panem et circenses
Is a Competent Trumpism Possible?

Could a more mainstream politician maintain or perhaps even improve on Trump’s coalition, while at the same time more effectively realizing his policy agenda?

Published on: October 2, 2017
Nils Gilman is vice president of programs at the Berggruen Institute and a monthly columnist for The American Interest.
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  • AnonymoussSoldier

    Each of those things you listed in your first paragraph ARE popular, with the exception of treaty obligations? Not sure what you’re talkin about there. You probably don’t know yourself. Those other things are what differentiated him from establishment candidates, irrespective of the more or less meaningless R or D by their name.

    Stricter immigration control is popular, and smart. More protectionist trade policy is smart (both are the global norm, since you are unaware). BLM is radical, and hypocritical. Not out protesting gang violence and black on black killings – the deadliest thing for black males. You don’t think hating whites, hating cops of all colors, and the looting and arson of gas stations aren’t radical?

    • KremlinKryptonite

      I certainly agree with your post, but I also think the distinction needs to be made between Trumpism and the Trump agenda, and it’s really not HIS at all. Trumpism denotes the cult of personality which the man undeniably has, and the diehards who will support him no matter what. By stark contrast, the Trump agenda are those things which you listed, among others, and they are what seem to have won him the election. His deviation from that winning agenda has caused quite a backlash. Alabama is a perfect example where the Trump agenda won, and trumps personal endorsement lost.

      • Jim__L

        If Trump can’t personally control the Trump movement, I’d kinda hate to meet the guy who can.

        On the other hand, the person who could distill the essence of Trump’s policies, while being a more decent human being, would ensure the dominance of the Republican party for a generation. The RNC needs to start looking very hard for such a person. 🙂

  • QET

    One good argument ad hominem deserves another. Leave it to an employee of an “institute” founded by a European billionaire, with a charter to advance Saint-Simon’s dream of administering human beings as things under the anodyne name of “governance” (which, though bland, is still too provocative in these trying times, so it was dropped from the institute’s name in order to better conceal the mission), to scold the unanointed Trump and his unwashed supporters for daring to devalue the likes of Herr Berggruen as he, in the words of a recent LA Times fluff piece, “envisions lofty thoughts on politics and culture on his Santa Monica mountaintop.” Well. The nerve of some people! No doubt Mr.–excuse me, Dr.–Gilman envisions equally lofty thoughts from his UC Berkeley redoubt, and is rather put off by all of those less lofty ideas emanating from all those less lofty persons who refuse to accord Herr Berggruen and his fellow billionaires the Olympian status they believe their various Berghofs entitle them to. “The swamp” that Trump purports to want to drain is all those people who treat policy as a serious business, and who believe that the policy practitioners should be respected (and financially rewarded) by the people who don’t take policy seriously. There, there, Dr. Gilman. Try not to let your resentment show so egregiously.

    Policy. The word appears 26 times in Gilman’s brief philippic (Trumppic?). 26 times. Like a modern-day Mesmer, Gilman no doubt hopes to gull us through sheer repetition. [D]emocratic politics is to serve as a legitimate mechanism for selecting policies that aim to improve the commonweal. . . .[P]olitics-as-a-means-to-pursue-policy as such. Behold the Billionaire Institute’s lofty vision of democracy and politics!!!!!! No doubt it hasn’t occurred to Gilman that the improvements to the commonweal his lofty thoughts envision have been made necessary by the lofty thoughts envisioned by prior generations of “all those people who treat policy as a serious business.” To take just one example: all of those serious competent policy envisioners of the past gave us a nuclear North Korea that routinely threatens to annihilate us. Just like the serious competent policy envisioners of a prior era gave us, first Munich, then Normandy. Or another example: the same serious competent policy envisioners who haven’t been able to make Medicare solvent now demand that we follow them once more unto the breach of the health care Harfleur for single payer. Such serious policy thinkers do not scruple to market their visions to the herd of things they insist they be allowed to administer using such lofty concepts as “Free Health Care for All!” and “If You Repeal Obamacare 20 Million People Will Die!!”

