by Jeffery Rendall
Living in the news bubble that is Washington DC it’s easy for swamp dwellers to lose perspective on their own actions and how they’re being viewed by others. Last week’s media circus surrounding the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh must’ve given outsiders the impression American politics is one gigantic sideshow full of freaks and mutants all in search of the spotlight in the center ring.
Perhaps they think the average American politician has three mouths, speaking out of two simultaneously and using the other to gulp mass quantities of super-caffeinated designer coffee.
There’s good reason to think Americans are nuts too. On one side Republicans worked feverishly to appear impartial by probing Kavanaugh with questions about precedents, philosophies and belief systems. On the other, Democrats were hell-bent on (figuratively) disemboweling the man before his own family just to score political points with party base voters.
Then there was the infamous “anonymous” New York Times op-ed which sought to discredit the American president in the eyes of…well, everyone. The implication someone close to Donald Trump was busy thwarting the president’s authority from the inside is a mighty scary proposition considering that person wasn’t elected by over 63 million people… and Trump was.
Keep in mind last week was only one seven-day period in the life of the American political stage. The actors don’t change but there’s a different improvised production every week. Media members get bored easily and there’s only so much damage to inflict on any given topic. Today’s politics have everyone either choosing sides and lofting verbal bombs – or having already turned them off to the extent they’d rather pull weeds than listen to another politician pontificating about “Spartacus” or whatever the heck Sen. Corey Booker was talking about.
Is Washington’s ever-revolving street party atmosphere having a lasting impact on foreigners’ opinions abroad too?
Erin Dunne wrote at the Washington Examiner, “From within the United States, our political show is a disturbing spectacle of a country and government at odds with itself. For those watching from abroad, for whom any finer distinctions blur into broader strokes, the United States is a chaotic mess. That perception (not unfounded) has serious consequences for the U.S.
“From Trump tweets leaving open questions of ‘TREASON?’ to the New York Times anonymous op-ed touting the ‘Resistance’ from within the White House. From presidential praise for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, to confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court punctuated by protests. Throw in a damning book on the president titled ‘Fear,’ penned by the journalist who once took down a president, and the cascade chaos is an avalanche…
“[T]he United States, that ‘city upon a hill,’ is held up as a demonstration of democracy. As Washington increasingly spins off the rails bending to both the worst populists and self-interested influences of the Left and the Right, democracy loses a battle of public opinion. Today, critics of democracy and the freedoms it offers need not look beyond the White House to have an easy example of the instability it creates in the modern world.”
We’ve heard this line of argument before. All you’d need is an issue of The Weekly Standard or to read George Will’s or Max Boot’s latest columns and you’d discover a version of the “our allies think Trump’s an embarrassing orange-haired chimp, they hate his guts and they’ll soon start despising Americans too – all because us Yankees were dumb and backwards enough to choose a reality TV star over the educated and progressively refined Hillary Clinton.”
I recently had this type of conversation with someone who mentioned (as a line of argument for why Trump is awful) people abroad can’t stand Trump and consider America a laughing stock of the world because of his antics and happy Twitter finger. My retort was more or less… so what?
Liberals and Democrats are the ones believing non-U.S. citizens should have a say and a vote. While it’s never a positive thing when our “allies” disapprove of anything related to the Land of the Free, practically speaking how would it impact us if Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau all personally loathed our president?
(As a side note… how can liberals make a credible argument that women are held back in the world political arena when two of the West’s most prominent nations are led by females and the U.S. nominated a woman for president?)
Dunne argues the American “circus” hurts our allies because it makes the U.S. appear unstable. Then there are the trade questions – why isn’t Canada going along with the “new” NAFTA? – and the repetitive diatribe about Trump’s behavior leaving a leadership void in the free world.
Fair enough. All of these things may be happening but how has it revealed itself as a problem? Just because President Trump occasionally says nice things about Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un doesn’t mean he’s handing over the West to hateful dictator thugs who oppress their own peoples and view outsiders as childish tools to manipulate for their sinister aims. North Korea’s nukes are formidable but if Trump and Kim are chums it probably means the little cheese-eating rocket man’s finger is off the red “fire” button. Can’t we celebrate that?
And does Russia display any omens of invading the West? By all appearances Russia’s designs are confined to its own hemisphere. Put it this way — there isn’t a contemporary iteration of the Cuban Missile Crisis where nukes are just minutes away (which they are anyway with nuclear subs) with commies digging large holes in North American soil to disguise their weapons. We can take people like (the late) John McCain at their words that Russia is a grave threat, but realists recognize Vlad can’t pay for much military expansion with his puny economy.
The international community’s hysterics over Trump stem from a fear of losing a grip on the status quo. An America led by the establishment’s ruling elites – be it Republican (George W. Bush) or Democrat (Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton) means things aren’t going to change. The United States’ official position on “free trade” under the old regimes meant foreign nations protect their own industries and Americans won’t retaliate.
Or NATO nations (and Asian allies) rest comfortably under the U.S. nuclear umbrella and don’t sweat the possibility Uncle Sam would pull his grunts out of their foreign foxholes and send them steaming home on big navy ships to patrol their own borders and root out America’s real threats – infiltrating terrorists, drug smugglers and purveyors of economic warfare.
