The Curtain Rises On Trump Theater

The pundits are up in arms over President Trump’s announcement that he intends to “recognize” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and on the eve of the supposed renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” What, they cry, can he be thinking?! Is he crazy? (Of course he is!) Are we to be spared nothing? (Of course we aren’t.)

Oh yes, the pundits are up in arms a lot these days: attacks of hysteria, on an almost daily basis, are one of the major symptoms of Trump Derangement Syndrome. And so when the President goes into one of his stream of consciousness riffs – will Joyce scholars ever recognize their literary provenance? – they take to Twitter, alarm bells ringing.

Ignore them.

As Trump would put it, it’s “fake news!” Because “recognizing” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a concept without content: Congress has already voted on several occasions over the years to proclaim such “recognition,” and to demand that the US embassy be moved there from Tel Aviv. Every president since Reagan has vowed to do precisely that – and wound up leaving the embassy right where it is. Trump will prove to be no exception, and here’s why:

“President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday, while also delaying moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, officials said.

“Though Trump will not relocate the embassy any time soon – one White House official told reporters it could take years – the president still intends to fulfill that promise made early in his administration.

“Senior administration officials called Trump’s expected recognition of Jerusalem an affirmation of ‘reality’ – both historical and current, pointing out that the city is already home to Israel’s parliament, supreme court and other government sites.”

What in the real, actual, physical world will change as a result of this empty “recognition”? The answer is: nothing. The embassy will stay where it is. The Palestinians will remain in their prison-like condition, and their Israeli jailers will continue to praise the President in public while continuing to guard their own interests even when it comes at the expense of the Americans.

Any questions?

The same people who scoffed at the very idea that Trump could ever be the GOP nominee, and then confidently foretold Hillary Clinton’s victory, have predicted disaster at every turn in the road to the end of the first year of his presidency. Remember how his election meant an inevitable war with China? The doomsayers couldn’t explain his recent love-fest with Xi Jinping, so they just ignored it and moved on to the next bloodcurdling and equally wrong prognostication – war with North Korea. Trump’s fire-and-fury rhetoric was so incandescently hot that his words alone would ignite a war on the Korean peninsula. Except it hasn’t happened, and it isn’t going to happen, for the same reason the Korean stalemate has persisted since 1953. For both sides, the price of aggression is too high – war means millions dead, and the Korean peninsula rendered virtually uninhabitable.

Oh, and don’t forget the war with Iran that was supposed to be already in progress by this time because Trump was going to rip up the Iran deal. Except that never happened, either. Despite all the election-year rhetoric, the solemn vows that the “bad, very bad” deal – the “worst deal in our history, folks, the absolute worst” – was going to be rectified and even nullified, upon taking office Trump simply kicked the issue over to Congress, where it will be kept in reserve for the Israel lobby to exploit at their convenience. In any case, the Iran deal is intact, and is very likely to remain so the longer the issue sits on the back burner.

By now the wrong predictions of the Trumpocalypse school of recent history are piling up so high that they overshadow whatever credibility these people once had. In the foreign policy realm their record is especially abysmal, and I’m not just talking here about the neocons, the Clinton gang, and the Davos crowd, but also some prominent anti-interventionists, such as Stephen Walt and the Beltway libertarians largely funded by Charles and David Koch. These armchair anti-interventionists, perhaps thinking of their long-term economic prospects, not only stayed on the sidelines while Trump made “isolationist” noises, they openly disdained his candidacy. After the election they joined the chorus of disaster-mongers, their voices indistinguishable from the bipartisan Washington consensus that decried Trump precisely for his virtues. That these people could have made a difference inside the Trump administration is one of the great tragedies of the Trump era.

So the pundits were wrong – but why? What is it about Trump that they have consistently missed that has caused them to miscalculate at every crucial turn where real judgment was called for? The irony is that it’s an element of the Trump-haters’ own critique of the President’s character, which they fail to give the prominence it deserves: he’s full of hot air. He’s a narcissist who likes to hear loves the sound of his own voice. He’s an actor, at heart, and both his critics and his fans mistake his theatrical performances for policy pronouncements. He actually has both his supporters and his enemies taking even his most casual off-the-cuff words literally – and remembering them selectively – and for both friend and foe that has proved to be a major mistake.

