Trump would be vindicated if he chooses one term only

Trump would be vindicated if he chooses one term only

by Tom Gallagher
article from Monday 29, June, 2020

I NEVER BASED my evaluation of Donald Trump as America’s 45th President solely on the basis of his jarring personality. I was comfortable with his readiness to overturn convention and go hard against his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton over her record and intentions if elected. Arguably his hardball tactics were excusable if it was what it took to prevent America turning into an oligarchy dominated by upper class interests drawn from the coastal elites – elements who were prepared to dismantle the country’s defences as long as they could live well. 

Warnings that Trump would sabotage US democratic institutions and drag the world towards war have not been borne out. 

Trump has shown no appetite for occupying or transforming countries or pursuing regime change. He did drop his predecessor Barack Obama’s policy of ‘leading from behind’ to the regret of very few. The one-sided deal with Iran was scrapped, curbs on energetically pursuing Isis were lifted, and Trump sought to repair ties with Israel and other Mid East states which Obama weakened.

At home he sought to halt and reverse the de-industrialisation of much of America. 

This meant repulsing Chinese mercantilism and putting the squeeze on US firms which had outsourced their plants to China. He showed his impatience with vapid globalization rhetoric by energetically opposing unrestricted immigration to the US. He was, however, unable to make good his promise to restore the creaking public infrastructure of the US due to obstruction from Congress. But, under him the country became self-sufficient in energy.

He has also pursued a pro-jobs policy that contributed to a steep rise in employment after the long post-2008 slump. Under him steps are being taken to trim the bloated administrative state. He has arguably carried out more electoral promises than any predecessor for a long, long time. 

Rather than proving unhinged or demented, he has usually exhibited a degree of low cunning or pragmatism. But previous character defects have been magnified during his presidency. There has been no check on his vulgarity. His splenetic tweeting is too often shot through with narcissism and bombast. He has sought to recruit a brains trust but he has often mishandled his appointees to the extent that they turn into implacable enemies.

These defects might not matter in a quiet interlude in the story of the American Republic. But the US, like much of the rest of the world, has been left reeling by Covid-19. Trump has not exploited the emergency to attempt a power-grab, leaving it instead to Governors of the 50 states to craft their solutions. Nevertheless, his response to the pandemic was initially sluggish and has been erratic. He has calculated, perhaps rightly, that protecting the US economy would save more lives, and be less harmful, than a full-scale closure of national life. 

Where he erred badly was in failing to see that what was a national emergency, one provoking fear and trauma in many millions, required a less abrasive and more statesmanlike approach from him. Exploited by his numerous enemies in a hopelessly partisan media, his preference for a defiant and confrontational style contributed to a febrile atmosphere. 

It is wrong to try and argue that the explosion of violent rage in different parts of urban America, following the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May, can be traced back to Trump. The frustrations of the pandemic created conditions which enabled insecure college graduates in low status jobs, bohemian upper class privileged youth, the left-wing revolutionaries of Antifa and anti-social citizens to flood the streets in riotous fury

But it is possible to argue that a less polarising President would not have played so easily into the hands of enemies of democracy like Antifa who showed how well organized they were in the subsequent weeks. Trump should have been able to bolster the moderate majority in America and give a strong lead to law-and-order agencies so that the wave of destructive violence could be quelled. Instead there have been times when he displayed traces of the egotism and self-absorption of the disorientated young Americans who ran amok along with hoodlums from the ghettoes. He hasn’t given a lead to frightened and demoralised Americans. What many see is a President who is concerned by what is being done to him.

In truth, it is easy to see why Trump feels besieged. The Democrats view him not as a political opponent who has to be destroyed via the ballot box but as a dangerous renegade guilty of high constitutional crimes. Much of his Presidency has involved fending off accusations that he was a Russian agent. The release of documents this spring points to top figures in the FBI setting a trap, back in the last weeks of the Obama administration, for the new National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, in order to destabilise the Trump administration. Agents mused about getting him framed before their bosses violated key protocols to accomplish this aim.  

