Politics & Policy

Carpe Diem, Mr. Trump

(Reuters photo: Carlo Allegri)
Forgive, but do not forget, and be the strong horse.

While we speak, a jealous age will have fled. 

Seize the day! Trust as little as you can in tomorrow.

The Latin poet Horace’s advice of carpe diem— to seize the day and not worry about tomorrow — should be Trump’s transitional guide.

The attacks on Trump won’t even wait until he takes office; they begin now, well apart from rioting in the streets. And they will continue to be of several types.

Of the personal sort, expect more “investigative” reporting and “speaking truth to power” op-eds about his tax returns, his supposed theft of the election, his purported instigation of turbulence and mayhem, his locker-room talks about women, his business conflicts of interests in office, Trump University, and so on — perhaps written from the high moral ground by the WikiLeaks journalists of the Mark Leibovich, Dana Milbank, Glenn Thrush, Wolf Blitzer, or Donna Brazile sort.

The nexus of attack will not be a dramatic scandalous revelation — it will be intended to induce bleeding from a thousand tiny nicks and cuts, all designed to reduce his moral authority and thus his ability to ratchet back the progressive decade.

Another trope, as we are now witnessing, will be of the hysterical policy brand: Trump will cook the planet, put y’all back in chains, conduct war on women, traumatize students, destroy dreamers — all the boilerplate extremism designed to put Trump on the defensive so that he will settle for half an agenda and “reach out” to cement his respectability as a “listener” before the court of D.C. fixtures, the campuses, the foundations, the think tanks, the media, the social circles of Silicon Valley and Wall Street.

The Siren strategy of the Left will also be to point out that his future is already destabilizing America — Trump must therefore reach out right now to the “disaffected” in the streets who are “hurting.” Thereby, he will “heal” the nation, if only he backs off from “right-wing” and “extremist” ideas of selling coal overseas or building a wall and taxing billions of dollars in remittance from illegal aliens to pay for it.

In extremis, the Left will call on its Never Trump counterparts of like class to convince Trump to play by the accustomed Washington rules of decorum and judicious discourse. In carrot-and-stick fashion, they might even begin to talk of Trump’s “surprising flexibility” or his “unexpected reasonableness” in hopes of watering down his agenda and leaving him addicted to more backhanded praises from the cultural elite.

Also expect to hear in the next 90 days that the idea of executive orders (of the Obama type) are in retrospect dangerous to the republic and destabilizing. Filibusters will again become essential, and as hallowed a Senate tradition as Harry Reid’s nuclear option will now be denounced as disruptive and nihilistic.

We will hear that the Supreme Court, after some rethinking, actually works just fine with eight justices for a while. Court nominations will be smeared as extremists and nuts. Frequent Trump press conferences with plenty of back and forth will be demanded as essential to the republic, as will be interviews with opposition networks such as MSNBC or CNN.

Reckless debt limits cannot be raised (as Obama pressured the Congress to do in 2011). There should be no New York Trump cronies in the Oval Office (in the manner of a Valerie Jarrett). If need be, Trump will be trashed as a golf-course junkie, decked out in bright-colored leisure clothes befitting his plutocratic and detached status.

Adamant Never Trumpers on the right will suddenly offer all sorts of unsolicited advice to go slowly and bring into the administration failed candidates who opposed Trump, hoping that Trump in time can become their John McCain or Mitt Romney. The “correct” and culturally respectable conservative position is now to have been actively opposed to the monstrous Trump, then to become pleasantly surprised at the win that was supposedly impossible and certainly unwelcomed, then to expand on the rare and unheard-of possibilities of the unexpected conservative moment, and finally (and reluctantly) to offer a list of appointments and agendas that demonstrate a willingness to descend to advise the uncouth and the inexperienced and thereby to save them from themselves.

So amid this strange jubilation, the shelf life of the Trump populist moment is really quite limited. There are even now, suddenly, calls for magnanimity of the sort quite foreign to Obama in 2009 (“elections have consequences,” “I won”) that should be summarily dismissed.

Churchillian magnanimity is impossible without victory first.

