From its start, the Trump administration has been plagued by charges of “chaos.” From the revolving door of senior staffers — including two secretaries of state, three national security advisers and two chiefs of staff — to the president’s brash and sometimes boorish personal style, to his politically incorrect taunt-tweeting, Donald Trump has refused to conform to his political opponents’ conventional notions of what constitutes an effective White House operation.
And yet, the economy is humming, hosts of regulations have been rolled back, the unemployment rate is down, job openings are soaring, taxes have been cut and black joblessness is at an all-time low. Prototypes for the wall along the Mexican border are being tested, raids by ICE are rounding up dangerous illegal aliens and the “travel ban” against several Muslim nations was argued last month before the Supreme Court, where the president’s authority over immigration will be upheld.
In foreign affairs, the two Koreas are talking to each other, with a summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un slated for June in Singapore, the ISIS “caliphate” has been effectively destroyed and just last week Trump yanked the carpets out from under the Iranian mullahs and canceled the nuclear deal negotiated — but never submitted to the Senate for ratification — by the Obama administration.
In short, this has been the most effective administration since FDR’s first term. And it’s being accomplished in the teeth of the so-called “resistance,” which includes the overt hostility of nearly all the mainstream media, the embedded civil service, the Democrats, the never-Trump Republicans, rogue elements of the intelligence and investigative agencies and Robert Mueller’s investigation into charges of “collusion” with the Russians.
The truth is, as much as they hate Trump’s policies, the president’s enemies hate the man even more. Donald Trump offends the establishment on a personal, visceral level. His opponents are the same folks who idolized Adlai Stevenson and thought Ike was just a dolt who somehow won World War II. Who worshipped John F. Kennedy (but were repelled by LBJ), hated Nixon, thought Reagan was an amiable dunce and erected shrines to Obama. They are the Ivy Leaguers, the credentialists, the Georgetown establishment for whom there is only one right way to conduct a presidency, and that is the Harvard-Democratic-groupthink way.
What Trump understands, however, is what many great leaders have understood: that “chaos,” not consensus, is the way ideas are tried and tested. That if someone or something isn’t working, scrap it and try something else. Results are what count, not consistency: Trump’s ability to morph from saber-rattling lunatic to charming glad-hander infuriates them because they see it as phony.
doesn’t just frighten
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So what? That doesn’t mean it isn’t also effective. Just ask Emmanuel Macron of France, who couldn’t be less like Trump and yet has developed a curious personal rapport with the brash American boss, akin to that of a puppy around its master. Watch for France to start edging away from the Iran deal as well.
Further, a fleet of yes-men and sycophants isolates and insulates a chief executive from unforeseen consequences. JFK’s best and brightest drove the nation into the sloughs of Vietnam. Nixon’s henchmen concealed from him the political gravity of Watergate until it was too late. Obama was so cocksure of his own moral rectitude, he hardly bothered with constitutional niceties.
Finally, Trump’s very unpredictability doesn’t just frighten the Beltway bonzes and chin-pullers, it also terrifies his opponents. While North Korea’s Kim remains hard to read, he’s also no longer firing missiles over Japan. The Saudis, following the strong American horse, have made their antipathy for the Iranian regime clear and are threatening to acquire their own nukes should Tehran overtly resume its nuke development. Having survived domestic uprisings in 2009 and 2017 by the restive Iranian young people, the graybeard mullahs won’t be so lucky a third time.
True, the fall elections are shaping up as a big test, but Trump has already eliminated some of the thorns in his side, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate gadflies Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, who have announced their retirements. Should the GOP hang on to the House, a Trump-friendly speaker will move the legislative agenda forward.
The big geopolitical test will be a resurgent China, whose new strongman-for-life Xi Jinping will prove a far more formidable adversary than a fading Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Look for Trump to resume his carrot-and-stick handling of Xi: flowers and chocolates one minute, gunboats in the South China Sea the next. The trick is to keep the Chinese guessing and thus proceeding with caution in order to keep the peace.
If that’s chaos, then let us have more if it.