Phillip Mark McGough

Praying For Failure: Trump and the Confounding of the Critics

Niall Ferguson observed back in the summer of 2016 that the worst nightmare for the liberal mindset wasn’t a Trump Presidency- it was a successful Trump Presidency. Well, here we are. Confronted by a booming economy at home and a steady tally of geopolitical victories abroad, President’s Trump’s domestic critics by definition have no option but to pray for failure. Unfortunately for them this means they have no option but to pray for America to fail, which is seldom a good look: Bill Maher’s splenetic “bring on the recession” for example, or Nancy Pelosi’s sneering dismissal of the plummeting unemployment rate. It’s the kind of rhetoric that makes a newly-optimistic Middle America despise the pessimists even more, in turn almost guaranteeing the President his second term. Meanwhile a bored billionaire who ran for a laugh continues to slice his way through a cat’s cradle of Gordian Knots. If Trump is making it look easy it’s because it is easy- just as any game becomes easy once you discard the rule book.

Consider the President’s transfer of diplomatic primacy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and his voiding of Obama’s execrable Iran deal. All Trump is doing is calling out what we all knew to be so much nonsense all along. The litany of misplaced pieties that underwrite traditional statecraft mean nothing to him: His is a child’s delight in pointing at the naked emperor. The President’s critics often say he’s an oaf, a vulgarian, a blunderer, a fool- and they say it like it’s a bad thing. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the medieval fool existed in a liminal space of his own, beyond the conventional authority of the court. In a world of ritualized fictions and fossilized formalities, he was of course the only one free to speak his mind.

For its part, the media continues to inflict upon itself the most tortuous double-jointed mental calisthenics imaginable to avoid giving the President any credit whatsoever for his achievements. Needless to say the loathing is mutual, but whereas other Presidents like Nixon raged against the press in private, Trump rages against it in public- with the added novelty that a plurality of the American people are raging against it along with him, wearied and sickened in equal measure by the ceaseless self-satisfied smuggery of an MSM-entertainment complex that’s as captious as it is irrelevant. And how irrelevant they really are- when Robert De Niro yawping profanities to an audience of spoiled, tuxedoed sexual truants qualifies as a revolutionary act. It’s tragic stuff. They really do still see themselves as the vanguard of the resistance, a bit like the oblivious Japanese soldier defending a Pacific atoll into the 1970s, long after the war was lost.

As for the remarkable scenes in Singapore this week, it goes without saying that an Obama-brokered Korean deal would have prompted a paroxysm of pan-planetary gratitude. In the event, Obama was laureled by the Nobel Committee for achieving precisely zero. This wasn’t necessarily his fault: When awarded the Peace Prize he’d barely been in office 9 months. Yet even at the end of his 8 year term his legacy still amounted to precisely zero, unless you count droning a few Yemeni weddings and striking a cosmically idiotic bargain with Iran. Compare and contrast with everything Trump has achieved in his first 18 months: The economy revivified; unemployment at historic lows; ISIS destroyed as a geopolitical force in the Middle East with no additional toll in terms of American lives; that same Middle East realigning around an Israel-Saudi axis; and now a very real possibility of a tolerable relationship with Pyongyang. This is a reconfiguration of the global chessboard up there with Nixon opening up China and Reagan administering the lethal shot to the senescent USSR. We live in transitional times, and for better or worse the palimpsest of international relations now bears Trump’s ineradicable stamp.

Inevitably we wonder what’s next. Notwithstanding this President’s penchant for unpredictability, rule by caprice, one of his more dependable tactics is the passive-aggressive ruse of ridicule and thunderous threat followed by rapprochement- a classic boardroom technique. As with Chairman Kim, old enemies can become new friends in the space of a few tweets. So: A peace deal with Iran? Trump and Supreme Leader Khamenei (or more likely the ailing theocrat’s successor) inspiring a bumper crop of memes in the grounds of a luxuriously neutral hotel in Geneva? Absurd. Unthinkable. Ridiculous. And for precisely those reasons, don’t write it off. Under this administration, things you thought you’d never see are becoming quotidian. In a universe where Dennis Rodman wears a MAGA hat while weeping tears of joy over President Trump the peacemaker, anything is possible.

About the Author
Freelance writer and commentator, blogger for the Huffington Post and the Jerusalem Post, contributor to Quillette magazine
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