Sunday, January 21, 2018

Donald Trump, one year on

A year ago as of yesterday, Donald Trump was inaugurated and began serving the country as president of the United States. Back on November 13, 2016, as the smoke from the presidential election was clearing and people were still pulling themselves out of the rubble of their smashed and sundered expectations, I had written about the tough cognitive and psychological lessons I had learned over the course of that strange, surreal presidential campaign in which two candidates—both unsatisfactory to me—duked it out for a chance to sit in the Oval Office for the next four to eight years. Like much of the populace, I had thought that Hillary Clinton was going to skate to victory over The Donald, whose campaign to become president had struck me, for most of that year, as something on the order of a joke or a prank. Trump lacked conviction, I and others thought; he lacked the necessary drive and substance. He was a stumbling, fumbling, inarticulate boob who brought over plenty of baggage from his multiple failures in the business world (bankrupted four times! I recall myself saying); there was no way in hell a man like that—a superficial media figure, terrible speller, and mental lightweight—could possibly win against a seasoned intellectual like Hillary Clinton, who (1) had already spent time in the White House, (2) had plenty of political connections and experience, and (3) could, thanks to her law background, debate circles around Trump.

And then a strange thing happened.

Over the final months before the November 8 election, I began to notice other voices—people who had been there all along, but to whom I had paid little or no attention. These people, it turned out, had been calmly and assuredly predicting a Trump victory the entire time. From the moment The Donald announced his intention to run until that victorious night on November 8, 2016, these folks—including at least one acquaintance of mine as well as public voices like Scott Adams and alt-media kooks like Styxhexenhammer666—took The Donald at his word and clearly saw how he might plausibly—even easily—win. The lesson I learned, as I began to listen more closely to these alternative voices, was that—as I had written myself several times on this blog—there were at least two competing visions of reality out there, and the election would prove to be a litmus test for which vision was closer to the truth. Ultimately, the "alt" vision won out, thus ironically proving that it was, far from being a mere "alt" vision, actually a reflection of where mainstream America was and remains. This was a humbling lesson to me, mainly because it illustrated just how out of touch I had been (and probably still am) with my fellow countrymen. Like any human being, I don't like admitting when I'm wrong, but I did my blogger's duty and ate humble pie, laying out the ways in which I had been wrong about the election, and about Donald Trump in particular.

Since the election, there have been pragmatists who, like me, have willingly shifted their perspective to keep it in tune with reality. At the same time, we have all seen that, over the past year, there are millions of people, possibly as many as one hundred fifty million Americans, who refuse to acknowledge the fact that Donald Trump is president of the United States, and that he won the election fair and square. Yes, he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million: all of that margin of loss came from true-blue California, and even if Trump had lost in California by eleven million votes, it wouldn't have mattered at all.* This hasn't stopped half the country from refusing to accept reality. As a result, this disgruntled half of the public now lives in what Scott Adams would call a bubble of cognitive dissonance. From where I stand, given the pendular nature of US politics, it's simply the liberals' turn to wait four to eight years. The conservatives just spent eight years seething under Obama, and the country was obviously (well, now it's obvious to me) ready for a change.

Trump has been under fire—mostly unfairly, in my view—since even before he was inaugurated. Media outlets like the Huffington Post have been relentless against him, printing articles that range from small-minded nitpicking to full-on attacks, many of which are delusional in tone and content, and almost all of which play into a metanarrative that feeds a sort of collective confirmation bias: Trump can do nothing right; that's the story, and we're sticking to it. But the man seems to enjoy battling the media; he coexists in a sort of weird, vicious symbiosis with it: if the media ever stopped paying attention to Trump, it's possible that the Trump Train would grind to a halt. Like a vampire, Trump feeds on attention, both positive and negative; it's what keeps him going. At the same time, he obviously adores social media and alt media for the democratizing power they bring to all citizens—even to the very president of the US, who is no longer beholden to the gatekeeper press corps when he wishes to get the word out. No, Donald Trump can now go straight to Twitter with his apparently unedited thoughts ("negative press covfefe," anyone?), or he can push a 3-minute YouTube video in which he gives a brief speech about some of his most recent moves. Straight to the people. And this drives the media absolutely crazy: their privileged position in society has been taken away. Instead of being thought of as some sort of moral force shining a light on national and global iniquity, the media now look irrelevant and desperate, angrily posturing as a way to recover the scraps of their tattered dignity. Of course, millions of people still haven't woken up to the fact that the mainstream media are no longer worth watching or listening to, so the old-guard Fourth Estate still retains great power and influence. Luckily, that power and influence are eroding as more people shake themselves free of delusion.

