World

‘Kick Me’ No More

President Trump waves from the South Lawn of the White House, May 14, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
Bumptious as Trump may be, he has eliminated Obama’s mojo-destroying cringe.

From Day One, the Trump administration has gone about the business of dismantling Obama-era policy. It is one of the many reasons the American Left despises him so much — and has so rapidly gone into resistance mode.

The animosity is further fueled by Trump’s in-your-face modus operandi, both rhetorically and substantively. Despite his well-known reality-TV tagline of “You’re fired,” such aggressiveness was unexpected from a neophyte politician supposedly unequipped to handle the most important job on the planet.

An element of Mr. Trump’s appeal is his willingness to indulge Washington’s favorite game show, “Let’s Keep Score,” daily reminding friends and foes alike of campaign promises made and kept during his first 16 months in office. As counterintuitive as this record-keeping exercise may be for a politician, it is no more surprising than the president’s happy-warrior approach to challenging so many of Washington’s most deeply embedded assumptions.

Indeed, how many of these widely accepted (sometimes downright cherished) assumptions can one man challenge (disrupt) in such a brief period of time? The answer is plenty. He does it by questioning what often goes unquestioned in Washington, D.C. He simply asks “Why?” Why help fund a Shiite crescent in the Middle East? Why send tax dollars to a terrorist-friendly PLO? Why support anti-American programs at the U.N.? Why a “One China” policy? Why placate deadbeat NATO partners? Why pay premium prices for the F-35 and a new Air Force One? Why force nuns to provide birth-control coverage? Why tolerate sanctuary cities and a porous border?

Similarly, Mr. Trump asks, “Why not?” Why not support nascent democratic movements in Iran? Why not revisit aging trade deals? Why not activate the Congressional Review Act? Why not count everyone in the census? Why not energy independence? Why not move the embassy to Jerusalem? Why not say “Merry Christmas”?

Why not support nascent democratic movements in Iran? Why not revisit aging trade deals? Why not activate the Congressional Review Act?

I could go on, but you get the point. Serial challenges to the status quo set off alarm bells throughout official Washington. Establishments hate such behavior. They crave predictability, not disruption, and they especially resent disruptors with bad manners and a disdain for convention. To make matters worse, this disruptor relishes his label. A delicious irony results: The most powerful person in the world finds himself an outsider in his own town. All those deplorables attending sold-out, boisterous rallies in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania would have it no other way.

But there is another, less analyzed element to the disruptive persona, and it is the very antithesis of what so excited the American Left about Barack Obama and his administration.

Recall a lifetime ago (actually it was 2008), when a certified dove won the presidency in a landslide. One of his first official acts was to undertake a trip to a number of Muslim countries, wherein apologies were offered for America’s “imperialist” past. Assurances were also made: The cowboy Bush and his warmongering neocons were gone. Mr. Obama would now inform the world that America had learned its lesson. The U.S. would no longer manifest its arrogance on the world stage. We would henceforth strive to have the world like us — especially our charismatic but unthreatening young president, who was counterintuitive himself, seeming to act on the premise that if the United States was ostentatiously embarrassed about its dominance and power, we would be better liked. And we were better liked, but much more endangered and much less intimidating.

American withdrawal from world hot spots followed. Where we did show up, we made sure to provide the enemy with the date and time of our engagement. Where we did take action, only tentative commitment followed. Who can forget Secretary of State John Kerry promising a “unbelievably small, limited kind of [bombing] effect” against Bashar al Assad’s murderous regime, or a famously failed “red line” in that same country; or the description of deserter Bowe Bergdahl as having served with “honor and distinction”; or freezing defensive missiles in Poland to placate Vladimir Putin; or our feckless response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Crimea; or the specter of funding the Iranian ballistic-missile program and the mullahs’ terror activities throughout the Middle East?

Alas, too many voters within flyover America saw all this as a step too far — too much weakness — too many vacuums — too many “kick me” signs displayed for consumption by America’s bullies. With apologies to Austin Powers, American had lost, indeed given away, its “mojo.”

And then one day the unlikeliest of political leaders appeared. Many voters (including some who ended up voting for him) saw Mr. Trump as unprepared to tackle the world’s most intractable problems. Another subset of supporters maintained serious concerns about “policy by tweet” and the man’s propensity to engage in sideshow fights with antagonistic politicians, reporters, and celebrities.

But there was one aspect to the Trump phenomena that all of his supporters firmly believed: that the “kick me” sign that had hung around America’s neck for eight years would be gone. Good riddance.

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