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September 20, 2019474Views

The Two Donald Trumps

Jonathan Headington contrasts Donald Trump's election campaign with his presidency and looks at who holds sway in the White House

This month has seen the announcement by President Donald Trump of the banning of flavoured vaping liquids. Considering the potential magnitude of ever-developing events on the global landscape and Trump's own role in them, this particular story may not seem that significant in the scheme of things, but it reveals a great deal about Donald Trump, his administration and the subversion of his political instincts.

For those of us who supported Donald Trump very early on in his candidacy (and for what it's worth, I declared for him while it was still politically verboten to do so here in the UK), the Trump presidency has been a disquieting affair. The occupant of the Oval Office certainly looks like him and can even still sound like him, but President Donald Trump is not the man we supported.

I'm not suggesting he's mad or mentally ill, as per the accusation that pops up occasionally in the mainstream media – such as this recent gleeful report of such a claim made by very brief former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, which I and therefore presumably countless others saw in the impeccably leftist default curated news feed of my Microsoft browser's home page (and yes I know I could customise it, but I'm interested in what's pushed by the lügenpresse on what I suspect is almost everyone else who doesn't bother to change the default either). Nor am I suggesting some sort of supernatural possession or Manchurian candidate scenario is at hand, as great as the explanatory power might be.

No, the President is indeed Donald Trump, just not the Donald Trump who we supported. Oh sure, he's not failed on everything; the judiciary is filling up with conservative judges (which is to say, judges who prefer to apply the law rather than pretend the law says what they want it to), the American economy has consistently hovered between robust and booming, and CNN is trolled on an almost weekly basis from the White House.

But on the crucial long-term issues which were the focus of Candidate Trump's core pledges, we haven't seen the action we were promised. The wall, such as it is, has not been going up speedily, and the suspiciously fence-resembling structure (though a fence is emphatically not what was promised) is forecast to cover somewhere between a fifth and a quarter of the US-Mexico border by the end of Trump's current term. As such, despite the president being elected on an explicitly anti-illegal immigration agenda, illegal border crossings are now at a 13-year high.

Despite the fanfare around ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the leftist vituperation against it (which, after all, is directed against anything that might have the effect of enforcing the border), neither has any major action been taken to deport the 10–30 million illegal immigrants already in the United States (the number can vary hugely depending on who's guessing – the whole thing about being undocumented is there's no easy paper trail). It did seem like they were finally gearing up to take major action in June of this year (better two and a half years late than never), but it was called off after, reportedly, a phone call from Nancy Pelosi – though bear in mind, that is according to CNN. Indeed, in complete opposition to Trump's rhetoric, deportation numbers appear to be significantly lower than under Obama; MAGA (standing for Make America Great Again, a term broadly used for his most loyal fans who use it frequently as a hashtag, a bit like the #FBPE types in the UK except their complete opposite) apologists point out that the Obama numbers include people turned away at the border (and it's true that getting a real measure is complicated), but whichever way you cut it, when the tough on immigration Trump's deportations totalled 256,000 in 2018 in contrast to Obama's high score of 419,384, it doesn't reflect well on The Donald.

Trump's election seemed like the golden chance to deal with this issue before it was too late, and when I say too late I mean before the demographic shift would leave the United States eternally Democrat at the national level. With how close Beto O'Rourke ran Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate election in Texas (albeit with O'Rourke spending more than any Senate campaign in history and the masses of fawning publicity the media heaped on him), there can't be many more cycles before the Lone Star State goes blue and the loss of its electoral college votes leaves the presidency unattainable to a Republican ever again – and this is without considering that once they occupy the right positions, Democrats may well just amnesty the aforementioned millions of illegal immigrants the first chance they get, slamming shut for good even the small window of hope that still exists.

Even leaving aside the issue which should overshadow all the others, Trump's record thus far compared to his election rhetoric is mixed. NAFTA has been renegotiated into the as-yet-unratified USMCA, though how impactful a change it is to the agreement Trump once called the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals is debatable. The trade war with China is ongoing, and Trump hasn't backed down there. His relationship with Saudi Arabia has been dramatically different from what was expected, and more generally Candidate Trump's repudiation of neocon foreign policy hasn't been matched by President Trump, with troops still in Afghanistan, a couple of strikes against Syria and continual ratcheting up of the tension with Iran – though hopefully the recent sacking of the insurpassably hawkish John Bolton as Secretary of State signals a shift in direction.

