Sunday, April 9, 2017

Trump, Good and Bad

I had been intending to write an entry in praise of Trump last week; in the meantime, I now have reason to criticize him as well, so here is a chance to do both.

I have begun to appreciate one thing about having Trump as president:  he just doesn't care what the media says about him.  No, that's not right; he obviously cares deeply, otherwise he wouldn't take the trouble to respond to every attack.  Let me put it this way:  he cares what the media says about him, but his way of dealing with it is not to compromise his beliefs (whatever they are at the moment); rather, he defends what he does and does it twice as much.

I have suffered through many Republican presidencies, and I'm sure anyone who shares my outlook and experience can tell you that most Republicans are absolutely disheartened by the degree to which presidents have conceded moral authority to their critics.  The whole idea that George W. Bush would push for what he called "compassionate conservatism" indicates the degree to which he had already accepted that regular conservatism was not compassionate.  Reagan had a much deeper appreciation of his own views, but he gave in to Democrats enough that they now hold him up as a model of compromise.  I know Democrats feel similarly about their presidents, an argument that I will not get into at the moment, but it seems certain to me that any other Republican would have recoiled in horror at the attacks that Democrats have made on Trump's decisions, such as his embattled cabinet picks and his executive orders.  Not Trump.  The only way he knows to meet an attack is head-on, so he has responded by going all in.  The first travel restriction was overturned, so he just passed another one.  The first Obamacare repeal failed, but he still wants to see it done.  He defends his positions with weird tweets and questionable facts, but he doesn't back down.  That's kind of reassuring, since he has mostly stuck to his platform so far.

I say "kind of" because we also kind an indication this week that his platform is about as solid as a column of smoke:  after years of railing against Middle Eastern intervention, he was president for less than 100 days before launching a strike on his own authority.  I'm a big Jonah Goldberg fan, and his latest column argues the same thing that I have been saying for a year or more:  Trump has no consistent beliefs.  I do think it's fair to say that one's perspective inevitably changes as president.  This has been demonstrated time and again when ironclad promises have been broken.  A lot of it is just the difference between sniping at the current leader and actually making the decisions that a leader has to make; part of it may also be information that only presidents and other high authorities are privy to.  Any person taking on the responsibility of office is subject to this kind of distortion.  But in Trump's case, I think the issue is much deeper, in large part because he does not have the philosophical underpinning of most other politicians.  He gets a different perspective while in office, but he does not have a life of deeply thought-out beliefs to hold him on anything like the same course and overcome the problem of perspective.  He is likely to change his whole view of a subject in the course of a day or a week or a month.

So far, that isn't really the case.  The attack on Syria was limited and saw no commitment of troops, and I hope that it will not presage any.  But if Trump's mind did change drastically, on this or any other subject, it would hardly be shocking.

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