    Call me an ingrate if you must, but I beg you to cease and desist from attempting improvements upon my life by your lofty envisionings on your mountaintops. You have yet to demonstrate your own competence, and you are serious only in the same way that cancer is serious. I’m not saying all “policy” is per se bad or unnecessary. I am saying that serious lofty policy envisioners are like Bernstein’s socialists: the goal is nothing, the movement is everything. We need a hiatus from global billionaire Olympians and their lofty visions for the rest of us.

    Oh, and one more thing. No doubt it is difficult to get a clear view from the mountaintop, but the gleeful and truculent displays of contempt for longstanding norms regarding acceptable political behavior and the destruction of the norms of decency and respect that underpin any effective and legitimate democracy are the work, not of Trump, but of your fellow Berkeley denizens and their (your?) ilk, who take every opportunity to remind the rest of us, and increasingly at the points of their homemade bayonets, that all of these longstanding norms whose loss you lament were (and are) the very means by which the genocidal white supremacist patriarchs colonize(d) and oppress(ed) the lifeworlds of marginalized voiceless communities. So you shouldn’t advertise too loudly your commitment to these norms, at least not while in or near Berkeley.

    • D4x

      Bravo! I just deconstructed how Nils Gilman only used citations from the lying media, (‘lying’ as documented repeatedly by other sources), determined to paint the false caricature of ‘Trump the Incompetent Failure’ in order to ‘prove’ same in Gilman’s heinous (defined as despicably and utterly wicked), conclusions.

      In my quest for normalcy to return to America’s media and “all those people who treat policy as a serious business”, I have spent too much time here at TAI citing actual TeamTrump accomplishments, despite the unprecedented resistance/obstruction given voice by The New Yorker’s David Remnick into the brains and direct activist actions of the Schumer/Pelosi democrats.

      I’ll post my deconstruction of citations as a reply to this. Nils Gilman needs remediation in how to identify primary sources, although I doubt he has the motivation or curiosity to learn anything new or different.

      • D4x Citations from the Star Echo Chamber of Nils Gilman:
        “…typically framed as a bill of indictment: the trafficking
        in conspiracy theories (MSNBC) of the most blatant sort (CNN), the attacks on a
        “gold star” family (NYT) and former prisoners of war (Politico), mocking
        disabled people (CNN), the hurling of thinly veiled racist invective at
        everyone from federal judges (The New Yorker)
        to star athletes (Salon), the reference to a reporter’s menstrual cycle
        (WaPo), boasts about grabbing women’s genitals (NYT), the public (WaPo)
        profanity (HuffPo), the refusal to immediately condemn (Vanity Fair) murderous
        white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and so on. …Hillary Clinton’s supposed charisma deficit (,
        the peculiarities of the electoral college (, the surrender of
        the Democratic party to identity politics (, the challenges any party
        faces in winning a “third” presidential term (, James
        Comey’s involvement (, or (in my view most implausibly) Russian
        meddling ( in our electoral processes.
        …majorities of poll-answerers consider him “unfit” for the
        Presidency (TheHill), bringing shame upon the office and the nation alike, but
        his lack of personal or political discipline (WaPo), his unwillingness to do
        the hard work (USAToday)[1] of shepherding through legislation, and his short
        attention span and inattention to detail (The Atlantic)[2] appear to fundamentally
        hamper his ability to execute his policy agenda.