All in all, President Trump has been a disappointment, right at the moment when the United States can't afford a disappointment if its future as a nation retaining the same character as its past is to be assured. Considering how bravely Trump battled during the 2016 election to win the presidency on policies that had all of the left wing media and even large sections of the supposed right opposing him, what can explain the change in him once he took office?

During the election, Trump played the media masterfully, time and again, even as they were continuously intent on presenting him as an obtuse buffoon. He perfected a strategy of saying something seemingly outrageous, and then as the media rushed to debunk him, the truth behind his statement would be exposed where it was hardly known previously. A memorable example (particularly for this month) was claims of Muslims celebrating 9/11; Trump referred to 'thousands and thousands' in typical exaggerated bombastic manner, and as the media piled in to show him up, more light than ever was shed on the subject.

This is not to say that Trump's campaign was free of missteps; there was a slight debacle early on when he expressed multiple positions within a short time as to whether, following a hypothetical repeal of Roe v. Wade, women who get abortions should be punished. One might think that imposing a penalty for killing babies illegally would be an obvious stance (why ban it if the person doing it isn't doing something wrong, after all), but there was a limit to how much the Trump campaign could feasibly battle the media on the left's most sacred topic, and this question, which would almost certainly never come up anyway for President Trump, led to some befuddled messaging.

Following the release of the Access Hollywood tape, word was that Trump's apology was pressed on him by campaign advisers against his better judgement. Coming shortly before the second debate with Hillary Clinton, it was of course meant to be a torpedo to Trump's campaign; instead it took his gloves off, righting with it perhaps his mistake in the first debate of playing it too straight, more like a conventional politician and less like Donald Trump. He gave a press conference shortly before the debate with several of Bill Clinton's sexual abuse victims, and the debate itself was some of the most astounding political theatre ever seen. Whether the apology therefore was actually politically expedient or not was quickly overshadowed by subsequent events; Trump moved decisively to counter the narrative that his enemies tried to build.

These examples of campaign errors were the exception rather than the rule (the rarity being all the more remarkable considering the unmatched scrutiny Trump and his campaign were under), and what was also impressive about Trump was his nous when it came to saying things and advancing positions which most political professionals would have deemed too strong to be within the bounds of politically acceptable discussion. This began at the outset when he made immigration his number one issue in his campaign announcement speech that's come to be known to opponents as the 'Mexican rapists speech'; indeed, to this day, left-wingers will claim falsely that he called Mexicans in general rapists, particularly on this side of the Atlantic where few will know enough to challenge the claim, and where there's no consequences for slandering the President.

The next kicking open of the Overton Window was Trump's proposed 'Muslim ban'; it was actually a more mild policy than was usually presented, but all nuance was gone in response. No matter how much statistically overrepresented crime and nastiness Muslims in the west commit, before this they were mostly only mentioned by mainstream politicians as being a protected and beleaguered class, the victims of hate crimes blamed for the actions of a misguided few who were only following a perverted version of the Religion of Peace anyway, careful distinctions always being drawn between the moderate majority and the Islamist jihadi types. Trump's Muslim ban turned that on its head, and was a huge gamble. Sure enough, the US media were mostly aghast, and even the soundest political commentators in my own UK were denouncing it. Despite the highly original and previously rarely deployed claims that it echoed Hitler though, Trump's support continued to grow. Despite a few wobbles here and there, Trump mostly held firm to his policies throughout the election, only adding to the delicious leftist misery when he defied everyone's expectations and won the thing.

 

 

Considering how steadfast Trump had been during his campaign then, advocating and promoting radical policies and not backing down in the face of media onslaught, it seemed his presidency more than any other would be certain to follow through on the promises he made. As we've seen though, that hasn't been the case. What happened?

