Donald Trump Has Taken American Politics Through the Looking Glass
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
Alice in Wonderland’s explanation of her inconsistencies offers a convenient excuse for politicians having difficulty squaring their past remarks with their current positions.
Once upon a time,
was the bête noire of the left. He was a warmonger, a Dr. Strangelove figure, metaphorically sitting astride megabombs as they hurtled toward hapless countries around the world, his riotous mustache bristling in the draft of the B-52s’ flight. Back in 2005, Mr. Bolton was such a menace to peace that he couldn’t get confirmed by the Senate as President
George W. Bush
’s U.N. ambassador, driving the president to give him a recess appointment.
made Mr. Bolton his national security adviser less than two years ago, Democrats pulled the rhetorical emergency alarm cord. “While the president may see in Mr. Bolton a sympathetic sycophant, I would remind him that Mr. Bolton has a reckless approach to advancing the safety and security of Americans—far outside any political party,” said
the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Now that Mr. Trump has dropped Mr. Bolton overboard, you’d think Democrats would be applauding a significant contribution to world peace. Think again. They are now declaring themselves appalled at the dangerous instability the departure of this reckless aggressor represents for the nation.
“John Bolton’s sudden departure is a symbol of the disarray that has unnerved our allies since day one of the Trump Administration. Steady leadership & strategic foreign policy is key to ensuring America’s national security,” tweeted House Speaker
Now, to be fair, there’s plenty of hypocrisy on both sides. Republicans who had welcomed Mr. Bolton’s appointment as an indication that Mr. Trump was reverting to a more traditional Republican foreign policy have either been silent on Mr. Bolton’s departure or have solemnly stated that the change represents a welcome turn to greater cohesion in the White House.
Republicans, in fact, have contorted themselves so completely and so eagerly in the past three years on issue after issue under Mr. Trump’s leadership that it’s hard to know which direction they’re facing any more.
It’s no use going back to yesterday. They were different people then.
But it’s worth reflecting on what our political leaders’ convenient cases of amnesia tell us about the dramatic way that Mr. Trump has upended American politics.
If I’d told you three years ago that a Republican president would, in his first term, make serious attempts to sit down and make peace with the Taliban,
Kim Jong Un
and Iranian President
you’d have told me I’d been reading too much
And, of course, Mr. Trump’s inversions go way beyond his unexpectedly dovish foreign-policy demarches. He has turned the Republican Party through 180 degrees on immigration, trade, entitlements and a host of other central questions.
He’s done so while enjoying more support among Republican voters than any other president in recent history. The question is whether this is simply an extreme case of leadership at work—what the left likes to call the Strong Man approach, in which politicians and party followers will simply get in line behind their leader, whatever he says—or whether something more substantial is changing in the political landscape.
In other words, will Trumpism survive Trump?
Some Republicans hope that when—if?—Mr. Trump departs the stage, the party will revert to “normal” conservative politics. That seems implausible. The president is both cause and effect of a profound transformation in the terms of politics—a shift that goes beyond America’s own political debates.
In “American Carnage,” his fascinating and exhaustive account of the path of the Republican Party in the past decade,
of Politico explains how the party’s leadership got so out of touch with its voters at the end of George W. Bush’s administration and in the early years of
President Bush spotted the changes before most in his own party, Mr. Alberta writes. Early in his second term, Mr. Bush told his advisers of his concern about three broad trends developing in the nation’s politics: protectionism, isolationism and nativism. “These isms are gonna eat us alive,” Mr. Bush said.
A decade later, Mr. Trump’s political genius lay in harnessing and leveraging those isms into an electorally potent populism—a political transposition that has taken our assumptions, our ideas and many of our leaders and institutions through the looking glass.
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