Posted on January 20, 2019
As Trump Turns,
For at least the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, his supporters within the Republican Party had a point. Yes, their man is a boor, but just look at how he was advancing our initiatives. He proposed and signed an aggressive tax cut package, kept his agreement to appoint constitutionalists to the federal courts, formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and rolled back stifling regulations, especially those most noxious ones that emanate from the scientific malpractice of “climate change.”
<![if !vml]><![endif]>A defensible argument could be made that these policy outcomes justified the party’s selling itself out for Trump, in spite of his lack of philosophical grounding, his propensity to lie, and the fact that several far more reliable candidates had opposed him in the primaries. Whether the same argument can be made at the end of Trump’s second year in office (or “2 Trump” as he’ll call it in his memoirs) is another story.
Willie Horton Who?
Inspired by Trump’s pandering to the Kim-and-Kanye crowd, Republicans passed the First Step Act, which is so soft on crime and heavy on liberal criminology that the entire party now owes Michael Dukakis a profuse apology. This bill is based on the liberal premise that our nation’s relatively high prison population is a large-scale civil rights violation. This means, perversely, that our society is unjust because we have been proficient at locking up criminals. The supposed remedy to that offense reduces sentences for many federal crimes retroactively, leading its critics to nickname it the Jailbreak Act. It also allows inmates to earn “time credits” toward earlier release by completing “evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities.” The law defines “evidence-based recidivism reduction programming,” but leaves “productive activities” as a conspicuous elastic clause that may be used to award “time credits” for the flimsiest of reasons. The Washington Times claims that these “productive activities” include playing softball and watching movies, and the law does not define the phrase to those activities’ exclusion.
In truth, the act’s supporters don’t care whether or not it reduces recidivism, because its intended beneficiaries are illegal drug traffickers. Clinton administration attorney general Janet Reno used to distinguish between drug offenders and “real criminals,” and now, a majority of elected Republicans agree. If these people have been jailed for something that’s not a real crime in the first place, then who cares if they do more of the same once they’re released?
On foreign policy, Trump is suddenly advocating the withdrawal of American forces from all corners of the globe. One can debate the merits of leaving Syria, where Trump’s reasons for committing our soldiers were unclear in the first place, but our need to remain vigilant in Afghanistan is obvious, yet he’s promising to withdraw from that country, also. Furthermore, he has repeatedly voiced a desire to yank our soldiers from the Korean peninsula, and has pursued talks with North Korea with the potential to yield that result. A lifelong Democrat until he started thinking about running for president, Trump frequently employs the standard Democrat argument that money spent overseas could better be used on pork-barrel spending projects at home. Through the “peace dividend” model of budgeting, Democrats view the Pentagon budget as a slush fund for their domestic initiatives. So, too, does their Republican counterpart in the Oval Office.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>The president’s wobbly military commitments are symptomatic of his shocking inability to comprehend the nature of our enemies. Saddam Hussein was arguably the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and certainly its leading state sponsor of Sunni terrorism. His decades-long pattern of funding, harboring, training and coordinating with terrorists throughout the Islamic world is a matter of record. Yet Trump imagines that Saddam and al-Qaeda were mortal enemies, and partly for that reason, he says President Bush should have been impeached. It might be argued that such misguided beliefs don’t matter, because Trump has appointed good people to lead our military, who will talk sense to him when necessary. But then, those good people are resigning at an alarming rate, in part because he refuses to heed their advice.
Reds through rose-colored glasses
Remember when Trump praised the Red Chinese for their ultra-violent crackdown on protestors in Tiananmen Square? Remember how it didn’t matter, because he hadn’t been involved in politics at the time? Now, President Trump says the Soviet Union was right to invade Afghanistan in 1980. Their motivation, he says, was that they were defending themselves from terrorist attacks, something the Soviets never claimed to be the case, and which is not supported by any historical account.
