Andrew Bacevich makes me think I might be making too big a deal of Trump

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
President Donald Trump is not the disruptive force that anti-Trumpers accuse him of being.

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.

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/14/2018 - 04:16 pm.

    One reply: the Supreme Court.
    That pimple will last for thirty years.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/14/2018 - 04:30 pm.

    I like the “dries up and disappears” part, not so sure about the “without leaving a trace” part. While I’m inclined, as are many others, to view Trump as a symptom, not a cause, he embodies a host of unsavory characteristics in the American body politic that have been brought to the surface, largely with his encouragement, and perhaps more important, with the enthusiastic support of the current version of the Republican Party. Trump is merely being the venal, obnoxious spoiled child he’s always been. He’s in his current position because he had the active cooperation of A) the Republican Party; and B) some very wealthy people who are pursuing their own political agenda. That there’s considerable overlap between the two groups is not an accident.

    Yes, the current fixation on the evil or incompetence or – if Trump campaign ads are to be believed – the magnificent accomplishments of the Current Occupant misses the larger point. Trump is merely the bright, shiny object, sparkling in the wind and holding our attention while the forces of wealth and reaction – often allies, anyway – work to drag the society back a few hundred years to the days of landed aristocracy, serfs and nobles.

  3. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 09/14/2018 - 04:34 pm.

    Trump has straightened out the SCOTUS and the federal circuit courts. That’s what I gave him my vote to do, and he’s done/doing it.

    Everything else is gravy.

  4. Submitted by Roy Everson on 09/14/2018 - 04:42 pm.

    “if you were basically okay with where America was headed prior to November 2016, just take a deep breath”

    We all need a dose of baseless optimism once in a while, especially before the weekend, but like unneeded gas it too will pass.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/14/2018 - 06:53 pm.

    Let’s just say that the bar is now lowered to a subterranean level. And a majority of our elected representatives are fine with that, as are a large portion of the population. And using all of the tools (precedent and norms, HA!) to screw your opponents is now the game.

    Severe damage has been done. A divide has been deliberately deepened.

    What sap would play by the old rules anymore ?

    Bacevich is as wrong as he could be–the changes he frets about are embodied in this President.

    Can anyone doubt that when Pompeo is “re-branding” the State Department as “The Department of Swagger” ?

    #Swagger should make Bacevich cry.

    https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/09/13/state-department-mike-pompeo-swagger-donald-trump-219867

  6. Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 09/15/2018 - 08:43 am.

    What about those of us who were NOT happy about the new direction of the country?

    Some of us still pine for the days when a President could challenge us to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” and when the “Golden Rule” was seen as a standard to be used in our dealings with others.

    The trend toward avarice and crudity as basic qualities of daily life in the USA did not start with Trump, but his “modus operandi” is seen as providing a role model for success by many. “What’s in it for me” has become the catch-phrase of our society.

  7. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/15/2018 - 09:33 am.

    I don’t believe Trump is a pimple that will dry up without a trace. Trump is “America’s Boil” that is leaving a scar seen worldwide. Just because Trump exits, whenever that is, America will not heal quickly. Trump’s list of toxic characteristics: coarseness of language, racism, bigotry, misogyny, disrespect, distrust of our institutions and media, demonstrable lying, tweet storms, etc. will not disappear because Trump isn’t president. It is Trump who has authorized these behaviors through his own reprehensible conduct. It is the weak among us, nazi’s, white supremacists, etc., that feel emboldened by Trump. Republicans have been cultivating these behaviors for decades to feed conservatism. Trump came along and blew the doors wide open. The Trump damage is already done and the scars will take decades to remove them. It will take strong leadership to change America and I don’t see what I consider strong leadership in either party. Currently, the Republican Party, in the loosest sense of the word, is busy sorting out their criminals or sitting on their hands and abdicating their power to Trump.

  8. Submitted by Erica Ramos on 09/15/2018 - 10:34 am.

    Unhealthy obsessions and compulsive behaviors are not healthy for anyone.

    The Left should learn from the Right.

    In other words, the Right did bark at President Obama for 8 years while he used his pen and phone to enact an agenda and deals with Iran and Paris that could never in 100 years get through Congress, but only the 5% of the far far right went rabid on us. For most of the R’s..they simply accepted that who sits in the White House is a cyclical thing and the pendulum would swing back…and it did.

