So you may consider this a quick round-up of my thoughts thus far in the aftermath of a very weird election, and my medium-warm hot take on how the presidential transition is going. But quite apart from how it might actually be going, I do have to say that I am enjoying the transition way more than I thought I would be enjoying it. And here are some of the reasons why, along with some free observations here and there.
In case there are some people just joining us, I did not vote for Donald Trump. After a long series of Republican contenders who seemed conservative and who promised to stay that way, but who usually didn’t stay that way—think Lucy and the football—it seemed to me that Trump, who didn’t seem conservative, and who wouldn’t promise to stay that way, the phrase “safe bet” was not the one that came to mind. He seems to me to be a carnal man through and through, and erratically conservative, if that. So I wanted both Trump and Hillary to lose, but only one of them managed to deliver on that prospect—and I have previously confessed that I was surprised at how delighted the Clinton loss made me. That is my disclaimer. But if you read to the end, you will find that my disclaimer has a disclaimer.
In all that you read, both here and elsewhere, remember that success does not alter the truth, and winning an election does not affect who owes an apology to whom. In the consideration of Romney for State, much was made of what Romney said about Trump in the campaign. Trump responded, magnanimously after a fashion, that he had said hard things about Romney as well. But the issue is not hard and soft words. The issue is true and false words. But there is a political class that measures the winner as the one who is owed an apology. If Trump were to be found considering Cruz for the Supreme Court, nobody would ask how this was possible without Trump apologizing for what he said about Rafael Cruz.
This matter of the truth is going to come up again when I get to Trump’s competence as a player in negotiations, which is starting to seem to me to be a high level of carnal competence. I say this with qualified admiration, which is not the same thing as approval or applause.
Although I do not approve of him as a model of righteousness, my opinion of his canniness has risen greatly. And although his brand of populism is not my kind of conservatism, I have been surprised, pleasantly, by his cabinet selections so far—particularly DeVos, Price, and Mattis. If personnel is policy, as wise heads agree that it is, the developments thus far have been encouraging. Part of the spectacle in all this has been watching the reactions of Never Trumpers as Trump appears to be assembling a Never Trump dream team. One goes, as so many political observers before us have gone, huh.
He was ridiculed during the campaign for “speaking at a fourth grade level.” His opponents, Hillary chief among them, concluded erroneously that he must therefore be thinking at a fourth grade level, and all them went ho ho ho at their campaign staff meetings, their pasty white hands resting comfortably on their shaking tummies as they laughed. Ho ho ho. When the election was over, he had untucked all their shirts and pulled them over their heads, and had also rolled their socks down until they formed a little caulk-like bead around the edges of their shoes. Whatever else we conclude about this, it should not be that Donald Trump staggered into the presidency by accident.
I will say something more about the economics of the Carrier deal in a moment, but first let us simply consider the theatrical aspects of it. Consider it in the context of the theatrics of a presidential candidate going on a “thank you tour” after the election. If he swoops in and saves three more manufacturing plants like this, cameras following him everywhere, the Democrats just might lose the blue collar vote for good. And if he picks out two moonscape inner cities like Detroit and Chicago and goes after them with economic opportunities, the Democrats might discover that someone just raided their plantation and stole all their slaves.
Speaking of theater, let me point out that his brief phone call with the president of Taiwan was a stroke of genius. He is preparing to negotiate with China, and so before negotiating, he decided to unilaterally move the starting point of those negotiations about twenty yards away from where there were. Prior to any negotiations, Trump’s approach appears to be to “destabilize everything.” Get a lot more on the table before you sit down at the table.
Here is another example. Trump has said that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for the millions of illegals that voted. Outrageous, and where’s your evidence, pal? But notice that he is doing this in response to the left trying to run recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and nobody is challenging them for the evidence of wrongdoing. On top of that, the left is the faction that has consistently opposed things like Voter ID laws that would cut down on voting irregularities. So they, in a cynical political move, call for a recount—and the first thing Trump does is put all voting irregularities on the table. He destabilizes prior to negotiation.
I am not saying Trump is right about this issue or that one. I am pointing out his technique.