        …a fact symbolized by his failure to nominate candidates
        (WaPo’s appointee tracker behind paywall)[3] for hundreds of positions within the
        federal bureaucracy. …”

        [1] USA Today summarizes Newsweek cover story:
        “Newsweek’s new cover calls President Trump a ‘Lazy Boy’
        Jessica Estepa, USA TODAY Published 10:19 a.m. ET Aug. 4, 2017 |” “Newsweek’s story “Trump, America’s Boy King: Golf and Television Won’t Make America
        Great Again.” The piece tackles the president’s golf, Twitter and TV habits, wonders about his work ethic, and says the White House is in “disarray.” …”

        [2]”The Search for a Magical Way to Stop Trump; In their desire to end the chaos of this administration, some critics are arguing for a cure that is the same as the disease.” David A. Graham | Aug 14, 2017
        “Chelsea Handler is an entertainer, not a political analyst.
        But now that she is debating conservatives on the subject of health care, she
        is a woman in the arena, and so her statements deserve scrutiny. …”
        [Two weeks later, I did NOT renew my longterm subscription to The Atlantic, because they lost any pretense to sanity in their biased one-sided online coverage of Charlottesville. They would have lost me at “Chelsea Handler”]

        [3] repeating from part of my comment on Senate Foreign Relations Comittee obstruction of State Department nominees:

        “…As of Sept. 12, 2017, seventeen (17) Ambassadors confirmed;
        twenty-nine (29) nominations await obstructive SFRC. Eleven (11) Ambassadors
        & Mark Andrew Green at USAID, and Carl C. Risch for Consular Affairs were
        all confirmed on Aug. 3, the day AFTER Sen. John Cornyn, on Aug. 2, publicly
        criticized the Senate for obstruction of confirmation of Kay Bailey Hutchison
        as Ambassador to NATO. Former Sen. Hutchison was nominated on June 29.
        Keep track at:

  • Angel Martin

    “…the United States desperately needs to have a serious conversation about how to reconfigure our social and political institutions in order to position the country to take advantage of the coming waves of technological innovation.”

    You gotta be kidding. Gov’t, the legal system, bureaucracy and politicians will be the institutions to direct technological innovation ?

    And Trump is alleged to be the incompetent one…

  • Psalms13626

    In short, Nils Gilman thinks that everyone would be a lot better of if they gave people like Nils Gilman more authority and power. If they happen to fail or if there are unintended consequences? No sweat for Nils Gilman. He would never be actually responsible for anything.
    In short, pure mental onanism on a page. There is the usual TDS to make this seem current but this is the same millennia old appeal to authority logical fallacy. Lame.

  • Matt_Thullen

    If the experts that have failed so spectacularly (which even Gilman acknowledges) ever suffered for their failures, there wouldn’t be a Trump-led movement. Instead, we see those in Washington who are devoted to policy fail over and over again, and yet the worst that happens to them is they leave government and become lobbyists, where they get paid large sums of money for their personal connections.

    The other aspect of Trump’s success that Gilman overlooks is the push back against an increasingly totalitarian social left in the Western world. Note that some of the policies that Mr. Gilman’s cherished experts came up with were to force local schools to allow guys who claimed (on their word of honor) to identify as female to share locker rooms with female students. Not even providing a private shower and locker room was sufficient for these policy experts.

  • Boritz

    Why do congressional Republicans get a pass in this diatribe about failure to seriously govern? A lot in the way of failure could be laid at the feet of Ryan, McConnel, and most especially McCain who is competing with John Roberts for the lifetime achievement award for swamp creature in conservative garb. The reason, of course, is they also oppose Trump and are an admired and appreciated wall against the unwashed.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Nice article. All that’s missing is a query into WHO, exactly, liked the “vulgarian shtick”, elected this president BECAUSE of it (rather than in spite of it), and continues to 1) cheer each new outrage, and 2) diss any momentary departures from the outrageous by the president when they occasionally come up.

    The answer is America’s White Evangelical Church.

    So, a lot is being destroyed. First of all, that wing of Church itself has become a farcical tragedy—-embracing, as it now does, flat-out untruth on nearly every social and political topic. Secondly, human rights are scheduled to be set back decades by the Supreme Court these nincompoops have demanded and will continue to demand. Thirdly, after the wealthiest people in America take advantage of their “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to completely destroy the tax code at the upper end (an “opportunity” dropped SOLELY into their laps by the affinity of nincompoops for “vulgarian shtick”), we will increasingly descend to a government unable to adequately function budget-wise and to subsequent calls for a new austerity to be imposed on a full half of the people—-maybe on two thirds of the people. Fourthly, the stewardship of environment is suddenly a forgotten concept.