Once among the fiercest critics of US law-enforcement and spying agencies, the Democrats and their media allies have become outspoken champions – because Trump and his team are in the line of fire of CIA and FBI figures appointed under Obama. In 2003, Gallup found that only 44 per cent of self-identified Democrats thought the FBI was doing an “excellent” or “good” job; but by 2018, it was 69 per cent. Even the backing of the sentinel of liberal America for the CIA had soared to 60 per cent. 

Trump has stood firm against an onslaught from much of a radicalised US media whose embrace of a spurious social justice agenda (based on eliminating opponents from the public square) has imbued it with a superior sense of morality.  

Initially supposed to be suffering from dementia, he has been continually assailed for allegedly being corrupt, racist and sexist. 

He may have faced down his media foes but many Americans who share his essentially moderate conservative outlook on many issues have been unnerved by the ferocity of the political warfare. It is perhaps no exaggeration to contend that America has never been more politically divided since the time of the American Civil War. Current polls show that only on the economy does Trump have better ratings than his frail and unconvincing challenger, veteran insider Joe Biden. Allies of Trump in Congress have appealed to him to recognize the dire straits the country is now in and be less petulant and self-absorbed. A top Senate Republican like Senator Charles Grassley fears that a Democratic Party which has repudiated the political centre and swung far to the left could triumph in November and be in a position to change the US out of all recognition.  

No front-rank figure on the conservative side of US politics has so far urged Trump to retire from the presidential race. But the case for him deciding that one term is enough is increasingly persuasive. Simply put, he has become an excuse for his opponents at the top of the Democratic Party to pursue ever bolder forms of political warfare in order to annul his presidency. It is not an exaggeration to view some Democrat figures in the public eye as open enablers of Antifa.  

If Trump digs in, then it is possible that the demand for a new broom which originally swept him into office among voters weary of elite misrule, could be the thing that sweeps him out – even though what follows will likely be a hardline upper-class re-ordering of the rules of American politics to prevent any future challenge to the status quo. 

Were the race for the Republican nomination thrown open this summer, then the political atmosphere and the forecasts for November, could be quickly altered. A candidate pledged to restore law-and-order and retain Trump’s core policies in the economic sphere, would almost certainly throw the Democrats onto the defensive. Their programme is almost wholly Trump-focussed. It is a melange of culturally extreme proposals that open the way for intense conflicts along ethnic and class lines. Most Americans, including large swathes from a minority background, are likely to recoil from such a bleak scenario. 

The strategy of the Democrats is to reward their backers in the administrative state and hi-tech industries while forcing the American middle-class and low-earners to pay for it. The contours of such an America has already been sketched out in a perhaps prophetic book by the US political scientist Joel Kotkin.  

The Republicans need a disciplined and trustworthy candidate who can rally middle-class Americans and be convincing in the eyes of struggling or aspirational ones. Of course whether it is ex-governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tom Cotton or some unknown, that person will still be monstered by a jacobin media. The Democrats will transfer their unhinged lines of attack to Trump’s successor who will invariably be a dictator-in-the-making, in the pay of America’s enemies etc., etc.

But the Democrats’ base is narrow – confined to the coastal elites and to minorities directed by machine politicians. Last week, only 29 per cent of Americans said the economy would get better if Biden won.  

If the Democrats stay on their current radically fundamentalist path, many Americans are likely to conclude that they are attacking the foundations of American government itself. With Trump as their opponent, they stand a real chance of wrenching America from its pluralist moorings and taking it in an illiberal and politically extreme direction. Without him, even if their Republican opponent has no more star quality than Britain’s new opposition leader, Keir Starmer, the Democrats would be likely to go down to defeat in November. 

With Trump in the fray, a sulphurous election could pave the way for unimaginable conflict in America that could fundamentally alter the course of world history. 

Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at Bradford University. He has written 16 single or main-authored books on European and British politics and contemporary history. 'Scotland Now: A Warning to the World' appeared in 2016. His latest is a biography of Portugal's Antonio Salazar which is appearing in July on the 50th anniversary of his death.His twitter and parler accounts are @cultfree54

 

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