    For D’s…they are acting like the world is coming to an end when it’s not even close. Yes..the man is a bloviating ignoramus but not a single journalist sits in jail, not a single journalists emails and computers are being hacked, not a single political opponent is having the NSA/CIA/FBI spy on them, and the economy is finally working for most people.

    If D’s would take a powder and refocus what’s important in their small circle that they can control, they wouldn’t stab Republican candidates, shoot up Republican poltiicians playing baseball and they wouldn’t shoot up a country concert in Las Vegas.

    This behavior and attitude by the Left is VERY unhealthy. If you think it’s normal, you really need to see a therapist. If you think this behavior is perfectly normal and acceptable based on the temporary occupant of the White House, then you should fully expect the EXACT same behavior by 50% of the right when a D wins back the WH; not just the rabid right.

    This is how Civil Wars begin. Folks start to take everything personal and then things spiral out of control.

    Ignore Trump for the next 2 years. Don’t talk about him. Don’t demean him even with like-minded people. Don’t give that fire the oxygen it needs to fan its flames.

    Does this require discipline and maturity? Hell yes…but what you saw by D Senators in that Kavanaugh hearing last week was embarrassing and shameful…especially after nearly everyone of those SEnators stood up at JOhn McCain’s funeral and glorified his ability to work well with others who had differing POV’s.

    YOU get to choose how you engage the rest of the country. This is still a 50/50 country and the right won’t destroy the left and the left won’t destroy the right. This is not a zero sum game. When people like Erik Paulsen are demonized by the Right…it should be a sign to those on the left that he’s not a puppet of the President, but an independent voice in a very divided Congress.

    If people like Paulsen are those you want to demonize and destroy..then there will be war. The only question is whether it begins next year or in 2-3 years.

    Dial back the rhetoric. Ask yourself the hard question and answer it.

    Do you have a single person you know and engage with regularly who voted for Donald Trump…and have you sat down over coffee and beer and tried to understand the why?

    Ifi not..the problem isnt’ with him/her. It’s with you.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/15/2018 - 03:24 pm.

      “…but not a single journalist sits in jail…”

      No, but on June 28, after three years of Don Trump calling journalists the enemy of the people, five employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD were shot to death. And journalists all over the country have experienced a significant increase in death threats.

      “Dial back the rhetoric.”

      Whoa! Are you serious? A Good Book I (along with numerous members of God’s own Party) am familiar with suggests removing the plank in one’s own eye before commenting on the speck in your neighbor’s eye.

      “…but what you saw by D Senators in that Kavanaugh hearing last week was embarrassing and shameful…”

      Really, after the way Garland was mistreated, those on the right have lost
      ALL moral authority to comment on how SCOUTS nominations are handled. And do not attribute the actions of spectators to the Democratic Senators on the committee.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/15/2018 - 05:53 pm.

      Inflammatory ?

      You might want to consider that your “examples” of Democrats stabbing and shooting Republicans are by definition “inflammatory and unrepresentative”. In a country of 300 million, one or two examples are entirely meaningless as examples of trends.

      And per Snopes your unsupported statement of Las Vegas shooter ID’ed as a Democrat is not correct….”Did eagle-eyed web sleuths unmask the shooter at an anti-Trump rally? Also no. Photographs of a Trump protester circulating on social media do not show the Vegas gunman, A separate screenshot listing off the gunman’s purported “Facebook likes” circulated on social media, but there was no evidence its claims were accurate or credible.”

      The real question is how do you sit down with a person whose idea of the situation is counterfactual and do not accept debunking ?

      https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/las-vegas-shooting-rumors-hoaxes-and-conspiracy-theories/

    • Submitted by Gerry Nelson on 09/17/2018 - 05:27 am.

      Please turn off FOX news and listen to what is happening. Where were you when Barack Obama was in office? When the republican party would not budge to work across the aisle? YOU are blind in one eye and only see what is on you ‘right’ side. One does not have to be upset or angry over the big ‘D’, just understand what he is and how big money is is manipulating him. Yes, I am a moderate liberal, but then again shouldn’t all of us care about all of us?

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/17/2018 - 12:39 pm.

      “Do you have a single person you know and engage with regularly who voted for Donald Trump…and have you sat down over coffee and beer and tried to understand the why?”

      Yes; but it is not easily done: almost all with a thoughtful approach have gone deep underground and won’t engage because they are unable to defend Putin apologizing, lying/fabricating at 3X the rate of any previous President, crazy tweets as policy, unending turnover of “the best people”, etc..

      Leaving the, sorry to say, “basket of deplorables” to defend his position, loudly, without facts.