If America falls it’ll be due to internal rot, not the conniving of a foreign entity that thinks Trump is a clownish buffoon masquerading as ringmaster of the Washington circus. Certainly some “anonymous” New York Timesop-ed writer won’t make a dent in the Trump train. As the smoke clears everyone realizes there’s nothing new here.
The “anonymous” op-ed may have upset Trump – because it reeks of disloyalty, which is his number one pet peeve – but the author didn’t write anything novel that hasn’t already been bludgeoned to death in the media.
Victor Davis Hanson addressed the subject at American Greatness, “As far as ‘anti-democratic’ and a Russian-appeasing Trump, he has not yet claimed that Putin was trustworthy and genuine based on a soul-gazing stare into his eyes. Nor has he been caught on a hot mic promising to give up U.S. missile defense programs in Eastern Europe, if Vladimir would just give him ‘space’ during his reelection bid. Trump has said silly things about Putin, but so far his actual record is certainly not of the reset sort that greenlighted Russian entrance into the Middle East, Ukraine, and Crimea.
“Somehow it’s ‘news’ that a senior, unnamed official claims all the bad stuff that we don’t know happened, or actually never quite happened, was due to Trump alone. And, of course, all the good stuff that we do know happened was only because of noble, smart, patriotic, and visionary officials like the writer and his friends.”
Therein lies the crux. Trump’s enemies repeatedly assert it’s the president’s abhorrent personality and leadership style that’s the creeping plague within the executive branch. They also make it seem like there’ve never been clashes between competing staffers in any previous administrations. Say it isn’t so – there weren’t selfishly ambitious individuals competing for the president’s ear in the Obama White House? Or the Bush White House?
Where did the term “tell-all book” come from then? I doubt there’s been a study but how many unsubstantiated gossipy treatments were written by people close to a president who suddenly decided to cash in on their experiences (and perhaps compensate for the thousands of hours they put in)?
Isn’t it human nature to want to be heard? Wasn’t it a beef among Trump detractors that he initially listened too intently to everyone and was therefore disorganized and managed time poorly? Wasn’t General John Kelly brought in (to replace Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff) to “restore” some semblance of order in terms of who gained access to the Oval Office?
And what about all the people who work diligently in Trump’s administration and don’t write “anonymous” opinion articles complaining about his people skills? If Kelly or someone who works with Trump on a daily basis penned a piece (or had it ghostwritten) bragging on the tranquil atmosphere in their working environment would it even see the light of day or be given special mention on liberal cable news shows?
Numerous “senior” Trump officials (including Vice President Mike Pence) denied being the “anonymous” op-ed publisher. Shouldn’t the media follow-up on these folks’ reasons for being happy with Trump and his leadership style? When they say they appreciate the privilege of being part of the Trump administration are they just lying and hiding the truth?
Shouldn’t we stop obsessing over the token few who revile Trump and focus on all the people who supporthim? It’s not like this type of internal turbulence isn’t a perpetual presence in the Washington swamp.
Political veteran Mark Penn wrote at The Hill, “On a good day, the White House is a totally crazy place with swirling intrigue, backstabbing, leaks, and books by departing staffers. The stakes are the highest in the world and so, typically, are the tensions. Many of the staff have ideological agendas and have been raised entirely in politics, often coming from Capitol Hill with little experience outside of government. George Stephanopoulos published a memoir on his political education with the Clintons, calling it ‘All Too Human,’ that depicted his work as too many lies and too much chaos.
“History has an uncanny way of repeating itself. Aides have felt they know better than their leaders since Joseph and the Pharaoh. ‘Anonymous’ in the New York Times believes he knows better how to run the country than our elected leadership. New presidents, particularly outsiders, face a hostile and controlling group of Washington elites who believe they own the place over mere elected officials who come and go…
“Clinton made the right, if unorthodox, choices when confronted with a narrowing political funnel. Trump has retreated to familiar territory and rallies in safe states. Policies like infrastructure have languished while immigration and trade continue at the forefront. There is no evidence that he, nor top Democrats, realize that this remains a centrist country looking not just for economic success but for leadership that brings a majority of the country together for a higher common purpose.”
As usual Penn provides solid insight on the Washington scene, a “moderate” voice in the partisan windstorm that has both sides bloviating furiously to attract attention. Penn is correct about the chaos in the current White House being similar to that which gripped the Clintons in the mid-90’s.
But he’s off a bit with his critique of Trump’s response to the growing political divide. The president might sway centrist voters with more “moderate” appeals on some issues, though the America of today is much different than when big bubba Bill rode into town. Let’s not forget, Clinton followed on the heels of twelve years of Republican rule where Americans relearned how to be patriotic again.
Clinton’s form of populism allowed for the people who loved America to continue doing so while falsely promising sustained prosperity with bigger government and more market-fixing to supposedly level the proverbial playing field.
It’s a discussion for another time. 2018 is not 1994, suffice to say — though Republicans wish it were.
The “circus” atmosphere engulfing American politics is the result of a political establishment desperate to resist all forms of change and the man who’s altering the rules in Washington. To the elites, losing power means surrendering their livelihoods – they won’t go down without a fight.