A Fortnight Into The Trump Era

02/04/2017 01:00 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2017

It may be hard to believe, but the cartoonishly, colossally corrupt and menacing, mendacious reign of a reality TV star, leader of the racist “birther” movement, serial sex predator, multiply-bankrupt defrauder of working-class contractors — who has to date not disclosed his tax returns — began two weeks ago, when he took the oath of office and was sworn in as the 45th president of the US of A. He then issued a 16-minute peroration about his greatness and the country’s abasement as rain began to fall, alternative facts to the contrary.

It is almost impossible to keep track of everything that has happened since, at least by daily media cycles.

New York Magazine

Into the ravenous, gaping maw of non-stop news-flow, a few recent articles in the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial board was (at least originally) #NeverTrump, illustrate the kind and degree of chaos emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, an address that used to evoke, in the time before the Great Derangement, a feeling of patriotism — or at least a modicum of comfort that the people in positions of power know what they are doing.

We can now all disabuse ourselves of that illusion. Last week, a sweeping ban on travelers from seven countries that happen to be predominantly Muslim took effect, a ban that is assured by officials to be temporary. (As of this writing, another federal judge swatted it down — at least temporarily.) Even among those who support the policy of barring immigrants and refugees on principle, several raised questions about how the executive order has been implemented, or “rolled out” as if it were a New Product.

Daniel Henninger, in a column published on Feb. 1, writes that “shock and awe,” a “term of art from U.S. war doctrine,” has “been deployed by advocates” of the president “to describe the pace of executive actions the past two weeks.” Henninger adds that “military originators of this concept” refers to the invasion of Iraq nearly a decade and a half ago: “a ‘doctrine of rapid dominance’ whose goal was to affect the will of an adversary ‘to fight or respond to our strategic policy.’”

Henninger believes this “fits the Trump strategic model: Put political actions in motion and force the world to adjust.” For the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, “the White House’s shock and awe of executive orders mainly has effected a popular uprising, and not just in the streets.” Henninger admits that while “the political system, especially the bureaucracies, needed to be challenged and shaken up,” the president’s “partisan opposition, notably the organized squads of street people, was already on hair trigger,” adding:

The fallout from the Trump order on immigrant and refugee restrictions may be bringing to life too many disparate forces against him and his young presidency. The Trump team, which is all about action, seems determined to push the envelope at every turn. That’s fine, so long as they don’t tear through the envelope, which is what happened when several federal judges poked holes in the executive order’s unfinished legal foundation.

Henninger warns later on that “this White House should not want an anti-Trump psychology, inflamed by the limitless gasoline of social media, to compete with and weaken the president’s support.” God forbid. Or worse, according to Journal editorial board member Joseph Rago, “the intellectuals who think they’re living in Airstrip One might ponder how effective nonstop hyperpanic is a form of resistance, or how it comes off to normal nonpolitical people.” Rago is right, but not for his reasons: people who are committed to resisting this regime must make sure not to burn out, because that’s what the regime — i.e. the “administration” — wants: an atomized, apathetic, and disaffected society of consumers, not of citizens.

Holman Jenkins, another opinion writer for the financial establishment’s paper of record, aims volleys at Angela Merkel, whose “spinning and trimming, let’s be fair, has also been extraordinarily successful at keeping her in power, the first job of any elected politician,” but quickly goes on to observe that “at some point, the incoming Trump administration will achieve a greater smoothness in its consideration and implementation of policy—unlike the chaotic rollout of its travel ban,” clearly the only relevant issue with it. Jenkins points out “the absence of the words ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ in his inaugural address” and that there is no “vision of how America came to be great in the first place.”

Last but not least, columnist Bret Stephens declares that the model at work is an exaggerated version of Nixon’s “Madman Theory.” Stephens quotes Nixon’s executive counsel Leonard Garment, who said Henry Kissinger told him that “if the chance comes your way, convey the impression that Nixon is somewhat “crazy” — immensely intelligent, well-organized and experienced, to be sure, but at moments of stress or personal challenge unpredictable and capable of the bloodiest brutality.”

Stephens opines that “one of the promises of Donald Trump’s presidency is that it might restore some of the right kind of crazy to U.S. foreign policy, just as the Nixon administration did with the 1973 nuclear alert,” which nearly caused World War III, but also “stopped the Soviets from intervening in the Yom Kippur War.” What happened in the last two weeks is “the wrong kind” of mad behavior: “capricious, counterproductive, cruel and dumb.”

The problem is that the madman theory is “supposed to be about moments of crisis, not everyday governance.” He argues is that “so far, what this administration has mainly managed to do is paint itself into corners, where it either has to back down or double down,” identified as “crazy of a particularly dangerous sort.” What he does not say is that this regime has no interest in governance, but in a perpetual campaign that seeks to divide the citizens of this country, in which neither his opponents and his supporters will be spared from the damage.

CONVERSATIONS