Anonymous – A Warning
I read this during the impeachment hearings. The book is clearly a rush job, and it doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground. This book’s effect instead is more cumulative. Its impact comes from painting a consistent picture of President Trump’s personality, his management style, and how it affects policymaking and personnel. Many of the shared inside stories and anecdotes I hadn’t previously heard line up well with Trump’s already known tendencies, and are consistent with what other inside reports from the White House reveal.
Anonymous believes Trump is unfit for office, but opposes both impeachment and any 25th Amendment actions. He (she?) would like Trump to be defeated in the election, whether in a primary or, the committed Republican grudgingly says, by a Democrat. Despite fears that Trump might not respect the results of a close election, Anonymous believes those risks are far less than they would be than with impeachment, or especially a 25th Amendment action. Yes, Trump is apparently that unstable and short-sighted.
Anonymous, however, also worries that Democrats are too caught up in Trump’s us-vs.-them style for their own good. They are at risk of choosing a candidate—Anonymous ventures no names—who pairs a Trumpian temperament with far-left policy views. Rather than flattering their opponent through imitation, it would be better for Democrats to choose a moderate. Such a candidate—Anonymous again names no possibilities—would be more electable. They would also do less damage on the policy front, from Anonymous’ conservative perspective. Time in the wilderness could also do the Republicans some good as they think over what they have done. This reviewer almost certainly has a different notion of “good” than Anonymous, but his/her larger point has merit. The GOP needs to cool its overheated emotions.
Anonymous has also rethought the thesis of their New York Times op-ed. The grown-ups in the room are simply not capable of reining all of Trump’s rash decisions. The “steady state” contingent, as Anonymous calls it, has also been shrinking. Good people and/or solid conservatives are leaving the administration in frustration, or are being fired for telling the President things he does not want to hear. Their replacements tend to much more accommodating to the President. As this natural selection process continues, the quality of the administration’s work will continue to deteriorate.
Anonymous argues that a second term would remove the pressure Trump feels to maintain his base’s approval, and move him in a more authoritarian direction. I disagree with this for two reasons. First, his base’s approval means much more to him than just job security. His ego needs it. He genuinely wants and needs popular approbation, hence all the campaign-style rallies and red meat tweets. That said, apparently his staff has long been encouraging him to do as many rallies as possible. Theoretically, when Trump is preoccupied with the rallies, he is less likely to scuttle his own policy initiatives through a tweet or an impulsive, and often temporary, flip-flop.
Second, Trump’s base support has not yet been hurt by anything ranging from his proposing stricter gun control to his obvious non-evangelicalism to his growing spending and deficits, to his trade war’s disproportionate harm to red states. As long as Republicans remain personality-driven rather than policy-driven, Trump has little to worry about from alienating his base.
This is not a book of great depth, but it doesn’t need to be to get its point across. If there is a cause for pessimism, it is that Trump came along during a political realignment, as historian Stephen Davies has argued. In the new nationalism-vs.-cosmopolitan debate, Trump has rapidly pulled the Republicans to the nationalist pole. The Democrats, who currently lack a single figure to rally around, have yet chosen to occupy the same pole or moving to the opposite, cosmopolitan pole. Their primary field contains strong candidates on each side.
Trump is a bad president. But ultimately, the problem isn’t him. Nor is it his party. It is a public ideology that is shifting in a nationalist direction. In the short term, America’s more-or-less liberal institutions will pass Trump’s stress test. The more important battle is long-term. Both parties need to discover some semblance of liberal values. Republicans will continue to reject them for as long as Trump is president. From there, who knows. Frankly, a more important short-term objective is getting Democrats to be an effective opposition. If one party is going nationalist and populist, the other should take up the opposite pole. That means resisting the temptation to copy Trump’s amygdala-driven populism. I am not optimistic.