Remember, true magnanimity (Aristotle’s idea of a “great soul”) is not Chamberlain’s going to Munich; rather, in victory, it’s not gloating over a defeated opponent. Churchillian magnanimity is impossible without victory first. Putting thousands of coal miners back to work is a good first priority; expressing some sympathy for the concerns of the defeated Left that does not believe in “clean coal” is an understandable but post facto gesture. Building a wall and immediately deporting aliens convicted of crimes are necessities; suggesting that in some cases this could be temporarily hurtful to some is magnanimity.

If in the first 100 days Trump can push through tax reform, deregulation, Keystone, clean coal, new leases for fracking and horizontal drilling on federal lands, an end to the crony-capitalist Solyndra-like subsidies, a cut-off of federal aid to sanctuary cities, support for school vouchers, the wall, deportations of those illegal aliens who committed crimes or have no work history, plans to rebuild the military, a freeze on federal hiring, trade renegotiations — then surprising things will follow.

Success in getting these initiatives passed will be proof of strong-horse leadership. And even Trump’s critics will for a while defer to his power, both in private admiration that he did what they could not, and in public out of fear that he might do even more — and, again oddly enough, also in mordant curiosity about whether the Trump agenda might in fact jump-start America. After all, many leftists believe in the acquisition of power alone, not necessarily in the practical utility and effectiveness of their own agendas.

Trump should study failures of what eroded the reelected Bush administration in early 2005. He should for now just leave alone Social Security. If 2004 is any reminder, assume that most intellectuals calling for preemptive military action will bail the first moment things get rough, blaming poor “execution” by others for not fulfilling their own brilliant strategic agendas. What undermined Bush in Iraq was not just a failure to deal promptly with the revolt in Anbar Province that was eventually crushed in 2007, but the sudden flip-flop flight of many of his original architects of intervention (“my wonderfully successful war, his terribly failed occupation”).

In any natural disaster, Trump should arrive in mediis rebus and wade into the mud, with suit and tie; anything less will be a Katrina crime against the other. Visit the inner city as often as possible; the African-American community is ready for political change predicated on authentic economic concern and action. If Trump can craft policies that see economic growth exceed 3–4 percent and bring back jobs, he will win over 40 percent of blacks and 50 percent of Hispanics, redefining the electoral map, and replacing Obama’s divisive racial pandering with commonalities of class that trump racial differences. The Democratic establishment hates him because he won over their fleeing working classes and took too high a number of minorities; the Republican elite hates him, too, because by becoming heterodox, he could make them somewhat irrelevant — even as he helps them electorally.

So Trump should phrase all policy agendas in terms of helping the working classes of all backgrounds, and he should oppose leftist pushback on grounds that progressive elites are the selfish ones who want to extend their own WikiLeaks values, privilege, and boutique green agendas that have proved so destructive to ordinary people.

Trump should oppose leftist pushback on grounds that progressive elites are the selfish ones who want to extend their own WikiLeaks values, privilege, and boutique green agendas that have proved so destructive to ordinary people.

Trump should forgive the Never Trumpers but not quite forget their distaste for him. If he is successful and popular, some will bring their formidable powers of support to his shared agenda, as we are already witnessing. But when his popularity dips below 40 percent (and it will at times), and he tweets out politically incorrect exasperations, many will revert to form, reminding us why they opposed his apostate candidacy in the first place.

But for now, all conservative-minded are giddy at the very idea of a conservative court, Congress, presidency, state legislatures and governorships, and federal appointees. They are even offering advice about their preferences for cabinet appointments, without much worry that had Trump’s conservative critics been successful, we would now be witnessing a Democratic Senate, a liberal Supreme Court for the next 30 years, and eight years of Obamism squared.

The Trump family has said that the campaign has changed or energized Trump. Perhaps we can construe that as meaning he’s left behind his sybaritic lifestyle and become an emissary of deliverance to those without hope. If so, in the days ahead, Trump might remember a few lines from the song “Restless Farewall,” from our recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, about the redemptive power of principled defiance, as one moves on to something new.

And the dirt of gossip blows into my face

And the dust of rumors covers me

But if the arrow is straight

And the point is slick

It can pierce through dust no matter how thick

So I’ll make my stand

And remain as I am

And bid farewell and not give a damn.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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