The Soviets’ aim was simply to spread Communism to another neighboring country. At the time, Afghanistan was in its usual state of multi-factional civil war. Moscow had forcibly united the two Communist factions and given them material support, but when it became evident that they would not prevail, the Soviets intervened directly. Trump’s excuse reflects a failure to grasp the nature of Communism, that it requires world domination in order to be fully realized. No wonder he seems oblivious to North Korea’s designs on finally conquering the South. How little does Tiananmen Square matter now?
Ideological clarity was never expected of Trump, but where’s the outrage from his party? How can Republican politicians and conservative pundits see a headline like: “Trump: Soviets were right to invade,” and not have to fight each other to be the first to denounce him for it? Has he already so thoroughly corrupted them that they no longer have a philosophical core, or are they simply afraid to subject themselves to one of his allegedly witty Twitter fits, in which he might cleverly call them a bunch of fat, lying, stupid little ugly people?
Tariff Man, without a plan
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Of course, foreign policy is not supposed to be Trump’s field of expertise; the economy is. You wouldn’t know that by the second year of his presidency, which has been characterized most prominently by tariffs. Defenders of these tax hikes on consumers of imported goods tend to claim they’re a necessary evil that Trump is using as leverage, to force other countries to enact trade practices more fair to the United States. Trump himself has made it clear, however, that he sees raising tariffs as a good in itself. He’s even declared himself to be a “Tariff Man,” in caps, just as if he were coining a derisive nickname for a political rival.
Trump talks about trade deficits as if they represent money that certain countries have stolen from others. We import more goods from Mexico than that country does from us; therefore, they owe us. If Trump’s tariffs mean Americans buy less Mexican aluminum, then our trade deficit with Mexico decreases, which he somehow interprets as the Mexican government handing us a great big bag of pesos to build a border wall. The fact that American manufacturers would have to pay more to buy their aluminum elsewhere is merely collateral damage.
A few GOP legislators have talked about restricting the president’s power to impose tariffs, but most other conservatives have happily gone along with the Trumpian point of view, even though they obviously know better. In the early 90s, Rush Limbaugh was a leading proponent of NAFTA, who spent many broadcast hours logically dismantling the protectionist demagoguery of the Buchananites and Perotistas. Today, he has no problem with punitive taxation against American consumers, as he openly declares that he will not criticize Trump, and publishes a segment in his newsletter purporting to show that high tariffs have never really hurt anybody.
As other countries retaliated with tariff hikes against American agriculture, Trump availed himself of a New Deal-era subsidy program to compensate the farmers for their losses. Is this what suffices for the new trade policy of the GOP?
Two more years, Left
<![if !vml]><![endif]>This dramatic leftward shift has taken place during a year in which the Democratic Party has held little sway in national policy. Now that the Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives, we can only hope that they’ll remain so blinded by their hatred of Trump that they’ll neglect to take advantage of their many areas of agreement with him. If, instead, they pass a bill to fund Trump’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, force employers to provide paid family leave, or give Trump a chance to “stand up to the NRA,” will Senate Republicans be willing to stop them? The party’s capitulation to Trump until this point leaves little room for optimism.
When it was pointed out to Trump during the 2016 primaries that he’s not a conservative, he observed that the Republican Party is not called the Conservative Party. True enough, as far as it goes, but it’s always been understood that Republicans should be characteristically conservative; otherwise, why should their party even bother to exist? Abraham Lincoln often called himself a conservative, and said, “The chief and real purpose of the Republican Party is eminently conservative.”
Today’s GOP has abandoned that position in order to embrace Trump, in what is probably the only trade that the Art of the Deal author has gotten the better of so far. Those who were reluctant to adhere to the new way found that they were no longer welcome in the party. At the convention, Sen. Ted Cruz was pilloried for his innocuous “vote your conscience” remarks, and even he fell into line not long afterward.
While they’re at it, the Republicans might as well trade in their traditional elephant mascot for a rhinoceros, not just because the entire party is now Republican In Name Only, but because its members have metamorphosed, just like those people in the 1974 movie Rhinoceros. Those who refuse to go along have assumed the role of Gene Wilder, shouting defiantly from the rooftop, while resigning himself to the likelihood that there’s nobody left out there to listen.
The Shinbone: The Frontier of the Free Press