Andrew Bacevich, who is among my heroes as an analyst of U.S. history, argues in his latest TomDispatch piece, that Donald “Trump is not the disruptive force that anti-Trumpers accuse him of being. He is merely a noxious, venal, and ineffectual blowhard, who has assembled a team of associates who are themselves, with few exceptions, noxious, venal, or ineffectual.”
Bacevich, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army, is a big picture guy, especially big historical picture. The headline of his piece describes Trump as a “pimple on the face of America,” but no more lasting or important than a pimple.The rest of America’s face remains what it had become over recent decades. To understand what it had become, Bacevich encourages us to go back to the immediate post-World War II period, which he describes as a country that was defined by three large facts, thus:
First, the United States made everything and made more of it than anyone else. In postwar America, wealth derived in large measure from the manufacture of stuff: steel, automobiles, refrigerators, shoes, socks, blouses, baseballs, you name it. “Made in the USA” was more than just a slogan. With so much of the industrialized world in ruins, the American economy dominated and defined everyday economic reality globally.
Second, back then while the mighty engine of industrial capitalism was generating impressive riches, it was also distributing the benefits on a relatively equitable basis. Postwar America was the emblematic middle-class country, the closest approximation to a genuinely classless and democratic society the world had ever seen.
Third, having had their fill of fighting from 1941 to 1945, Americans had a genuine aversion to war. They may not have been a peace-loving people, but they knew enough about war to see it as a great evil. Avoiding its further occurrence, if at all possible, was a priority, although one not fully shared by the new national security establishment just then beginning to flex its muscles in Washington.
Fast forward to the days just before the Donald. America outsources its manufacturing. Wealth is concentrated at the top. And we are in a perpetual state of low-intensity war on so many fronts around the world that few among us could name half of them. Those, Bacevich argues, were the big changes that gradually, increasingly became the new normal (and those, fairly obviously, strike Bacevich as not changes for the better).
Compared to those changes, the change from an eloquent, hard-working, well-informed, well-intentioned president to one who watches Fox News all day, grabs America by the pussy, and is the target of a massive criminal investigation is – well – not as big as we perceive it on a day-to-day basis.
If Bacevich is right, then I, too, am guilty of making too big a deal of Trumpist America. At least, for a moment, he has me thinking that I might be.
Trump is not the disruptive force that anti-Trumpers accuse him of being. He is merely a noxious, venal, and ineffectual blowhard, who has assembled a team of associates who are themselves, with few exceptions, noxious, venal, or ineffectual.
So here’s the upshot of it all: if you were basically okay with where America was headed prior to November 2016, just take a deep breath and think of Donald Trump as the political equivalent of a kidney stone — not fun, but sooner or later, it will pass. And when it does, normalcy will return. Soon enough you’ll forget it ever happened.
If, on the other hand, you were not okay with where America was headed in 2016, it’s past time to give up the illusion that Donald Trump is going to make things right. Eventually a pimple dries up and disappears, often without leaving a trace. Such is the eventual destiny of Donald Trump as president.