This article from left-wing news and opinion website Vox may provide a hint towards the answer. Written two months before the 2016 election day, it picks up on single sentence in a Washington Post article from the time to make a broader observation: Trump seems to have a habit of agreeing with whoever he last spoke to, and this means access to him is valuable. As much as it may seem like an exaggerated line of attack from people determined to use anything and everything to malign Trump (with the additional bonus of making him sound doltish and intellectually unsophisticated), this does seem to have been borne out over time.

In September 2017, in perhaps the lowlight of his presidency up to that point, Trump met with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to discuss a deal on DACA recipients (which is to say, beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy started by Barack Obama, commonly called 'dreamers' after the previously proposed DREAM Act by media who want to portray them as innocents who shouldn't be deported). As Trump had pledged to end DACA on the first day of his presidency, the continuation of the policy by this point was betrayal enough, let alone meeting with Democrats to come to an agreement on it. For a worrying moment, Trump said they were close to a deal, pushing for a wall in exchange and so echoing Ronald Reagan's own amnesty in exchange for promises of border security which never materialised but swiftly turned California irreversibly blue as a result.

Revealingly, Schumer was later caught on a hot mic saying that Trump liked them. Trump, of course, is a capable schmoozer; we saw him palling around with Kim Jong-Un, who once declared Trump a dotard and sentenced him to death, after all. Worse though is that Trump seemed effectively to tweet at Nancy Pelosi's command an assurance to DACA recipients (suddenly that CNN claim that Trump called off ICE raids and mass deportations at her request doesn't seem so far-fetched). This after months of Democrats claiming he was illegitimate, shouldn't be normalised and pledging to do everything possible to block his agenda. It's only the Democrats' uncompromising intransigence on the border wall that stopped a deal, it seems. We're lucky that they proceeded to fall so headlong into Russia hysteria and calls for impeachment, because a few more charming smiles from Schumer and Trump may have switched party.

The question then, knowing that he can be influenced, is who has had such a hold on President Trump so as to be able to subvert both his political instincts and his very agenda? Anyone who watched his TV show The Apprentice will be familiar with his family. They seem like nice people too; a stupendously wealthy Brady Bunch for the reality TV era. Whatever the ins and outs of his chequered marital history, Trump loves his kids and they seem to love working for him. It's sweet. This, though, has carried over into the Trump presidency.

Eric Trump is one of the lesser seen of the Trump children, but he sometimes does the cable news interview rounds. Taking after his father, Donald Jr. has a constant Twitter presence making pithy defences of the MAGA agenda and occasionally triggering libs here and there, though with his increased prominence as a national figure also has come bigger media focus on his marriage break-up. Tiffany Trump, his daughter from his second marriage, doesn't have a role, and Barron Trump is only 13.

This leaves Trump's daughter Ivanka – and with her, her husband Jared Kushner, but that's coming. Ivanka herself is officially an Advisor to the President, and on the face of it her role is mostly to jet around the world highlighting women in poor countries starting businesses – just the kind of impactless, politically correct sinecure you'd expect for a First Daughter. There have been, though, hints that her policy impact has been more profound, such as the suggestion that her personal anguish over Syrian gas attack footage was the catalyst for Trump's 2017 air strike. She also encouraged her father to end the 'family separation' policy for border crossers, the policy which had the media up in arms but was actually a longstanding and sensible rule, as you don't actually know whether the adults children are with are their family on a border where people smuggling is rife. These are just the instances we know about, and air strikes and immigration policy are not trifling matters. She even advised Trump to drop Brett Kavanaugh, though thankfully he wasn't so beholden to her as to have taken leave of his senses that completely. These known examples certainly give us an idea of Ivanka's personal political ideals, and they're not what MAGA seemed to stand for during the 2016 campaign.

This brings us, finally, to Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to the President. The Kremlinology (as it were) of Trump's White House is inevitably a little imprecise, but a great deal seems to be known. According to numerous sources, Steve Bannon had an acrimonious relationship with Jared and Ivanka, and once he left the White House in August 2017, Kushner's primacy as an advisor was assured. The machinations and internal politics behind Kushner's place in the White House have been the subject of books already, and we're not yet three years in to Trump's presidency. Therefore, while we can't know everything that Kushner has pushed for or influenced, we do know a lot of it.

