Forgive those of us still reeling in the aftermath of inauguration day, unsure what to make of the beginning of Donald J. Trump’s presidency.
I don’t mean Democrats, understandably shaken by the turn of events in which an ideological hero was replaced by his near exact opposite in the White House. What I mean is those of us who generally find common ground between our values and the Republican Party platform, but who feel the party has been duped and co-opted to a point where a candidate like Trump can go from dismissed to tolerated to celebrated to staunchly defended in less than eight months.
If you squint, 2017 is a banner year for conservative-minded people — the voting base that Trump courted effectively enough to add to his more extreme backers and win the election. The Oval Office and both chambers of Congress are controlled by Republicans, and Tuesday’s announcement of Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court is evidence that the new president is willing to follow through with his promise to keep a conservative majority on America’s highest court.
But if you stop squinting, the clearer picture is a deeply troubling — a selling out of real conservative values in exchange for a few scraps of policy. And the cost is handing over our country’s leadership to a man unfit for the task.
There has been ample opportunity since Election Day for Trump to prove otherwise to those of us uneasy about his administration. The only honest defense of his tactics is to admit we like to see eye-poking and grandstanding, and to defend his policy is to embrace the chaos of a man who has no patience for sifting through his own thoughts, much less the advice of experts and certainly not the views of dissenters.
Some applaud his unwillingness to temper his approach — and it is, admittedly, a break from politics as usual — but his impulsive and ego-driven style of leadership is creating a disconcerting amount of disarray that should give us all pause.
As a quick example, take the travel ban issued at the end of last week. White House spokesman Sean Spicer did his best to pitch the executive order as simply a measure to better evaluate the potential threat of people coming into our country. But Trump himself has continued to call it a ban, and specifically a Muslim ban, which would make it clearly unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the implementation of the order created mass confusion as it was (ironically) rolled out with little vetting itself and with no better articulation from the president. Even high-ranking Republicans like Paul Ryan were not apprised of the order before Trump put his pen to paper.
Taken alone, the ban could be held up for scrutiny, giving those of us not predisposed to take any president at his word a chance to consider the implications. But the fast and furious first dozen days in office have given no chance for luxuries like careful consideration. And forget talking about the order to build a border wall at a cost of $12-$15 billion and possibly kick off a trade war with Mexico, because that was so last week. Or Cabinet picks, many of whom should raise red flags for all Americans, regardless of political affiliation. Or the claims of massive, democracy-shattering voter fraud he has yet to factually support in any real way.
It’s felt like a shock and awe campaign, much like Trump’s bid for the White House, designed to keep opponents guessing, critics preoccupied and everyone else unsure what to believe. It has invigorated the fan base but hasn’t grown the support of people who reluctantly voted for him, and especially those who lean conservative but couldn’t find the stomach to support him on the ballot.
Those in the latter categories are desperately hanging on, wondering why a president with an amenable Congress would force such chaotic policy instead of letting the government work the way it’s supposed to when one party is ruling — with debated and proactive lawmaking. We’re certainly embarrassed by the Twitter tirades and petty misinformation coming out of the White House.
And we’re concerned about the ability of this administration to effectively handle an actual crisis, which certainly will arise one way or another in the next four years.
Trump’s assertion that he alone can fix this country seems to be the only steadfast pillar of his belief system. And of all the principles that draw me toward conservative ideology, it is the belief that government is responsible to the people instead of the people being reliant on the government. Trump may present himself as the restorer of conservative American values, but has yet to exhibit he grasps that basic principle.
All conservatives should have trouble swallowing that pill, even if it cures a few of the ailments that have bothered them over the past eight years.
Daniel Wattenburger is the managing editor of the East Oregonian.