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January 12th 2017 print

Christopher Caldwell

Trump: The Outsider Moves Inside

The entire publicity apparatus of the media and government was enlisted to make a vote for him appear futile. Now poised to take power, many previously silent supporters will come out of the woodwork. His prospects of political success may be correspondingly larger

trump handIn early December, when President-elect Donald Trump’s post-election “Thank You Tour” arrived at the US Bank Arena in Cleveland, someone hollered out of the audience, “We love you, Donald.” Trump yelled, “I love you, too”—one of the oratorical innovations of Barack Obama’s successful campaign for president in 2008 that few politicians have been able to resist imitating. But then, Trump pointed to the working-class fellow in the audience who had hollered in the first place. Trump said, in his unsyntactical way, “Guy. Some guy. Look at this guy. And I do love him. He’s a rough-looking cookie, though, I tell you. Love. We love. And there’s going to be a lot of love in this country.”

In a strange sense, spreading the love may be the biggest policy challenge Donald Trump faces as he approaches the presidency. His opponents are predicting catastrophe. Some of them are actively wishing for it. Hillary Clinton’s campaign backed an attempt to undo his election through legal challenges in three states. Not since Ronald Reagan has an American president arrived in the White House amid such widespread anxiety over his basic competence. Although Reagan was re-elected easily after four years, it took a long time to disabuse his detractors of the notion that he was too stupid to be president. And Donald Trump has a particular challenge. He was elected on an explicitly nostalgic campaign slogan—“Make America Great Again”. No politician can keep a promise to turn back the clock. Failure of one kind or another seems inevitable.

Yet Trump scored a triumph just days after his election. Carrier, an air-conditioning manufacturer that had been a special target of Trump’s bile on the campaign trail, agreed to cut in half a plan to move production facilities to Mexico. The initiative will keep 1100 jobs in Indiana. Newspapers have mocked Trump’s plans to bring industrial jobs back to the United States. “The reality is more complicated,” says the Los Angeles Times. Maybe so, but the Carrier deal is a sign that Trump is stronger than he looks. Voters who have had their credulity abused by politicians extolling capitalism’s theoretical benefits are likely to be patient with him. “They forgot that it was the American worker who truly built the country,” Trump said of the experts during his Cincinnati speech. Even if Trump cannot re-establish the high-paying manufacturing jobs of half a century ago, they are a symbol that he will not forget working people.

These workers expect no return to a halcyon age. What they want is concrete acts of reassurance that the President will henceforth act in their interests when decisions are to be made. Trump is giving it to them in spades. He is still largely alone in his party in questioning US orthodoxy on free trade. Democrats do question the orthodoxy, but never in such a way as to threaten it. In the days after the election, Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, boasted before a room of trade unionists that the international trade agreements they had long opposed were now dead. True—but only because Senator Schumer’s own party had failed in its attempt to thwart Trump.

This essay appears in the January edition of Quadrant.
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The President-elect’s base thus has the potential to grow in all sorts of ideological directions, particularly if he has a few early successes. Trump has never been a crusading conservative but his first cabinet appointments show he is not afraid to govern from the Right on certain issues. There is Representative Tom Price of Georgia, a physician who was an ardent and knowledgeable opponent of President Obama’s healthcare reform, as Secretary of Health; Ben Carson, the eccentric brain surgeon, at Housing; James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defense.

The base of support for Trump among America’s non-ideological masses is more solid than it would appear. As was the case in the Brexit campaign in Britain, the entire publicity apparatus of the media and the government was enlisted to make a vote for him appear futile. Now that Trump has shown himself capable of taking power, many previously silent supporters will come out of the woodwork. His prospects of political success may be correspondingly larger.

Trump will be the first president in American history to reach the Oval Office with neither political nor military experience. This has left him in the paradoxical position of being a pure outsider who will require, for that very reason, the counsel of insiders. In some ways, however, he is as qualified for the twenty-first-century office of the presidency as it is possible for a politician to be. His career in urban real estate has involved trend-spotting, navigating and influencing bureaucracies and grandiose executive “big think”: all relevant, all presidential. When the New York Times reported during the campaign that Trump’s tax returns showed a business loss of almost a billion dollars in 1995, the revelation did not hurt him at all. It may even appear a credential for leading a government that for much of the past decade has run trillion-dollar deficits. Trump is an experienced entertainer, and this is a huge presidential plus. The rallies on his Thank You Tour, just like those on his campaign, have been full of people having a rollicking good time. Obama generated enthusiasm, but there was always something earnest about it. There is something different, almost nineteenth-century, about these gatherings. One would have thought alcohol would be necessary to such exuberance.