Now to the economics of it. Donald Trump has promised to punish any American company that moves operations overseas. The first scalp he took in this regard was that of Carrier, and he is promising more to come. This is the populism part. He is talking tough to the CEOs and their boards, and the conservatives who point out that tariffs make no economic sense (and who are correct about that) are simply gaming out the economics of the tariffs if applied. But it seems obvious to me that Trump is not going to be imposing all that many tariffs. He is destabilizing things in order to negotiate. He is going to threaten a lot of tariffs, but he is also going to sweeten a lot of deals in the back room—in the tax code and in regulatory agencies. What Trump is saying to assembly line workers is that he is going to punish American companies for moving to Mexico. What he is most likely to do is to stop the left’s insane policies of punishing companies for not going to Mexico.
Sarah Palin was exactly right. If this was a one-off deal for Carrier, then it is crony capitalism. But if the overarching plan is to drastically lower tax rates for all manufacturers, and to lift a large part of the regulatory burden from them, which it appears to be, then it isn’t a betrayal of any fundamental conservative principle. His destabilizing rhetoric about waterboarding CEOs of delinquent companies considered as policy would be a problem, but I am not sure that is what is happening.
So if he gets rid of the “please-go-to-Mexico” tax burden, and all the “please-go-to-Mexico” regulations, then this aspect of the thing is going to turn out okay. American factories, even with their higher labor costs, can certainly compete, but only if the tax and regulatory burden leans heavily the other way to compensate.
The tough talk means that he destabilized the negotiations successfully beforehand, such that he cannot plausibly be accused of playing cozy with fellow billionaires. And if he keeps this up, and visits a bunch of “not-shut-down-after-all” factories, he might actually bring about a bizarre kind of rapprochement between labor and management. We will see.
Code of the Salty Dog
A central key to Trump’s appeal was his willingness to put his foot through the side of political correctness. Inside the bubble of the ruling elites, there was no awareness of how heartily sick of it (and them) everybody has gotten.
When the audio was released of Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush, it was widely and correctly concluded that Trump was simply a vulgarian with money. And he won anyway. That is a political levitation trick that should continue to astound us all. The people who said that he was toast after that were not being unreasonable. In a normal universe he would have been toast. But the weird universe was not ushered in with Trump. The weird universe was the politically correct one, jammed down our throats by a rampaging left. Trump was the reaction to that, and it was the first weirdness that those inside the bubble noticed.
But consider this. In the aftermath of Trump’s statement that he would nominate James Mattis for Defense, a number of quotes from the good general have been circulating. Here is a sampler batch of them.
But unlike Trump’s crassness, this appears to be part of an honor code, a warrior ethic, the code of the salty dog. And as I have been watching Christians respond to Mattis, they have generally been responding with delight. How come? This warrior ethic is not a Christian ethic, as should be obvious at a glance. The delight is the delight of relief—relief from the bizarro-world created by the burgeoning insanities of politically-correctness. Stoicism is not Christianity, but many Christians would apparently rather live in a world shaped by Stoics than by Babylonian orgy-organizers.
No doubt I will comment more on this aspect of things as events continue to unfold. In the meantime, compare any given picture of James Mattis to the line-up of European defense ministers presented in the picture at the top. They are, reading from left to right, the defense ministers for Albania, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and Italy.
Never Trump Just the First Time?
Now to qualify the disclaimer. To what extent does all this mean a possible reappraisal of how we Never Trump folks voted? That should be divided into two questions, actually.
Does an admission that I was possibly wrong about how Trump would act once elected mean that I am rethinking how I voted? Actually, no, not at all. You make decisions on the basis of what you know, and what we knew about Trump was that what he is currently doing seemed extremely unlikely. That was not an unreasonable position for thoughtful people to take, and if you put me back three months ago, knowing what I knew then, I would do exactly the same thing, and no apologies.
But the second point is worth considering also, and so those conservatives who held out against Trump in 2016 (and well done) still need to move on and start setting up another template in their heads. So here is the question. What would it take for us to be willing to vote for a Trump second term?
Suppose—or to use Lennon’s dreamy way of phrasing it, Imagine—that Planned Parenthood is prosecuted for the sale of baby parts, that Trump nominates and fights for a true conservative for the Supreme Court, and suppose he does the same thing two more times after that, that Obamacare is dragged out to a deserted place on the Eastern Shore and set on fire, that tax rates are slashed and the economy booms, and that Gen. Mattis turns the military back into a branch of government for effective fighting, instead of a bizarre Petri dish for social engineering and nation building?
At what point would we realize that Trump is the son in the parable who said that he wouldn’t go and work in the vineyard and yet did (Matt. 21:28-29)? I am not raising the question because I am there—I certainly am not. But I have been enjoying the transition enough that the question has occurred to me.