Elections

Trump — or What, Exactly?

President Trump addresses a re-election campaign rally in Montoursville, Pa. May 20, 2019. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Let’s compare Trump’s policies and behavior to that of prior presidents — and to his 2020 opponents’.

In traditional political terms, there is always an alternate agenda to an incumbent president’s that reasonable voters can debate.

In Trump’s case, two massive annual budget deficits — coming on top of the previous two administrations that doubled the national debt — seem fair game. No president for the past 19 years has sought to offer any remotely sane budget. And with still relatively low interest rates, massive federal spending, a $22 trillion national debt, and an annual deficit of nearly $1 trillion, it is hard to imagine, in extremis, that there remains any notion of “stimulus” or “pump-priming” left.

Yet we hear little about such financial profligacy.

Not a word comes from Trump’s critics about the need for Social Security or Medicare reform to ensure the long-term viability of each — other than the Democrats’ promises to extend such financially shaky programs to millions of new clients well beyond the current retiring Baby Boomer cohorts who are already taxing the limits of the system.

To counter every signature Trump issue, there is almost no rational alternative advanced. That void helps explain the bizarre, three-year litany of dreaming of impeachment, the emoluments clause, the Logan Act, the 25th Amendment, the Mueller special-counsel investigation, Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti, Trump’s tax returns, White Supremacy!, Recession! — and Lord knows what next.

The subtext of all these Wile E. Coyote all-too-clever efforts at trapping road-runner Trump is not just the wish to abort an elected presidency; they’re offering the heat of hatred rather than the light of a viable political alternative.

China
The pushback against Trump on China is that tariffs are taboo and dangerous. Perhaps. But no serious critic has offered any other strategy to counter four decades of systematic Chinese mercantilism and economic exploitation.

Do any believe at this late date that the Chinese juggernaut wishes to pause to discuss at length patent infringement, copyright violation, dumping, currency manipulation, technological expropriation, systematic espionage, or massive subsidized surpluses — given that its comprehensive assault on the international commercial order has made China the second-richest country in the world?

The Western world’s cumulative appeasement of Chinese buccaneerism since 1980 is no longer viable in 2019. At least it is not if the United States wishes to maintain its global influence, protect its allies, and ensure prosperity for its hollowed-out interior.

Yet for decades, we heard nothing but more diplomatic pabulum from the Chinese as they appeared sober and judicious at global G-something summits and left with poorly disguised contempt for their silly Western appeasers. In terms of commercial magnitude, six months of retaliatory tariffs are small beer compared with 30 years of currency manipulation, forced technological appropriation, and copyright and patent theft.

Oil and Gas
We hear little about the Trump effort to green-light more leasing and production of natural gas and oil, efforts that have already made the U.S. the No. 1 producer in the world.

For all the talk of “climate change,” does the Left tell us how many barrels of oil per day and cubic feet of natural gas they would wish to curtail, or whether the resulting higher costs for fuel, heating, and power are worth the cutbacks, or whether we wish to return to strategic dependence on Persian Gulf psychodramas? Do they have a plan to deal with Indian and Chinese coal-burning if we were to radically cut the use of clean-burning natural gas? Do they know why the signees of the Paris climate accord for the most part have not and will not meet their promises while the U.S. has?

In truth, Trump’s critics mostly stay silent, given that Sarah Palin’s 2008 much-reviled “drill, baby, drill” call to lower costs and achieve independence from Middle Eastern oil has more or less proven wise.

The Economy
What exactly are the Never Trump and progressive alternative agendas? In the latter case, are we to expect that top income-tax rate of 70 percent, a wealth tax, the Green New Deal, reparations, free health care for illegal aliens, Medicare for all, cancellation of $1.5 trillion in college debt, and free college tuition will avoid the now looked-for recession?

Have we heard a serious solution, like that offered by the Simpson-Bowles commission, from anyone? Or detailed arguments that we could sit down and politely negotiate with China to deal away the asymmetries it has so carefully built over the past 40 years?

Is unemployment at 3.7 or 3.8 percent dangerously too low? Did the Trump administration overheat the economy when its first two years of GDP growth were stronger than the last two of the prior administration’s? Was record-low minority unemployment somehow a problematic development? Where I live in impoverished southwestern Fresno County, most would prefer a suddenly “wrecked” Trump economy to the near-decade of stagnant growth and high unemployment after 2008.

So we need some alternate guidance from Trump’s critics for an economic blueprint that will best Trump’s stock-market gains, low inflation, increased workers’ wages and family income, and low unemployment rather than the same old, same old “I can’t believe he tweeted that!”

