In Praise of Donald Trump
From the moment Donald Trump won his surprising victory on Election Day, a new cottage industry sprung up to offer sympathetic profiles of the supposedly long-overlooked and long-suffering voters who rallied to him. The New York Times has been at the forefront, delivering on-the-ground stories from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan within days of the balloting. But as President Trump's ever-growing cascade of calamities drove down his approval rating to just above Ebola and just below Chlamydia, the Times responded with tales of his undeterred supporters for whom no sin could shake their faith in his ability to Make America Great Again. He is the enemy of their enemies; if liberals are angry, then Trump must be doing something right.
The nation's paper of record wasn't content to rest there. As if to codify the right-wing stereotype of effete coastal elites out of touch with salt-of-the-earth "Heartland" Americans, the Times added climate change denier Bret Stephens to its growing stable of conservative columnists. Further concluding "it's not them, it's us," Michael Kinsley introduced a feature to "point out positive things Mr. Trump has said or done from the viewpoint of The New York Times and its readers." But by Week 3, Kinsley had to ask, "Is it possible there is nothing nice to say?"
But if you and everyone you know passionately believe one thing while half the country believes the opposite, it may be time for a reality test. That is the purpose of this feature: not to persuade people that President Trump is any kind of good guy, but to ask whether it's possible that he has done or said anything good during his campaign and the first months of his presidency.
Well, of course it's possible to say something nice about Donald Trump. You just have to know how to say it.
For example, Donald Trump has helped us see the all too human side of our presidents. They are not supermen or gods, but flesh and blood mortals trying to do their very best for the nation. America's presidents aim high; they usually fall short. Trump is no exception. In a major address on August 18, 2016, candidate Trump made this pledge:
Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.
But one thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth. [Emphasis mine.]
As it turns out, according to Politifact Trump has always told the truth about 32 percent of time. That could happen to anyone who flew too high with borrowed wings, but just a little too close to the sun.
Trump has shown that our presidents are sensitive, too. They don't just feel our pain, they feel their own, too. That's why the 45th President shared his personal life lessons this week with the graduates of the United States Coast Guard Academy. They, too, could overcome their lives of want and doubt to achieve great things:
"Look at the way I have been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down, you can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams."
Our new guardsmen and women, many of whom doubtless overcame receiving $2 million from their parents, couldn't help but relate. And Trump had given them much to think about. Lincoln merely faced the secession of seven states by time he took his first oath of office. FDR only had to fight back against polio and charges that he was a "class traitor" bring socialism to America. Barack Obama simply persisted despite the false, years-long accusation that he wasn't even born in the United States and calls for his impeachment for incompetence. But Donald Trump experienced a net operating loss of $916 million in 1995.
Another area where Donald Trump doesn't get nearly enough credit is what might be called his post-modern masculinity. Sure, many Americans remember him as the pussy-grabbing, Tic-Tac sucking sexual predator who promised to "bomb the shit" out of ISIS while killing their families and leaving them bleeding from wherever. Yes, his devoted supporters love him because he "won't back down" and "says what he thinks." But as President, Trump has revealed a softer, gentler, less bellicose side. Despite his previously boasts about the size of his phallus ("I guarantee you there is no problem"), Trump hasn't been afraid to bow down before Beijing on the One China policy, supposed currency manipulation and even Chinese bases in the Spratly Islands. He's walked back his promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The Donald has kept to the terms of the Iran nuclear accord he previously denounced as the worst ever negotiated. NATO, which he mocked as "obsolete" is now no longer obsolete. Trump is even confident enough in his own manhood to go from claiming Barack Obama "founded ISIS" to basically adopting Obama's plan to defeat the Islamic State, all in less than a year. And when it comes to Russia, Donald Trump is not afraid of a president leading from behind, provided the president is Vladimir Putin and the behind is Trump's.
Barack Obama was often criticized for being too "professorial." (His 2012 GOP opponent accused Obama of spending too much time in the Harvard faculty lounge despite the fact Romney himself received a JD and MBA from the university 37 years earlier.) But Donald Trump nevertheless understands that part of the president's job is being America's Teacher-in-Chief.
Trump started as History Teacher-in-Chief as soon as he entered the Oval Office. He brought that bust of Winston Churchill back to the Oval Office. And he quickly reminded Americans of Churchill's warning that "Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Make that four mysteries. Inquiring minds want to know whether (a) Trump's campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin to secure his election; (b) Trump engaged in any quid pro quo arrangements with Moscow to alter U.S. policy in alignment with Putin; (c) Trump, his family and his business partners have conflicts of interest and/or are breaking the law with their Russian business connections, and (d) Trump is being blackmailed by the Kremlin with kompromat that could put American national security at risk.
President Trump has also helped Americans with the basics of economics. You don't need a genetic test to disprove Trump's paternity for the expression "priming the pump"; a Google search will do. (In Trump's defense, he may have been referring to the use of Viagra.) Ever since Arthur Laffer first sketched his famous curve in 1974, Republicans have been wrongly claiming "tax cuts pay for themselves." But Americans will forget the lessons of the past four decades unless a helpful Republican comes along from time to time to pretend that slashing tax rates doesn't cost the Treasury a dime because the faster economic growth they supposedly incentivize generates more revenue than otherwise would have been the case at the higher rates. It's not true, of course. But President Trump and his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have performed a great public service by giving the American people a new opportunity to debunk the GOP's greatest myth.