Despite the positive trends, I've spent the past year feeling almost sorry for Donald Trump. He's been laboring under some of the most unfair conditions that any president has ever had to labor under. With media coverage so fiercely negative, Trump would have to be almost pathologically insensitive to the incoming attacks to be able to focus on his job. If it were me in Trump's chair, I'd have sent out squads of assassins, by now, to take out the families and best friends of my enemies, though not my enemies themselves: we can't have martyrs. And it's not just the media against Trump: it's deep-state** organizations like the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. True, on his mad scramble to the top of the presidential heap, Trump rather unwisely made plenty of enemies, and he hasn't been shy about pointing the finger or insulting people he felt needed to be insulted. In that sense, Trump has done a marvelous job of shooting himself in the foot, a quality that his enemies like to focus on.

But his enemies keep making the mistake of dismissing Trump with hastily cartoonish brush-offs: he's an idiot, he's a racist, he's a Nazi, he's an inveterate pussy-grabber whose latest publicized dalliance is with porn star Stormy Daniels (can we add that to the nineteen accusations of sexual impropriety against Trump?). He has no style; he has no strategy; he has no specific point of view. It's amazing how these people fail to see that most of the Trump-related nonsense we see in the news every day is just that: nonsense that's meant to distract the enemy from Trump's true agenda, which is the undoing of Obama's damage to the country through rehabilitation of the American economy and the reassertion of US prominence on the global stage. While people have focused, superficially, on Trump's infelicitous use of the word "shithole" (keep in mind that it's still not confirmed that Trump did, in fact, use that term), Trump has been busy doing the following (pulled from this recent blog post):

• He has improved the US economy by creating more than 2 million jobs, bringing overseas jobs back into the US, and unplugging suffocating, anti-business regulations. With the stock market as a bellwether, and with the DOW now currently over 26,000, Paul Krugman's dire prediction that Trump's election would prove a nightmare for the US economy is shown to be laughably false.
• With Mad Dog Mattis off his leash, Trump has been busily smashing ISIS wherever our military can find it. If you haven't seen much news of these victories in the news lately, that's by design: the "legacy" news media have no interest in relaying any of Trump's successes to you. Because Trump relentlessly refers to most news outlets as "fake news"—a term the mainstream media first developed as a way to denigrate positive spin on the president, but which Trump appropriated for himself—they have a personal stake in crucifying him every chance they get. If you want real news about Trump's successes, you're pretty much left with the alt media.
• Trump has refused a security-assistance package to Pakistan, stopped a $221 million transfer to Palestine, and cut other aid to Palestine in half. At the same time, he has brokered $300 billion in deals after taking a tour through several Asian countries, and he has put the world on notice that America will not be suckered into any more deals in which the US gets the short end of the stick.
• Keeping one of his campaign pledges, Trump appointed conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
• Trump has begun instituting a raft of changes in domestic and foreign policy:

- Dismantling Obama’s climate change initiatives.
- Travel bans for individuals from select countries embroiled in terrorist atrocities.
- Enforcing regulatory reform.
- Protecting law enforcement.
- Mandating for every new regulation to eliminate two (actual ratio: 1:22).
- Rebuilding the military.
- Building a border wall.
- Cutting funding for sanctuary cities.
- Approving Keystone and Dakota pipelines.
- Reducing regulations on manufacturers.
- Placing a hiring freeze on federal employees.
- Removing the US from the TPP.

Over the past couple of months, I've been collecting articles that have highlighted the positives of Trump's first year in office. Is this a biased thing to do? Of course it is, and it's no less biased than what the mainstream media has been doing, in the opposite direction, for the past year, without surcease. So if the following list of fifty-some links seems relentlessly one-sided to you, you're right. It is. And that's the point. The list then becomes a psych test of your own open-mindedness: how many of these links will you click? If you click none of them because you think you already know what they're going to say, well... that says something about you, your own bias, and your willingness to face other points of view. If you click on many of them, but only for the purpose of mentally formulating rebuttals, that also says something about the depth of your emotional commitment to your side. If, however, you click on the links, read their content, and accept what they say not because you've suddenly switched to Trump's side, but because you're simply balancing out the biased library of news articles and blog posts inside your head, then good for you: you're the one most likely to benefit from these links, the listing of which isn't meant to convert anyone so much as to expose people to the kind of news they've been missing for a whole year. (And it goes without saying that, if you're already a Trump supporter, and you're clicking these links merely to bask in confirmation of what you already believe, then you're just wasting your time.)