Illegal Immigration
The prior Republican-establishment position on illegal immigration was summed up best in Jeb Bush’s comment that illegal entry was an “act of love” for many immigrants, as well as in the open borders–abolish ICE–blanket amnesty–sanctuary-city mantras of many of the current Democrat presidential field.

Trump has not closed the border and made immigration strictly a legal enterprise. But to that aim, he has shut down the government, fought in the courts to build the wall, issued executive orders to contravene Obama’s second-term open-borders mandates, juggled funding from a variety of agencies, and jawboned Mexico nonstop.

Most believe that Trump, in exchange for the completion of the long-ago congressionally mandated wall and border security, would be willing to deal, by offering some sort of green-card option for illegal-immigrant residents who have not broken the law, are working, and are not on public assistance. But such a compromise is not what progressives envision as “comprehensive immigration reform,” given their Electoral College dividends rendered by generations of massive illegal immigration. Progressives apparently believe that, without importing constituents, their agendas simply are not persuasive. So they’ll likely never close the border to illegal immigration or embrace meritocratic legal immigration or deport those who have broken criminal statutes or who are not working.

Foreign Policy
Do we hear calls to return to the Iran Deal? Has Iran since 2018 shown us that it is a reliable partner that respects international commerce, does not support terrorism, and never really had any plans to become nuclear?

What are the advantages of returning to the Paris climate accord? Or reentering the missile deal with Vladimir Putin? Who was subverting NATO: the reckless, tough-talking Trump, or the German-led membership that never had much intention of meeting their prior “2 percent” promises? How exactly did Barack Obama’s whines about “free riders” persuade some NATO nations to reconsider their broken promises on defense expenditures?

Were Hamas and the Palestinians really still refugees after nearly 75 years, an era that saw all the other refugees of the world of that bygone era — Jews from the Middle East, Germans from Eastern Europe, and the Volga German-speaking Russians of the Soviet Union — ethnically cleansed from their homes long ago and considered citizens or residents of their new homes and refuges?

Did Jerusalem — historically, politically, and culturally — have no claim as the capital of the Jewish State?

Perhaps the old Agreed Framework, the six-party talks, the South–North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the Jimmy Carter shuttle diplomacy, the scores of U.N. resolutions, and the on-again/off-again “tough” sanctions had made real progress with North Korea — and to such an extent that it did not have nuclear-tipped missiles pointing toward the West Coast when Trump entered office?

Was ISIS really a jayvee bunch, and were Obama’s strict rules of engagement for the American military the right way to stop the jihadists’ signature primeval terror?

Was the prior relationship with Vladimir Putin the right one: six years of abject appeasement followed by furor that he mocked our efforts to convince Russia to emulate something like California and that he saw our serial magnanimity as a weakness to be exploited rather than as generosity to be repaid in kind?

When a nation’s Russia policy goes from “it’s important for him [Putin] to give me space. . . . This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility” in a blink to a Russian colluder under every bed — is that really an approach Trump could build on? When one compares actual U.S. policy to Russia before 2017 and after 2017, why do disinterested experts find Trump’s far tougher?

The Media
But the tweets, we say.

Granted, Trump has no need to burn up presidential time stooping to spar with the likes of irrelevant George Conway or Anthony Scaramucci. I agree that the back-and-forth with the “Squad” does not merit Trump’s attention and crowds out mention of his economic and foreign-policy records.

But then again, I and my family were not libeled as traitors, crooks, deviants, and imbeciles, and put in legal jeopardy for 22 months as the media and ex-Obama officials ginned up hoax after hoax. If I had been, perhaps I might have stooped to express outrage on Twitter.

In the age prior to Trump, what exactly was the status of the media?

In truth, it was mostly an extension of the progressive party, with a veneer of sober and judicious bipartisan pieties — while, after 2016, several media watchdogs have scored the media as 80 to 90 percent anti-Trump.

Trump’s crime is that, without sanitized surgical gloves, he completely ripped the scab off what we call “journalism” and exposed a festering wound of narcissistic, mostly incompetent, and utterly partisan reportage.

Indeed, we knew what was beneath but dared not touch the scab. We had smelled the fetid pus when journalists rallied around the mythographer Dan Rather, chatted in the JournoList files, and competed to toady up to Hillary Clinton in Wikileaks’ trove of Podesta emails. Dean Baquet’s latest New York Times pep talk about the next “racist!” newspeak to follow the failed Mueller hoax was thus anticlimactic — well aside from the epidemics of #MeToo accusations not usually associated with woke, progressive journalistic professionals.

