The anti-Trump church has a large congregation these days. The mainstream media, having recently moved on from denial, is now at the second stage of grief, anger. I do not expect them to move on to bargaining anytime soon. To the liberal press, Trump is still, as he has been since he got the Republican nomination, a corrupt, belligerent, imbecilic, facist authoritarian in the making, Vladimir Putin’s Manchurian Candidate, a dire and determined threat to Western values and American democracy. A good case can be made for this, and if you’ve read a single opinion page in any mainstream news outlet the last two years, you know the gist of it. Because of his constant attacks on the press, his opponents, celebrities and other ‘losers’ over Twitter, and his blatant lies about his own achievements, he has driven the media into a state of heightened hysteria. And yet the Trump Show, live all day, every day, is not a tragedy, but a farce.
Rather than furthering the Kremlin’s interests, Trump has escalated the West’s proxy war with Russia. If he really is Vladimir Putin’s ventriloquist dummy, he hasn’t done his job very well, and Moscow should probably just release the pee tapes and get it over with. The economic depression some were forecasting never came. An international coalition, led by the US, has taken the ‘State’ out of ISIS. We are not at war with Iran, and only weeks after a general sense of impending nuclear holocaust, the two Koreas will parade together during the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.
Instead of the cabal of crooks that many expected, Trump has filled his cabinet with a decidedly establishment cocktail of closet-liberal millionaires and Federalist Society conservatives. Steve Bannon, the alt-right, Trump-whispering Svengali and ultimate media boogeyman, has been made redundant. Instead of bursting through the checks and balances on his office, the Trump White House has reined in the executive overreach of the Obama Administration, which was brazen and undemocratic, if a lot more discreet. Where’s the fire?
No one can deny that Trump represents a big middle finger to the values and norms we expect from the Presidency. He is a petty, cruel, unintelligent and insecure bully, who calls out journalists by name, demands that people in the private sector be fired, and urges his opponents to be jailed. But for all his authoritarian impulses, ‘very stable genius’ Trump lacks the faculties, apparatus and popularity to perform power grabs like those of Roosevelt, Nixon, Bush or even Obama.
Furthermore, the media’s branding of Trump, a democratically elected President, as a fascistic tyrant is wildly irresponsible in its own corruption of the national discourse. Trump is not a despot – he is the weakest President in decades. On most issues, he has no cemented opinion, instead susceptible to whatever view can best be pitched to him in two simple sentences. After claiming to ‘drain the swamp’ he has become so deferential to Congress that he’s been prepared to sign just about anything from the Hill.
If this is the dawn of the autocracy that the liberal media have warned us about, I have stopped worrying.
The administration has persistently failed to pass any noteworthy legislation, save tax cuts. Even with policymaking effectively outsourced to Hill Republicans, the last year has been plagued by a general incompetence that has culminated in the recent government shutdown. But this is not a Trump-specific problem – anyone who remembers the Obama years will recall the molasses-like speed with which legislation was passed. In fact, as regards legislation, Trump might be the most hands-off President in years, simply because it bores him. And whilst he tweets about cable TV, the rest of Washington – including his own cabinet, his congressional opponents and other world leaders – simply pretend he isn’t the President, and carry on.
Alarmists (half the country) expected a fragile set of institutions to be consumed by a man with a deliberate and calculated plot to undermine it; instead, a robust and flexible set of institutions encountered a man who spends much of his time yelling at the TV. If this is the dawn of the autocracy that the liberal media have warned us about, I for one have stopped worrying. How could Trump rule America as a Supreme Leader, when he can’t even rule it as a President? He may be Dictator of the Twittersphere, but the Twittersphere is not real. Trump’s tweets and tirades do not constitute policy, and unlike policy, they have no real impact on American livelihoods. And whilst he’s busy raining upon the media with fire and brimstone, the business of ruling the United States quietly carries on in the background.