The Corner

Politics & Policy

Tuesday

Then-president Donald Trump and then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speak during the first 2020 presidential campaign debate in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Donald Trump’s ignorance, laziness, malice and buffoonery have poisoned an already rancid national discourse, hobbled his associates and allies, and distracted from their accomplishments.

Two, maybe three of his administration’s accomplishments strike me as unique to him. He stiffed the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, that chummy barracks; and he moved the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Israel and the Sunnis were finding common interests and other presidents would have encouraged them, but if the embassy move was the marginal step to make formal recognition by the UAE and Bahrain happen, then he deserves credit for that too.

Everything else he did that conservatives like would have been done by many other Republicans. The biggest surprise was his record on judges, this from the man who thought his sister (since estranged) would make a great Supreme Court justice. But the spadework was done by Heritage, the Federalist Society, and Mitch McConnell, not strangers to the D.C. conservative establishment. The tax bill was Paul Ryan’s (and contrary to Trump’s own campaign rhetoric). Deregulation and pushback on Title 9 overreach were conservative standbys. Conservatives did not like Iran, or Obama’s Iran policy.

Trumpy priorities failed, or unfortunately succeeded. There is no big beautiful wall on the border and Mexico has not paid for it. Trump junked the TPP, then labored to rebuild a functional equivalent.

Back in February, I wrote that the ship of state was sailing on despite its erratic captain. Then COVID gave us a command performance of his inability to command. I don’t blame him for early fumbles, everyone made them; he didn’t ship the sick to nursing homes. But he downplayed the disease; then briefly ran briefings on it, which he filled with chaos and misinformation; then, after losing interest, decided it was a ruse of his enemies. He mocks mask wearing, accuses hospitals and doctors of goosing fatality numbers, and touts silver-bullet cures that turn out to be leaden. His administration supplied necessary quantities of PPE, and it appears to be making vaccines as fast as possible. But his talk about these efforts is so infrequent it makes you wonder who has really been doing the work.

Trump is contagious. Consider his Putin fandom. We know the Russian-collusion story was the Clinton campaign’s last gambit. Better to have bought yard signs in Michigan, but having failed to do that, something like the Russian-collusion story was their only alternative. Why did Clinton and her well-wishers pick that, though? They never would have spun such a tale of Ronald Reagan. They took their cue, not from any secret skullduggery on Trump’s part, but from his public statements. His servile praise of Putin and Russia and his self-hating remarks about the United States are far worse than if he had been urinated on by Russian prostitutes.

And Trump fans echoed them. Newt Gingrich, of all people, said that Estonia was the suburbs of Petersburg. The eighties are calling, the Democrats want their foreign policy back.

Silence can be acquiescence. Consider Trump’s addiction to conspiracy theories. Legal eagles: You all revere Justice Antonin Scalia. Do you think he was smothered? Trump does. History nerds: Osama bin Laden had a big effect on the early 21st century. Do you think his death in Abbottabad was faked, and that Seal Team Six was murdered to conceal the fraud? Trump does. Political mavens: A lot of you have met Senator Ted Cruz; some of you may like him. Do you believe his father helped assassinate JFK? Trump does. Journalists: Many of you have hobnobbed with Joe Scarborough; maybe you have even been guests on his show. Do you think he murdered one of his interns? Trump does. All together now: Even the wingeriest winger knows one or two Democrats. Do you believe their party is run by cannibal pedophiles? Trump admires those who think so.

Trump gives himself wiggle room on all these wicked tales. He only retweets them, “a lot of people” believe them, etc. So he is a coward as well as a crackpot, afraid to embrace what he propagates. That makes him better?

Every time Trump says or tweets some whine, insult, or baseless boast, and the TV leg girls, talk-show yaks, and assorted professors say how wise and good — excuse me, how shrewd and potent — he is, the median IQs of the GOP and the conservative movement dip another couple points. They long ago plunged into negative numbers. I would not hire such a man to pave a driveway, much less lead a great nation.

I cannot vote for Joe Biden. He supports almost no policy that I do, and the party he leads is often worse. Geniality, pity, and even dignity are not beyond him, but he is not without personal drawbacks — a nasty streak when contradicted, a crooked son he enables, a tendency to talk a little too much about the terrible things that have happened to him.

A final word on the age and health of these men. I do not believe Biden is senile, but he shows his years. Trump never drank or smoke, and is a lively fellow, but he will never see 73 again. In my adult life I have seen four youngish men enter the presidency — Carter, Clinton, W, Obama. They all left with grey hairs. Why is our candidate pool drawn from the cohort of the pre-Gorbachev Politburo?

It looks like the Senate will be our Reno Hill.

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