1. Trump vs. Al Franken on the sexual-harassment front
2. Trump as racist/white supremacist
3. Scott Adams on Trump's 2017 presidential report card
4. 26% rise in US hiring in November 2017
5. Even Jeb Bush applauds the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
6. Victor Davis Hanson: Trump's is an old-school, Reaganite conservatism
7. Styx: impeachment effort against Trump fails (12/8/17)
8. Althouse on Trump vs. Franken
9. Gateway Pundit: unemployment at 17-year low; 2 million new jobs
10. December 9, 2017: Dr. V evaluates Trump, esp. his Pensacola speech
11. the "un-personing" of Garrison Keillor (possibly a function of "the Trump Effect," in which people who attack Trump usually end up hobbling themselves)
12. Trump is managing the media's downfall.
13. the positive effects of/responses to Trump's tax bill
14. the media's very bad year, and another look at "the Trump Effect"
15. while no one was looking, Trump & GOP got things done. One quotable (edited because of a frustrating lack of commas):

When congressional Republicans failed to enact many of President Barack H. Obama’s agenda items on looser immigration laws, gun control and “social justice” issues, they were declared by the press to be The Party of No. When Senate Democrats blocked one GOP bill after another supporting the agenda of President Donald J. Trump, the media lauded them as The Heroic Resistance. When President Obama declared that he had a pen and a phone and took executive, extra-legislative action in response, he was declared to be Decisive. When the pen and phone in question were placed in President Trump’s hands, he was branded as Authoritarian.

16. WSJ: rise in consumer confidence at Christmas
17. Trump's agenda owned 2017.

The first year of Donald Trump's presidency has, in many ways, been exactly what you would expect: Trump has continued to drive his opponents — and sometimes his allies — batty with his predictable unpredictability, distracting the media and dominating the national conversation, all the while implementing many of the major policy initiatives he promised in his sweep into office.

Political pundits, media elites and pollsters decree that the presidency is on shaky ground. They'll note that the president remains divisive, with record high unfavorable ratings. There’s no way he and the GOP can survive this.

Sound familiar? It’s the same mistake most of them made in 2016. Americans may not always like the “way” President Trump does his job, but they do like a lot of “what” he is doing. Proof is the paucity of polling data and media coverage on many of the popular policy initiatives that put Americans first: job creation, the economy, immigration, national security, fair trade, support for law enforcement and the military, international relations.

The media remains consumed with Trump’s job approval rating while missing the most important metric: what Americans can see with their own eyes. And while the next Congressional election looms 10 months down the road — a lifetime in modern politics — concerned Republicans will have considerable advantages thanks to what Trump accomplished for the American people in 2017.

18. (Some) Dems approve of Trump's stance on Russia.
19. no new wars under Trump in 2017
20. Americans Fleeing Blue States to Avoid High Taxes (the problem is that these people bring their blue-state voting habits with them into the red states, thus "purpling" their new home)
21. Of all people, Ridley Scott defends GOP tax bill.
22. Rasmussen: Trump approval same as Obama's at the end of his first year.
23. media coverage of Trump = 3X more negative than for Obama
24. on the public's distrust of the media
25. WaPo Opinion: Trump's little-noticed war on hidden taxes
26. "Trumps Ends 2017 Residing in his Enemies' Heads"
27. Is Trump out-Gippering the Gipper?
28. "Stupid" Donald Trump has had more success than Ventura or Schwarzenegger
29. Far from propelling Hillary into the White House, "weaponized" feminine anger propelled Trump in.
30. "It’s amazing how the sex-harassment torpedo the Dems aimed at Trump has circled back around on them."
31. taking Trump seriously
32. Trump vs. Obama on Iran
33. RCP: Trump's Top 10 Achievements in 2017
34. WaPo on Trump's shrinkage of federal bureaucracy
35. 1/1/18: Trump's sneakily successful first year
36. the NYT struggles to save its collusion tale
37. The Year of the Donald (with thanks to Bill Keezer for the Diplomad link)
38. the Rooseveltian effectiveness of Trump's tough talk overseas
39. In a rare move, the NYT praises Trump.
40. US manufacturing enjoys its best year since 2004.
41. 2017: a record year for counterterrorism strikes
42. VDH: Trump vs. Obama: the great experiment
43. Bernie Sanders on questions of Trump's sanity
44. "Twitter-fueled" foreign policy not as bad as you'd think
45. Michael Wolff's "dementia Trump" has never been seen in public
46. NK being "strangled" by Trump
47. Trump should cut aid to UNRWA.
48. Roger Simon: Trump as the lone adult in the room on immigration
49. Trump confounds the media yet again.
50. 2017: the year the media went to war against the president
51. Trump deconstructs Obama's legacy.
52. Has Trump made the world more dangerous?
53. Trump's fake-news awards
54. The media treat Trump and Hillary's health differently. (No shit.)
55. DOW up 31%—best since FDR
56. "I wasn't a Trump supporter. I am now."
57. Trump hired a surprising number of women.
58. Trump's First Year: Truth Gets Lost in Hysteria (This one's a must-read.)