The Anglo-American journalist Andrew Sullivan believes Trump’s election portends the end of the American republic. Writing in New York magazine, Sullivan argued: “The man has no impulse control and massive reserves of vengeance and hatred.” Perhaps these flaws will emerge. But they are not evident now. In the process of staffing his administration Trump has shown a distinct absence of vindictiveness. He has been especially conciliatory to Republicans who not only supported his opponents but actually sought to sabotage his candidacy, sometimes by insulting his character. Last spring, Nikki Haley, the Governor of South Carolina and the daughter of Indian immigrants, urged Republican primary voters in her state to shun the “angriest voices” on immigration. Trump has nominated her to be UN ambassador. Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney travelled the country last March calling Trump a “con man”, a “fake”, a “phony”, and a “fraud”, and Trump has considered him for a cabinet position. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the top-ranking Republican in the Obama era, announced in early October that he would not campaign for Trump, at precisely the moment when Trump appeared to be recovering from the revelation that he had used crude language about women on a film set a decade ago. Trump made no move to thwart Ryan’s re-election as House Speaker when the party took a preliminary vote to back him in November. These decisions have certainly been politically expedient for Trump—but that is only another way of saying that they are signs that he does, in fact, have considerable powers of impulse control.

He can afford it. Trump’s election was not about policy or temperament—it was about sociology. At a time when the elders of the party he sought to join were trying to figure out how to appeal to next generation’s immigrants, Trump had a better idea for appealing to this generation’s voters. He discovered a split between the party’s donors, who tended to benefit from globalisation, and its rank and file, who felt victimised by it. Boldly, he took the side of the latter. He attacked free trade, mass immigration and reckless military intervention. Very few Americans had thought to pursue this kind of politics, practised in Europe for at least a decade, because they assumed America’s armed forces and its reserve currency would insulate it from globalisation’s storms.

Mr Trump appealed to working-class whites, taking around 70 per cent of their votes. There will be time to debate whether this conversion of the Republican Party to “minority”-style politics was cynical or incidental. But appealing to whites did not appear to hurt Republicans among minorities and women. Mr Trump outpolled the Republicans’ 2012 candidate, Mitt Romney, among both blacks and Hispanics. Trump, in his strengths and weaknesses, is more like his voters than meets the eye. While much media coverage of his campaign painted him as a billionaire member of the elite, to the New Yorkers among whom he made his fortune he was an ill-mannered boor, a builder of buildings made of aluminium and plastic in a city where the buildings are made of marble and granite. Nobody ever wanted to listen to him. Many mocked him. It turns out a lot of Americans were in the same position. Being a despised parvenu turned out to be an advantage for him. It made him empathetic. On election night, the Republican Party became something it has never been since it was founded a century-and-a-half ago: the party of outsiders.

Whether Americans were right to choose Trump is not yet ours to know. But their reasons were both undeniable and understandable. Enough voters considered him “one of them” to win him the election. That is why, for a few months at least, there is scant likelihood that he will disappoint his backers. It is wrong to say Americans voted for him out of rage or bigotry or ignorance. They voted for him with their eyes open. According to NBC exit polls, the election was decided by the unusually large group who held “unfavourable” views of both candidates. Among these voters, Trump beat Clinton by 49 per cent to 29.

These are extraordinary numbers. Even people who accepted as accurate the picture of Trump as a caricature villain found reasons to vote for him nonetheless. To ask people how they could possibly have voted for such a flawed candidate is to ask the wrong question. The right question is: How unjust must the system be to make the public overlook such flaws in the candidate who pledges to attack it? Trump’s detractors in both parties made many telling points about him. They just failed utterly to see the context in which he was running. They appear to be no wiser about the context in which he is going to govern.

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard.

