Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kristol hops on that Normalizing train

Fearless #NeverTrumper Dr. William Kristol warns us not to judge the Trump presidency too early, because he may start discovering here's something to like about the autocrat pumpkinhead:
Donald Trump's victory might seem to confirm Machiavelli's judgment of the omnipresence of the vulgar. But it's increasingly clear that it will be important, going forward, not to judge by mere appearance or short-term outcome. 
After all, you never know what he might do, as you can easily prove by contemplating all the hypothetical things that might have been done by people who didn't get elected:
America might have been better off, at least in terms of Cold War policy, if the loser rather than the winner had prevailed in most of the recent presidential elections. [Professor Adam Ulam] then went on (as I recall) to entertain us with a somewhat lighthearted and of course speculative account of how a Dewey administration might have deterred the Korean war, a Stevenson administration might not have broken with Britain over Suez, a Nixon administration might not have tempted Khrushchev to provoke the Cuban missile crisis, and a Goldwater administration might have kept us out of Vietnam.
Brilliant! Though in my counterfactual world it's just as easy to argue that Truman could have prevented the Korean War, or Johnson the Vietnam disgrace, if he'd only listened to a slightly different mix of advisers, as he later wished he had (not to mention Kennedy, who wins the 1964 election in all sorts of possible worlds):

[Johnson] didn’t want to get into the war, tried much harder to stay out than anyone remembers and relented only when his senior advisers ganged up on him. (Steven Sestanovich)
Whereas Goldwater, for all his libertarianism on cicil rights issues, was a fervent Cold Warrior who argued in the 1964 campaign that the US should invade North Vietnam even before there was a pretext like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and even discussed using "low-yield" nuclear weapons to block the NLF supply routes.

It's true that Adlai Stevenson came out to denounce Eisenhower for his failure to support Israel (and its allies France and Britain) when the Suez crisis broke out in October 1956, the week before the US election, but not quite for the reasons Kristol seems to imagine:
When the Israeli invasion came on Oct. 29, a week before the U.S. election, Eisenhower was irate. He told Secretary of State John Foster Dulles: "Foster, you tell 'em, God-damn-it, that we're going to apply sanctions, we're going to the United Nations, we're going to do everything that there is so we can stop this thing." The U.S, did, indeed, win a cease-fire resolution at the U.N., despite opposition from Britain, France and Israel.
Eisenhower took a political risk. He was blasted by his Democratic rival, Adlai Stevenson, who charged on Nov. 1 that if the U.S. had acted more forcefully to support Israel, it might have avoided war. But Ike prevailed, winning re-election, forcing the attackers to withdraw from the canal, and enunciating a strategy for U.S.-led security in the region that came to be known as the "Eisenhower Doctrine." (David Ignatius)
But Eisenhower's actions did avoid war (Stevenson was also impelled by some Cold War trolling from, I regret to say, no less a liberal than Eleanor Roosevelt, who expressed surprise that President Eisenhower should find himself aligned on the issue with the Soviet Union), and if Stevenson had been president instead of campaigning against the incumbent there's no reason to think that he would have handled the situation any differently than Ike.

As to the possibility that First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev might have been more respectful toward an imaginary young President Nixon than he was toward the real JFK, I have just two words: color television.
Nixon: There are some instances where you may be ahead of us, for example in the thrust of your rockets for the investigation of outer space. And there may be instances, for example color television, where we are ahead of you...
Khrushchev: In what are they ahead of us? Wrong! Wrong!
As you can see, Dr. Kristol is as wrong when he is inventing pure hypotheticals as when he claims to be reporting facts, which is quite an achievement.

Anyway, it's a little late to be speculating on what an imaginary President Trump would do, given that we are now faced with the imminent existence of a real one. Dr. Kristol's contribution to The Normalizing is that that's probably going to be OK too, keeping mindful
that while many of his tweets may be foolish, several of his appointments may be impressive; that a chaotic White House isn't inconsistent with a successful administration; that a president who has little interest in constitutionalism might still have a presidency during which we see a reinvigoration of constitutional forms and authorities (as Christopher DeMuth recently put it, "one of the many astonishing results of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the Republican sweep on Election Day is that they have set the stage for a constitutional revival"); that a man who has shown little interest in governing might—might!—turn out to have some appreciation for the importance of governing.
I'd say time is running out on the impressive appointments plank already, given the clowns and scoundrels nominated so far, most them believing the department they've been chosen to head should not do its work at all:

(Appropriated from Steve.) The idea that chaos goes with success needs a little historical documentation. Which successful presidential administrations in American history were exceptionally chaotic, Dr. Kristol, and exactly how chaotic were they, in comparison to the Trump transition to date?

As for the theory of a "constitutional revival", what DeMuth is thinking (behind the WSJ paywall but quoted at length by Pepperdine professor Paul Caron) is that with Obama gone the old Congress might get back to its traditional activity of legislatin'  rather than "lazy policy delegation to the executive", which sounds like a somewhat positive thought, but if their work on health care so far is any indication—as I suspected, the Republicans are planning to repeal Obamacare immediately to take effect sometime in 2019, with the pious hope that some kind of replacement bill will have wandered into the Capitol on is own by then—this is not going to happen. (Is it worth pointing out that a Congress that has produced virtually no significant legislation in six years may have literally forgotten institutionally how to do it?)
On this last point, we take heart from Donald Trump's remarks on election night: "It's been what they call a historic event, but to be really historic, we have to do a great job. And I promise you that I will not let you down. We will do a great job. We will do a great job."
Oh well, in that case! I mean if Donald says so, and not just once but twice, what's your problem?

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