The Trump administration is barely ten days old and already America seems to have lost the faculty of Reason. Emotion is running wild. Charges and countercharges are flying through the airwaves. Protesters are out en masse. News media are saturated with public drama. You would think that the end is nigh, that the apocalypse is just around the corner.
Famed economic historian Niall Ferguson is trying to direct some light into the darkness. Admittedly, it is a tall order, but someone had to do it. By his reading, the Trump administration is enacting the Book of Genesis while Trump’s opponents are trapped in the Book of Revelation.
Or else, as I myself have presciently opined, the politically correct see Donald Trump as the Antichrist. They believe that if they can destroy him we will see the Second Coming of Jesus and the Heavenly City will descend upon the earth, bring liberty and justice to all.
There, that explains it all. Competing narratives. Since neither corresponds to the facts and since neither is fact-driven, they will never find common ground. It would be helpful, Ferguson opines, if people started thinking rationally, even suspending disbelief until we now the outcomes of the Trump policies.
Apocalyptic thinkers are up in arms about Trump’s executive orders. Yet, when Barack Obama was ruling by executive orders they did not see an imminent autocracy. They saw a perfectly clear-headed thinker. When Obama banned some immigration from seven countries, his supporters thought it was a great idea. Chuck Schumer praised it. When Trump banned some immigration from the same seven countries, his detractors took to the streets and the airports to protest the end of America as they knew it.
Trump is running what looks like a reality show. He seems happy to provoke his enemies. Rope-a-dope, anyone?
His detractors are looking completely unhinged. How many times can you call someone Hitler? Eventually, they will run out of insults. Not because they do not feel very deeply, but because deep feelings are seriously overrated and because they are rhetorically challenged.
Ferguson describes the activities:
Each day brings news of fresh executive orders, interviews, tweets. Each day the media shoot back at Trump. To read some of the press coverage of Trump’s first week, you would think the Apocalypse was imminent. Indeed, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists last week moved its famous Dooomsday Clock forward to two and a half minutes to midnight. Yet in issuing executive orders, Trump is merely following the precedent set by the previous occupant of the White House. The hysterical over-reaction of the media is fresh proof that Trump is a self-publicist of prodigious instinctive talent.
What’s a rational thinker to do? Perhaps, Ferguson says, one can start by ignoring what Trump says and watching what he does. The important point is what the executive orders produce. We should judge policy by its outcomes, not by the hue and cry in the media.
In Ferguson’s words:
I have to confess I enjoy the entertainment for no other reason than that it drives the most tedious people in America to distraction. But the real point is not what Trump says. It is what his administration does.
On that score, no one really knows what the flurry of executive orders, designed primarily to de-Obamify the government, will produce.
Ferguson lists the orders and explains that each may produce one or another outcome:
It may be that the net result of the Republican corporate tax reform will be economically disruptive, increasing the deficit and inflation. On the other hand, it may be that the repatriation of corporate capital will generate more revenue than anyone expects.
It may be that all the regulations introduced since the 1980s are all that stands between us and environmental and financial disaster. On the other hand, it may be that most of this regulation was merely a bureaucratic scam and a leaden weight on small and medium-sized businesses.
It may be that a trade war will break out between the United States and China, one that will hurt us almost as much as them. On the other hand, it may be that the Chinese will end up rolling over in the face of Trump’s aggressive negotiating tactics because their economic and political position is much weaker than most people appreciate.
And it may be that challenging the globalized economic order is a fool’s errand that will end up hurting everybody, including ordinary Americans, by raising consumer prices. On the other hand, it may be that globalization had overshot, and it was high time we dialed back the volume of migration, off-shoring of jobs and cross-border investment.
The short conclusion is that we do not yet know what all of these executive actions will produce. For that we will need to show some patience and wait.
Ferguson is saying that the administration is neither Genesis nor Revelation. True enough, an inexperienced executive has been making serious mistakes, especially with his roll out of some executive orders.
But it is also true that we should do better than to make our political life into public drama. Especially when that drama accomplishes little more than allowing the protesters to let off steam.
In Ferguson’s words:
The real question is: Can his administration — using the usual cumbersome channels — enact and implement reforms that will fundamentally improve the lives of ordinary Americans?
The answer to that question will not be found in Trump’s Book of Genesis. But I doubt very much it is in the liberals’ Book of Revelation either.