Charles Krauthammer wants to remind you that not everything is as bad as it seems (“American democracy: Not so decadent after all,” The Washington Post, 3/23/2017):
Under the big gray cloud, amid the general gloom, allow me to offer a ray of sunshine. The last two months have brought a pleasant surprise: Turns out the much feared, much predicted withering of our democratic institutions has been grossly exaggerated. The system lives.
Krauthammer isn’t the first to pen this kind of op-ed. Scores of conservative writers who at least nominally oppose Trump (or sort of did at one point—yes, David French, I’m talking about you) have already assured us that everything is fine because Donald Trump didn’t declare martial law on day 1, and that all the worry was for naught.
Let me explain. Donald Trump’s triumph last year was based on a frontal attack on the Washington “establishment,” that all-powerful, all-seeing, supremely cynical, bipartisan “cartel” (as Ted Cruz would have it) that allegedly runs everything.
But the Washington “establishment” doesn’t run everything, as Krauthammer admits, and the idea wasn’t one that Donald Trump alone established. The people who believed him were part of the same group that voted for the Republicans of the “Freedom Caucus” (aka Tea Partiers) who went to Washington to wage war against the “establishment.” It’s Republicans who, especially in the eight years under Obama, have constantly and repeatedly undermined faith in Washington by simultaneously and paradoxically claiming that the federal government was (1) an omnipotent and omniscient dystopian nightmare and (2) a feckless, impotent, and weak system too sluggish and bureaucratic to assemble a ham sandwich without a subcommittee.
Yet the establishment proved to be Potemkin empty. In 2016, it folded pitifully, surrendering with barely a fight to a lightweight outsider.
Nope. The “establishment” didn’t fold—the Republican party folded. Unless Krauthammer wants to suggest that Democrats put up the mildest resistance to Trump, there’s no way to both-siderist this one.
From here on out, Krauthammer isn’t interested in making the case that the institutions Trump helped continue to sow popular distrust in so much as he trying to sneak in punches at liberals and laud conservatives. Consider how he words his examples of successful resistance to Trump:
The first immigration challenge to Trump was brought by the attorneys general of two states (Washington and Minnesota) picking up on a trend begun during the Barack Obama years when state attorneys general banded together to kill his immigration overreach and the more egregious trespasses of his Environmental Protection Agency.
This is a prime example of why taking conservatives (neoconservatives, especially) seriously is so difficult. We have a genuinely authoritative character in Trump, but Krauthammer cannot help himself but draw a direct line of comparison—a direct line—between Trump attempting to ban Muslims from select countries and Barack Obama issuing a clean water order. Clean water. Now that’s what I call authoritarianism!
The Republican-controlled Congress (House and Senate) is putting up epic resistance to a Republican administration’s health-care reform.
“Epic resistance.” Epic resistance to repealing Obamacare, which they’ve been talking about for seven years, only to stop now because they’re either insane and really want to do it, and thereby think the Republican bill isn’t conservative enough, or because they’re finally admitting it was all talk to get votes because actually repealing Obamacare without a proper replacement would leave tens of millions uninsured. That’s not “epic resistance.” That’s showing the country just how hypocritical they really are.
Trump is right. [The media] is the opposition party. Indeed, furiously so, often indulging in appalling overkill. It’s sometimes embarrassing to read the front pages of the major newspapers, festooned as they are with anti-Trump editorializing masquerading as news.
Note to Chuck: You’re two words away from sounding just like Trump.
Nonetheless, if you take the view from 30,000 feet, better this than a press acquiescing on bended knee, where it spent most of the Obama years in a slavish Pravda-like thrall. Every democracy needs an opposition press. We damn well have one now.
Funnily enough, when Krauthammer lambasts the media for “acquiescing on bended knee” to Obama, he’s accusing it of not reporting the stories that the conservative, right-wing media invented and exaggerated—conservative, right-wing media which Krauthammer doesn’t name but would have to admit is now the media that has gone beyond bended knee to full-on BJs. And if that’s the case, does he have any retrospective curiosity about right-wing media’s legitimacy back then?
Krauthammer wants to say that because nothing’s happened yet (nothing, sure—tell that to families enduring ICE raids), all the fretting about Trump was over-hyped. It wasn’t. There was and is every reason to believe Trump is an authoritarian strongman, so it wasn’t foolish or crazy to respond the way most people did—just because the drunk didn’t drive you into the ditch doesn’t mean the potential wasn’t there. His incompetency alone is damaging enough. He’s helped crystallize a large portion of the voting population’s complete distrust in democratic institutions and their satellite institutions. He’s accused our allies of spying on him with no evidence. His snail’s pace at filling positions makes it more difficult to government function properly. The precedent he sets is damaging to the office, the country, and the world.
Besides, we’re only two months into this thing. Thankfully, as Krauthammer points out, our institutions have resisted Trump so far, but that’s largely because Trump and his associates have thus far proved to be incompetent boobs. Let’s hope our institutions continue to function in the face of Republican capitulation—and that Trump and crew don’t ever figure out how to do anything.