Taking Stock of President Donald Trump

January 11, 2021 Updated: January 12, 2021

Commentary

It’s too early to render a final judgment on the Trump administration. For one thing, it’s not quite over yet.

For another, the director of this entertainment is still trying to decide between two or three very different endings for the president’s latest reality show. Impeachment? Resignation? Gary-Cooper-in-“High Noon”-like disgusted departure on Jan. 20?

No one knows yet.

Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s too soon to tally up a preliminary docket of President Donald Trump’s accomplishments, pay homage to his achievements, and minute for the record some of his mistakes and deficiencies.

Conrad Black titled his recent book on Trump, “A President Like No Other.” I think even Trump’s critics would agree that it’s an apposite description.

The Good

The list of Trump’s achievements is long and impressive.

He’s not shy about mentioning them himself. In his talk at the “Save America” rally on Jan. 6, he touched on many highlights:

  • A huge tax cut, which benefited some 85 percent of taxpayers, cut the corporate tax rate, and thus created millions of jobs and primed the pump of the economy.
  • When Trump took office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at some 18,000. As he leaves, it is 30,000. How many trillions of dollars of value does that represent?
  • A newly revitalized military. Trump managed to invest more than $2 trillion in modernizing the military, which had the collateral benefit of revitalizing morale in the services. He also created Space Force, an entirely new branch of the armed services.
  • A tooth-and-claw attack on regulatory excess. Trump promised to get rid of at least two obstructionist regulations for every new regulation: the actual ratio was something like 16 cashiered for every new one. Hurrah!
  • That spirit of entrepreneurship is what made it possible for his administration to oversee Operation Warp Speed, which brought at least three effective vaccines for the CCP virus to market in less than a year, something that experts predicted would take a minimum of three to five years to achieve.
  • He was unable to get rid of Obamacare—thank you, John McCain—but he did manage to get rid of its most onerous provision, the individual mandate.
  • He cleaned out the Veterans Administration and made sure that those who have served our country would not be subjected to second- or third-class medical care.
  • He nominated and saw confirmed three constitutionalist Supreme Court justices and, at last count, 234 similarly disposed federal judges, a stunning achievement that will long outlast his tenure.
  • He brought peace to the Middle East.

Let me repeat that one. He brought peace to the Middle East, saw the normalization of relations between Israel and several Arab countries, something his predecessors going back to Jimmy Carter had tried for but failed to obtain.

  • He drastically cut illegal immigration across our Southern border.
  • He largely unwound the insane witch hunts undertaken on college campuses under the auspices of supercharged Title IX mandates.
  • He began a similar attack on the racialist initiatives undertaken throughout the federal bureaucracy under the rubric of “critical race theory.”
  • On the positive side of this equation, his 1776 Commission was part of a larger effort to revive in schools, colleges, and the culture at large an appreciation of America’s noble founding ideals as a counter to the “blame-America-first” mentality abroad in academia, the media, and large swaths of corporate culture.

These are just a few specifics.

Behind them was the populist spirit that Trump embodies.

What is that spirit?

It’s the anti-globalist, America-first spirit that prizes individual liberty and limited government, distrusts the regulatory state, the pretensions of the credentialed class, and the sticky entanglements of identity politics.

The Bad

Almost all politicians are egotistical narcissists, and the higher the office the more acute those traits are likely to be. President Barack Obama couldn’t open his mouth without referring to himself and his wonderfulness.

But there is an agility to successful narcissism that Trump never mastered.

When he went to Georgia a week ago, it was ostensibly to campaign for two Senate candidates. He mentioned both early and often. But the tenor of his remarks revolved around himself, especially his grievances. Why did he harp on the awfulness of Gov. Brian Kemp? He is awful, he should be voted out, but that was not the occasion to air that argument.

When he spoke at the “Save America” rally on Jan. 6, he was once again too absorbed in his grievances to read the crowd.

The idea that his behavior was “insurrectionist” is ridiculous. I am sorry to see my friend Sen. Pat Toomey climb onto that bandwagon.

