We’re now more than 100 days into the Trump presidency, and not all that much has gotten done.
Yes, Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Yes, Congress has trimmed around the edges of some Obama-era regulations with the Congressional Review Act. But that’s about it. And there are no new major conservative initiatives in the works, either.
Yet to hear Trump’s most ardent supporters speak of the Trump administration is to be struck by the forcefulness of their excitement. Trump isn’t just effective — he’s supremely effective. Trump isn’t just conservative — he’s the most conservative. How do we know this? We know it because he has promised things. Trump, you see, has said that he will end immigration from Muslim countries — and it’s not his fault that his administration wrote an executive order struck down by multiple courts. Trump said he would stop illegal immigration — and it’s not his fault that Congress won’t humor him by building a wall, and that the courts won’t allow him to unilaterally defund sanctuary cities. Trump said he would repeal Obamacare — and it’s not his fault that he made so many conflicting promises that passage of anything remotely resembling repeal became impossible. Trump said he would pass a terrific tax reform plan — and it’s not his fault that governing is so complicated. Trump said he would make America more muscular on the world stage — and it’s not his fault that North Korea is intractable and Syria is a mess.
The deep and bizarre allegiance Trump worshipers have for his promises — not his actions, his promises – gives the lie to one of the greatest justifications for his presidency: political cynicism.
During the campaign, Trump admirers declared themselves cynics. “The politicians are liars,” they said. “Everybody lies. It’s a dirty business. So what if Trump cuts corners? So what if he violates the rules? They all do!” With self-assured jadedness, Trump labeled America akin to Vladimir Putin’s Russia in the killing of political opponents; in the same spirit, Trump’s deepest backers nodded sagely as they explained that American politics was a savage, disgusting business and that we needed a savage, disgusting man to wade through the muck. Did Trump lie? Sure, but all politicians lie — I mean, look at Hillary Clinton. Was Trump vile? Yes, but how about Bill Clinton? Did Trump take positions at odds with conservatism? Yes, but what have those conservatives ever done for us?
All of this would be palatable except for one fact: Trump’s biggest supporters weren’t jaded at all. They weren’t cynical. They were just angry.
And anger without cynicism makes you credulous.
That means Trump can get away with virtually anything, and those who cheer him on will continue to cheer him on. Like acolytes of Barack Obama, they celebrate Trump’s mere presence. They don’t believe that all politicians lie. They believe that all politicians except for Trump lie. Hence the deep desire to shade Trump’s obvious falsehoods and stupidities into areas of defensible gray. When Trump says that Obama wiretapped him, it’s not enough to shrug your shoulders and say that all politicians make outrageous claims about their opponents (half-true); Trump’s cheerleaders instead say that eventually Trump will be proved right. And who are you to doubt Trump’s language and ask for more specificity? Some sort of sell-out?
And it’s not just that Trump’s disciples think that he can’t lie to them. When faced with two obviously contradictory promises, they pick the one that most pleases them. Trump has promised to maintain pre-existing-condition regulations on insurance companies and to lower health-care costs and premiums? Yes, it would be impossible to do both simultaneously — for a lesser man. But Trump can defy the laws of logic. Anyone who doubts him, just look back at 2016! You believed the polls, didn’t you? Trump’s ground game was in our hearts, and so is his ability to provide affordable health care to everyone at little cost without blowing up the budget.
There are two dangers in faith masked as cynicism. The first is a threat to the possibility of a working Trump administration. The second is a threat to the possibility of a working governmental system.
Trump thought that being president would be easier than it is. He thought that because he thinks that he embodies a sort of grand power that can square any circle. This week, he posited that both the Israeli–Arab conflict and the American Civil War could have been avoided or brought to an end by a great dealmaker, presumably someone whose name rhymes with Ronald Glump. He has already learned better on North Korea (“I realized it’s not so easy”), health care (“nobody knew health care could be so complicated”), and the presidency itself (“I thought it would be easier”).
Every Trump failure will become a new excuse to tear down the system in order to make way for Trump to bring messianic politics to life. This was the logic of the Democrats under Barack Obama.
But the more his zealots whisper in his ear that he can do no wrong, the steeper the fall when he hits the cliff of reality. Let people hold him to account to his promises, and urge him to speak only truth — and then, perhaps, he’ll start acting less like a snake handler and more like a president.
Then there’s the problem of a working government. True cynicism about government leads to the constitutional system of checks and balances: If nobody can be trusted, we divide power and set it against itself. But when you believe that the system is broken while the leader is perfect, the system disintegrates. Nothing Trump can say will dissuade some of his supporters from backing his every move. Every problem will be blamed on the system itself, or on the media, or on the First Amendment. Counterintuitively, every Trump failure will become a new excuse to tear down the system in order to make way for Trump to bring messianic politics to life. This was the logic of the Democrats under Barack Obama, and it led them to abandon basic notions of American unity and governmental checks and balances. Republicans should not make the same mistake.
But many will. They will because they believe they are too smart to be tricked again. But any politician who demands your undying trust is playing a trick on you. And Trump is just another politician, after all.
— Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of the Daily Wire.