  9. Submitted by David Tilsen on 09/15/2018 - 10:35 am.

    The post WWII was classless and equitable only if you were white. Blacks could still not buy homes anywhere in most cities. Indian Reservations were not given resources to keep up with the prosperity in the rest of the country, and lynching was accepted and not prosecuted in most of the south. Just saying.
    I did like and agree with most of the article however.

  10. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/15/2018 - 12:10 pm.

    So, following Bacevich’s analysis of Trump’s unimportance in The Grand Scheme of Things and his recommendation, basically, that we stop following the detailed news on a daily basis, we should all just turn over and go back to sleep?

    I read his piece as a purported salve to all those liberals, all those Democrats out there who are upset with the things that Trump’s administration is both doing and enabling, to all of us who follow the “hype” media that gives us too much information. This author basically tells us that we don’t have to go out and vote this fall to elect at least a Democratic House of Representatives that would have the will, and the authority, to check Trump’s excesses. No need to bother, is the message of his article.

    Wow.

    What Bacevich tries to convince us of is, that America was already down the economic and geopolitical tubes before Trump’s election, that our population was already deeply divided on social issues and in economic health before Trump, so pay no attention to Trump himself.

    The contrary view: that the problems with America are a function of our collective ignorance of the real news, our collective inattention, our collective risk-taking with the basics of our democracy and the individual voting ritual that protects it.

    VOTE! Trump matters!

    I’ve lived through the entire era this guy tries to summarize for us to calm our nerves about Trump. And I’m not going to let the Russians have influence over our government, thank you (Mueller is proving Russian ifluence–or haven’t you been paying attention to the details of that news?)

  11. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/17/2018 - 09:53 am.

    All the old rules, all the old conventional widsom would have said that Donald Trump should have never been elected in the first place. I see no reason to assume that merely removing him from the picture will make everything snap back into place.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2018 - 02:07 pm.

      That’s the real problem. The feelings that led to his election are not going to vanish. His support remains at the same level it has been since his election, and it seems unlikely that anything could dislodge the die-hards from their fealty.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/17/2018 - 11:21 am.

    Not to toot my own horn but in many ways Bacevich is duplicating an observation I made just after the election in an article right here on Minnpost: https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2016/11/president-trump-message-hope-truly-bad-week/

    Here’s where we differ: At that time I pointed out the probability that Trump would just be a really bad president, and not the only bad president we’ve ever had. I still stand by that observation but… the danger of having a Fascist POTUS cannot be ignored. Yes, we have an institution, a Constitution, and a system that limit’s presidential power… but that system is NOT autonomous, we can’t assume it will work, we have to make it work.

    Bacevich seems to be assuming the system will work more or less autonomously and that’s the most dangerous possible assumption we could make. That’s how we convert a Fascist POTUS into a Fascist government. Centrist and liberal complacency got us into this crises and that complacency will be our doom if we don’t abandon it.

    Complacency is the core of the centrist universe, a comfort zone that assumes some kind of natural trend towards moderation. History demolishes that assumption. So I’m not sure it’s actually possible to make “too” big a deal of Trump, the most dangerous thing you can do with fascist or totalitarians is dismiss them.

    When I said I reckoned Trump would just be a really bad president, I was assuming (with hope) that Americans would rise to the threat instead of ignoring it. I think that’s happening, and if it is, THAT’S why our system will prevail.

    I know that a lot of centrists are way outside their comfort zones, and the drive to get back to, or at least pretend to get back into the zone is powerful. The problem is that centrist/moderate/liberal/whatever comfort zone contains a lot of really dangerous assumptions that have wrecked a lot of lives, governments, and communities. So if you find Bacevich to be comforting… you might want to have someone slap you cross the top of your head.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/19/2018 - 09:18 am.

    Actually…

    “So here’s the upshot of it all: if you were basically okay with where America was headed prior to November 2016, …”

    If you were “OK” with where America was headed prior to the election, you were most likely living within in a bubble of privilege. Tens of millions of Americans were and are living with crippling levels of racial and gender discrimination. Tens of millions of Americans were/are living with the most expensive and inadequate health care system in the developed world. And tens of millions of Americans were living in an economy that freezes them out while enriching the already wealthy.

    So yeah, Donald Trump is no big deal if nothing he’s done has touched you in any significant way, and if everything was hunky dory before he got elected you may as well just go golfing and forget about it.

    On the other hand… bubble always pop; does the phrase: “Let them eat cake” ring any bells?

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