The ubiquitous influence of Kushner being what it is would make a full treatment of everything known or alleged to be down to him prohibitively lengthy, so here's a grab bag of some of the rather un-MAGA policies or otherwise dim-witted things which Kushner is known to be behind:

When Trump came to office on the boldest mandate granted to a president in decades to completely overhaul immigration and the relationship of the federal government to the common man, naturally he set right to work on... tax cuts. Not just any tax cuts either, but most significantly corporate tax cuts. There's nothing inherently wrong with this necessarily, but when your big selling point was not being like the Republican Party of a decade ago, perhaps it's not the best move to focus your time and political capital on something Jeb Bush would have done over and above the things you actually promised action on like immigration. How much influence Kushner had on this decision we can't know, and some old timey GOP types such as Reince Priebus (who, as chair of the Republican National Committee during the 2016 presidential election period, for some reason thought it was a smart move to openly criticise Trump on multiple occasions) were also in the inner circle from the off. Jared and Ivanka though were no opponents of tax cuts, particularly where it would benefit them, as Trump would later let slip.

Also given to Kushner's ever-expanding portfolio was immigration which, considering the now years of meandering inaction, doesn't reflect well on him either. His plan, presented in May, prioritises the skills of immigrants coming in (obviously a good thing), but does nothing to curb the numbers. Considering his support for a DACA deal, it's clear he doesn't share the original Trump campaign's anti-immigration position. Considering also that, in another administration nadir, Trump declared at the 2019 State of the Union Address that he wanted immigrants to come in the 'largest numbers ever' and said companies need more people, it seems clear Kushner's got to the old man. Recently the House of Representatives passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act in a bipartisan vote, which is good news for corporations who can now import even more foreigners instead of training Americans, and the number restrictions by origin country are completely removed in the act, leading to the expectation that big tech will be importing a lot more Indians. Stories pop up occasionally about tech workers having to train their own replacements, and should this bill pass then there will be a lot more of that. Currently it's with the Senate, and if it passes there, it will be a real test of President Trump's supposed principles to see whether he signs it.

What we can derive from this is that Kushner's agenda seems to be much more aligned with the corporate concerns of the old Koch-funded GOP, rather than the working and middle classes to which Trump appealed while practically eschewing corporations in doing so. With corporate America being the main beneficiary, it's the former iteration of the GOP that seemed to be at the fore with the primacy of the 2017 tax cuts. As Kushner's brief includes, broadly and grandiosely, 'Middle East peace', we can infer that the appointment of old neocon hawk John Bolton as Secretary of State at the very least wasn't done without his approval. Despite official pronouncements, it's widely thought that Kushner's stance on immigration is more liberal and the cause of internal conflict; his enthusiasm for immigrant workers also supports big companies in keeping wages down, and Trump's shift in focus from his ever elusive wall to the supposed needs of business shows this doesn't seem to bother him. As Senator Bernie Sanders once said (presumably before someone reminded him who immigrants overwhelmingly vote for): 'Open borders? That's a Koch brothers proposal.'

And if there were any doubt that Kushner seems to be wielding arbitrary executive power all of his own, a fortnight ago it was announced his 30-year old coffee boy who has no foreign policy experience will be the new US-Middle East peace envoy. Quite what it is that Kushner felt made Avi Berkowitz, described by a former employer as not very impressive and needing significant hand-holding to handle even simple assignments, deserving of this significant increase in responsibility, we can only speculate. If you're thinking what I think you're thinking then hold it right there buster, because Jared is not like that, and it was only for a few months in 2008 that he stopped dating Ivanka because his parents couldn't stomach the idea of their son marrying a gentile; jailbird Charles Kushner (who found himself in the clink for tax evasion, witness tampering which included hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and illegal campaign contributions to, surprise surprise, Democrats) didn't donate millions to get his son into Harvard only to have him bring shame on the family like that! (Mommy and daddy Kushner refused to even meet Ivanka and only accepted the marriage when she agreed to convert to Judaism.)

