Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mr. Trump Goes To Washington

You may recall that the issues that won Donald Trump the Republican nomination and ultimately the Presidency were things that more or less had simplicity and economic nationalism in common. Trump wove a story of feckless elite American leadership that was either compromised by, intimidated by or in bed with foreign interests.Trump was going to change all this by putting America first. Now people who bothered to look at Trump's business history and that of his family knew that this was at best unlikely. But what the Democrats and their candidate didn't understand was that there was a hunger for the narrative that Trump was selling, that America needed to put its own economic and military interests first and stop dancing to the tune called by transnational corporations and Beltway elites. There is obviously a very strong racist and anti-Semitic undertone to some of this once you dig into it. But as I've written elsewhere in and of itself nationalism is not always a bad thing. Many of Trump's most fervent supporters were drawn to his oft simplistic, yet generally nationalist stances on trade, immigration, jobs, foreign policy and infrastructure. Well the Presidency has a way of changing people. There were plenty of indications of this even before the latest news but over the past ten days or so the President has gone out of his way to reverse himself on many of his statements made prior to becoming President.  

So far Trump has:
  • Bombed Syria despite being vociferously against President Obama doing that.
  • Come out in support of the Ex-Im bank
  • Said that NATO is important and not obsolete, as he had previously claimed
  • Declined to end President Obama's DACA program
  • Declined to label China a currency manipulator
  • Declined to overhaul the H1-B program
  • Picked the pro-immigration pro-Globalization economist Kevin Hassett to become Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors
Now some of these reversals could actually be good policy ideas. It's a truism that there really isn't any job that can prepare you to be President of the United States. In that job you have information and responsibility that you can't get anywhere else. If you didn't change your perspective (and your mind) on some things after being in that job you'd be a bigger idiot than I think Trump is. That said it appears at least in part that Trump is responding to the corporate conservativism of people represented by the CEO's with whom he meets regularly and of course his apparent two favorite people in the world, his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner. 

Kushner currently appears to be winning an alleged power struggle with Trump advisor, Breitbart chief and economic (white) nationalist Steve Bannon. Who can tell how all of these battles will end? We're just the grass trying not to be trampled while the elephants fight. I do know that some of Trump's more verbal and vitriolic conservative supporters are cooling to him. For some the Syria attack was confirmation that Trump had either been corrupted by the Washington establishment or even worse never had the slightest intention on following through on his campaign promises that were most important to them. It's still very early. No supporter of any President ever gets everything that he wants.

Still I thought it was interesting that having being denied by doctrinaire conservatives a chance to greatly wound ObamaCare, Trump responded by pushing initiatives which many hardcore conservatives, including his base, do not support. It could be an indication that the President takes all opposition personally and doesn't really have any strong ideological convictions. Maybe he's trying to stick it to conservatives. Or maybe Trump really does repeat whatever the last smart person he talked to told him. Perhaps he's just an incoherent blowhard with a deep need to be considered smart and competent. Who knows? It does show that at least as far as the establishment is concerned on the issues they care about, Trump is not as much of a bull in the china shop as some people, supporters and detractors, thought he would be. On some issues, people who are willing to talk to Trump get some of what they want. There might be a lesson there. Of course if Trump pivots too far from his previously stated beliefs there will be fury in hell. We shall see.
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