An old bit of wisdom is that you should never try to con a con man. This advice is not aimed at con men, of course, but at honest people. Grifters are intuitively dishonest, which means they instinctively work every angle to some advantage. Normal people are simply unable to think like this, even when they are trying to do it. Their scruples get in the way of their scheming. This is something that Trump should have had in mind when he took office four years ago. It was his first mistake.
Trump came to Washington thinking he was smarter, more clever and more resilient than the people he had mocked for so long from his couch. There’s no question that most people in politics are stupid. Without a government grift, they would end up peddling replacement windows door-to-door. But politics in a liberal democracy does not select for smart people. It selects for clever and ruthless people. Washington is the major leagues for the most clever and ruthless.
To his credit, he did outfox them from time to time, but after a while, they began to get the measure of him and figured out how to out-clever him. The FBI scandal is a great example of how they simply outmaneuvered him to delay the process. More important, they got him to drop it as a campaign item. What should have been a key part of his campaign as a populist champion went unmentioned. Time after time Trump tried to play their game and every time he came up a loser.
Similarly, Trump came to Washington under the mistaken impression that his opponents would follow the rules and abide by their own rhetoric. After all, he won the election, the people have spoken, time for the winner to enjoy the fruits of victory. That’s how it is supposed to work in a democratic society. From the very beginning he assumed these people would play fair, despite the fact he knew they spied on him in the campaign and tried hard to cheat him out of his victory.
This is a great example of the civic nationalist disease. This is a malady that is most pronounced in men of Trump’s generation. The civic nationalist loves rules and fully expects his enemies to play by those rules. In reality, the ends justifies the means mentality of the Left has poisoned the entire ruling class. These are people devoid of honor and virtue. Playing by the rules, especially their rules, is a sucker’s play, one Trump never figured out in his four years.
No matter how many times the political class kicked him in the groin, he refused to accept this reality. The strange thing is he campaigned in the most unconventional way, preferring rallies to the formula popular with the political industrial complex. He was a refreshingly unconventional politician in his campaign, but he was thoroughly conventional in his governance. In office, he played by the rules of Washington, while Washington made the rules up as they went along.
Probably his biggest mistake in office was in not seeing the FBI scandal as a purely political affair, rather than a legal one. He was conned into thinking it should be handled by the courts as a criminal matter, when he should have used it as a political hammer to bludgeon official Washington. By the election, all of the classified information should have been leaked and revealed. This would have kept Washington petrified about what he may release if they got too aggressive with him.
This would have fed into the subplot of his campaign. It was always Trump the reformer against the political class. Instead of working with Republicans like he was one of them, he should have treated them as part of the problem. Trump needed to be Harry Truman running against a corrupt establishment. He would have accomplished more and he would have provided a clear reason to support him 2020. Instead he kept trying to be accepted by people who detested him.
Stylistically, Trump the salesman was an amusing bit of comic relief in the 2016 election that probably won him the benefit of the doubt. The trouble was, he kept selling his voters after he had won. The campaign is about promises, while governance is about delivering on those promises. Trump did some good things in office, but he never spoke of them, instead preferring to keep promising to look into new things and maybe do other things. It quickly rang hollow with his voters.
The great lesson to learn from the Trump era is that winning the crowd is useless if you don’t have a plan to put it to some purpose. Trump is not an ideologue, which allows him to be pragmatic. That’s a great asset in politics, as long as you have the secret list in your head of things you want to do in office. This is what makes the Left so powerful as a social force. They never lose focus on their goal. They know why they seek power, so they adapt and keep moving forward.
Trump never seemed to know what he wanted to do in office. Like all civic nationalists, he has this vague notion in his head of what America should be, but he was never able to translate it into policy. The closest he came was the many administrative changes made to the immigration process. He never spoke of those, because like all civic nationalist, he preferred to dream of the mythological America where everyone happily abides but the rules of the republic.
There are many other things that can be put in the list of mistakes by Trump over the last four years, but the overriding theme is this. Trump never rose above the petty and practical to grasp his historical moment. Like everyone else is Washington, he had no vision of the future. As a result, he got bogged down into the swamp he promised to drain, playing petty politics, squabbling over small issues. The moment called for a man of vision, but instead got a pitchman from Queens.
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