 

Comments [19]

  1. DRW says:

    Donald Trump is not a politician, that’s a huge plus.

  2. Jody says:

    I don’t hold out much hope for Trump, but I do hope he’s able to take some ‘progressive’ scalps and sledge the Left while the opportunity remains.

    • Warty says:

      I am finding it rather hard to understand why you cling to this now months old position of your, Jody. You know, this ‘I don’t hold much hope for Trump’ stance. Have you looked closely at his proposed administration, your Ben Carsons, Jay Clayton, Gary Cohen, Elaine Chao, Kellyanne Conway, Betsy DeVos, Michael Flynn, David Friedman, Jack Keane, Carl Leahn, Lighthizer, Mad Dog Mattis, Mnuchin, Moore, Navarro, Perry, Pompeo, Price, Ross jr., Spicer, Tillerson, Zinke, to name a few. Each and every one of them is exceptionally well qualified for their respective positions. Many of them give a strong indication of the direction Trump hopes to move towards, though not all necessarily see eye to eye with him on some issues.
      Some commentators have said that if he were to tick off just six of his major campaign promises, in his first term of office, he’d be an outstanding success. I suspect he’ll achieve ten or more, including one that was definitely not a campaign promise: a resolution of the Palestinian question. With this last one, I suspect David Friedman, the proposed ambassador to Israel, will give Netanyahu the go ahead to tell Abbas and his corrupt cronies to go and jump. There will be no two state solution either.
      I suggest a major rethink, Jody.

  3. Peter OBrien says:

    Given that the truth doesn’t matter to the Left – only the end result, that even the skimpiest fig leaf will do to make a lie respectable, Trump is in for a tough time. The Russian hacking hullabaloo will be used continually for the next 4 years to proclaim that Trump is an ‘illegitimate President’. That is why he so fiercely resisted it from the word go. The US intelligence community should have kept this under wraps until well after the inauguration. So they have declared war on Trump. I’ve got my money on him, in the long run.

    • Jody says:

      Today on Fox News “Hannity” was getting stuck into the press gallery for giving Obama a free ride (we’ll call these people throne sniffers) while shouting at Trump. It may prove counter-productive and simply galvanize the people behind The Donald. But Obama divided America along identity lines and we’re seeing the outcome of this.

      The only way to shut down the adversarial press, really, is for Trump to get the runs on the board. Once the people have jobs things will change. Fingers crossed for those American ‘deplorables’ in ‘fly-over’ territory.

  4. Doc S says:

    A fine piece of analysis. The media seem to be continuing to shriek hysterically at every Trump foible – real or imagined – and continue to promote ‘fake’ news. They don’t appear to get Trump at all or the reasons he was elected. Note the latest ‘scandal’ breathlessly reported by that media (and equally so by our leftist ABC) and summarily dismissed (with aplomb) by Trump at his first media conference before assuming the Presidency. From the comments on Facebook his response to CNN and Buzzfeed is EXACTLY what many Americans want to see. Because he has no political pedigree we can only speculate on what kind of president Trump will be and how he will act but as you’ve shown the first signs are that he will do and say what he has done and said during that interminable election campaign – we have to wait and see. This is what the MSM are so bad at – they don’t know so they speculate (most of them inaccurately just as they did during the election) or worse – make things up to go with that false narrative.

    There is one thing you touched on that has not been picked up by many commentators concerns Trump’s appointees. I heard one analogy about Trump which concerned his delivering a skating rink to Ed Koch’s New York City on time and under budget and which typified Trump’s approach to issues. I can see this applied to his lack of political experience – he looked for an experienced politician who had ‘runs on the board’ for good governance and implementing policy – and came up with Mike Pence who could be one of the most capable and experienced Vice Presidents in years. The choices he has made with Schumer, Carson and Mattis appear to be in a similar vein. As you say, we will have to wait and see but so far, the signs are good.

  5. Bill Martin says:

    Expectations of Trump’s presidency are sky high and not without reason. Even though most of the early signs are encouraging, some disappointments are inevitable. Let’s hope they are not too many and not too serious. One marvels at Trump’s capacity to carry all that weight, surely he must be well and truly aware of it.