It galls me to say this, but I was wrong about Trump's prospects for winning, and I was wrong about Trump's fitness to lead. He's doing a good job under incredible pressure from both the left and the right. While I still think that Trump does much to undermine himself whenever he speaks or tweets in an off-the-cuff way, I'm willing to believe, along with his defenders, that he is, in fact, capable of thinking both strategically and in a "4-D chess" kind of way. Too many of his opponents have ended up tangled in their own snares for me to believe otherwise; there is a such thing as "the Trump Effect." I don't think Trump's intemperate rhetoric is going to lead us into war; that's the propaganda (and your own fear) talking. If anything, I think Trump's understanding of human psychology, based on years of getting in the muck while doing business, stands him in good stead. If he comes off sounding childishly Freudian when he claims, for example, to have a bigger, more powerful nuclear button, the nervous public should understand that this is all part of the Trumpian theater. Yes, it's embarrassing to hear trash talk like this from a US president, but trust that Trump knows his audience.

Furthermore, I trust that Trump knows what he's doing when it comes to the economy. Deregulating the market is, according to my own convictions, one of the best things he could be doing right now, especially after eight years of oppression and strangulation under Obama, who seemed to take a dim view of both capitalism and the notion of American success in the international arena. Creating jobs and helping businesses, both big and small, are good priorities to focus on, and the American heartland, eight years forgotten, is thankful.

I'm not exactly rabidly pro-Wall, but I also don't think a wall is a bad way to stop the influx of illegals from crossing into the States (you say a wall is ineffective?). I'm pro-immigration, but pro-legal immigration. Bring in people who don't (1) reject assimilation, (2) drag along their seventh-century values and, (3) instead of being thankful for where they now live, end up quietly seething with hatred for their new country. We have no use for such scum. At the same time, I'm not completely against amnesty, which scares conservatives because amnesty has the potential instantly to create a huge pro-Democrat voting bloc. I'd be okay with risking the creation of such a voting bloc if it meant we got to keep a group of hard-working, loyal Americans. Anyway, that's a discussion for another blog post.

Where I part ways with Trump is in his continuation of bad policies in both Syria and Afghanistan; I'd like to see a serious build-down in both areas. I'm also unhappy with his arms deal, last year, with Saudi Arabia. We shouldn't be keeping up the pretense that that country, a major sponsor of terrorism, is any sort of friend. I'm happy to see Saudi Arabia belatedly liberalizing, but until I see the country actively cracking down on global terror, I'll continue to treat it with circumspection. As things stand, Trump's deal with Saudi Arabia feels like Obama's bad deal with Iran, and in both cases, it's like gifting your rapist with a dildo.

Friends and readers of mine who aren't where I am on the political spectrum will doubtless point out, in the comments, Trump's myriad personal flaws, grave moral failings, lapses in leadership, and potentially crippling scandals—not to mention where they think I've gone wrong in writing this post. I welcome this. Feel free to list your complaints and to bolster them with links to various articles that damn Trump in this way or that. Do note, however, that I think this will be far easier for you to do than it was for me to collect those fifty-eight links, which took weeks. Articles critical of Trump, meanwhile, are far too easy to find.

So at this point, I'd call myself at least partially a believer. That doesn't mean I think Trump is perfect: I think, for example, that Trump should stay the hell away from social-conservative issues like reproductive rights, trans people in the military, and other matters involving personal choice and sexuality. I wouldn't mind at all if he insinuated himself into the ongoing debate about on-campus free speech, but I don't trust him to have either the nuance or the eloquence to say what needs to be said. Then again, who knows? I've been wrong about Trump before, and I'll likely be wrong again.

