Mark Souder: President Trump's empty chairs
Friday, March 10, 2017 8:59 AM
FORT WAYNE – As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised change, just as his predecessor Barack Obama had done. People generally want someone to blame for their problems, and we all choose different targets. I, for example, prefer to blame liberals.
“Draining the swamp” in a non-Washington context has historically meant the draining of swamps to control mosquito populations to combat malaria. Ronald Reagan is often credited with using the term in the political way to refer to the concentration of power in Washington, thus combining the historical swampy conditions of the governmental area of original Washington and likening the overuse of power to malaria. But he was not the first to do so.
Winfield Gaylord, a Milwaukee socialist politician, wrote in 1903: “Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capitalist swamp, they want to drain the swamp.”
Fellow socialist, journalist and politician Victor Berger of Milwaukee wrote in his Berger’s Broadsides (1912): “We should have to drain the swamp – change the capitalist system – if we want to get rid of those mosquitoes. Teddy Roosevelt, by starting a little fire here and there to drive them out, is simply disturbing them. He is causing them to swarm, which makes it so much more intolerable for us poor, innocent inhabitants of this big capitalist swamp.” Hoosier socialist Eugene Debs credits Berger, the first Socialist member of Congress, with recruiting him to socialism.
Neither Reagan nor our current president meant draining the nation of capitalism. The problem with such aggressive attacks on the “establishment” is that the slope to the “swamp” becoming the institutions of our nation – a republic, capitalism – is very slippery.
Populism can quickly morph into calls for pure democracy (current attacks on the Electoral College by those who don’t understand the difference between a democratic republic and a democracy) and advocating destruction of our economic system. Hence the fluidity of many Sanders-Trump voters in the past election. Anger and distrust carried to extremes unites the far left and far right. Both can promote concentration of power in a chief executive.
Matthew Continetti described the Trump approach well in National Review: “Rich as he might be, Donald Trump’s candidacy was an exercise in populist confrontation and polarization. He ran against the Eastern establishment of both parties with his opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, criticism of global trade, and repudiation of the foreign policies of the last two presidents. His blunt, uncouth, dramatic, untutored, brash, politically incorrect manner was about as far as one can get from elite habits of deference and groupthink. For decades, the nation’s cultural and political elites treated him with disdain, disgust, or ironic fascination. Trump was the original deplorable.”
In other words, three things defined Trump as the anti-establishment candidate: A few issues that defined his campaign; his style; and established Republican political leaders opposed him.
Trump confidant Roger Stone has released a new book titled, “The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution.” Stone is not a friend nor ally of mine, to say the least, but he is a brilliant strategic thinker and always a provocateur. Stone writes that Trump “understood that politics is about big issues, concepts, and themes, and that the voters didn’t really care about wonkish detail. If they had, then Newt Gingrich would have been president.”
The universe of different “selected facts” that many of the Trump core live in – some alternative facts and other “alternatives to facts” – is not the traditional supplement to the establishment media.
Human Events, a small conservative newspaper, was my first exposure to Barry Goldwater, Young Americans for Freedom and right-wing politics. William F. Buckley, Jr., National Review, and Conservative Book Club membership soon followed. Liberals had a similar world of left-wing publications and writers.
One of my mentors, M. Stanton Evans, wrote a book titled, “The Liberal Establishment.” Vice-President Spiro Agnew spoke the words of speechwriters William Safire and Pat Buchanan that captured the views of millions of Americans, then and even more today. The memorable phrases included “the nattering nabobs of negativism” and “the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.” Even better was my favorite: “A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete core of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” I believed it then and I believe it now, but I also realize that it was exaggerated for effect.
Brilliant rhetoric aside (no one has accused Safire or Buchanan of not being great writers), those of us in the alternative media universes still had enough faith in the facts behind the selective editing of traditional media that our preferred sources were supplemental, clarifying and correcting the establishment bias.
However, for a variety of reasons including the increasing slide of traditional media into the world of left-wing captured alternative media, much of the core Trump world has a worldview that has confused wishful thinking and rhetoric with reality. For those who actually hope that President Trump will succeed, this is the alarming fact: As of Feb. 27, of the 1,212 jobs that require Senate confirmation, 14 had been filled. Few of the 4,000 other political appointed jobs have been filled with allies. His cabinet officials have a government mostly staffed by those who are hostile to implementing his executive orders and statements of principles.
His supporters, and perhaps the president himself, continue to confuse signing executive orders, making speeches, and tweeting with governing. They believe he has “accomplished things” already. But if he does not rapidly accelerate the pace of filling the government with experienced allies – people who may not share all of his goals but will commit to helping him far more than those whose tactics will be to stall him for four years – not only will he fail to implement his agenda, but the blowback could actually put into power the populists who view our political and economic system as the problem.
In America, government is not done by a king. It is a team game.
Souder is a former Republican congressman.