Ann Coulter, whose book Adios America provided the reasoning and urgency that led to Trump making immigration the central focus of his presidential campaign, warned Trump directly that he shouldn't just hire his children after others close to him refused to. As has been demonstrated, this did indeed subvert the whole movement and she's been a constant critic of Trump's failure to deliver. Trump has since called her a 'Wacky Nut Job', and the other intellectual behind the movement, Steve Bannon (if you doubt that, you need only see how riled up the left get over him), 'Sloppy Steve Bannon', and played down the influence of both.

Of course, if it is universally the case that Trump merely becomes enthralled by whoever last spoke, like a kitten who has something shiny waved in front of them, how do we explain his incredible 2016 campaign? Trump didn't just luck his way into the presidency any more than he lucked himself into becoming America's most famous billionaire (as some have ridiculously tried to claim); his instincts then were so attuned, he time and again went against any conventional wisdom about playing it safe and knew just how unsafe to play it, even as through the primaries and through the presidential campaign pundits all around were constantly predicting his imminent fall any day.

Well, for most of the campaign and particularly the formative early time, Jared and Ivanka weren't involved with it. It was only after the nomination was practically secured for Trump that they involved themselves closely, forcing the removal of loyal campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in June 2016. This was disastrous, and it was shortly after that Steve Bannon was brought in, beginning that tense struggle between himself and Javanka which he eventually lost. For Trump, it seems nothing comes before family.

So, what am I saying here then, that Jared and Ivanka are the Grima Wormtongue to Trump's King Théoden? Well pretty much actually, yeah. Sad!

 

 

To make matters worse, Trump's own base seems to have little interest in applying pressure and holding him to account; the MAGA movement has become a straightforward cult of personality, more followers of the man than the policies for which he stood. Trump, of course, still talks a good game, so perhaps yelling and tweeting about delivering results and promises kept and winning really is enough to convince these people that it's true. What's more, those who are interested in seeing substance delivered have their QAnon fantasy, which continually promises that any day now the swamp will be drained, Hillary will be locked up and 2,000 miles of wall will spring up spontaneously from under the Mexican border. All they have to do is keep trusting the plan and it will all come to pass, almost a political parallel to the prosperity gospel many of the same followers no doubt hear in their megachurches that promises eventual riches if one's faith is strong enough.

The media and the Democrats (but I repeat myself) have their own tricky task with this; Trump seems to be entirely self-defeating without any help from them, and where he does suffer policy losses it's more often from liberal judges, such as the long song and dance through the courts over the travel ban (which was already a seriously bastardised version of the once glorious vision of a Muslim ban) or the executive order to defund sanctuary cities being struck down. They have to walk the line of keeping up the narrative that Trump's a dangerous aberration or all out evil fascist while also pointing out that he's not actually achieving any of the nasty things he promised to do. So far the former part of the equation has dominated, and so as they attack Trump for being their idea of what Trump is, this provides false assurance to his base that he really is getting the job done – or else why are the left complaining so loudly?

It is understandable though that some have bought into Trump himself and his personality; he is a compelling performer, and for a conservative to be so keenly on the offensive compared to the careful and wonkish Mitt Romney types is refreshing. Fundamentally, Trump's success was down to the fact that, rather than being on the defensive and keen to come across positively to the media class which will never support Republicans, he gave back to the left the treatment they had heaped on the right for so long. For people who had long been ignored or mentioned only to be dismissed or condemned as flyover country racists and bigots, the exhilaration of having a full-powered Donald Trump on their side can't be overstated.

As someone who actually watched many of Trump's speeches during the presidential campaign, I was struck by the chasm between the media descriptions of an unhinged and dangerous demagogue and the likeable and very funny Trump of reality, who usually spoke extemporaneously and was actually better at it than in scripted speeches. Typically though, he was only shown in snippets and selected soundbites, and as such it was easy for the media to portray him how they wanted rather than as he was. This is still the case; when you watch him speak at one of his rallies, the same old magic is there, but it now rings hollow in the face of his failures.

