Back before the Presidential primaries started in 2015, I was considering backing Rand Paul, because of his libertarian credentials. But the moment I heard Donald Trump speak during the campaign, I was sold. I never doubted (much) that he’d win first the GOP primaries and then the Presidency.
Back in January of this year, I wrote a note on Facebook entitled “Why Trump’s Candidacy May Be The Last Chance For America”. In that note, I wrote the following:
The system is rigged. There is a political class in America, and with their corporate cronies, they’re really the ones who run things. And there are behavioral norms that are imposed by these people. The whole election cycle is people going through the steps of a traditional dance that you just can’t deviate from. Because “it just isn’t done.”
Enter Trump. Trump doesn’t care about “it just isn’t done”. In the real world, if someone sets you up and ambushes you, you don’t let them do it again. If you do, you’re stupid, and you deserve what you get. But Megan Kelly and her friends did just that to Trump in the first FOX GOP debate, and it was expected that as distasteful as it may be, Trump would have to go and put his head in the snare again. Because… backing out of a debate like that? “It just isn’t done.” But in real life, that’s exactly what’s done. And that’s what Trump is doing.
Switch to the present, and we’re seeing the same thing, writ large, as President-Elect Trump breaks through the stale norms of the political class like the Kool-Aid man breaking through a brick wall.
The loudest example of this, of course, is his relationship with the media. Two weeks ago, with “Steak-gate”, Trump demonstrated that he intends to continue living his life without needing a “press pool” to watch him pee. When he is attacked by the media, he hits back, and he doesn’t worry that people might think him petty for it.
He continues to post on Twitter exactly the way he did during his campaign, if less frequently. He tweets his opinions, relying on his First Amendment rights like any other citizen, because being elected President does not take that away from him, however much the ritual dance of “what is done” may say otherwise.
But now… now Trump’s value as a breaker of bad norms is coming to its true fruition. Trump is making and taking calls with heads of state without the input of the US State Department. And they are in an absolute meltdown over it. Trump took a call from the President of Taiwan. Now… you might think, why is that a big deal? Taiwan is a real country. One the US has economic ties with. The US sells Taiwan tons of weapons. But according to the State Department, one must not do such a thing. Taking a call from the Taiwanese President might give the impression that America views Taiwan as a nation. And that would irk the Mainland Chinese. The nuclear-equipped Mainland Chinese.
Of course, China’s only response was to laugh it off as Taiwan engaging in “shenanigans.” So much for State Department hysteria.
But the panic in Foggy Bottom stems from much, much more than a phone call or two. They see the end of the line, and they don’t much like it. Since WWII, the US State Department, an unelected tribe of bureaucrats, have run American foreign policy. Every few years, they are given a new nominal head with the appointment of a new Secretary of State, but their business continues as usual, and incoming elected and appointed officials get the facts of life explained to them before they can interfere with the long term plans of the Bureaucracy of State.
Would Obama have moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem? Of course not. But Bush might have if the State Department hadn’t said no. And Trump will, regardless of the moans and groans in Foggy Bottom. Why do crazy policies like the discredited “two state solution” continue regardless of who sits in the White House? Because it isn’t the White House that has set policy on these issues. That is going to change on January 20, 2017. It’s changing already.
In real life, when something isn’t working, you do something different. Or you get replaced by someone who will. There are those who say that State Department control of foreign policy allows the US to have a continuing long term foreign strategy, so that other nations can rely on what America will do from Presidency to Presidency. Ordinarily, you only get that kind of stability from dictatorships, which is why many nations, despite their protestations of democratic values, support dictatorships. But an unelected and unappointed elite making these decisions with no one to answer to is no less a dictatorship than the open tyrannies of Castro and Nazarbayev and Sharif, even if the victims of their policies aren’t as immediately visible.
I’ve watched many videos of Trump being interviewed over the years and seen interviewers asking if he’d ever run for President. He always said that he wouldn’t — unless it became necessary. He always had a preference for someone else to fix things. Being President is no picnic. Running for President was probably the biggest nightmare he’s experienced to date. But in the end, he saw something broken and stood up to try and fix it. And no “established norms” and rituals of political etiquette are going to hold him back. America will be the better for it. And the world will be the safer for it.