The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Monster's Terms

If the Trump era has taught us anything, it's that the self-appointed establishment elites who populate the four constituencies believe that messaging and tone are paramount in government affairs and leadership. Whether it's a #NeverTrump Republican like Mitt Romney, media types like Chuck Todd, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, or a deep state denizen like John Brennan, they are appalled by a tone and style that doesn't dovetail with the tone and style that are their norms. I think that they hate Donald Trump more for his lack of tone and style than for any substantive policy differences they might have with him.

Trump's recent success in bringing down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the barbaric Islamic terror group, ISIS is a case in point. By all accounts Trump was decisive when he unleashed special ops against Baghdadi. This can be compared to the previous president, who by all accounts was much more hesitant to make risky decisions. Richard Fernandez writes:
"I still say Kayla should be here, and if Obama had been as decisive as President Trump, maybe she would have been," Marsha Mueller said, referring to the death of her daughter at the hands of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. "After Kayla's death, the Muellers became outspoken critics of the American government's handling of its foreign hostages. They had been encouraged to keep her captivity secret, and discouraged from attempting to free her or pay a ransom."

Leaving aside the question of whether Obama ever had a good tactical option at rescuing Kayla Mueller, "decisive" is probably the wrong word to characterize the former president's style. Obama knew what he wanted and valued signaling and appearances in a sincere way. He was always signaling. If the Muellers were instructed not to speak it was so as not to jam his carefully crafted messages. By treating Bin Laden's corpse reverently; by an excruciating choice of words and many other ways he was signaling. Always signaling, which he saw as an important part of his job.

To be fair, Obama had a point. Messaging is certainly an important part of statesmanship. What he never quite accepted was that his signals never had the intended effect. Baghdadi was a thug and Obama's punctilio never made it past the brutal filter. Like Dr. Arthur Carrington from the movie "The Thing from Another World," he was always trying to reason with the monster, convinced that words would win the day, little realizing it would not work.
And therein lies the core question when Donald Trump's presidency is considered—Should actions and results matter more than words, style and tone when the success of a presidency is considered? Every president, including Donald Trump, reveres messaging and signaling, but Trump's style of messaging so upsets the four constituencies, along with tens of millions of other Americans, that they cannot or will not give calm consideration to the actions his administration takes or the results that it achieves.*

It's worth noting that Trump refuses to "reason with the monster." I think that's because he realizes, more than others, that the "monster" is far more likely to employ emotion and rely on belief, rather than reason, to guide its strategies and actions. Trump rarely, if ever, provides deep context for his words. His style is bombastic. His tone is pugnacious. He meets the "monster" on the monster's terms—and as a result, he often wins.


* Mollie Hemingway provides a summary of some of the achievements that the four constituencies try very hard to ignore:
President Trump’s administration has been marked by success in the domestic and foreign spheres. The economy is humming, including job and wage growth the media had previously said was unlikely to impossible to achieve. This is due to tax cuts, tax reform, and unprecedented deregulation. No new wars have been launched, much less the apocalyptic nuclear wars the media predicted. A long overdue recalibration with China is taking place.

What is good news for the country is bad news for [the four constituencies].
The four constituencies were dead wrong in their predictions about how the Trump presidency would lead to economic and international disaster. They're equally dishonest in their assessment of Trump's achievements. And all of that makes them hate him even more.