Requiem for a President
It is official. The curtain dropped on the Trump era today.
Thus the impossible dream ends for some… and the impossible nightmare ends for others.
His term opened with anti-Trump protests in the streets. His term closed with pro-Trump protests in the Capitol.
How did we arrive at this pass? Today we reflect upon the strange presidency of Donald J. Trump.
Despite all odds… and all hell’s angels… he was crowned 45th president of the United States four years ago today.
With incomparable swagger and swashbuckle, he barreled into Washington; a berserker, a barbarian crashing the gates of Rome.
Has a previous United States president ever babbled with a Queens accent? Has a previous United States president ever battled in Wrestlemania? Has a previous United States president ever bathed his steak in ketchup?
Rumors swirled — meantime — that he mistook the salad fork for the dinner fork.
But these were not demerits to his voters. They were in fact merits.
He was the outside man, the scourge of the “establishment,” Democrat and Republican alike. He dug his thumbs into the eyes of each.
The fellow was simply… sui generis.
Intellect in a President Is Overrated
Was his intellect deeper than the skin that encased him?
Perhaps it was not. But intellectual depth is vastly overrated in a president. It is often a downright menace.
It is the “deep thinkers” who think the republic into its deepest fixes.
The “Sage of Baltimore,” H.L. Mencken, certainly hooked onto something when he wrote:
“We suffer most when the White House bursts with ideas.”
Woodrow Wilson — for example — was the only doctor of philosophy to ever seize the White House.
He presided over Princeton University before he presided over the United States. And the nation is still afflicted with his lovely ideas…
Who signed the Federal Reserve Act into law? The answer is Mr. Wilson.
Who signed the federal income tax into law? The answer again is Mr. Wilson.
The same Mr. Wilson ordered the doughboys “over there.” 116,000 of them will remain forever over there.
And the Versailles Treaty that closed the “war to end all wars” spawned the “peace to end all peace.”
WWI was “the Great War” until a greater war imposed a numerical arrangement upon it.
Don’t Just Do Something. Stand There!
In contrast to the intellectual president, we find Wilson’s successor once removed — Calvin Coolidge.
In Mencken’s telling, Coolidge…
Slept more than any other president, whether by day or by night… He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.
Note the phrasing — it was not “He had no ideas, but he was not a nuisance.” It was rather:
“He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.”
Loftier praise for any president is scarcely imaginable: He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.
But not all nuisances are equal. Some even serve high purposes.
Our central criticism of Trump is not that he was a nuisance… but that he was not nuisance enough.
He was elected, in fact, to be a nuisance — less a statesman than a demolition man.
Our Kind of Candidate — and Not Our Kind of Candidate
The Daily Reckoning held out a faint glow of optimism. Our co-founder Addison Wiggin prior to the 2016 election:
Trump could… be one of the best damn things ever to happen to American politics. And for one simple reason: He’d take a hammer to the rotten political establishment. Like Churchill said of John Foster Dulles, Trump is a bull who carries his own china shop around with him.
If we didn’t have Trump, we’d have to invent him.
The Donald threatens to tear down the rickety scaffold of crony capitalism. He’d rather duel with Putin than spend a minute at a cocktail hour with Tim Kaine. He offends the pieties. Questions motives. Shrugs at national honor. No one, nothing, is sacred.
In other words, he’s our kind of candidate.
Yet Donald Trump was not our kind of candidate:
Limited government? Not under Trump. He promises to spend. A lot. Social Security, Medicare, education. Walls. He also wants to “rebuild” the military. We’d mothball much of it.
His economics? It’s been said Trump doesn’t read a lot. We don’t know. But maybe Melania could slip a copy of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson next to his pillow. (Then she could slip into something less comfortable so he’d read it. Like a nun’s habit)…
Trump could be the worst president ever… except for all the other ones. He’s already accomplished something dreadful: He’s making people pay attention to politics again. No, worse — he’s making people believe in politics again. Ugh.
Four Years Later
Mr. Trump pledged to erect a wall for which Mexico would pay. To ship the jobs back home — and the soldiers. To close the trade gap. To drain the swamp.
To Make America Great Again.
And four years later?
The border wall is largely nonexistent. Most construction merely replaced existing fencing. To our knowledge, Mexico has not supplied the funding.
Unemployment did (officially) plunge to record lows during President Trump’s term.
Yet many jobs sorted into the lower-paying service sector. The Rust Belt continues to oxidize.
He did return some soldiers… but others remain in the wastes of Iraq and Afghanistan.
He put up his tariffs. Yet the trade deficit gapes the widest since 2006.
Has he drained the swamp? We leave the answer to you, our reader.
Meantime, he had even announced plans to retire the national debt… if recollection serves.
Yet the national debt swelled 37% during his four years. It was spiraling even before the pandemic.
And people, alas, take politics more seriously than ever.
Trump Never Stood a Chance
We do not intend to impugn or malign President Trump. We do not believe he largely failed. We believe rather that he never could have succeeded.
He was simply a man out of his depth.
But a George Washington would be out of his depth today.
Even “Old Hickory” Andy Jackson would be under the presidential desk the first day on the job, sinking a bottle of Tennessee’s hardest whiskey and sobbing for his mother.
The “deep state,” the permanent bureaucracy, the swamp — whichever you prefer — is simply too formidable.
It has too many buckets in the stream, too many snouts in the trough… too many hands picking too many pockets.
That is, the swamp is too deep to drain. As well attempt to drain the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
One small tale is in point…
Every Cow Is Sacred
Our former colleague David Stockman was Ronald Reagan’s first budget director.
David learned the smallest budget item is sealed behind fortress walls and ringed by guards, ready to repel any invader.
David wanted to eliminate the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
They did not perform proper functions of the federal government, David argued. And there was plenty of private philanthropy to make the shortage good.
David says the combined budgets of these programs amounted to merely six hours of federal spending annually.
Six hours of spending — out of 8,760!
But even that proved impossible.
David says not even Reagan wanted them dead. So David proposed a modest 25% cut.
What did he receive? In David’s telling:
“Maybe an 8% reduction for a couple of years until the various K Street lobbies and assorted forces of high-toned culture completely restored the funding.”
No elimination. Not even a 25% cut, but an 8% nick — and temporarily at that.
If you cannot drain a few mere drops from the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities… or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting… how can you ever drain the entire swamp? Or one fraction of it?
Here is the short answer: You can’t. Here is the long answer: You cannot.
Trump Can’t Be All That Bad
But let us acknowledge President Trump’s achievements. He got his tax cuts. He got his tariffs. He got his deregulations. He helped get out a vaccine in record time.
And if a man can be judged by his enemies, this Trump must be an all right fellow. We need not document names.
Many liken him to a fascist dictator. But does a fascist dictator permit a Twitter or a Facebook to ban him from their platforms? Would they dare?
It would be difficult to imagine.
Has Trump made America great again?
A current president could no more restore the American Republic to greatness than the last emperor could have restored the Roman Republic to greatness.
The rot is too advanced.
Regardless, the show has entertained us immensely. We do not expect to see another like it.
The producers will never allow this actor near the stage again…
Managing Editor, The Daily Reckoning