Politics & Policy

Trump: Travails and Opportunities

Hillary Clinton with Bill Clinton at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, February 2016. (Reuters photo: David Becker)
Yes, we should look at the Clintons’ improprieties.

The pattern of the Trump administration continues to evolve, despite many perturbations, toward a more conventional relationship with the media and the country. I was taken gently to task last week by my colleague Jonah Goldberg for applying “Never Trumper” as an umbrella for all those who would rather endure horrible personal fates than suffer the president to complete his term — rather than, as it apparently means, just Republicans of that view. I was merely being fashionably inclusive, but I repent my heresy and will henceforth refer to vehemently anti-Trump Democrats as the Resistance (though I consider the demarcation otiose). Both groups seem to have given up finally on any serious allegation against the president arising from his relations with Russia, and their flirtation with the 25th Amendment (removal by vote of the cabinet and two-thirds of the Congress for mental or physical incapacity) seems also to have flickered away to the dustbin for hair-raisingly absurd ideas, such as the national television campaign in November to persuade a handful of members of the Electoral College to break their pledges to vote for Trump after he had won the election.

The media-confected weekly Trump outrage has addicted half the country and bored the other half numb. It peaked at the nonsense over the temporary travel ban from terrorism-sponsoring or infected countries (when Senator Schumer purported to believe that the Statue of Liberty was weeping, like a statue of Saint Mary in western Ireland), and again after Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe and Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer facilitated the tag-team riot in Charlottesville between Black Lives Matter and the Antifa Fascists on one side, and the neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan on the other. This weekly festival has sputtered down to a pathetic squeak last week, with the claim that the president mishandled a call of condolence to the widow of a soldier (La David Johnson) who died in Niger, as reported by the loudmouthed Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson, formerly best known for her outrageous reflections on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Her allegation was eviscerated with stirring finality by White House chief of staff General John Kelly, who had spoken with the president about the call and movingly remembered for the White House press corps what General Joseph Dunford (now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) had said to him when his (Kelly’s) son was killed in action in Afghanistan. The mudslinging and scandal-mongering section of the Trump Dementia psychopathic ward has been scraping deeper and less fruitfully into this barrel for months, but are unlikely to exceed the shriekings of Ms. Wilson for sheer and tasteless futility anytime soon.

Apart from the inability to find any connection of Trump to a serious impropriety, despite the teeming investigators who have swarmed over every aspect of his career for a year, and as has been predicted by many (including here), the conduct of Trump’s opponents is emerging steadily and all across the political landscape as a subject of increasing legitimate concern. As if to highlight the unseaworthiness of the Clinton ship, the former secretary of state gave every indication, in recent interviews in London and in Seoul, South Korea, of having taken leave of her battered senses. She informed the British that she lost last year’s election because of the misogyny of the American people (which nevertheless gave her a popular plurality of 3 million, having accorded her a moderate victory in the Democratic primaries of 2008 over Barack Obama, and a steady lead in the polls all through the 2016 election campaign); and because of the intervention of the Russians in the election. These interventions, as far as anyone has been able to deduce, consisted of $6,500 of Facebook electioneering-advertising in a campaign where the two candidates spent over $1.85 billion (including the PACs and super PACs), and the release of some hacked emails, whose authenticity is not disputed, that may have contributed to FBI director James Comey’s cuckoo-bird reentry and withdrawal over the Clinton emails in the last weeks of the campaign. Mrs. Clinton went to South Korea and violated the protocol that is almost never broken, that former presidents and presidential candidates do not criticize the incumbent president while outside the United States. She ignored the fact that the North Korean nuclear issue has been quiet for longer than at any time in many months and that the Chinese are helping much more effectively than they ever have before in dealing with this issue (including when Mrs. Clinton headed the State Department), and she told the South Koreans that President Trump’s belligerent language was aggravating the problem. Circumstances would indicate otherwise.

She will have returned home to a country that is finally beginning to look seriously at what the Clinton Foundation, former president Clinton, and then–Secretary of State Clinton did in the Uranium One affair. Again, I have been intermittently suggesting that a combination of gifts and pledges to the Clinton Foundation by interested parties of approximately $131 million to $145 million (while Bill Clinton was making introductions in Kazakhstan and Russia with Canadian financier Frank Giustra and others), and the approval by the secretary of state and Attorney General Eric Holder, as is required under national-security legislation, of the sale of substantial American uranium resources to Russia in 2010, are a good deal worthier of official scrutiny than is the phantasmagorical charade of Trump-Russian collusion.

It happens that Frank Giustra is a cordial acquaintance, and I believe him to be an honest as well as a capable businessman, and I have no standing to say that what occurred was a sale of official favors, or a violation of the U.S. national-security interest. However, it is also true that these events, coupled with a $500,000 payoff to Bill Clinton for a 30-minute canned speech in Moscow, raise eyebrows and provoke a disagreeable nasal experience. It all requires, at the least, some reassurance that all was as it should have been, and it is finally getting serious attention in parts of the media; and it does not reflect well on Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was FBI director at the time, or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Had Donald Trump had any part in such a sequence of transactions, the media and Resistance character-assassination squads would darken the air with their fusillades and all the hot-air-balloon-brained film stars in Weinsteinwood would be screaming like banshees.

The congressman from Weinsteinwood, Adam Schiff, who for months quivered with sanctimony as he announced Trump’s imminent exposure for seditious relations with an unfriendly foreign power, is now reduced to saying, as if filling in for a constituent in auditioning for the role of Moses reading the lapidary commandments, that Trump’s son demonstrated “preparedness to collude” with Russia in the short meeting with the Russian lawyer who wanted to talk about adoptions and the case of Sergei Magnitsky (a Russian investigator of corruption murdered in a Moscow prison in 2009). Last year’s very forgettable unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, said this meeting might have been an act of “treason.” As a public service, I remind Congressman Schiff that Donald Trump Jr. sent an email expressing a clear willingness to hear from a Russian source information that was promised to be harmful to the Clinton campaign. That does not imply a willingness to collude in anything.

The project of getting the Trump presidency into high gear is, almost imperceptibly, gathering strength.

If the Never Trumpers and the Resistance are worn down by attrition after a long and bitter sequence of defeats, the group that doesn’t like Mr. Trump, but doesn’t hate him, and wants him to succeed, if only for the country’s sake, is also flagging. Peggy Noonan, an astute observer and a uniformly well-disposed and generous-spirited person, has tried to warm to Trump but clearly finds it difficult. Such a close aide of so charming, unrufflable, and altogether admirable a president as Ronald Reagan would have some problem adjusting to almost any successor. And her concerns are always perceptive. But her suggestion a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal that Donald Trump’s career could follow a trajectory that resembled in any way that of 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin shows that Trump-controversy fatigue afflicts Ms. Noonan. This is understandable, but it induces unjustified pessimism. Donald Trump won his election to national office, unlike Governor Palin, and while there are “jerky sideshows,” he is slowly getting the better of his more extreme opponents, has shaped up his inner circle, has many excellent department heads in place, and has made substantial progress in economic growth and confidence, reduction of illegal immigration, counterterrorism, containing the North Korean crisis, resisting the eco-extremists, and moving toward tax reform. There have been many disappointments and stylistic enormities, but this is no time to throw in the towel and imagine devising U.S. Russian policy by fixedly staring across the Bering Strait as the former governor of Alaska might have done.

Getting the Trump presidency into high gear has been an implacable challenge for everyone, and has not yet been crowned with success, but the project is, almost imperceptibly, gathering strength.


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