges, and the teeming ghettos (scores of millions of Americans unnoticed by Norman Rockwell, Grandma Moses and Walt Disney) will not be gulled again by a limousine liberal in a neon pantsuit or a pseudo-blue-collar billionaire.The U.S. and the world could do much worse and the media, whom Donald has rightly taken to the woodshed to the general delight of the public, should stop wringing its hands and report more perceptively and equably this performance of great virtuosity in the greatest circus of all, which has caught them all with unclean hands and their pants down. Vulgar, corrupt, banal and half-mad though it is, America remains magnificent in a way, and absorbs the world’s attention; we’re all still watching.