That’s probably giving the man too much credit.
Trump’s genius, such as it is, has its roots in an innate ability to tell people what they want to hear. Trump is largely illiterate when it comes to the nuances of public policy. Still, he did identify, astutely, seething frustrations in the American body politic, and he capitalized on them.
Trump was a miserable president, certainly the worst of my lifetime, and I’m willing to listen to an argument that he’s the worst of all time. Still, the social and political angst he built his movement on is real, and it presents us, and most specifically Republicans, with some opportunities for public policy wins.
Trade is one example. For decades we assumed that free trade was an unvarnished good, but what China has taught us is that a deeply troubling regime can use unfettered trade with an open market like ours to fuel its authoritarianism to the point where it’s a threat not just to the people under its cruel boot but to Americans as well.
For evidence, one need look no further than the sports and entertainment industry where celebrities and other highly paid bootlickers tip-toe around criticism of China, thanks to the enormous market that country represents for their products, even as they hold gleefully hold forth about every wart on American society.
Immigration is another example. Trump’s fixation on a border wall was unhelpful, but the enormous political constituency delighted by the wall’s construction is frustrated by the chaos that characterizes modern American immigration policy. We need reforms that bring order to that process while simultaneously acknowledging the dignity of would-be immigrants.
There is no better argument for the idea of American exceptionalism — something Trump supporters believe in and their critics deride — than the masses of humanity willing to risk everything to live here. We need to be easier on those who would come here legally and tougher on those who try to skip the line.
If Trump were a better sort of human being, he could have made some real progress in these policy areas and others. Instead, he disgraced himself and wounded the Republican party.
Still, what he leaves behind is opportunity. Republicans shouldn’t be afraid to pursue the policy quandaries at the heart of Trumpism, but they need to re-brand the effort.
Trump can’t be the face of this pursuit of reform. He had success in identifying these problems but used the anger they are driving to serve himself.
Good leaders solve problems. They don’t use them.
If Republicans can wrestle control of their party away from Trump and his cult of personality and focus pragmatically on the issues driving the Trump movement, they can find themselves quickly reinvigorated.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at [email protected].