Trump Benefits Bigly from Low Expectations
So President Trump has nominated a highly touted conservative judge for the Supreme Court, after all.
“See,” his ardent idol-worshippers are gushing, “we told you he was a man of his word.” Well, that remains to be seen, as does whether being a man of one’s word still has any meaning when one has delivered so many contradictory, vacuous, and low-minded words. Nevertheless, the nomination does at least allow those non-idol-worshippers who held their noses and voted for Trump in spite of everything to take some solace in having, perhaps, made a little positive difference to the Trump Train’s trajectory on the all-important issue of the Supreme Court.
My friend and all-around agreeable wiseacre C. Edmund Wright has written a clever piece at American Thinker explaining precisely why Donald Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice cannot be claimed as any kind of told-you-so moral victory by the Trump cultists. Rather, Gorsuch, like the entire list of potential nominees the Trump team produced during the summer, was only brought to the fore because of the campaign’s awareness of the need – whatever Trump himself was tweeting to the contrary – to win over genuine constitutional conservatives, including some of the NeverTrump types, by pledging to work toward a more constitutionalist judiciary.
Being no expert on judicial matters, I shall begin my own brief commentary on Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch with a few words from people more knowledgeable than I regarding Supreme Court nominees.
First off, it must be admitted that, in defiance of skeptics like myself, a Republican President whose conservative bona fides were often and understandably questioned actually did follow through on his promise to nominate a constitutional conservative judge. Forbes offered some encouraging opinion on the nomination, noting that “If a nominee can be judged by his enemies,” then this one
will be a hit with the conservative set. His nomination to the Court of Appeals was opposed by left-wing groups including People for the American Way and the Alliance for Justice, which decried his “commitment to an ultra-conservative, anti-government legal agenda.”
Sounds promising! And speaking of “his enemies,” The New York Times seemed to second the motion, quoting the statement of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council — “one of the most vocal socially conservative groups that have been girding for a confirmation fight” — in support of the nomination. According to NYT, Perkins confidently declared the nominee “exceptionally well-qualified and impartial,” and added, “I believe that Judge Roberts will strictly interpret the Constitution and not legislate from the bench.”
That’s the…wait, did he say Roberts? Oh, rats, those Forbes and New York Times articles were from 2005! My mistake, sorry. Anyway….
As we’ve stumbled into the past, however, we might pause long enough to remind ourselves how that whole “ultra-conservative, anti-government legal agenda” worked out for those who confidently declared John Roberts a judge who would not legislate from the bench. In 2012, of course, Roberts, as Chief Justice, rendered the most notorious pro-government act of legislating from the bench in the recent history of the United States.
The lesson: All those seeking vindication from the Gorsuch nomination – whether they be Trump cultists shouting “nyah, nyah” at the NeverTrump windmill in their minds, or reluctant Trump voters relieved that one of the lynchpins of their painful deliberation has actually paid off – ought perhaps to take a wait-and-see attitude about this or any other nominee, however tempting it may be to don the party hats.
In a broader view, we may say that Trump’s first couple of weeks in office have benefitted bigly – probably huger than anyone else ever has – from low expectations. The election result being what it is, anyone who has not hopped the Trump bandwagon, but is also not a progressive, is left with no choice but to pray, against all realistic hopes, that a vulgar, ignorant megalomaniac may become a decent President. Seen in this light, almost anything he does in these first few weeks, short of installing a neon “TRUMP” sign on top of the White House, or ordering a nuclear attack against a reporter who questions the size of his hands, is bound to look pretty good. (His core supporters, on the other hand, would have little problem with either of those ideas – and I’m barely joking.)
I might also note, however, that even this week, while turning conservative heads with Gorsuch, Trump also warned Israel to reconsider building new settlements until he decides it’s okay, having assigned his liberal son-in-law as point man in Mideast negotiations. In addition, his administration formally declared support for Barack Obama’s executive order forcing Christian businesses to give preferential treatment to “the LGBTQ community” if those businesses wish to compete for government contracts. And it is important to remember that there was no reason to make an official announcement on that subject at all, unless the administration was specifically concerned to emphasize Trump’s approval of Obama’s position — approval which ought to be no surprise, by the way, given his transgender bathroom pandering during the primaries, and the fact that his staunchest supporters from the very outset of his campaign included billionaire LGBTQ activist Peter Thiel and his dear friend, Ann “Adam’s Apple” Coulter. (No, I’m not suggesting anything, but when speaking of the authoress of a book entitled In Trump We Trust – which manages to blaspheme against God, Reason, and America all at the same time – the low road seems the only way home. In other words, when in Rome….)
That Trump has done a couple of conservative-ish things since the election I do not dispute. This was predictable, given that he is not driven by any agenda other than self-aggrandizement, which means he is totally at the mercy of any expert, family member, or establishment hack who happens to have his ear today. Given that he ran as a Republican, most of the hacks around him, progressive family members excepted, are bound to be RINOs, i.e., quasi-progressives who have cultivated the skill of playing to conservative sensibilities when the occasion calls for it. Some of his moves, therefore, will indeed look and sound agreeable from a conservative point of view. That this will be the look and sound of the cumulative result of his presidency is no more certain than that Mitch McConnell – whom Trump loves, and whose wife he has brought into his cabinet – will fight any of the conservative fights he promises.
Having said that, I certainly respect anyone who opposed Trump during the primaries but saw no way to avoid voting for him in the general election. Two friends of mine, Edmund Wright and Steve McCann, have expressed that position very well in print — and been smeared with all the usual Trumpanzee poo for their troubles. On the other hand, I do not agree with those reluctant Trump voters who assert that there was “no third option,” as Wright seems to do when he criticizes Jonah Goldberg’s “crap sandwich” argument for rejecting both Hillary and Trump as an irresponsible position. Put simply, I think there was a way to avoid voting for Trump without simply shirking one’s civic responsibility, although it was admittedly a somewhat stoic choice, pitched not from the immediate perspective of electoral politics but from a very long-term, or rather world-historical, perspective. I personally know very serious, principled people who made that choice, a much more philosophical version of Goldberg’s “crap sandwich” reasoning.
As for anyone feeling vindicated in their voting choice by the Gorsuch nomination, the (sort of) terror-supporting countries (non-)ban, the formal reiteration of Trump’s cult-winning plan to build a (one hundred percent U.S.-funded) wall, or anything else Trump has done in office, I can only plea for the sanity of circumspection and self-restraint. It’s still very early days, and Trump has in fact done very little of substance so far, notwithstanding the appealing TV optics of signing pieces of paper while many suits stand behind him.
More to the point, I believe it highly likely, whatever satisfaction Trump’s ardent and reluctant supporters may be feeling today, that the much-hated NeverTrumpers will have plenty of opportunities to feel vindicated in their own way, as time goes on – which, after all, was precisely the concern that led many principled men and women to say “Never Trump” in the first place.
We shall see.