Ross Douthat—though far from Aardvark’s favorite pundit, even among conservative pundits—does ask the right questions this afternoon:
Will [Trump’s] rhetoric actually define the policy that gets made in the halls of Congress, where a more Reaganite conservatism still theoretically holds sway? Or will his words be a Buchananite patina on an agenda mostly written by supply-siders and Goldman Sachs appointees? Or will the conflict between the two tendencies simply make his administration less epochal than incoherent, less transformative than simply ineffective?
Trump believes in Winning Through Intimidation. That is his life strategy. Just as some people’s life strategy is being beautiful, some succeed by working harder than anyone else, and some succeed by mastering a professional discipline, Trump has enjoyed success by intimidation, bluster, and showmanship.
He told the Republicans today that he bloody well intends to intimidate them to a fare thee well, by exploiting their craven fear of the folks who have bought into Trump’s cult of personality.
There are limits to life strategies. Being beautiful doesn’t improve your SAT scores. And intimidation has its limits.
First, some people are more subject to intimidation that others, especially on some subjects. Who thinks that John McCain is going to be intimidated into loving Russia?
Second, while you can intimidate some people, some of the time, you can’t intimidate reality. You cannot, for example, intimidate the health care system into providing costless, generous universal coverage, nor can you intimidate away the robotic revolution in manufacturing.
Third, while there remain millions of cultists, some are already beginning to leave.
So, yes, there will be clusterfucks. As old Ross puts it,
Combine … brute political facts with Trump’s implausibly expansive promises, and a Carter scenario — gridlock, disappointment, collapse — seems like the most plausible way to bet. But on the evidence of this speech, Trump has no intention of playing it safe: He will either remake conservatism in his image, or see his presidency fail in the attempt.
Aardvark is grateful for his readers in Germany and the United States, welcomes new readers in China and South Africa, and continues to be a little concerned about the readers in Russia.
And by the way, the painting depicts King Canute, whose relation to the subject matter of the post will be apparent to anyone who knows the good king’s story.
It was, incidentally, a hard choice between Canute and Æthelred the Unready.