The tone of Donald Trump’s presidency has been set one week before he takes office: raucous, brawling, improvised, unpredictable, frenzied, entertaining, and more than a little weird. It’s hard to keep track of all that is happening in Washington and New York: Russian hacks, salacious gossip, fake news, government ethics, the fate of Obamacare, cabinet and White House appointments, personal feuds, and confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, Elaine Chao, Mike Pompeo, Jim Mattis, and Ben Carson. Each day brings crazy revelations, rebuttals by the president elect and his team, congressional maneuvering, proclamations from Trump Tower, and media sniping. And Trump wouldn’t have it any other way.
Democrats have been in power for so long that they’ve forgotten how to oppose. Their party has been on a roll since 2005 when the botched Social Security reform, the slow bleed of the Iraq war, and Hurricane Katrina sent the Bush administration into a tailspin. The Democrats won the Congress the following year and the White House two years after that. And while they lost the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, Democrats still had the advantage of retaining the White House, a president seemingly immune from criticism, the courts, the bureaucracy, and large portions of the media. The correlation of forces in Washington has weighed heavily in favor of the Democrats for a decade.
Richard Nixon was plotting his 1968 presidential campaign when he received a letter from a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania. The correspondent, a young man named William F. Gavin, wasn’t certain Nixon would run. But he sure wanted him to. “You can win,” Gavin wrote. “Nothing can happen to you, politically speaking, that is worse than what has happened to you.”
The backlash that greeted Donald Trump’s nomination of Andrew Puzder for Labor secretary took many Republicans by surprise. Puzder, a fast-food executive, is well liked by Wall Street for his opposition to minimum wage increases and burdensome regulations. But his past support for immigration reform alarmed border hawks concerned Donald Trump will break his promises to build a wall along the southern border and crack down on both illegal and legal immigration. By the end of last week #NeverPuzder was trending on Twitter.
Democrats and the media are confused about the meaning of Donald Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. The president-elect’s critics say his appointment of wealthy Republicans to cabinet positions is hypocritical and reveals him to be a phony populist. “Hypocrisy at its worst,” cry Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. “Trump’s Economic Cabinet Picks Signal Embrace of Wall St. Elite,” reads the headline on the New York Times. “Stick a sterling silver fork in Trump’s ‘populism,'” reads the title of a Washington Post column.
In the early 1960s, when Neil Gaiman was eight years old, he read a story called “The City on the Edge of Forever” in the collection Star Trek 2. The piece was an adaptation of a Star Trek teleplay that had been written by one Harlan Ellison. Two years later, Gaiman read a story called “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” in the anthology World’s Best SF Third Series. This hallucinatory, post-apocalyptic tale of four humans trapped inside a sentient and psychotic computer had such a terrifying effect on Gaiman that he looked up its author. Ellison had written it too.
The liberal hysteria over Donald Trump’s election as president extends to coverage of his transition. “Firings and Discord Put Trump Transition Team in a State of Disarray,” says the New York Times. “Intraparty fratricide looms over the GOP,” says a columnist for the Washington Post. “The GOP Civil War Is Just Beginning,” says a writer for Slate.
Donald Trump’s election as the forty-fifth president of the United States is the most significant political event to happen in my lifetime. In one respect Trump’s victory is more remarkable than Ronald Reagan’s in 1980, eight months before I was born. Reagan, also a former Democrat, was a two-term governor of California who had been active in public life since traveling the country for General Electric in the 1950s. Trump has never held office, never been in the military, and if anything faced more resistance than Reagan did from Hollywood, D.C., New York, and academia. None of that stopped Trump from winning more Electoral College votes than any Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
One of the most important speeches of the 2016 election was delivered in Utah in June to an audience of ultra-rich Republicans that included Mitt Romney. The speaker was Edward Conard, who joined Bain Capital after graduating from Harvard Business School in 1982 and worked in private equity for twenty-five years before retiring to become, of all things, a pundit.