Is it too late for Trump to keep his promises?
Is an economic depression combined with weekly spasms of violence and monument iconoclasm necessary to produce genuine America First policies?
President Trump's expansion of his April 20 immigration moratorium to include nearly all foreign laborers caught many of his supporters pleasantly off guard. The order blocked the entrance of not just agricultural toilers and plongeurs via H-2b visas, but also the more cerebral, specialized class of workers, who rely on H-1b and J-1 entry permits. In denying Apple more Indian software engineers and Deloitte additional Chinese accountants, Trump bucked the corporate cadging for marked down imported labor.
Four days later, Trump jotted his signature on another decree, directing the Justice Department to use the full remit of the law in prosecuting statue-topplers. The order referred to the coddled avec-LuLulemon-culottes as having a "deep ignorance of our history" who wish to "destroy anything that honors our past and to erase from the public mind any suggestion that our past may be worth honoring, cherishing, remembering, or understanding."
These executive declarations were rare unadulterated victories for the America First canon Trump won the presidency with. Why it took a global pandemic and the felling of Saint Junipero Serra statues to achieve it is a question the president should seriously mull over during Fox & Friends commercial breaks. From the glared vantage point of midsummer, the prospect of "four more years" is increasingly dim.
"Not many people are saying it out loud on the right, but the fact is that President Trump could well lose this election," Tucker Carlson recently warned. The polls show Biden not just ahead, but far in the offing. Even if polls are a notoriously lousy predictor, there's a growing feeling of unease among the president's most loyal contingent. The white working class — the crucial Trumpian constituency — is flagging in its support for its Pennsylvania Avenue tribune. Politico reports that behind the Twitter bluster, Trump has acknowledged his weak hand to senior aides. A Fox Business correspondent claims that Republican "operatives" are discussing having their party standard-bearer drop out altogether before a single vote is cast.
This kind of tittle-tattle no doubt excites media yentas, who play off the drama for clicks. But, Trump sinking in the public's view and the perception of Joe Biden having him over a barrel are not unfounded. This attack of the ballot dismals is shunting him back to his own nationalist center.
There's one problem: it may be too late to deliver. Three-plus years have been squandered on grudges, potshots, prolonged legal challenges, and extrinsic events, not all within Trump's sphere of control, but nonetheless detrimental to his original agenda.
The grand palisade across the U.S.-Mexico partition never fully materialized. Our troops have yet to be extricated from the Middle East. We've severed few ties with supranational organizations (putting a pause on funds to the World Health Organization was an exception), and our titled trade agreements have not been significantly altered.
By most counts, Trump has run an orthodox Republican administration: tax cuts, deregulation, court-packing, plumping the military's coffers. There were some liberal curveballs, courtesy of his son-in-law: a carceral leniency bill, requesting a federal policy of remunerated family leave.
When Trump has been bent on pushing for country-first policies, he's been thwarted, be it by the courts, Congress, or his own West Wing hirelings.
Trump was outmanned — literally — from the beginning, treated as a provincial leper by much of Washington, forced to hire establishment GOP hands who assailed him during the campaign. These functionaries were never allegiant to the president; they were opportunists hoping to list the EEOB on their résumés. Just the same, the real locus of governmental power — the managerial state — wasn't about to make over its self-serving prerogatives to satisfy a loutish interloper.
Despite wavering from the governing disposition that put him in office, Trump was riding high at the start of this year. Re-election was a perforce prospect: historically low unemployment, no new wars, nothing disruptive or debilitating to the average schmuck grubbing at a nine-to-five. There was no "return to normalcy" message that could pierce Trump's Teflon NASDAQ gains. Things were normal — placid, even. Joe Biden, a gaffer with a mouth full of gaffes, had no distinguishing reason for returning to the White House.
A foreign-born virus, an economic freefall, and urban turmoil undid all that in two months. Democrats are born again, awakened converts to the new religion of racial justice. Reading White Fragility as if it were the Sermon the Mount, they're holily possessed, equating deliverance with ousting the devil on the secular throne.
Keeping wayward fans in the fold is Trump's only chance for triumph. The announced arrest of over 100 sculpture vandals burnishes his law-and-order bonafides. The proposed withdrawing of a quarter of our troops from Germany is another step in the right direction. But with the Supreme Court hindering any incremental progress made with wide-ranging rulings on executive power, effectively muting social conservatives on national policy, a demoralized base could punch Biden's ticket back to the Oval.
The urgency to turn things around is picking up on the other side of the June solstice. Trump has time to prove that America First was more than a braggart's gripe. The presidency comes with the added bonus of executive decisiveness. Its full force has yet to be explored on quelling domestic insurrection, taking a tougher tack toward China, winding down our overseas presence.
Will Trump do it? Or will he keep pounding out the tweets, hoping the wandering-witted Biden gets too handsy with a comely lass during one of his few in-person campaign stops? The latter, though unnerving, won't guarantee a repeat performance of November 8, 2016.