As it turns out, Donald Trump is America's dream math teacher, too. Over the past decade or so, polls have shown that 4 in 10 adult Americans said they hated math in school, with 29% proclaiming they are not good at it. Fully 30 percent said they would rather clean the bathroom that do mathematics. Trump knows how they feel. Since 2015, the real estate magnate and former reality TV star delivered three different tax plans forecast to add between $6 and $12 trillion in new national debt over the next decade. That would come on top of Uncle Sam's current $20 trillion in debt, and roughly $9 billion in new red ink predicted over the next 10 years in CBO estimates before Trump took the oath of office. Nevertheless, candidate Trump promised to eliminate the entire national debt--some $35 trillion--"I would say over a period of eight years." Last month, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Mick Mulvaney admitted the math wasn't just hard, it was impossible:
"It's fairly safe to assume that was hyperbole."
By now, of course, all Americans can safely assume that all of President Trump's boasts are hyperbole. As he put it in his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal:
I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.
I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration -- and a very effective form of promotion.
Speaking of promises, candidate Donald Trump in 2015 pledged that under his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, "We're going to take care of everybody." Six days before his inauguration, President-elect Trump declared, "We're going to have insurance for everybody," which he added would be "much less expensive and much better." Of course, English Teacher-in-Chief Trump would point out that it all depends what you mean by terms like "insurance" and "covered" and "needless deaths." In the Trump lexicon, "much less expensive" means "much costlier," while "much better" translates as "dangerously worse." The President and his GOP colleagues are still hard at work on a version of their American Health Care Act that would strip insurance from 24 million, condemn millions more to financial calamity while causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths every year due to lack of insurance. Or to paraphrase Churchill again, "Never in the field of public policy was so much damage done by so few to so many."
The man who resides alone in the White House also embodies family values and traditional virtues like "blood is thicker than water" and "charity begins at home." Not for your family, especially if you're an undocumented immigrant or a Muslim refugee. But if you're named Trump or just married to one, you can get a job in the White House, tax cuts literally worth millions and billions of dollars, and global marketing for your businesses. The President's is a close-knit family that all Americans can look up to. Led by a patriarch who believes marriage is an institution between one man and three women in rapid, overlapping succession, the Trumps celebrated Mother's Day with Daddy on the golf course tweeting to Mommy and So in their New York apartment. Yes, he's just a "blue-collar billionaire" who is the voice of "forgotten Americans" like Melania, Barron and Tiffany.
Donald Trump is also a man of deep religious faith, and not just according to 2 Corinthians who walked into a bar. He has deep faith in white evangelicals, a bloc which gave him a record 80 percent of their vote. He has rewarded them with a Supreme Court seat stolen for Neil Gorsuch, draconian abortion restrictions, and a war on Planned Parenthood. It's no wonder they view him as their "dream president." They are A-OK with Trump even if he knows not what he does. Just as long as keeps advancing their religious liberty while denying it to Muslims.
"A gaffe," Michael Kinsley famously wrote in 1984, "is when a politician tells the truth." In response to Kinsley's recent attempt at media criticism, this article is snark. But to answer his question from May 13, yes, it is absolutely possible for someone who isn't a die-hard Trump supporter to be unable to cite a single praiseworthy statement, act or attribute of the man.
Well, maybe just one. Whether or not you subscribe to one or more of the competing explanations that Trump spoke to the "economic anxiety", blatant racism, not-so-latent sexism or "fear of diversity" of white working class voters, one thing seems pretty clear. With their position papers, Democratic candidates are always ready to tell voters what they will do for them in office; Donald Trump articulated to voters what they feel. In an election that was not decided on public policy grounds, it didn't matter much that Trump's proposals would most hurt those supporting him most strongly. They felt empowered. Over the last month, polling and focus groups of 2012 Obama voters who pulled the lever for Trump in 2015, or for no one at all, show the impact of the campaign's approaches:
One finding from the polling stands out: A shockingly large percentage of these Obama-Trump voters said Democrats' economic policies will favor the wealthy -- twice the percentage that said the same about Trump.
Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, summed up the meaning of his firm's research. "If you felt like your life wasn't getting better over eight years," he lamented, "then you might draw a conclusion that Democrats don't care about you."
Back in 2008, it was Barack Obama who presciently warned of the danger an opportunist like Trump could present. "In a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it."
"The truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
As the 2016 primaries approached, Obama once again raised the red flags about Trump, guns and bitter:
"I do think that when you combine that demographic change with all the economic stresses that people have been going through -- because of the financial crisis, because of technology, because of globalization, the fact that wages and incomes have been flat-lining for some time, and that particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy, where they are no longer getting the same bargain that they got when they were going to a factory and able to support their families on a single paycheck -- you combine those things, and it means that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear.
"Some of it justified, but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That's what he's exploiting during the course of his campaign."
Barack Obama saw it coming, but still didn't think it was possible that someone like Donald Trump could actually ride that wave to the White House. If for nothing else, Trump gets some credit for showing President Obama--and those of us who agreed with him--our error.