Last month, when the Treasury Department reported that the fiscal year 2018 deficit was a staggering $779 billion, President Trump made an announcement. Before meeting with his cabinet, the president said he would be asking every secretary to trim five percent, “if not more,” from his or her budget. Nor would he exempt the department of Defense.
Here’s hoping Trump changes his mind. Cutting the resources available to the Pentagon is a bad idea. A new report from the bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission underscores just how bad.
The lesson of 2018 is that the political class is addicted to drawing lessons. Every two years, after the ballots are counted and the winners declared, our reporters, pundits, officials, activists, and analysts turn immediately to the next election. What do these results portend? Will Trump be reelected? Will the suburbs stay Democratic? This emphasis on the future allows the political class to indulge in its favorite activity: mindless speculation. For once, it might be more useful to look backward rather than forward. History has much to tell us.
Not even Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Joe Biden, could put a negative spin on Friday’s jobs report. The U.S. economy created some 250,000 jobs in October, beating expectations. The labor participation rate increased even as unemployment held steady at 3.7 percent. That’s a 50-year low. The best part: Wages rose 3 percent in the highest rate of growth since the Great Recession a decade ago. “Pretty much everything you could want in a monthly jobs report,” Bernstein tweeted.
King Leonidas had his 300. President Trump has his 800. That’s the number of soldiers Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered to the southern border to greet the caravan of illegal immigrants originating from Honduras. The band of families and singles, traveling en masse to avoid exploitation by smugglers and coyotes, now numbers 10,000 souls, according to one report. It may take them weeks to reach the United States. A second caravan is already taking shape behind the first. It won’t be the last.
Recently I’ve been haunted by the memory of Russell Kirk. October 19 is the centenary of the author of The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (1953). No doubt Kirk, who died in 1994, would appreciate the spectral metaphor: He was as celebrated for his Gothic horror fiction as for his dozens of books, hundreds of articles, and thousands of columns on philosophy, history, academe, politics, and what he liked to call “humane letters.” He made some money from his ghost stories, too, which helped Kirk and his wife Annette raise four daughters and host countless guests, students, and refugees at their home in rural Mecosta, Michigan. This almost-forgotten father of American conservatism gave the movement a name and an intellectual ancestry. How would he respond to the world of 2018?
Earlier this month, Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. No one has heard from him since.
Here was a legal resident of the United States (he also lived in London and Istanbul), whose main English outlet was the Washington Post, vanishing suddenly after rebuking the domestic and foreign policies of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. What happened?
Trump has achieved all of these gains, in such disparate areas of policy, through totally unorthodox means. He brags, he intimidates, he pouts, he jokes, he insults, he is purposefully ambiguous, and he leaves no criticism unanswered. He is unlike any postwar American president, though he shares some qualities with LBJ and Reagan. He is frenetic and polarizing, a showboat and a salesman. His methods are over-the-top, combative, and divisive. In place of the politics of consensus he adopts the politics of confrontation. Where others mindlessly repeat politically correct clichés, Trump unequivocally challenges them. He has ushered in a new era of American politics by dissolving the varnish that obscured fundamental cultural divisions between and within the parties for so long. He is president of a country that is wilder, zanier, and more unpredictable than before. It is also stronger.
When President George W. Bush nominated John Roberts for the Supreme Court in 2005, the judge was confirmed by a vote of 78-22. Half of the Democrats voted with all of the Republicans in a display of bipartisan advice and consent. It was a touching moment of comity and civility—the sort of thing lauded in the abstract by Washington elites at the recent funeral of John McCain. It didn’t last six months.
The Democratic strategy toward Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been apparent since September 4. Within minutes of Chuck Grassley calling the Judiciary Committee to order, Democrats began to interrupt him. They wanted to delay the hearing until their demands for documents had been met. They managed to prolong the hearing for about an hour. Then they retreated.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when a recent discussion on the future of conservatism turned into an argument over Donald Trump, his presidency, and the midterm election. The renaissance in conservative thought that began with the publication of the Road to Serfdom in 1944, and culminated in the founding of National Review in 1955 and the Sharon Statement of Young Americans for Freedom in 1960, gave way to conservative politics long ago. Since 1964, it has been difficult if not impossible to disentangle conservatism’s fate from the Republican Party’s. And for the last three years Trump has dominated that party and the movement associated with it. Neither Republicans nor conservatives ought to kid themselves. There is no escaping Trump.