In the balance of things, his foes suffered the most from their self-induced blindness: it made them badly overstate the alleged dangers of a Trump presidency. I mean, by this time, according to the Future History imagined by the NeverTrumpers, shouldn’t we all be living under martial law, with Russian tanks rolling through the streets of Washington? According to them, we should already be at war with China, Iran, North Korea, and perhaps even NATO. Sadly, that last possibility never came about, but then again the good news is that neither did any of the others, despite the supposed immediacy of these alleged serial crises.

Yesterday, the world was ending: today, not so much. Was it Gore Vidal who called us the United States of Amnesia? I think this applies especially and specifically to the political class, i.e. the President’s mortal enemies, whom America’s premier historical novelist wrote about with such brutally insightful realism.

No doubt the capacity for self-deception is unlimited in some elements of #TheResistance, but even the strongest faith is shaken by repeated debunking. The inevitable end to this process of being consistently wrong is that the popularity of what started out as a widespread misconception begins to shrink, until its adherents are marginalized to the point of being reduced to the status of a tiny idiosyncratic cult.

This pattern is dramatized by the history of those millennialist cults that have prophesized the end of the world occurring on a specific day and even predicting the exact time. When the destiny of the universe failed to conform to their precise requirements, and the end failed to come, disenchanted believers began to leave. In response, the church’s top theologians conferred in solemn conclave until they could pluck a rationalization out of a hat.

The doomsayers’ great problem was that there were only two possible explanations consistent with their worldview for why the prophesized end failed to manifest itself, neither of which boded well for recruitment purposes. First, because they got the date wrong, due to a technical issue too intricate for the mere layman to understand. So they moved the date up – ah, but they could never move it up enough. There were only so many times they could get away with this tactic, and so eventually these cults went kaput, or nearly so. I say nearly because the second possible explanation – that the end of the world had come, but we’re too sinful and/or deluded to notice it – takes us into Louise Mensch territory.

The prophets of doom mistake belligerent words and style for action and substance, and this is the worst error our would be Doctors of Trumpology fall into. These literalists fail to see the Trumpian usage of language as negotiation, as a starting point rather than the final word, with his more “extreme” pronouncements meant to stretch the limits of what can be debated as well as to throw “red meat” to his base.

As an example, take Trump’s long distance “dialogue” with North Korean despot Kim Jong-un, widely misinterpreted as the rhetorical prelude to war. From calling down fire and fury to speculating as to whether Kim wants to be his friend, Trump’s side of the conversation certainly describes a range of possibilities, rather than a fixed position. Yet the bombast drowned out the more conciliatory overtures and the pundits heard only what they wanted to hear. Their one-dimensional analysis also ignored the realities on the ground, which effectively rule out war as a death sentence for millions of Koreans, South and North, as well as Japanese and quite possibly others. Yet the very scope of such a disaster is precisely what convinces the ultra-alarmist faction of our Trump-hating doomsday cult that it’s inevitable.

That’s because, according to their religion, Trump is the equivalent of Satan, whose reappearance on earth is a sign of the End Times. Oh, but don’t worry, folks: if you’re Saved, and you’re With Her, after Saint Michael Mueller corners the Devil in a courtroom called Armageddon and a Democratic House draws up a Bill of Excommunication, you’ll be Raptured up into the Kingdom of Eternal Hillary alongside the blessed ranks of #TheResistance.

As time goes on, even the congenital hysterics among the NeverTrumpers are going to have to come down to earth, stop with the virtue-signaling hyperbole, and come to grips with really existing Trumpism, which is neither fascism triumphant nor the restoration of our old republic but an ambiguous mix of new and old, the revolutionary and the counterrevolutionary, embodying both continuity and change. It is, in short, like most important shifts in the American political landscape, not enough to bring down the house, but in Trump’s case enough to shake up a complacent, hideously wealthy, and brazenly decadent ruling class that had long since lost contact with the rest of the country.

What has been brought down is the house of the two-party monopoly, the political and operational linchpin of our foreign policy of global intervention, which has always been predicated on solidly bipartisan support. What Trump has done is to found a de facto third party, separate from and opposed to the old GOP Establishment as well as the Democrats, both of which have effectively marginalized their “isolationist” wings. If there is to be any challenge to the interventionist consensus, which currently dominates Washington, this third force in American politics is bound to be its vehicle and voice.

