By Victor Davis Hanson
April 27th, 2017
Donald Trump was elected president by sizing up the Electoral College, and the voting public, and then campaigning accordingly. A number of the things that explain Trump’s election also point to unique opportunities to overturn the Obama legacy. This, in turn, explains why the Left is understandably upset about the unprecedented scope of the presidential landscape they bequeathed to and therewith empowered Trump.
Weaponizing the Presidency
After complaining for years that he was constitutionally unable to grant executive-order amnesties, Obama lost all such scruples after his 2012 election. His legacy was not so much the number of executive orders that he issued, but rather the unapologetic overreach of them—whether granting blanket amnesties, ordering convenient pen-and-phone non-enforcement of federal immigration laws, green-lighting sanctuary cities, changing the idea of due process on college campuses, recalibrating the order of Chrysler bankruptcy creditors, or delaying the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act for reelection advantage.
The Left is understandably apprehensive of Trump because Obama set the modern precedent that a contemporary president can do almost anything he pleases by executive orders (and in Nixonian fashion can weaponize federal agencies, from the NSA to the IRS, in order to monitor and hound political rivals and perceived enemies). Sen. Harry Reid’s near suicidal destruction of the Senate filibuster captured the unreality of the times, as if Obama progressivism most certainly would be America’s new orthodoxy for generations to come.
The Media Implosion
A supposedly disinterested media’s ecstasy over Obama’s election ensured that its subsequent revulsion at Trump could be taken no more seriously. Once a journalist declares a president a god or capable of sending shocks down one’s leg, then he would be no more credible if he were to pronounce another president the anti-Christ or capable of causing boils on one’s appendages. And once a political novice is declared a worthy Nobel laureate on the basis of professed intentions, then why would anyone worry about any other president’s political inexperience?
When Obama joked (to general media laughter and applause) at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner about sending Predator assassination drones to take out potential suitors of his daughter, one can then hardly sympathize with media hurt feelings when Trump skips the embarrassing charade altogether. The Obama administration occasionally expressed contempt for media toadies who proved so useful to him, whether defined by Obama’s frequent jibes that the media slavishly was in his corner, or by Attorney General Eric Holder’s monitoring of Associated Press journalists, or by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes’s haughty disdain for obsequious reporters (the “echo chamber” that “knows nothing”).
If a prejudicial media’s smarminess nonetheless earned derision from its icon Obama, why should not its hostility earn the same from Trump? If a marquee partisan reporter confesses (in the Podesta Wikileaks trove) of his Clinton partisanship that he is a “hack,” why should Trump argue with such self-described assessments?
A critical media is not a mere reset button that one turns on and off at one’s convenience. Instead, once it was short-circuited after 2008, its burned-out switch cannot be flipped back on in 2017. In sum, there is no longer a believable media that can offer credible critiques of the Trump presidency.
The New Democratic Party
The Democratic Party metamorphosed in 2008. Obama convinced it that identity politics and new demographic realities meant that record minority turnouts and bloc-voting—coupled with the disengagement of the vanishing “clinger” white working class—ushered in a new hard left Democratic generation of power.
Progressives sipped this tainted moonshine and the result over eight years was the disastrous losses of the majority of state governorships, legislatures, the House, the Senate, the presidency and, likely for a generation, the Supreme Court. In truth, the polarizing “hands up, don’t shoot” /”you didn’t build that”/”punish our enemies” assorted rhetoric deemed necessary to galvanize Obama’s progressive base also both polarized and riled the “deplorables” and “irredeemables.” Or to put it another way: historic minority participation and identity politics zealotry were not commensurately transferrable to a 69-year-old, multimillionaire white woman; but the working-class estrangement that accompanied such an effort most certainly was. Clinton inherited all the downsides of the Obama paradigm without, at least in her case, any of its upsides.
After the emergence of an even harder left Democratic National Committee leadership, and President emeritus Obama’s own vows to lead a sort of shadow progressive resistance movement, there is little chance that a stung Democratic Party will jettison polarizing identity politics issues and its neglect of the middle classes, and learn from the 2016 defeat. The problem is not just that the Democratic establishment leadership—Jerry Brown, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi—ranges in age from their late sixties to eighties, but also that the younger, and more robust next generation—Keith Ellison, Kamala Harris, Tom Perez—has embraced an even more polarizing politics. Are orthodox and old preferable to radical and young?
In sum, Trump is the beneficiary of a dysfunctional opposition whose reaction to the close loss of 2016 is reminiscent of the unhinged Democratic response to the narrow defeat of 1968, when it doubled-down, went harder left, gave up on middle-class concerns—and was demolished in 1972.
There is as yet no credible response to Trump and certainly no opposing coherent agenda. Instead, the “Resistance” is being waged by cherry-picking liberal federal judges in hopes of delaying and slowing down executive orders in the courts, along with states-rights nullifications, organized advertising boycotts of conservative media figures, media collusion, jamming town hall meetings of conservative representatives, campus antics, and waging war on social media.
At least for now, all these slow-downs are not substitutes for legislative action, but more evidence of political impotence.