I noted over the weekend that, far from being a recent reaction to the malaise of the Obama years, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” schtick has been a habit of his for decades. In a Playboy interview from 1990, Trump hit exactly the same notes as he is in 2016: The president is weak; America isn’t respected; foreign tyrants are admirable for their brute strength. Here was my conclusion:
Trump isn’t talking this way because he has diagnosed a recent problem with American life; he is talking this way because this is how he talks. That Playboy interview, you will note, was published in 1990. Back when the country was riding high after the Reagan years. Back when the American military was capable of kicking Iraq out of Kuwait with no problems at all. Back when the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse. This isn’t about Obama. This isn’t about the Republican Congress. This isn’t about the recession. It’s about Trump’s being little more than a third-rate, wannabe strongman — a man with one hammer and one nail. Trump doesn’t praise Vladimir Putin because he thinks America is going through a weak period! He praises Vladimir Putin because that’s what he thinks leadership is. The Chinese Communist Party? Weak. The USSR? Weak. George H. W. Bush? Weak. Trump? Il Duce!
This idea is fleshed out today in a column at the Daily Beast. Donald Trump, Michael Daly notes, has always talked like this — and even when President Reagan was in office. In 1987 he declared himself “tired of our country being kicked around,” especially by foreign economies such as Japan:
“I’m tired of nice people already in Washington,” Trump told a Rotary Club gathering at Yoken’s restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “Let somebody be in there who doesn’t just smile nicely, who’s not just shaking hands. I want someone in there who knows how to negotiate, because that’s what it’s all about now. And, if the right person isn’t in office, you’re going to see a catastrophe.”
America, he said, was being pushed around and fleeced as it fell ever deeper into debt.
“They’re ripping us off left and right,” he said. “They knock the hell out of the United States. Do they say, ‘Thank you?’ No. Do they like us? Not particularly . . . ”
He went on, “We are a country that is losing $200 billion a year. We are supporting, we are literally supporting Japan, which is the greatest money machine ever created, and we created it to a large extent. Let’s not kid ourselves.”
Again: At least for Trump himself, Trumpism isn’t a reaction to the last few years. It’s not a criticism of the Republican establishment since 2008. This is who he is. This is who he’s always been.