And so we come to vaping. Vaping is a subject I have great familiarity with, having worked in the industry for years. Questions surrounding its safety pop up occasionally in the media during slow news cycles, and of course without having decades-long vapers to study it's tough to be conclusive. There are, though, a great many vaping enthusiasts (yes such people exist and they live amongst us) who don't just vape – they build custom, super-powered machines for it, dedicated to thrusting enough vapour into their lungs that they can then blow out a cloud copious enough to look like the Flying Scotsman's going by. What's more, some do this all day long, getting through large bottles of liquid all with unique and wacky flavour combinations. If their health hasn't been impacted from this constant and heavy use, we can be pretty confident that your average vaper who has used it to get off smoking is unlikely to suffer ill effects, and certainly nothing like the nearly half a million who die of smoking-related illnesses every year in the United States.

The causes of the vaping deaths which have recently made the news in quick succession are unclear. There are suggestions that it's due to substandard dodgy foreign imports (China are a major producer of vaping products), and with there being a sudden uptick in illnesses despite vaping having been around for many years now, it is logical that there could be a recent chemical contaminant in certain vapes that is the cause. It also seems many of the recent spate of illnesses are linked to marijuana versions of vaping, which are quite different from the nicotine version, and if true this makes the action against nicotine vaping nonsensical. It's all worthy of investigation of course, but to be used as a pretext to ban vaping – the whole point of which (at least for casual users) is to get them off the certainly harmful ordinary cigarettes – is preposterous.

We see in this move the intersection of the ban-happy state regulator left (California has some of the most stringent restrictions on vaping out of the whole United States, banning vaping in all the same circumstances where ordinary cigarettes are also banned, and as though confirmation were needed that it's a very Democrat thing to do, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo just banned flavoured e-cigarettes completely and beat Trump to the punch), and the crony capitalist lobbyist class; the vaping industry has nothing like the lobbying power of the tobacco industry who would like nothing more than to see vaping banned and their monopoly on nicotine delivery restored. This is not to say that the ban proposal is the result of lobbying by big tobacco; rather, the relative absence of an organised vaping lobby in comparison means their response or impact wouldn't have been a concern when making decisions, in the way that the tobacco lobby would have been.

There is a course of action on vaping which would be entirely consistent with Trump's America First economically nationalist agenda: banning the import of Chinese vape liquids. The combination of suspicion that substandard imports may be to blame and the general bellicose nature of US-China trade discussions of late makes this an ideal solution, and there are many American e-liquid manufacturers who would take up the slack and whose businesses would be boosted by the policy. As this is consistent with what Trump stands for though, you can be certain he won't get advice like this from Jared Kushner.

And then, on the other big business (in this case, tobacco) appeasing, big government, Kushneresque hand, there's the option which Trump has announced. Typical of the continually disappointing Trump presidency, which promised so much but has mostly delivered more of the same, last week it was announced that the Food and Drug Administration would be taking flavoured e-cigarettes off the market. Trump himself I doubt has much if any expertise on vaping; once again, I think this is a clear case of him following bad advice, and America will suffer for it. Besides killing a rapidly expanding industry and possibly giving over many thousands of people to die from cigarettes though, will it have a political impact? I doubt vapers are enough of a constituency to swing much, but if anything will get the millennial zoomers waving their Gadsdens, this could be it. If the 2020 Democrat candidate pledges to unban flavoured vaping liquids then maybe there'll be cause for worry. But what's the likelihood of that?

Donald Trump at his best was fundamentally anti-establishment; the man who pointed to the audience booing him at the GOP primaries and condemned them as the special interests and donors to the other candidates is not the same person as the man carelessly directing the FDA to suppress vaping. We don't need to assert though that Kushner or Ivanka had any hand in it this time; as the announcement was made with his wife Melania present, and Trump literally mentioned her concern for their son Barron as vaping is becoming more popular, there's not much mystery in this case. Over time, Candidate Trump's instinct – indeed, the very character that got him elected – has been subverted and made him little better than the sort of establishment corporatist Republicans he defeated would have been.

Donald Trump loves his country, but he loves his family even more – and that hasn't been good for America. Things aren't over until they're over though. All MAGA supporters who really believed in Candidate Trump's agenda and not just the man himself, compelling though he is, need to do what they can to hold the president to account. He has to know that people supported him for what he promised to do, not just because he's funny and winds up the left.

Make Donald Trump Great Again!

Jonathan Headington

Co-founder and Editor of Excvbitor

 

Twitter: @IonathanRex

 

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