What Trump hath wrought

Loved this take on a year of Trump’s presidency from NeverTrumper Tom Nichols:

Were President Trump’s critics, then, overwrought in their predictions of doom? PJ Media’s Roger Simon has declared that Never Trumpers (like me) should apologize for their apostasy and get into the trenches to fight the advancing leftist hordes. New York Times columnist David Brooks, although still reluctant in his defense of Trump, suggests that were it not for the president’s bizarre tweets, “we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals.”

This is nonsense. Trump’s presidency has done daily damage not only to the Republican Party and the conservative movement but, more important, to our constitutional system of government. The president is eroding the unwritten norms that serve as the civic girders beneath our political and legal infrastructure. And his foreign policy, insofar as he has one, is diminishing our global standing and jeopardizing our security [emphases mine]

The superficial appearance of normalcy in the rest of the government is not a sign of a robust democracy, but of confusion and a lack of direction. Because Trump does not have any kind of vision or even a basic set of policy preferences, and because he has no tolerance for the boring details of governing (including staffing important political appointments), the bureaucracy has remained mostly on auto­pilot in the past year. This situation will not last, and it should be no consolation to realize that potentially awful outcomes have been averted not by statecraft and prudent administration, but by inertia and incompetence…

Meanwhile, Trump has made good on the prediction that he would lead the conservative movement to disgrace, and he has gravely — perhaps even mortally — wounded the Republican Party. His endorsement of an accused child molester in Alabama’s Senate race coaxed a final humiliation of evangelical and “family values” conservatives that was a long time coming — and for many of us who are more moderate conservatives, our only regret is that it didn’t happen sooner. Yet the Trump effect has rippled further, attaching a repulsive hypocrisy to anything involving the word “conservative.” People who once insisted on religious beliefs and a sterling character as paramount in their evaluation of a president now wave away alleged payoffs to porn stars; fiscal conservatives now blithely applaud the addition of $1 trillion in debt; foreign policy hawks now mumble quietly as the president draws moral equivalences between the United States and Russia…

Even more troubling than the effect on any one party, however, is the damage Trump is doing to our civic life. Here, I do not mean the president’s constant vulgarity, although it is shocking how accustomed we have allowed ourselves to become to behavior that would have appalled any decent American even a decade or so ago. No, the more significant concern is that Trump has convinced millions of Americans that governing the United States is not a serious business that needs to be undertaken by serious men and women

Trump, however, has turned the presidency into a spectacle. Important matters of public policy disappear the moment he drops a curse word at a meeting, like a naughty child at a birthday party, or gets ahold of a cellphone and tweets something outrageous, like a vandal on the loose with a can of spray paint…

He is everything, in fact, except our chief magistrate and the head of the executive branch of our government. Rather than feeling bound by the Constitution “to take care that the laws are faithfully executed,” Trump sits atop a structure of laws and norms he attacks daily. Courts? How dare they impede his executive ukazes. The Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA? Disasters. All part of the “deep state.” And the First Amendment? An annoyance that needs to be cleared up by rewriting libel laws to protect those in power from a free press…

And yet, this is a paradox: If Trump is so unserious, so inconsequential, how can his damage be so lasting?

The answer is simple. Wrecking things is easier than repairing them. Spending capital is easier than accumulating it. Chaos is easy; order is hard. It takes architects years to learn how to build a house, while ignorant scavengers can strip it bare and destroy it in hours.

Well, that’s depressing.  And true.  In many ways, the future stability and promise of our democracy depends critically on what happens after Trump.  So, what happens next?  We’ll see.  But so far, this sure ain’t good.

Yes, Trump is incompetent, but his real vulnerability is his policies

Yglesias makes a strong argument that the key to Democratic success in 2018 and 2020 is not runnning against the fact that trump is (obviously) a horrible and immoral human being, but rather that Trump supports deeply unpopular policies:

Being a racist (or totally uninformed about policy issues) may be in some sense a graver sin than favoring tax policy tilted in favor of the very rich. But in political terms, most Americans are white but few Americans are very rich, so a focus on the idea that Trump is excessively cruel to nonwhites moves fewer votes than the idea that Trump is excessively focused on the whims of plutocrats.

The overall character issue, meanwhile, could probably bury Trump in a moment of national crisis, but the basic reality is that the economy is humming nicely and objective reality is giving people who backed him 18 months ago no particular reason to reassess his competence.

To students of nativist demagogues abroad, like Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, this is no surprise. In the wake of Trump’s win, the Italian-born economist Luigi Zingales reflected on the lessons of the two Italian politicians who’d managed to beat Berlusconi, observing, “Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character.”

Trump’s opponents would be wise to do the same — Trump’s brand of white identity politics has real consequences, but the overall Trump Show is basically a con that masks an agenda that’s bad for almost everyone… [emphases mine]

Indeed, in a country where most white people now say they face racial discrimination, increasing the salience of racial conflict in politics is likely to benefit the party identified with the interests of white people.

By contrast, fewer than 20 percent of voters favored last summer’s GOP health plan, and a January 11 Quinnipiac poll showed that most whites (and, of course, most nonwhites) disapproved of the GOP tax plan. None of which means Democrats shouldn’t talk about immigration — they have no choice when Trump is taking drastic and ill-advised moves on immigration policy — but they do need to keep the focus on the interests of actual voters, who are mostly white and who, by definition, are US citizens.

The good news is that lots of white Americans who may be happily tolerant of racist public officials nonetheless aren’t the kind of deeply committed ideological racists who are excited to forgo tangible economic and public safety benefits just for the psychological thrills of excluding DREAMers from public life or a punter’s chance at altering the long-term demographic trajectory of the country…

But I also don’t kid myself that crossover voters in West Virginia, Montana, Indiana, Missouri, and other states with hotly contested 2018 Senate matchups are lying awake at night worried about whether the federal government is being sufficiently attentive to the interests of nonwhite people or whether they have personally benefited from centuries of racial exploitation.

If you want to help the people most severely victimized by Trumpism, you need to beat Trumpism at the polls…

And that’s the reality of Trumpism. His immigration policies are contrary to the tangible interests of most Americans, and all the rest of his policies are too. Here are a few policy stories from January alone:

It’s a fallacy to think that Trump’s various antics are a deliberate effort to distract attention from these policy issues. A president who was capable of planning and executing a political master plan wouldn’t be looking at a 39 percent approval rating amid good economic conditions.

It is true, however, that discussing Trump primarily as a personality, a media phenomenon, and a locus of culture war politics puts a kind of floor under his support. By contrast, there’s basically no constituency at all for Trump’s anti-Medicaid agenda, with only 22 percent ofRepublicans saying they want to see cuts to the program

As a president, Trump clearly continues to be extreme where he campaigned as extreme, and there are diminishing marginal returns to endlessly reiterating that point. But his hard-right economic agenda has been genuinely surprising in some ways, and does stem at least in part from his personal sloth, ignorance, and corruption. But there are many facets to this side of Trump that the public barely knows about, simply because the endless din of controversy is overwhelming. His opponents would do well to do what they can to lower the temperature of the discourse and focus more attention on what the president does than on what he says.

I am concerned about how much these arguments can get through to people inclined towards Trump in this highly-polarized age, but, that said, to a considerable degree the electorate seems inured to Trump’s odious personal behavior.  I don’t think, however, that the electorate is inured to Trump supporting deeply unpopular policies.  I think Yglesias is very much onto something here.

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