Some people mistakenly think that politics is about making people happy. Sometimes it is, of course, but some people can’t be made happy. Others shouldn’t be made happy. On the other hand, politics is not about making people angry. Some people will be made angry, of course, and that can be no bad thing, but in itself it is no measure of achievement.
I believe the Trump administration gauges its success by the extent to which it manages to anger people. This is not surprising. Trump won the election saying wild things that earned him infamy among his enemies and love from admirers. That was Bannon’s business model when he ran Breibart. These are not diplomats and statesmen. These are pugilists.
Some liberals, of course, will be angry whatever they do, for the simple reason that they are not liberals. Some people should be made angry because their misdoings should be thwarted (tyrants, terrorists, corrupt bankers and lobbyists). But what was the point of extending, entrenching and radicalising domestic and international opposition with an Executive Order that was gratuitous in the scale and speed of its implementation? Beyond panicking innocent people, almost pointlessly, it has turned millions against the Trump administration, and all of its in large part commendable policy program, whose support or indifference could have been assets.
If it was a Muslim ban we would at least have known where the administration stood. As it is, with an Iranian film director apparently banned from attending the Oscars but Saudis, Pakistanis, Indians, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Saudis and Emiratis allowed to swan in without even moderate vetting, the idea that it represents urgent anti-terrorist action is absurd. I suspect it was intended to annoy people: a two-fingered salute to liberals and foreigners alike. That might feel cathartic, but, frankly, who cares? It might entrench support but with dramatically low approval ratings that is not worth much. It demonstrates that the administration is prepared to act on its own terms, regardless of international opinion, but so did George W Bush when he invaded Iraq.
You don’t have to be fighting all the time to be tough. Being tough is about being smart as well as confrontational. I fear this Trumpian belligerence could have more serious consequences in the future. It is one thing to annoy the governments of Iraq and Iran. This will get more serious with the big conflict of the future, which is with the Chinese.
Update: I increasingly suspect that I got this wrong and Trump wants people to respect, admire and praise him. That is not necessarily a comforting thought.
Feel free to delete this comment.
Thanks! Good spot.
“You don’t have to be fighting all the time to be tough. Being tough is about being smart as well as confrontational. ”
I suspect this is a bit of “shock and awe”: we can get away with this, so don’t bother to squeal too much when we decide to do something else you don’t like. When any action you take regarding any foreigner is likely to be howled down as racist bigotry, you might as well go for dramatic gestures. I’m assuming that if Trump has read any political theorists, he has read Machiavelli.
When any action you take regarding any foreigner is likely to be howled down as racist bigotry, you might as well go for dramatic gestures.
See, I disagree with this. Optics matter. People waiting to leave the airport yet being detained wasn’t just cruel, it was bad optics. Green card holders being summarily banned wasn’t just unjust, it was bad optics. It’s easy to sneer at this but it makes a difference – because while you’ll never get everyone to agree with you you can avoid making a lot of people who would otherwise be indifferent oppose you.
Remember the Richard Nixon-era FBI’s COINTELPRO program to radicalize the US left towards increasingly erratic violence in order to justify further crackdowns on left-wing political movements? I’m strongly suspecting that Donald Trump has something similar in store.
Notice that Nixon was responsible for giving Pat Buchanan, of whom Steve Bannon is pretty clearly this generation’s equivalent, his career as a strategic advisor.