My former writing partner Ben Boychuk, a Trumpist conservative, responds to Mitt Romney’s op-ed against Trump with a column that makes Trump and Trumpism sound so reasonable. Ben was always good at this kind of thing. He’s right on some of the particulars — but then you step back and realize that the particulars don’t address the full picture.
For example, Romney’s op-ed suggested the presidency shapes the public character of the nation. Ben sensibly pushes back:
This is wrong, and dangerously so. It’s a view that exalts what the libertarian writer Gene Healy has called the “cult of the presidency.”A president is not a king or the country’s dad, though heaven knows it sometimes feels that way. The “public character” of a nation is greater than one man – or at least it had better be.
And that’s right as far as it goes. Trump isn’t a role model in my house, either. But Ben largely leaves it there to attack Romney’s character, and doesn’t really bother to address the problem underlying Romney’s critique: The problem with Trump’s bad character is not that it makes him a bad role model, but that it makes him a bad president.
Trump lies constantly. Many of his policies are based on a racist worldview. He flip-flops almost as constantly as he lies — the shutdown happened after he reversed course on agreeing to a budget package after Ann Coulter and her ilk pushed back — and much of his decision-making appears impulsive and chaotic, driven less by a sense of what’s right for the country than by the guest list on Fox & Friends. Politicians often use divisive techniques; presidents are supposed to at least try to bring us together. Not Trump. The result of all of this is chaotic governance that careens from one crisis to another. All of that is the result of his bad character.
Ok. Trump’s bad. But how about Trumpism? Ben:
Trump, in fits and starts, has pursued his “greatness agenda.” Better trade deals.
“Fits and starts” does a lot of fig leafing here. Trump didn’t get a better trade deal with he pulled out of the TPP trade treaty, for example: He got no deal — and American farmers, at least, have suffered as a result. And his replacement for NAFTA is basically NAFTA with some tweaks. Trump has generated a lot of sound and fury on the trade deal front, but mostly it has signified nothing.
Stronger immigration enforcement (including the wall)
This desire is rooted in a belief that brown immigrants make America less America. (And also make the country more Democratic, which is more or less the same thing as “less American” from Ben’s perspective.) I don’t believe in the premise. But whatever you think of immigration as a problem, it’s pretty clear the wall isn’t a real solution.
Trumpism has a bad endgoal (keep America white) implemented with bad policies (Muslim ban, the wall) that are in turn pursued badly (witness the government shutdown over the wall). To me, that’s Trumpism in a nutshell.
But there’s more.
A foreign policy that doesn’t just give lip service to the national interest but, in fact, puts America first.
On its own, this phrasing is almost totally meaningless. But what it means is that Trump is less constrained by international organizations set up after World War II than his predecessor — conservatives see those organizations as infringing on American sovereignty by placing some limits on America’s freedom to act as it sees fit. But America made that tradeoff so it wouldn’t have to send more soldiers to die in Europe’s wars, something it had done twice during the first half of the century. Trump proclaims himself an enemy of unnecessary wars, but he also attacks the institutions designed to minimize such actions. That’s “America first” in a penny-wise, pound-foolish sense.
Appointing judges whose allegiance is to the Constitution as the framers wrote it.
Ben is more right about Romney than Trump.
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney told a private audience of donors at a 2012 event that was surreptitiously recorded and leaked to the left-wing Mother Jones magazine. Those 47 percent, he explained, “are dependent upon government … believe that they are victims … believe the government has a responsibility to care for them … believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.”
For all of Trump’s belligerence and braggadocio, you never hear him talk about Americans as “takers” the way Romney did.
Trouble is, Trump’s singular legislative achievement — the tax cut — makes Romney’s rhetoric reality, all but ignoring the poorer half of the country in order to add millions and billions to the bottom line of America’s richest people. Left untouched, that’ll squeeze the resources available for programs like Social Security, Medicare and more — programs needed by the 47 percent to survive and even occasionally thrive. That Trump is rhetorically nicer publicly about poor people than Mitt was privately doesn’t feel like a huge gain.
Ben has to try and defend Trumpism because, he must know, Trump is a disaster. You can’t separate the man from his corruption, his TV and Twitter addiction, from his selfishness and narcissism. Did Trump disrupt the status quo? Sure, and Ben likes that. But disruption without vision is anarchy and nihilism. Trumpism is bad, andTrump is worse. My friend’s soothing commentary won’t change that.