Half or a quarter of the way through this interesting experiment with an incessantly splenetic presidency, much of the nation has become accustomed to daily mortifications. Or has lost its capacity for embarrassment, which is even worse.
If the country’s condition is calibrated simply by economic data — if, that is, America is nothing but an economy — then the state of the union is good. Except that after two years of unified government under the party that formerly claimed to care about fiscal facts and rectitude, the nation faces a $1 trillion deficit during brisk growth and full employment. Unless the president has forever banished business cycles — if he has, his modesty would not have prevented him from mentioning it — the next recession will begin with huge deficits, which will be instructive.
The president has kept his promise not to address the unsustainable trajectory of the entitlement state (about the coming unpleasant reckoning, he says: “Yeah, but I won’t be here”), and his party’s congressional caucuses have elevated subservience to him into a political philosophy. The Republican-controlled Senate — the world’s most overrated deliberative body — will not deliberate about, much less pass, legislation the president does not favor. The evident theory is that it would be lese-majeste for the Senate to express independent judgments.
And that senatorial dignity is too brittle to survive the disapproval of a president not famous for familiarity with actual policies. Congressional Republicans have their ears to the ground — never mind Churchill’s observation that it is difficult to look up to anyone in that position.
The president’s most consequential exercise of power has been the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, opening the way for China to fill the void of U.S. involvement. His protectionism — the government telling Americans what they can consume, in what quantities and at what prices — completes his extinguishing of the limited-government pretenses of the GOP, which needs an entirely new vocabulary. Pending that, the party is resorting to crybaby conservatism: We are being victimized by “elites,” markets, Wall Street, foreigners, etc.
After 30 years of U.S. diplomatic futility regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the artist of the deal spent a few hours in Singapore with Kim Jong Un, then tweeted: “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” What price will the president pay — easing sanctions? Ending joint military exercises with South Korea? — in attempts to make his tweet seem less dotty?
Dislike of Trump should be tempered by this consideration: He is an almost inexpressibly sad specimen.
It must be misery to awaken to another day of being Trump. He seems to have as many friends as his pluperfect self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life.
His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made.
His childlike ignorance concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.