Bashing Donald Trump has become a cottage industry for certain journalists, apparently on both sides of the political aisle. Eugene Robinson attacks from the left and Michael Gerson from the right. They are not alone. What I find mind-numbing about their expressions of contempt is their tunnel vision. They never clarify the meaning of “corruption and incompetence,” instead assuming that their audience is persuaded because they occupy the moral high ground.
Trump wasn’t elected because he is a choir boy. The last time the American electorate chose a choirboy president it didn’t work out so well. Jimmy Carter made a mess of things, both at home and abroad. Trump’s style, obviously reviled by many, is blunt, combative and often crude, but rational voters chose him despite his faults because he promised certain policies that they believed desirable. In my estimation, Trump has made a more serious attempt to keep those promises than any president of recent memory. The fact that this upsets the old status quo is painfully obvious and has led to the bitter posturing of the present crop of presidential hopefuls in their quest for power.
It would be more productive, in my opinion, if aspiring presidential candidates spent less time engaged in questionable virtue-signaling and more time on debating the nature of corruption and incompetence as these terms relate to national politics. Inasmuch as it is the rare politician who is untouched by corruption, endless debates about who is most corrupt are like arguing about the winner of an ugly baby contest. But we can be more discerning about professed judgments of incompetence. On the big issues that matter to most people, such as the economy (if James Carville is to be believed), incompetence is a hard sell. Like him or not, Trump has reversed the hostility of the previous administration toward economic growth, deregulation, and declining labor force participation. Average wages have moved out of their slump and the gains have been proportionally greater for minorities and the disadvantaged. Removal of arbitrary and job-destroying regulations has likewise helped to stimulate entrepreneurship, which is vital to a vigorous economy. Lower taxes have led to increased capital formation, production and consumer spending. Overall, it’s quite a stretch to paint these developments as the result of incompetence.
During the Civil War, the editor of the Cincinnati Gazette described General Ulysses S. Grant as “an ass … foolish, drunken and stupid.” Yet President Abraham Lincoln trusted him because he won battles; and Grant subsequently became the 18th president of the United States. Journalists still cite his administration as among the most scandal-ridden and corrupt in American history (sound familiar?). If cooler heads prevail in 2020, Trump will probably win reelection for the same reason Lincoln promoted Grant — he gets results.