ADDENDUM: 2018 is the year for midterm elections. Some liberal Democrats are thinking there's going to be a "blue wave" in which they'll recover quite a few lost seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. I'm thinking that, if the economy is truly improving and not merely a bubble, that's only going to hurt the Democrats this coming November, and in the end, their influence in Congress will end up either remaining about the same or actually diminishing. The Dems aren't wise to look at Alabama—and their recent defeat of pervy Republican Roy Moore—as a bellwether for November. It isn't: defeating an old, gropey lecher is no major victory. It's certainly not predictive of the future, and things are already starting to look bad for the Democrats. These are just inklings, of course, but there's reason to suspect the start of a trend.

ADDENDUM 2 (23 Jan, 1:32AM): Donald Trump, in his own words.

*According to the New York Times, the election numbers were these:

HRC: 65,853,625 votes
DJT: 62,985,106 votes
Margin: HRC wins the popular vote by 2,868,519.

HRC: 232
DJT: 306
Margin: 74 (not a landslide, but Trump won 132% of HRC's electoral vote)

HRC: 8,753,788 votes
DJT: 4,483,810 votes
Margin: HRC wins CA by 4,269,978

Ergo: California, all by itself, more than accounts for all of HRC's overage. She could have won California with 12 million votes to Trump's 1 million, and it wouldn't have made a difference: she would still have gotten 55 electoral votes for California.

**The term "Deep State" or "deep state" isn't some raving-looney designation. It's a reference to the entrenched elements of power in the US government–the people who, once installed in given positions in the government, never seem to leave. These are the people who stay entrenched, and who develop their own reasons for never departing their particular niches. These are the folks who watch presidents and congressmen come and go; they are, arguably, the real people in power, and their power comes from the fact that they endure. This is why more and more people speak of the "deep state," these days, as if it were an entity with a mind and an agenda of its own. But far from being some shadowy, paranoid fantasy, the deep state exists, and it doesn't even require any effort of imagination to understand how it came to be and how it might not have your best interests at heart.


John Mac said...

Fantastic analysis, Kevin. Spot on in my view. I was actually surprised at just how close we are in our political viewpoints.

Like you, I was no Trump fan. As I stated often prior to the election, given the choice between a crook and a clown, I'll take the clown every time. I've been pleasantly surprised with Trump's leadership in the face of unrelenting attacks from the MSM (or as Instapundit puts "Democratic operatives with bylines").

I'm obviously not happy with the government shutdown, but again I think the media spin that this is Trump's fault is going to backfire. It doesn't take much smarts to see who has blocked the funding bill.

Anyway, I rarely engage in political discussions anymore as it seems so pointless. So it was good to read some common sense here this morning. Thanks!

Anonymous said...


As a long time voyeur of your blog, and LTG's, I am inspired to comment on this post... It is the best objective opinion I have read to date about the subject matter.

I follow him on Twitter. I never understood Twitter until he gained traction in the media about his "Tweets". So I created an account and started following.

There is no filter anymore between the POTUS and the people. He throws the ball over the media and we get to hear exactly what he wants us to hear. As you eloquently stated-"...straight to the people...this drives the media absolutely crazy: their privileged position in society has been taken away..."

Spot on Mate!

King Baeksu said...

Nationalism versus globalism. Populism versus elitism. Realism versus fantasy. That's what the 2016 campaign was all about.

I would also note that there have been quite a few reports of election fraud on the part of the Democrats, so I would take any voting figures the lamestream media trot out as highly dubious.

See here. for example:

In addition, Los Angeles County officials informed the project that “the number of registered voters now stands at a number that is a whopping 144% of the total number of resident citizens of voting age.”

The Democrats have decided that if they can't win on the agenda they have backed, meaning neoliberal corporatism prettified with social-justice pandering, then they'll just keep importing left-leaning voters until they have an unbeatable majority. In other words, they hate traditional Americans and want to steal the country away from them. Is this not colonialism by another name?

Fuck 'em.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks for the comments, gentlemen.

Anonymous: just a heads-up that my policy is not to publish anonymous comments (I made an exception for you just this once, since you're an acquaintance of LTG's), so I'll ask you to sign a name to your comments from now on. You can still publish as "Anonymous," but simply add a name INSIDE the comment-text window; do it at the beginning of the comment so I can see the name first (e.g., "Hey, Max here."). It doesn't have to be your real name—just a screen name will do. (Please refer to my comments policy, which sits above the comment window.)

Anyway, thanks again, gentlemen, for your insights.

John from Daejeon said...

Excellent post! Now all you need is a YouTube channel to give us an alternative to a shirtless Styxhexenhammer666.

Kevin Kim said...

John from Daejeon,

Thanks. Styx has no common sense when it comes to clothing, but I don't have a tenth of his common sense when it comes to politics. I spent the first three-fourths of my life either scorning politics or trying hard to ignore it.