Like any new party, especially those of a populist bent, this “America First Party” starts out as an ideologically ambiguous formation. Every successful political group is necessarily a coalition, the broader the better. And the bigger and more successful it is, the more the opportunities for disagreement and debate present themselves. Political movements don’t exist in a vacuum: they react, change, and evolve in response to events. The Trump voters who cheered his disdainful dismissal of George W. Bush as a warmonger – and who made the difference in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – will be the biggest and best bulwark against the drive for yet another Middle Eastern war, this time with Iran. These people have a prominent place in this new Trump party, and many of them have found their way to Antiwar.com. We welcome them and are grateful for their support, which was a factor in the relatively early conclusion of our recent fundraising campaign.

Speaking of which: I have to say that I am bowled over by the success of our winter 2017 fundraiser, as well as by the incredible outpouring of support for me personally over my recent cancer diagnosis. Many thanks to all of you: I know “words fail me” is not a good line coming from a writer, but I have to be honest: in this case words do fail me.

My gratitude is heightened by the certainty that a good deal of this surge of support is motivated by the message I’ve been emphasizing to a great degree recently, and certainly one that has been a constant theme of this column and of Antiwar.com’s editorial policy in general since the very beginning, and it is this: we will never bow to the consensus, the conventional wisdom, or the fashion of the moment. The pious little orthodoxies of left and right don’t enter into our editorial judgments. We don’t care what “everyone says” or “all the experts” agree on. Our approach to any assertion of fact is to ask: where’s the evidence?

Adherence to this principle has generally kept Antiwar.com from falling into any of several deep potholes on the long road from 1995, the year of our founding, to 2017. A radical skepticism of the conventional wisdom is what kept us on the straight and narrow, and it continues to animate my own personal crusade to get my readers – particularly the libertarians among them – to think outside the box, and, in the process, see new opportunities rather than the same old obstacles.

One a personal note: Looks like I’m back to my twice a week schedule: Mondays and Thursdays. If my optimism about my cancer treatment turns out to be justified – and things are looking good – I’ll be back to my thrice weekly schedule soon. In any case, that’s the goal. Yesterday I had my third Keytruda-chemo combo treatment and today I have so far written more than  2,000 words in this space.

So, yes, things are looking up. Which has been my consistent message to my fellow libertarians, some of whom have joined the doomsayers’ cult and characterized the Trump era as a new Dark Ages.

They are wrong, and every day offers more evidence that the opposite is the truth. The emergence of a third ostensibly populist party in American politics gives space for the development of a genuinely libertarian populism. A variety of populism, in short, that rejects the welfare-warfare state, makes a clear the distinction between the nation and the government, and recognizes that American nationalism insofar as it represents the American revolutionary tradition is not the enemy but rather the essential complement to liberty.

The Beltway types and some elements in the Libertarian Party reject the populist label as utterly antithetical to libertarianism, but this is ahistorical nonsense. The actual founders of the Libertarian Party, David F. Nolan and Don Ernsberger, were prominent supporters of the old Liberty Amendment Committee, a right-wing populist movement that proposed to get rid of 90 percent of the federal government by passing a constitutional amendment. A number of state legislatures approved it, mostly in the west and the south. And this nascent libertarian movement could trace its lineage all the way back to the anti-Federalists, the Jeffersonian radicals, the Whiskey Rebellion, and, in modern times, the Old Right and Midwestern progressive opposition to Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. Thus the original America First movement in opposition to foreign wars was born – the biggest antiwar movement in our history. The Ron Paul movement that brought libertarianism into the spotlight was surely a populist phenomenon in the classic sense that it spoke to large numbers of previously nonpoliticized individuals who were suddenly brought into a radical movement for social change.

I can’t resist making this final point: how ironic that some alleged libertarians are making the case that we must ally with the left and even construct a “liberal-tarian” agenda at precisely the moment when liberals have turned their backs on their best traditions. Just when leading liberals have become raving neo-McCarthyites openly calling for censorship of the internet, a CIA-FBI -led coup, and a showdown with nuclear-armed Russia, we’re supposed to join hands with them and sing “kumbaya” – what a sense of timing some people have!

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].