Vice President Mike Pence’s obsequiousness at a recent Cabinet meeting — “Thank you for seeing through the course of this year an agenda that is truly restoring this country … ” — might be appropriate at a Communist Party Central Committee meeting. But it is not the language of any self-respecting republic.
The divestment of self-respect is a qualification for employment in the Trump administration. Praising the Dear Leader seems to be what the Dear Leader requires, in the way an addict needs drugs. Donald Trump divides the world into two categories: flunkies and enemies. Pence is the cringing, fawning high priest of flunkiness. It is hard to know whether to laugh or puke.
It is precisely the claim of miracles by mediocrities that makes it hard for some of us to judge Trump’s first-year with any objectivity. In comparison to his claims of world-historic change, Trump has accomplished little. But how does his record compare to more realistic expectations?
The Republican case for Trump comes down to: the appointment of conservative judges, including Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court; the “defeat” of the Islamic State; and tax and regulatory reform. Whatever your view of the merits of these actions, they are consequential. Add to this the facts that Trump hasn’t blown up the world or suspended the legislature, and Trump is gaining a strange new respect among some conservatives.
There is less here than meets the eye. Trump chose Gorsuch from a Federalist Society list, and didn’t fatally undermine Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s confirmation effort. The demolition of the Islamic State was largely the culmination of an Obama-era strategy. The tax overhaul, with serious virtues such as the cut in corporate rates, has serious distributional and deficit problems.
This agenda was remarkable only for being so typical. Any Republican president from the 2016 primary field would have appointed conservative judges, continued the offensive against the Islamic State and cut taxes and regulations. (He or she would also, in all likelihood, have succeeded at Obamacare replacement.) But this is precisely the point. Trump spent the political capital of his first year on a few, generic GOP goals. Despite the fulminations of the left, this is not as frightening as some alternatives.
It is important to count our blessings, even when they are meager. But for Republicans and conservatives, it is also important
4ights criticism–feel more secure.
Dissidents and democratic activists feel abandoned. Fleeing refugees feel more desperate. The president is conducting delicate nuclear negotiations with demeaning pet names. Morale at the State Department is in collapse, leading to the hemorrhaging of diplomatic talent. Trump has alienated important allies with demands for protection money. America has stepped back from effective economic competition in Asia, leaving China a more dominant regional power. Russia, in all likelihood, helped elect a favorable American president in the largest intelligence coup of modern history.
Trump has tried to undermine the credibility of the courts, the FBI, intelligence agencies, and the media that check his power. He has used his office and Twitter account to target individual Americans without due process. He attacks truth in a daily torrent of despicable lies. The moral authority of the presidency is in tatters. He has made our life more vulgar and complicated the moral education of children. Racists are emboldened. He has caused a large portion of Republicans to live in an alternate reality of resentment and hatred, which complicates the possibility of governing and is likely to discredit the party among the young, minorities, women and college-educated voters for decades to come.
After a year, this much is clear: Almost all Trump’s accomplishments are the work of traditional Republican policy staffers and congressional leaders. Almost all Trump’s failures are functions of his character. And that isn’t going to change.
Michael Gerson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.