  6. LBLoveday says:

    Quote: “Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney travelled the country last March calling Trump a “con man”, a “fake”, a “phony”, and a “fraud”, and Trump has considered him for a cabinet position”
    I cannot know, but I have read and heard others opinions that Trump’s interviewing of Romney was just an act (in Mr Sullivan’s words) “of vengeance and hatred” – he had no intention of offering Romney any position, let alone the coveted Secretary of State, but wanted to see Romney humiliated by agreeing to serve the man he so vilely criticised, then adding humiliation by rejecting him.
    I was particularly taken by this description of them at one of the meetings: “Trump had a sly-looking grin on his face. Romney appeared to be grimacing. Donald Trump looks like a cat that caught a mouse and is now batting it around with its paws until it dies”.

    • Jody says:

      Justice!!!

      I was just saying to my husband, the older I get the more angry I get about politics. Christmas provided a temporary breather but then my eldest (40/yo) phones me to say ‘I’ve had it with the ABC and the fact they read that dossier out on Trump even saying it was likely some of it wasn’t true”. He said we should petition Fifield to do something urgently about the ABC. He was infuriated that his taxpayer dollar is paying for this crypto-communist cadre. What a gutless man Fifield is!! Same with Malcolm Talk Bull when he was Communications Minister; Mephistopheles on steroids.

      I consoled my son, telling him to calm down and then I said, “make sure you work very very hard in your business to succeed and make sure you absolutely minimize to the bone the amount you are prepared to pay this country in taxation”. I stick by that.

  7. Most leftist have only ever viewed ‘democracy’ as a means of legitimising/making ‘legal’ their desire to be able to control/confiscate the wealth produced by other people. The free market is the ‘ultimate democracy’ and thus will never be promoted/allowed by leftists anywhere.
    The bulk of people who voted for Trump were from the wealth producing areas of the US, i.e. rural areas and the outer suburbs of bigger regional cities. About 85% of individual counties voted for Trump. Clinton won only in the bigger cities, i.e. the wealth consuming areas and areas dominated by bureaucratic ‘elites’ and welfare recipients. These were concentrated on the west coast [known in the US as the 'left' coast] i.e. mainly California, and the North-Eastern States/areas such as New York and Massachusetts etc.
    The ‘left’ do emotion very well. The strongest human emotion is jealousy and leftists everywhere play the jealousy/envy card at every opportunity. It is not by accident that the leftist ‘elite’ are almost invariably lawyers or advertising people like Phillip Adams. Appeals to emotions set the heart racing and ‘inspire’ people, [eg. Obama] appeals to reason in comparison are boring and uninspiring [eg. Abbott/Howard/Romney]. The fact that reason creates wealth, feeds people and enables aeroplanes to fly safely is irrelevant, what ‘reaches’ people is the ‘romance’ of uncivilized barbarians like Che Guevara or the ISIS lunatics.
    Donald Trump’s ‘success’ as POTUS may be partly determined by how well he can neutralise the overly emotional crap the MSM will use against him at every opportunity.

  8. Don A. Veitch says:

    The old Tea Party started out as genuine democratic, grass roots, force against bank bailouts and over-government, but was hijacked by ideologues and smoothies in the Washington swamp. The same fate awaits DJT.
    The Dow is at 20,000 (almost). Will Trump bailout his oligarch buddies when the next financial Ponzie crash comes?
    DJT has many mountains to climb.
    The Trump:
    • has NO economic agenda to re-industrialise;
    • will not take on Wall Street financial oligarchs (has 2 Goldman Sachs cabinet members);
    • will not reform the Federal Reserve System, so that the FRS helps the nation and not just banks. Obama ‘found’ up to $30 trillion line of credit for the Zombie Banks, but there will be no $$$ under DJT to fund infrastructure, just more debt e.g. expensive ‘Public Private Partnerships’.;
    • MUST put down the insurgents in the CIA (the last one to attempt this was JFK!);
    • needs to do more than support Russia against China.

    Trump has given no signs of helping Joe/Josephine Six Pack, yet.

    • Jody says:

      I’d have to agree with much of what you’ve written!! Except, for starters, he’s been able to convince some car manufacturers to return to USA.

