There was something to be said for the extremely fast start the new administration chose to demonstrate how seriously it takes the mandate the American people gave it last November.
Within days, they were blocking migrants and visitors from seven countries, withdrawing the welcome mat to refugees, and getting into a shouting match with the Mexicans. Some argue it was done clumsily, including the genius Karl Rove, who helped usher in the Obama era thanks to the way he piloted his boss the 43rd president.
However, careful planning does little for you if your basic premises are mistaken, and improvisation has much to recommend it if you know what you want.
I would not be surprised if Donald Trump and his top advisors deliberately chose to give the impression they were, as Rove suggested, amateurs. They are happy to let the empty suits of the opposition shriek about poor form while they concentrate on substance.
They want to establish a clear sense of purpose, including challenging the purpose of life inside the Washington bubble. This has the virtue of being forthright.
Whatever they do, the establishment, both right and left, plus the press — which, were it true to its calling, would be insulted at the suggestion it panders or belongs to the culture the establishment lives by — will misinterpret them, often knowingly.
So they may as well be themselves. No percentage in trying to please those who are determined to find fault with you.
Take, for example, the immigration brouhaha. It is not as if we are witnessing a fundamental subversion of a basic American principle, though you would think so from listening to the clamor of the bien-pensants.
Immigration has ebbed and flowed through American history. The mid-19th century saw a large movement of Irish migrants. A few decades later occurred the legendary (in fact, quite real) migration of the “huddled masses” from central and southern Europe. They yearned to be free, remember, free to enter the great American epic on American terms.
That is the case today — for some. For others, not: and this is why the incoming administration has a mandate to fix the immigration system.
Since the reform of 1965, people have been let in, or coming in uninvited, from more countries and continents than in the past, because we did away with the place-of-origin rule that earlier obtained. It may or may not have been a good idea at the time, but that was then.
At this point, for many reasons, immigration is to a dangerous degree uncontrolled and illegal. So, a) suggesting restrictions and b) wanting to reform the system so it works in an orderly and lawful way, is a matter of law and order — one of the reasons people want to live here — as well as national security. It cannot be said to be outside the American tradition to want to restore legality and common sense, and the latter includes favoring some applicants for visas or permanent residency and citizenship over others. The flaws of the post-’65 system were not discovered yesterday. They have been known for years, decades. The failure of Washington to address them is more worthy of criticism than the new administration’s effort to jump-start a broad structural reform of the system.
Attacking the new men for cruelty, subversion of the Constitution or what-all is the rankest nonsense, and it is hypocritical besides. Donald Trump was elected on this issue; why attack him for doing what he said he would do? As it happens, the measures taken so far are, if anything, timid: they merely put in place some restrictions for 90 days. To bombard new policy makers with insults before they have proposed anything more durable is the height of bad faith.
I might want to say I told you so when I suggested lying low in Bermuda while thinking through a plan before putting it to work, but that is not what matters, substantively. Substantively, what matters is that the defeated side — and not merely the Democrats, mind — is pretending the election did not happen. So who is defying the Constitution? Who is subverting basic American values?
The wall, the talk of tariffs, the changed structure of the NSC — all are perfectly legitimate topics for discussion and debate and, perchance, decisions leading to revised ways of doing things. Some may be poorly advised, even stupid, that is in the nature of policy making. Thoughtful national security professionals may, for example, question the idea of keeping the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of intelligence out of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee.
Everybody knows the whole federal government needs re-thinking, re-organizing, shrinking, cutting — itself a long term project, though it could start with some bold strokes to underscore its urgency. And yet even with the argument that the NSC, by its size of its staff, defeats its purpose, it may seem perverse to keep the top soldier and the top spy out of the president’s innermost national security committee.
But, who is to talk, given the failures of the past three administrations? Let the new team try out its way, what’s the harm?
The immigration mess is not Trump’s fault; it is the fault of 50 years of bipartisan irresponsibility on the part of a vast new class of tax-supported grifters. The broken system could have been fixed many years ago by men of good will. It wasn’t. So Donald Trump was elected on a promise to fix it. His promise may have been bluster, it may have been premised on an unworkable idea (the wall on the southern border), but why immediately go into a totally negative mode? Would it not be more sinister if the President did not go forward with this, and such proposals as hiring freezes at the federal government? Then everybody would be worried we elected a charlatan and a con man.
Anyway, what’s the matter with a wall? There are walls and barriers on many international borders and no one complains. The only places where a sovereign nation’s right to defend its border comes up are: the United States and Israel. The two bastions of freedom, the blood of whose patriots has been shed in just causes more, to the benefit of the rest of an ungrateful world, than it ever should have been.
So my answer to all these detractors is the expression of a normal man from the Bronx (I’m not, but I worked there), known as the Bronx cheer. It sounds sort of like this: twurrrrrpff !#!*!