But his behavior was, as I have noted, irresponsible.

What happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6 wasn’t Trump’s fault. But to some extent, it was his responsibility.

In many ways, Trump has superb political instincts.

But in this case, his self-absorption blinkered his judgment. It was a stupendous failure.

The Irony

The great irony about Trump is that his virtues are nearly inextricable from his flaws.

I never minded his tweets, surprising though they often were, because they seemed like just another facet of his independent spirit.

The side of his personality that drove the establishment crazy was the side I found refreshing. I liked it when he went after preening charlatans like Jim Acosta, when he called the media “fake news,” when he taunted politicians who crossed him.

Trump fought. I delighted in that, partly because of the fury it inspired in the objects of his obloquy, partly because it was inseparable from many of his successes.

A friend wrote me this morning, “Donald Trump lacks just one attribute of a great politician, self-discipline, and it ruined him.”

That may be the case, though as I say, the concluding scenes of this drama have yet to be decided. Trump has often been down and out. Hitherto, he has always bounced back.

Will he perform his Lazarus act yet again? We’ll see.

The Judgment

In 2018, Victor Davis Hanson suggested that Trump, for all his energy and accomplishments, was “a tragic hero of sorts.”

The brash, unclubbable billionaire might stir the masses but would never be accepted by the smooth Eloi who actually administered our society.

Back in 2008, Obama told GOP leaders “elections have consequences … I won.” It was his way of warning them that his socialist-lite, globalist agenda was coming soon.

I have no doubt that the 2020 election will have huge consequences for America. I think the Biden-but-soon-to-be-Harris administration will be bad for the economy, bad for race relations, bad for America’s place in the world, and bad for individual liberty.

But at the end of the day, all of those bad things—like Trump’s defeat—are less the result of the election than they are the result of the culture.

“Politics is downstream from culture,” Andrew Breitbart used to say. The long march of socialist animus, newly galvanized by identity politics, long ago captured first the universities and then the schools.

They extended their empire by taking over the media, where “progressive” sentimentality now rules, and lately corporate culture.

Hence all of those bulletins from Brooks Brothers, Nike, and other woke emporia declaring their solidarity with Black Lives Matter this past summer and now, in the wake of the disruption at the Capitol last week, we have another round of hand-wringing, virtue-signaling bulletins denouncing Trump for his supposed assault on “our democracy.”

It’s been a long time coming. Immediately after the 2016 election, Google devoted one of its company-wide discussion sessions to the awfulness of the election and what it would do to prevent it from happening again.

The company would, asserted one executive, devote its enormous resources to ensure that the populist movement, “not just in the U.S. but around the world,” would be merely a “blip” and a “hiccup” in the “moral arc of history that bends toward progress.”

Well, Google certainly did its bit to defeat Trump, and now, they have joined other fascistic bastions of Big Tech—Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and the rest—to clamp down on dissenting opinion wherever it might be found: in the hands of Trump, certainly, who was unceremoniously booted off social media even as the free-speech Twitter alternative Parler.com was canceled from the Android and Apple app store and even booted from Amazon’s data servers.

The friend who wrote me this morning continued with this cherry prognostication: “I think that power will reveal the weakness, not the strength, of the Democrats, and they will tear themselves apart in the next two years.”

Maybe.

And maybe he’s also right that “the Republicans will win big in 2022, and Biden, assuming he lives four years, will be the last Democratic president, at least as that party is currently constituted.”

That is entirely possible, too, but only because the party is moving so rapidly to the left.

It’s his conclusion I find myself skeptical about. “The election of 2020 was, I think, the dawn of a new American politics.”

At the moment, I confess, it looks to me like the 2020 election was just the next step in that long march I described. Trump threw open the window of resistance. The giddy breezes of freedom blew about for a bit.

That window has been slammed shut now. The long march continues. Those directing it were surprised by Trump in 2016. They resolved not to let it happen again.

I’d say the odds are pretty good that it won’t.

Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “Who Rules? Sovereignty, Nationalism, and the Fate of Freedom in the 21st Century.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.