A Conservative’s Critique of Trump  

Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, writes a most damning critique of Donald Trump as president.[1]

The coronavirus pandemic, Douthat says, provided Trump with the opportunity to consolidate political power. “Here was a foreign threat, an invisible enemy that required a robust government response, a danger that arguably vindicated certain nationalist and populist ideas, a situation in which the normal rules of politics could be suspended for public safety’s sake.” This “was exactly the scenario that people alarmed by his ascent most feared — a case of History granting a president temperamentally inclined to authoritarianism a genuine state of exception in which to enact his fantasies of one-man rule.”

“But Trump didn’t want the gift. It’s not just that our president was too ineffective to consolidate power, that any potential authoritarianism was undermined by his administration’s incompetence. . . . Trump clearly lacks both the facility and the interest level required to find opportunity in crisis. In this case, . . . he showed no sense of the pandemic as anything save an inconvenience to be ignored, a problem to be wished away, an impediment to his lifestyle of golf and tweets and occasional stream-of-consciousness stemwinders. And when reality made ignoring it impossible, his only genuinely political impulse — the only impulse that related to real power and its uses — was to push the crucial forms of responsibility down a level, to the nation’s governors, and wash his presidential hands.”

“In this the coronavirus has clarified, once and for all, the distinctiveness of Trump’s demagogy. Great men and bad men alike seek attention as a means of getting power, but our president is interested in power only as a means of getting attention. Which is why, tellingly, his most important virus-related power grab to date has been the airtime grab of his daily news conferences — a temporary coup against the cable television schedule, a ruthless imposition (at least until the reviews turned bad) of presidential reality TV.”

The more important aspects of his character are a “fear of claiming any power that might lead to responsibility and someday blame, a showman’s preference for performance over rule, a media addict’s preference for bluster over deeds.”

The “great crisis of his presidency has revealed the vast gulf that separates him . . . from almost every statesman ever considered uniquely dangerous or uniquely skilled.”

“In the fourth year of this presidency the black comedy has finally given way to tragedy. But not because Trump suddenly discovered how to use his authority for dictatorial or democracy-defying purpose. Rather, because in this dark spring America needed a president capable of exercising power and found that it had only a television star, a shirker and a clown.”

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[1] Douthat, Donald Trump Doesn’t Want Authority, N.Y. Times (May 19, 2020).

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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