It was probably pretty naive to ever suspect that a billionaire reality television star could actually be any kind of populist. Before his 2016 presidential campaign, I felt the same way about Donald Trump that I feel about every billionaire, and was repelled by his sleazy, arrogant public persona.
But candidate Trump said some things that no other presidential candidate ever has. He criticized the embarrassing state of our crumbling infrastructure. He called out the media for its blatant dishonesty, and made the term “fake news” a national sensation. He was the first politician since before World War II to declare that we should take care of America’s many problems first. He lambasted a foreign policy bent on nation building and lamented the waste of trillions of dollars on senseless wars.
Trump became the first presidential candidate in any party, major or minor, to make illegal immigration one of the centerpieces of his platform. He spoke out on behalf of families who’d lost loved ones to illegal immigrant criminals that were somehow permitted to remain in this country despite a slew of violent crimes. He promised to end the diabolical H 1-B Visa worker program. Creating a masterful symbol for crowds to rally around, Trump promised to build a wall, and that Mexico would pay for it.
Trump brought up the clear and obvious connections between vaccines and autism, and stories broke early into his administration that he was forming a special commission to investigate these connections, chaired by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He even promised to audit the Federal Reserve, and apparently mentioned the collapse of Building 7, which was a primary signal to those in the know that he harbored at least some “truther” sentiments.
What really appealed to me, and many others, was Trump’s willingness to boldly call out corrupt public officials for what they are. His references to “crooked Hillary” resulted in loud cries of “lock her up” wherever he spoke. And perhaps the central theme of Trump’s campaign was his promise to “drain the swamp.” Survival of the Riches... Best Price: $2.05 Buy New $11.26 (as of 09:50 EST - Details)
Now, some ten months after his shocking election, President Trump appears to be a pathetic shell of the man he was. His waffling on every issue finally forced his supporters to recently begin burning their “Make America Great” hats in protest of his seeming consideration of amnesty for Obama’s unconstitutional DACA program, designed to protect the “dreamer” children of illegal immigrants.
I certainly was skeptical about Trump even after he said some of the most radical things any major presidential candidate has said in my lifetime. This was because, in the next breath, he’d talk about instituting national “stop and frisk” procedures, and continued to stress how we needed to build up our already gargantuan, bloated military. When he picked a typical mainstream neocon, Mike Pence, as his vice president, many of us could still rationalize that he was trying to shore up a wing of his party, much as John F. Kennedy had tried to do by choosing Lyndon Johnson.
When Trump gave a rousing, truly historical inaugural address, many of us remained hopeful that perhaps finally someone was going to drain this odious, corrupt swamp. But then he disappointed all those supporters still shouting “lock her up” by calling Hillary Clinton a “good person,” and actually quieting those who continued to chant this mantra with “we don’t need that now.” Not long after that, the man who’d derided “globalism” over and over again, claimed that he was now both a nationalist and a globalist.
From there, things just kept unraveling. Trump, who’d blasted NATO, now claimed that it was a good thing. The candidate who’d dared to point out the bogus nature of official unemployment figures, began to brag about them and claimed they revealed that his administration was creating a multitude of new jobs. His appointments were putrid, neocon types that would have fit perfectly into a Jeb Bush cabinet, except for General Mike Flynn, who was unceremoniously and unfairly forced out before he could do anything, because his son was a high profile “conspiracy theorist.”
Trump opened the door for his justice department to prosecute Julian Assange, the courageous whistleblower in exile, whose leaks had played an instrumental part in getting him elected. He defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ antiquated and politically stupid emphasis on cracking down on marijuana users, and supported his campaign to actually strengthen law enforcement’s criminal abuse of asset forfeiture laws. Later, he would characteristically begin publicly criticizing Sessions, as if he himself hadn’t approved of all his actions and non-actions.
Because of the undeniable fact that Trump surrounded himself with not only those who hadn’t supported him, but actually a large number of vocal “Never Trumpers,” his promise to “drain the swamp” became truly laughable. Trump never even tried to get a single outsider nominated to any position in his cabinet. Instead, he remained glued to his keyboard, as the tweeter-in-chief, producing one 140 character or less tweet after another, often in an astonishingly juvenile manner.
But the greatest disappointment came when Trump bombed Syria for absolutely no reason at all. He then bombed Afghanistan for good measure, again for no logical reason. Spurred on by his Never Trump United Nations Ambassador, the loud war monger Nikki Haley, he began an unprecedented bit of frightening saber rattling with North Korea. Never before had an American president directly threatened to nuke another nation. Predictably, when Trump bombed Syria, he received the first positive press of his presidency. Everyone in the swamp loves war.
Trump has unfortunately proven to be exactly what his detractors claimed he was; immature, egotistical, unprincipled, vain, elitist. This certainly doesn’t make most of his critics any less offensive than they are. Indeed, that is the lone redeeming value of Trump’s administration; he continues to have all the right enemies. The threats of violence, even assassination, from every pillar of the establishment almost make one want to continue to defend him. Almost.
At this point, the only question I have left in my mind is whether or not Trump ever had any sincerity, or whether he ever meant anything he said during his campaign. I think it’s virtually a certainty that we will never see that vaccine-autism commission, an audit of the fed, a massive infrastructure rebuild, an end to DACA or any other aspect of our mindless immigration policy, an end to our reckless foreign adventurism, or a draining of even the shallowest part of the swamp.
The saddest part of the Trump phenomenon is that it may very well make it impossible for any major candidate to ever raise the important issues of immigration, dishonest media, putting America first, or official corruption ever again. In fact, when some candidate even alludes to some of Trump’s populist themes, he or she is likely to be met with derisive comparisons to the failed and disgraced President Donald Trump.
If Trump was ever sincere, his election has proven that one person simply cannot fight this corrupt system, this horrid swamp. Trump the reformer, the unlikeliest of knights in shining armor, is gone. The renegade billionaire striking fear into the heart of the establishment lasted a brief shining moment, like Camelot.