Joseph Epstein wrote a terrific article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week with the perfect headline: “The Only Good Thing About Trump Is All His Policies.” Just so. The Trump Administration has governed spectacularly in most respects, better than I had thought possible (until perhaps this week—more on that presently). It reminds me of the reverse of what my old mentor M. Stanton Evans used to say about Nixon: “There’s only two things I don’t like about the Nixon administration: its domestic policy, and its foreign policy.” Were Stan still with us, I think he’d like Trump—all of him.
Epstein makes the sensible case that decorum and bearing in a president are important—that we don’t just live by policy alone. The one important thing missing from Epstein’s argument is that Trump was only possible in 2016 because of the decay of our culture that liberalism has excused for 50 years, when liberalism hasn’t in fact caused the ruin of public propriety on purpose. It was only 30 years ago that an extra-marital affair scuttled Gary Hart’s presidential candidacy overnight. But with liberals mounting the barricades on behalf of Bill Clinton, coming up with the specious “one-grope rule,” and arguing openly that “character doesn’t matter” and that we should focus on policy results only, they have no standing now to complain that Trump is crude or “boorish,” as Epstein calls him. Trump wouldn’t have been possible without the cultural degradation and political correctness of contemporary liberalism. He is, as I’ve been saying from the beginning, the president liberals deserve.
I’m willing to give Trump a pass on his gun control comments of the last 10 days, partly because they have a mischievous effect on liberals, and probably help him politically to a small extent. But his announcement yesterday of tariffs on steel and aluminum constitute his largest mistake so far. For someone who has so often tied his success to the stock market, the market’s selloff ought to be a strong signal that the specter of trade retaliation by our trading partners is not promising.
Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised, if a bear market arrives (the market is definitely overvalued by most conventional measures), to see Trump turn on Wall Street. One of my favorite Reagan moments from 1981 was when a reporter, noting the stock market in steep decline ahead of the deep recession of 1981-82, suggested to Reagan that Wall Street wasn’t enthusiastic about his tax cuts. Reagan replied, “I have never found Wall Street a source of good economic advice.” Boom! A good example of Reagan’s populist side that you can easily see Trump embracing.
I’m hoping that this is just a bluff, designed to get Canada and Mexico to sit up at the NAFTA renegotiations currently under way. I’ve seen press accounts that Canada is dragging its feet on everything. And as Canada is one of the leading steel exporters to the United States (Justin Trudeau: “What—we make steel? How come no one told me?”), maybe Trump is trying to get their attention.