On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful that America has a president, and the Free World a leader, who is the most admirable figure to hold this position in my lifetime.
I’ve been of voting age in eleven presidential elections. I voted in most but not all of them. Usually both choices were uninspiring. Whom to pick, a dimbulb D.C. drudge (Ford) or a smarmy phony (Carter)? A charmless technocrat (Dukakis) or an establishment empty suit (Bush senior)? In 1992 I bought Slick Willie’s act; the disillusion set in almost immediately after his inauguration. Bush junior and Obama were the two worst presidents since Wilson, but the men who ran against them weren’t world-beaters either. Even the one great president of my lifetime prior to 2016, Ronald Reagan, fell way short of carrying out the sweeping small-government reforms he’d pledged.
Eventually I learned not to get very worked up about any presidential election. I’d heard all the platitudes, taken in all the same promises every four years and seen them all broken repeatedly. One year C-SPAN ran a marathon of GOP and Democratic convention speeches from the previous few decades, and it was stunning to hear all those blowhards expressing exactly the same noble sentiments and making the same solemn vows as their colleagues had articulated four and eight and twelve years earlier. None of it meant bupkis. None of it ever eventuated in any meaningful change. In 2008, when millions of young people were raised to heights of ecstasy by Obama’s soaring but vague campaign rhetoric, the spectacle of their naive fervor made me feel old and cynical.
By the time the 2016 race rolled around, then, I was hardly prepared to get excited about any presidential candidate. I might prefer this one to that one, but I wasn’t about to get a thrill up my leg about anybody. Going into the campaign, my only strong emotion was a profound loathing for Hillary Clinton, a grasping harpy, congenital liar, and sociopathic felon with no cause whatsoever other than her own self-advancement and self-enrichment. For a while there, during the primary season, Donald Trump was little more than a welcome dose of down-to-earth wit and wisdom on debate stages where the other participants were the usual Central Casting stiffs who spouted clichés and regurgitated statistics from their briefing books.
Because I was born and bred in New York City, Trump had been on my radar as long as I could remember. He had a reputation for efficiency: after the city fathers dawdled for years over a skating rink project, Trump stepped in and got the thing completed before deadline and under budget. I’d heard him countless times on the Howard Stern Show, and was always impressed by his ease, affability, candor, quick sense of humor (including his sense of humor about himself), and ability to hold his own while trading quips and insults with the free-wheeling radio jockey. Not until Trump won the GOP nod and it came down to him vs. Hillary, however, did I truly begin to take him seriously as White House material.
Past experience, of course, had taught me not to put too much stock in anything a politician says. But Trump was no politician. He wasn’t the front man for a bunch of rich guys or the mouthpiece for a staff full of policy wonks. He wasn’t scripted. He wasn’t focus-grouped. He wasn’t a mannequin projecting sham humility and offering up fake compliments to the hoi polloi. Yes, Obama had been a rousing orator, but he’d always been reading spiels written for him by a speechwriter. Trump was connecting with ordinary Americans in long, tireless, and patently sincere stream-of-consciousness monologues some of which were, frankly, tours de force. He was palpably having fun with it and actually enjoying the human contact.
As impressive as Obama’s campaign oratory had been, his incompetence as an administrator, once he got into the White House, had made all the speechifying seem, in retrospect, to be a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing; meanwhile, his chronic secretiveness as president made a joke of his repeated promises of utter transparency, his posturing as a figure of integrity was belied by (among much else) his weaponization of the IRS and other agencies, and his professed devotion to a post-racial America yielded, after his inauguration, to an abiding preoccupation with race and ceaseless stoking of racial grievances. In the wake of all this, Trump’s blunt talk, long record of honest professional accomplishment, and indifference to identity categories looked especially attractive. Similarly, Hillary’s utter phoniness, her obvious contempt for the rabble, and her manifest lack of any real convictions only made Trump’s authenticity, people skills, and longstanding principles stand out all the more. Watching him on the stump, I realized I was witnessing something that I’d not only never seen in American presidential politics but that I’d never imagined possible.
This guy was talking in real language to real people about the things that really mattered to them and that he himself had been thinking seriously about for decades. While Hillary looked down on working-class Americans and felt uneasy around them, Trump, who’d spent his career huddling with laborers on building sites, actually seemed to enjoy such people’s company. Whereas Obama, in his speeches, had spun pretty lies about Islam and ordered departments and agencies under his control to whitewash jihad, Trump was bracingly frank on the topic. Unlike previous GOP presidential candidates, he didn’t demonize gays and didn’t pretend to be more religious that he really was. Hillary fully embraced the inane identity-group obsessions of the moment; Trump rejected them outright. Romney and McCain had sucked up to the left-wing media; Trump called reporters out on their bias and mendacity.
Reader, I voted for him. I had never felt such enthusiasm for a candidate. Still, when he won, I kept my guard up. There was no way to be sure what kind of president he would be. Over the decades, my expectations of what a president can be and can do had been steadily lowered. Especially given that Trump was up against a Democratic Party, a GOP establishment, a mainstream media, a Hollywood elite, and an entrenched D.C. bureaucracy all of which hated his guts, how much would he be able to pull off?
The answer: wow. So far, the results have exceeded all of my expectations. The border wall aside, Donald J. Trump has actually kept his promises, and then some. He’s done one good, gutsy thing after another. Instituted the travel ban. Undone the Iran deal. Diminished ISIS. Dropped out of the meaningless Paris Climate Accord. Quit the ludicrous UN Human Rights Council. Moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Started putting Kim Jong-un in his place. Remade NAFTA and started balancing out our trade imbalances with China and other countries. Forced NATO allies to pony up. Eliminated needless and costly regulations. Lowered income tax, dropped the corporate tax to European levels, brought manufacturing back home, and raised the job rate among blacks, youth, veterans, and other groups to record highs. And so on. There’s no reason to catalog it all here.
It has long been a truism that the American ship of state is so massive, and hence so hard to turn very far in this or that direction, that even the most ambitious president can only accomplish so much. Trump has already proven that to be wrong. He’s made me feel like a fool for having accepted so long and so unthinkingly the unwritten rule that a president has to be drawn from the ranks of senators and governors. Senators don’t run anything; governors spend vaults full of money that isn’t their own. Of course a staggeringly energetic self-made billionaire with his own highly successful, privately owned business empire is better at running the world’s most powerful country than a community organizer who spent a total of four years in the U.S. Senate.
I’ve also come to feel foolish on another front. I’d spent enough time in political D.C. to realize that it’s one big cozy community; yet I’d persisted in viewing politics principally through a Democrat vs. GOP lens. I’d recognized that the whole Beltway hive of politicians, bureaucrats, think tankers, lobbyists, etc., was something of a racket and that too many of these folks were loyal not to certain values or constituencies or parties but to the hive itself; yet I’d taken this state of affairs for granted as something that was beyond change. Not until I heard Trump talk about the “swamp” and saw both major party establishments gang up on him did I snap out of my complacency and realize that he was right: this system needs to be challenged because it represents an out-and-out betrayal of the American people.
Finally, living in Western Europe for the last two decades, I’ve seen it become increasingly Islamized and worried that my own country will suffer the same fate. If Hillary had been elected, that worry would have intensified. Trump gives me hope. And I’m not alone. Overwhelmingly, Eastern Europeans love Trump. They know that he loves freedom, that he’s not a wimp, that he’s a man of action and not words, and that he has their backs. Meanwhile, across Western Europe, while the elites sneer at Trump, true patriots look upon the U.S. with envy. They wish they had Trumps of their own. I wish they did, too. And on this Thanksgiving Day I’m deeply grateful that we have ours.