Some American voters have long harbored mistrust of what George Wallace famously called “pointy-heads” – intellectuals. We’re a common-sense kind of people, his followers asserted, and don’t much trust book learnin’. Common sense and the Bible will suffice.
Many intellectually accomplished politicians – Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton – have posed as “just folks” to attract anti-intellectual voters. Nevertheless, many in my generation grew up honoring book learnin’ and also pulling for every president, FDR to Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump.
Both actions seemed to be our patriotic duty. As a result, following Trump’s election I urged readers in these pages to be patient with him (“Let’s give Trump a fair chance,” Viewpoints, Dec. 28). He was, after all, new to politics and, I thought, had won fair and square.
Six months in, however, conservative commentator David Brooks has written that “Donald Trump is a boob,” and the GOP seems to be splintering. An embryonic three-party system now presents itself: disorganized Democrats, frustrated Republicans, and triumphant Trumpies. Where this is going remains to be seen, but it doesn’t seem designed to pass legislation.
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We are, for instance, witnessing a sudden unraveling of American foreign policy as evidenced by the president’s refusal to enforce the central principals of NATO. While his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was praising Qatar’s role in the Middle East, Trump was contradicting him, but he does say he may meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Russia's role remains uncertain, and longtime allies seem puzzled by us.
The new president often seems to be shooting from the lip and not consulting his own hand-picked experts. His tweets might appeal to the guys down at the pool hall, but in a nuclear-armed world, one is wise to gather smart, well-informed people around oneself, and to trust them to give objective, informed, considered opinions. Trump has tried to deliver on some campaign promises, but he hasn’t been much for taking advice.
Most of my Republican friends complained mightily about Barack Obama’s use of executive orders in the White House. I haven’t heard much from them about Trump’s use of the same tool. He also needs to learn not only from his advisers but from his own faux pas (if he’ll admit to any).
Too often he seems not to understand consensus. It’s not enough to unilaterally declare victory when he may lose a wing of his own party.
Gerald Haslam is the author of “In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S.I. Hayakawa.” Haslam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.