Wimpy strikes again.
Everybody knows the Wimpy proposition: “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” In the old Popeye cartoons, no sensible person gave Wimpy a hamburger in exchange for his promised future payment. Wimpy was a bum, and everybody knew it.
They sure as hell did not make him president.
Offering credit is the definition of a risky business, and learning to hedge your risks is both an art and a science. When I was in college, I had a friend who owned a used-car lot, one of the low-rent kinds with a sign out front saying: “Buy Here Pay Here.” Credit on easy terms. In walked a prospect one day who had been eyeing an old beater of a 280ZX. He finally talked himself into it, put down his modest down payment, and drove away happy. I was skeptical.
“That guy is a bum,” I told my friend. “You’ll be lucky if he makes one payment.”
“Yeah,” he replied, with an inscrutable little gleam in his eye. “But I’ve sold that car nine times. I can sell it ten times.” The down payment would more than cover the cost of repossessing the car in case my estimate of the buyer proved accurate. The seller’s risk was basically $0.00. That’s why he had a house, a new car, and a couple of boats to his name while I had about 60 hours of undergraduate English coursework to mine.
I wouldn’t have bought a used car from Dick Nixon, but I might vote for that small-town used-car dealer for president. He wasn’t a strategic genius, but he wasn’t a sucker, either.
Donald J. Trump sold himself to voters as a masterful practitioner of the art of the deal. He presented himself as a tribune of the plebs, who through the democratic process deputized him to make deals on their behalf. Perhaps it did not occur to them that they were making a deal with Trump, too — and a pretty poor one at that. They never asked themselves what it was that Trump wanted out of his electoral transaction with them.
What Trump wanted was to be president of these United States and to be seen as successful in that endeavor. Once you’ve gold-plated all your toilets and married the Slovenian model and hosted a game show but still have not earned the respect of the people whose good opinion you desperately crave, that’s what you do: run for office. My own view is that if we had to have a pathologically vain megalomanic Manhattan businessman, we’d have been better off electing somebody with real money, like Mike Bloomberg, or skipping the pathological stuff altogether and going with David Koch.
But we went with Trump. Hooray for us.
Trump made a lot of preposterous promises, one of which was getting tough on illegal immigration by, among other things, building a wall to be paid for by Mexico and ending the Obama-administration policy of offering amnesty to certain illegal immigrants who came to the United States at a relatively young age. Trump, a longtime patron of Chuck Schumer and a donor to a rogues’ gallery of Democratic politicians, promised that he could make a deal with congressional Democrats and finally get control of our borders. The details were absurd, of course — deporting every illegal immigrant and then re-importing most of them after a legal process — but the underlying impetus to do something about our porous borders was sensible enough. Trump could work out the details later: But, first, we had to make him president — on a Tuesday, as it turns out.
“I will gladly pay you . . . someday . . . for the presidency today.”
Trump has run into trouble, mostly as a result of the fact that he does not know what he is doing and is too lazy to learn how to do the job. He has made an ethic of willful ignorance, and as a result he failed to get some relatively easy things done: In spite of what you hear on talk radio and from the talking mouths on cable news, Republicans do want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But that’s a big piece of domestic policy that requires presidential leadership of the sort that Trump is simply unable to offer, having given no serious thought to the question other than to say that he’d prefer a “great” and “terrific” system to the current one, preferably at a lower price. How to get that done without raising taxes to fund new subsidies — while keeping the expensive and market-distorting but very popular preexisting-conditions rules — is non-obvious. Congressional Republicans under the leadership of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, two very fine opposition leaders who so far have not shown themselves to be very adept at governing, were unable to coalesce around a credible alternative to the ACA — or even around a non-credible alternative. End result: humiliating failure.
Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, lifelong Republicans both, are familiar enough with humiliation. Trump can barely endure it; he care barely endure a critical word from Joe Scarborough without flying into a conniption. And so he was driven by his vanity and his thin skin into the arms of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, desperate for something to put into his “W” column and create the impression that he actually is getting something done.
Immigration was his hallmark issue, and “getting tough” was his only agenda. That commitment didn’t even survive the summer. Now, instead of repealing Obama’s executive amnesty, Trump aims to lean on Congress to make it the duly enacted law of the land, entrenching rather than removing it. Suddenly, the man who launched his campaign by thundering darkly about swarthy Mexican rapists is smiling sunnily upon illegal immigrants. They’re just a bunch of good kids who want to get an education, work, and contribute to society. And rather than securing funds for his beloved wall, Trump now insists that the wall already is under way, in the form of renovations to dilapidated sections of existing fencing.
Underwhelmed Trumpkins are burning their “Make America Great Again” hats.
Poor Ann Coulter is somewhere weeping into her gin: ‘I bet on a loser,’ she explains.
What did they expect? Trump is a serial bankrupt who has betrayed at least two-thirds of the wives he’s had and who lies compulsively — who invented an imaginary friend to lie to the press on his behalf. He has screwed over practically everyone who has ever trusted him or done business with him, and his voters were just another in a long series of marks. They gave him that 280ZX with no down payment — and no prospect of repossessing it until 2020 at the earliest. Poor Ann Coulter is somewhere weeping into her gin: “I bet on a loser,” she explains.
It was a dumb bet.
With no market-oriented health-care reform and no hawkish immigration reform and the prospects of far-reaching tax reform looking shaky — even though Republicans exist for no obvious purpose other than cutting taxes — Trump is still looking for his big win. Even those who were willing to suspend the fully formed adult parts of their brains and give him the benefit of the doubt are coming around to the realization that he has no beliefs and no principles, and that he will sell out any ally, cause, or national interest if doing so suits his one and only true master in this life: his vanity. He didn’t get rolled by Pelosi and Schumer: His voters got rolled by him. That’s the real deal.