We know that the New York Times, so eager to accuse Trump and the nation at large of serial racism, is itself fond of publishing anti-Semitic cartoons and hiring those with a paper trail of racism and anti-Semitism as its editors, reporters, or editorial-board members, as we see with Sarah Jeong, Jonathan Weisman, and Tom Wright-Piersanti.

Trump did not destroy CNN or the New York Times as viable news organizations. He had nothing to do the past three years with their suicidal abandonment of ethics, professionalism, and disinterested reporting.

For the collapse of American journalism, and the media in general, media outlets should ask a variety of their own journalists about their roles in torching their own profession, whether by unprofessional personal conduct or violations of professional standards. Start with Donna Brazile, Mark Halperin, Matt Lauer, Mark Leibovich, Charlie Rose, Glenn Thrush, Matt Taibbi — or the CNN teams that occasionally gave us lies and false scoops, or sometimes just made things up or got all their details wrong, as did Gloria Borger, Chris Cuomo, Manu Raju, Brian Rokus, Jake Tapper, Jeff Zeleny, and teams such as Jim Sciutto, Carl Bernstein, and Marshall Cohen as well as Thomas Frank, Eric Lichtblau, and Lex Harris who peddled falsities or were forced to retract or resign. Trump did not force CNN’s Kathy Griffin to produce a decapitation video, or prompt CNN’s Reza Aslan’s “piece of s***” commentary, or urge the late Anthony Bourdain to joke about poisoning the president, or convince an entire CNN news team to do their on-air “hands-up” dance to spread the inflammatory lie that Michael Brown was murdered by the police. No one forced CNN to hire the admitted liar-under-oath James Clapper, or more recently, Andrew McCabe, who is facing criminal referrals for lying to federal investigators.

Conduct
But we are told that the boisterous Trump, our first president without military or political experience prior to his election, has disgraced the office. In his 30 months since January 2017, how exactly has he done so, at least by the somewhat low bar of past presidential standards?

Did Trump conduct liaisons in the presidential bed or restroom or office in the manner of liberal lions such as FDR, JFK, or Bill Clinton? Did he habitually use the N-word or expose himself to staffers, as did the great civil-rights icon LBJ?

Is his terminal health condition now kept from the media in the conspiratorial fashion of Woodrow Wilson or FDR?

Is the Trump Foundation flush with infusions of hundreds of millions of dollars, as was the case with the Clinton Foundation during Hillary’s tenure as secretary of state? Does President Trump have a tendency to get handsy at public events, or come up behind female teenagers or blow in their ears à la Vice President Joe Biden? Did he weaponize the IRS, the DOJ, the FBI, and the CIA the way Obama-administration officials did to sabotage a political opponent’s campaign? Has Attorney General Barr surveilled the communications of Associated Press reporters in the fashion of Eric Holder?

Or perhaps Trump’s twitter crudity is shocking given the sober comportment of his current would-be presidential opponents. Has Trump, then, promised to take Joe Biden behind the gym and physically beat him up, or warned Cory Booker that in a testosterone rage he would beat him up too, as both have bragged about doing to Trump? Did he whip racial animosity in the manner of Elizabeth Warren by falsely alleging that the Ferguson shooting, thoroughly investigated by the Obama Justice Department, was murder?

Has Trump punned about Kamala Harris not coming out of an elevator alive?

Did he egg on Johnny Depp, Madonna, and a host of other creepy celebrity has-beens to brag about the ways to assassinate a president? Would current Democraticprimary leader Joe Biden be willing to take the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test, given to Trump (who aced it) to remind his critics that he was not demented as they serially alleged?

The progressive party, many past presidents, the media, and Hollywood didn’t need to be schooled by Donald Trump on the arts of crudity, unprofessionalism, and unethical behavior.

So what we need are not more pathetic abort-the-Trump-presidency melodramas, or ethical sermons from the abjectly unethical, or “Trump is the worst” this or that from historically ignorant pundits.

Instead of vague socialist bombast and promises, where is the actual detailed progressive version of the Contract with America, so voters can read it, digest it, and then decide whether it is superior or inferior to the status quo since 2017? Let us see two antithetical visions of America’s future, and let the voters decide.

For those who insist that “character matters” more than policy, then, let us compare the Trump behavior in the White House since 2017 with JFK’s, Lyndon Johnson’s, and Bill Clinton’s. Let’s compare his supposed efforts to “obstruct” justice with Obama’s actual record of politicizing federal justice, intelligence, tax, and investigatory agencies.

So far, all that is something that apparently no presidential candidate wishes to do.

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NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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