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Trump the Anti-Conservative

President Trump leaving London on Wednesday for Washington.Credit...Al Drago for The New York Times

After nearly three years of this president, we can confidently affirm that he is the most remarkable person ever to exercise that office. Openly corrupt, egomaniacally ignorant, contemptuous of both authority and expertise, racist, sexist, compulsively disruptive toward established international commitments, deferential toward tyrants, he leaves a trail of chaos wherever his bone-spurred feet tread. Yet forty percent of the electorate are devoted to him, and the political party he has hijacked stands rock-solid behind his every shady move.

What is going on?

First thing is, he’s learned what to say to his base and how to say it, to confirm, against all outward evidence, that he is one of them. He refined his approach on reality TV and continues to hone it to this day. It really doesn’t matter to these folks that he’s pursuing policies that hurt them, like tariff wars that decimate American agriculture, or environmental regulation rollbacks that make their air and water less safe. They elected him to shake things up, and by God he’s doing that!

Whatever structure obstructs him, he will undermine it. Whoever has independent authority, he will destroy. If he stays in power, there will be no power but his.

Another thing: even though his policies hurt many businesses (tariff wars for example), his massive and permanent tax cuts for the rich have earned him their loyalty. And he doesn’t make them turn their tax savings into jobs: they can turn them into yachts instead. The top 1 percent appreciate that. And his base don’t mind it because they’ll be rich someday too.

And the judges, don’t forget the judges! The Federalist Society has vetted them for reliable pro-business conservatism (for the business elite) and anti-abortion politics (for the base). As long as they keep him in office, he’ll keep on nominating judges.

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He consistently disregards the advice of his scientific advisers and foreign policy experts, pursuing instead policies that seem designed to disrupt and derail. If there is a scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change, he rejects it. If a succession of presidents of both parties have agreed on the basic lines of policy toward Russia, or Ukraine, or Syria, or Afghanistan, that is all the more reason to change policy, preferably without notice, impulsively, by tweet.

One of the most striking features of this striking presidency is his open contempt for the professional staff of government agencies. This is most evident in questioning the competence and even the patriotism of intelligence personnel, and countermanding the findings of military justice by pardoning soldiers convicted of war crimes. He thereby undermines the discipline and good order that make our armed forces effective. He seems to think the ideal military unit is a masked death squad such as we might find in parts of equatorial Africa, or Myanmar.

What of our great conservative party, Trump’s Republicans? How is it conservative to revel in shaking things up, disrupting order, undermining authority and the chain of command? Trump is anti-conservative. Whatever structure obstructs him, he will undermine it. Whoever has independent authority, he will destroy. If he stays in power, there will be no power but his. He will radically transfigure our society and the world, and the conservative politicians of the GOP will cheer him on. He is the universal solvent.

Many times in the past century, and now, once again, we reread the words of William Butler Yeats (The Second Coming):

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

John Peeler