      In a sense, it seems to me, the traditional capitalist right has been returned to Washington – the very people the Democrats were supposed to oppose because they weren’t ‘people friendly’. It appears the pendulum has swung so far away from any kind of common sense under Obama that the only solution is the original position at the other end of the pendulum. I think that tells us a great deal about Obama’s failed project.

    • Warty says:

      Hmm, the evidence to date suggests the opposite. Yes, he does have an economic agenda to re-industrialise. This is the reason d’être behind his 15% corporate tax proposal, intended to encourage companies that went off-shore to return. Look at the success of Ireland’s low corporate tax regime in turning it into a ‘tiger state’. Before even taking office he took direct action with regards to Carrier and General Motors (specifically their Cruise models) preventing two furnace plants moving to Mexico. His threat of a 35% tariff on the products of those companies intending to jump ship have already worked wonders. There is a company called Tacna, which facilitates companies intending to set up across the border. After Trump’s threat, three of their clients changed their minds. Obama said nothing could be done to reverse the trend.
      The reason why he has two Goldman Sachs people as part of his proposed administration is precisely because they are insiders. Believe me, Trump will take on the Wall Street financial Oligarchs, but it will be no Gettysburg frontal assault: it will involve detailed planning,negotiations and dollops of guile (the language they know best).
      With regards to the various intel organisations, he has already announced he will be replacing many with his ‘own people’. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
      Trump is a one in a century kinda guy, though to many of us are used to the flash in a pan types. If by some chance Trump fails, in four years time he will be replaced by someone who will indeed drain the swamp. Things have become too critical for Western Civilisation for a Trump not to succeed. The pendulum swings.

  9. Don A. Veitch says:

    Warty,
    I agree with what you write, especially ‘Things have become too critical . . .’,
    and I like Jody’s ‘traditional capitalist right’ term, but call it what it is INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM as against FINANCE capitalism (the rent seekers, the reactionaries, which even Adam Smith attacked).

    Until DJT ‘discovers’ Hamiltonian debt free Treasury financing (as opposed to debt creating Federal Reserve finance from the private bank), then he is not serious, will fail and the swamp will take him (and America). A return to a gold standard is not the full answer, and a mere audit of The Fed (to find that missing $15 trillion)is insufficient.
    Early dates yet!

    • Warty says:

      Now Don, you are hitting me where it hurts, as my limited exposure to higher economics, the kind that would be corporate fellas learn at respectable universities, leaves me floundering in swamp of mildewing tea leaves. My tortuous excursions into this area (in relation to Trump) has led me to believe that his stimulus intentions are aimed at corporate investment, without draining the public purse. My understanding, kindergarten though it is, is that this 15% corporate tax break, which Shorten once believed in, but for opportunistic reasons, pretends he abhors, is designed to stimulate the economy like nobody’s business.
      But then you introduce terms like ‘industrial capitalism’ (which metaphorically screams at me from the page) as opposed to finance (still a bit ‘shouty’) capitalism, when I along with Karl Marx only knew of capitalism (involving both industry and finance). And then follow up with a UFC body blow, introducing concepts like ‘Hamiltonian debt free Treasury financing. Nevertheless, despite the need, at this point, for life-support, I managed to notice through a film of shock-induced miasma, your mention of ‘as opposed to debt creating Federal Reserve finance’ (I don’t know how a private bank became coupled) and I feel sufficiently confident to exclaim, ‘but this is what he is trying to avoid: drawing on the public purse’, but there you are. I’m still convinced he has an economic plan, because he used language I could understand, which I suppose plonks me in a particular basket.

  10. en passant says:

    “They voted for him with their eyes open.”

    Surely not? As I understand it every polling booth had a KGB heavy under the desk who forced the voters to vote for Trump.

    I can also report with 97% confidence that HillBillary’s ‘cash for Clinton Cash contracts’ server was provided by Putin as a Christmas present.

    Podesta’s emails, Huma Abedin, Bill’s speeches were all part of the KGB machinations designed to delegitimize Trump, etc etc

    It is also certain with with a 97% level of confidence that I made all of this up. You can read about it in the last CIA ‘intelligence’ report before Obama and some CIA guys seek asylum in Russia.

  11. Keith Kennelly says:

    Fake news en? Well done, like an elitist!