Trump’s ‘Political Masterstroke’ Leaves Press Scrambling to Apply Double Standard

August 9, 2020 Updated: August 12, 2020

Commentary

It’s a good thing that left-wingers are typically deficient in the sense of shame (just as they tend to be deficient in the sense of humor). If they weren’t, they would be finding it hard to live with themselves just now.

When President Donald Trump announced four executive orders at the hastily called presser at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Aug. 7, the press looked down at its collective knickers and found them in a twist.

The president had been negotiating for weeks with Congress to address the suffering and economic displacement caused by the coronavirus. (Actually, truth in advertising requires that I emend that. The suffering and economic displacement were caused by the drastic overreaction to the disease, which overreaction on the part of governmental agencies was itself sparked by the cynical politicization of the disease, its reformulation into an anti-Trump weapon.)

Since Congress declined to act, Trump stepped into the breach. He issued orders providing for a payroll tax “holiday” through the end of the year for those earning less than $100,000, extending the payment of a weekly supplement for unemployment benefits, prolonging a moratorium on repayment of government-funded student loans, and continuing the suspension of eviction from government subsidized housing.

The Washington Post greeted this bold action with the headline: “Trump Attempts to Wrest Tax and Spending Powers Away from Congress.”

Hugh Hewitt got to the heart of the unintended comedy here when he noted that “when President Obama pioneered selective enforcement of law, media elites applauded. … The powers supporting the laws which President Obama suspended—the immigration and border laws—are as ‘fundamental, constitutionally mandated’ as the taxing and spending powers. It will be revealing to see which reporters/platforms attempt to distinguish between the powers. … If an editorial outlet condemns @realDonaldTrump action but was silent on the President Obama’s DACA and DAPA, they are engaging in rank hypocrisy.”

Indeed.

Hewitt goes on to point out that the reverse is not true because Trump is relying on the precedent Obama set, which has yet to be overturned. Consequently, he concludes, if you encounter outrage over Trump’s “unilateral and unprecedented executive actions,” and so on, “understand the writer or speaker is either ignorant or deceitful” (or, I might add, both).

As a matter of principle, I am not at all sure that I think Trump’s executive orders are good ideas—except, that is, for the payroll tax “holiday.” I’d make it permanent, but then I would also abolish Social Security, a “temporary” government program instituted in a time of crisis but which, like most government initiatives, took on a life of its own. What started as an emergency expedient came in time to be an expected “right.”

But what I think is neither here nor there. Those who worry about the constitutional legitimacy of Trump’s actions—and there are plenty on the right as well as the left—may have a point. But no one who didn’t object to Obama’s “pen and phone” assault on the Constitution has standing in the Court of Kimball to complain.

At the end of the day, however, I think that Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff got it exactly right. Perhaps Trump’s executive actions exceed his authority. Perhaps. (Certainly, plenty of things Lincoln and FDR did exceeded their authority.)

But the real issue here is practical, and I think history will agree with Mirengoff. The executive actions, he wrote, were a “political masterstroke.”

“Since the days of FDR, the public has always seemed to approve of presidents who act to ameliorate suffering while Congress diddles. A flurry of activity, even of the futile or potentially counterproductive kind, makes a president look energetic and caring,” he wrote.

“In this instance, Trump’s move might well force congressional Democrats to reach a deal. That outcome, too, would be a political win for the president.”

Mirengoff is right, too, that the flailing displeasure of outlets such as The Washington Post at Trump’s executive orders is another sign that the president did a politically smart thing.

I need to program into a keystroke the famous disclaimer by Harold Wilson that a week is a long time in politics. Maybe 10 million people in the United States will die from the CCP virus, maybe the stock market will crash, maybe China will invade New York, or North Korea will launch an EMP attack on the United States.

Such things are possible. But possibility is cheap. It is much more probable that the trends we observe now will continue.

The coronavirus threat will continue to recede. The stock market will continue its rise even as unemployment continues to fall. There may be saber rattling, and there will certainly be teeth gnashing, by China, Russia, North Korea, Democrats, the media, and other enemies of America. But it will all be sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In short, it is more and more likely that Trump will be reelected president. I have thought so for a while now, at least since his magnificent speech at Mount Rushmore.

His calm and compassionate actions on Aug. 7 make his reelection all the more likely. They really were a “political masterstroke.” It will be interesting to see what happens when the Dems wake up to that fact.

Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia.”

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