    There is no reversing this trend without identifying who put the trend in motion and who continues to maintain it. At some point, we are going to need to flip SOME of the “Every Word of This Bible is True” crowd back to sense. They are the ones who brought you the political circenses we lament in the present federal government and many statehouses. The sooner this is front and center in the national debate, the sooner we stop losing our country. Hurry. The slope is steeper and more slippery than you think.

  • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

    Gilman is quite right that “U.S. government is an enormous and largely self-operating bureaucracy [that] continues to steam ahead in more or less the same direction.”

    That direction is toward complete control of every economic decision made by every American — from a gardener deciding what seeds to plant to a corporate executive deciding what plant to build. This has not been working well for hoi polloi, though the bureaucrats, whether through radicalism or incompetence or both, have done an excellent job enuring the population to Soviet-level consumer goods, from toilets that don’t flush to gas containers that spill as much as they pour to dish- and clothes washers that don’t wash.

    This is what Obama meant by “fundamentally transforming the United States of America”; and, make no mistake, that is what all leftists, all Democrats, the traditional media, all the activists, all the academics, and all the bureaucrats (but I repeat myself) want: An America that finally rids itself of the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights so that they, having failed to produce anything of value themselves, may finally be installed in the positions of power they lust for, supported in perpetuity by their inferiors: us.

    Most of them are smarter than Tom Friedman and do not openly express their admiration of the Chinese dictatorship — but that is what they work for: They want us poor, dependent, and unable to object to any new method they come up with to make our lives more difficult.

    And given the choice between a mountebank who had neither the desire nor the ability to do such things and a dishonest, money-grubbing, corrupt, power-hungry liar who did have that desire (even though she had proven herself utterly incompetent at every task she had ever set herself), they chose the former — as, indeed, would have every generation of Americans who have ever lived.

    But perhaps not the next generation of entitled and ignorant fops ….

  • D4x

    TAI keeps pitching the same ‘incompetent failure is Trump’ curveball at every problem in the world.

    “Desperately Seeking A Trump Failure In Puerto Rico” Oct 22017 5:21 PM ET
    “…The problem is that Trump’s critics — both Democrats and the press — so reflexively call everything Trump does a tragic failure that
    there’s no way to know, without doing extensive independent research, whether their complaints about the Puerto Rico response efforts have any merit.

    Until then, we’ll take the Puerto Rican governor’s word about the quality of Trump’s actions over the words of domestic partisan hacks
    hoping to score political points during a humanitarian crisis.”

    Who Is writing this dystopian script?

  • Tom Scharf

    One of the few essays that appears to at least understand Trumpism at its core. It may or may not correctly diagnose the possible problems and solutions for such, but at least it doesn’t use the lazy and emotionally satisfying “bigots and racists” mantras that judge en masse Trump supporters from on high. You can read this one to the very end which is more than I can say for some of the emotional screeds that appear here.

    The test will be in what happens next. For the not-Trumps out there that vie for public office, what are you going to do about Trump supporters? You have been sent an unmistakable message from a large part of America that they aren’t satisfied with the culture war on them and their values.

    Here’s a suggestion, don’t prop yourself up as some judge of what is right or wrong in America. We don’t want a uniform value system that is determined in some smokey room in DC by a bunch of hypocrites who think the media reflects what America wants. If you keep advocating for cultural strait jackets, you will continue to lose.

  • MohammedTheTeddyBear

    Perhaps a better title for this screed would be “Is a competent understanding of Trumpism possible by Elitist Journalists?”……..

    Sadly, in this case, this answer is clearly “No.”; I eagerly await the very first write-up here that completely dispenses with the sneers against us lowly peasants, and actually attempts to understand things as they are. Any of the fine, well-spoken commenters below would be a dramatic improvement in that regard.

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