Tuesday 18 September 2018

Donald Trump is not Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush


Ronald Reagan seems so recent to me and I remember how he was regarded as a dangerous fool by the BBC and most serious people in England. Edward Heath told me that he simply did not have the intellectual capacity to be a president.

So many jokes were made about him. Ronald Reagan worshipped Calvin Coolidge, Nancy worshipped Calvin Klein. Now, thanks to Ronald Reagan, liking Coolidge no longer seems screamingly funny, but very reasonable. Coolidge was a good small-state president. That is one of Reagan's principal achievements.

Another was ending the Cold War.

He was originally a Democrat and saw foreign policy, as the Democrats do, in moral terms, which is why he wanted the evil empire to end. George H.W. Bush was very different. A conservative in foreign (though not so much in domestic) affairs he counter-intuitively tried to preserve Communist Poland in 1989 and the Soviet Union for the next two years.

George W. Bush? People from the Ford administration like Cheney and Rumsfeld had dominant positions in his administration but he, more than Reagan, was in foreign affairs a Wilsonian liberal, though at home he was very unlike the racist Wilson. 

Had G.W.B. campaigned against illegal immigration noisily in 2000 he would have won without the hanging chads.

He would not have invaded Iraq had he been his father, who asked 'What is his exit strategy?'. Osama bin Laden was the only winner of the war on terror (you cannot make war on an abstract noun, as someone said).

Donald Trump? He is no Ronald Reagan, not nearly so likeable or statesmanlike, nor nearly so popular.

He might or might not win re-election. Will he change politics the way that Reagan did? I think so, because the Republicans cannot go back to the party of McCain, Romney or either Bush. A lot depends on what response the Democrats find to Trump - at the moment they seem to be proposing either more identity politics or socialism.

A lot depends too on immigration which, if it continues as it has done since Reagan's day, adds a lot of voters who sympathise with a biggish state to the electoral rolls, as the number of white Protestants decreases as a proportion of the electorate.

Oddly enough, it is still hard to see what Trump's presidency is about, besides the work of destroying Obama's legacy. Some things he has done are classic Reaganism - big tax cuts without big spending cuts, for example. Recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital is the sort of thing that Reagan, unlike either Bush, might have done, as is pulling out of the Paris Climate Treaty, which the younger Bush would probably have done. An understanding with Putin, if it happens, would remind us of Reagan's understanding with Gorbachev.

Is President Trump a peace or war president? Does he consistently see China as the threat or will he be misled into trying to meddle in the Middle East to help the Sunni-Israeli alliance against their foe Iran? 

I really do not know, nor whether he will tackle immigration reform. In the end, demographics are what determine history.

The two worst mistakes in U.S. history were made by Lincoln, by not letting the South secede peacefully, and Bush the Younger, by invading Iraq. Lest we forget, Hillary Clinton said two weeks before the election, about the time she stopped replying to Trump's points because he wasn't worth debating with, that her first priority was regime change in Syria. 

When history judges Donald Trump's presidency, when the time eventually comes when American historians can to do so objectively and without allowing their political ideas to sway them, it will compare him with the alternative.


  1. Is retreat from war, peace? Either way, too few voters want the US involved in anything beyond itself. I am catching up with the political history of the US before the war since there are no ideas to follow.

  2. Another was ending the Cold War.

    The only problem with that is that the end of the Cold War turned out to be a disaster. The Cold War was necessary. A balance of power is always necessary. That's one of the things Reagan was too dumb to understand.

    1. That must be an American writing. From a Western European's point of view, having the threat of Russian tanks close by, or from an Eastern European's, living under totalitarian tyanny, a different opinion is possible.

    2. Hello Bruvver. How flattering that you read my blog. He is an Antipodean and his political philosophy is sui generis. I am not sure the cold war was necessary - George Keenan thought not.

    3. But the cold war kept the peace in Europe though not elsewhere. I realised in 1989 or 1990 that the world had become a much more dangerous place and that nuclear terrorism was the greatest danger though I thought the terrorists would use the bomb for blackmail. Now I know that given the chance they will use it.

  3. That is the best overall summary of recent American political history I have yet read anywhere. Keep at it good fellow. Keep at it.
    Charles FitzGerald

  4. What gave it away? The fact that Reagan could speak in complete sentences, that he wasn't under federal investigation, didn't brag about grabbing women by the pussy, or that he wasn't a pathological liar and a narcissist? Even WITH dementia he was a better president than Trump and I am not fond of many of Reagan's policies.

  5. Trump is the current nadir as far as American Presidents go.
    He appeals to the vengeful and the illiterate.

    1. A reasonable point of view but had Hillary won England and America would have intervened to overthrow Assad and we'd be fighting in Syria. I hope so much that Trump leaves Iran alone.

  6. Yes Sanders was the only worthy candidate.

    1. I heard two Romanians say they supported him despite the fact that he is Jewish - his appeal was felt even here. He would have been truly disastrous, as ignorant and intellectually incurious as Donald Trump and with bad values. Sanders is not a communist but in the US democratic socialist does not mean Harold Wilson but something more left wing. At least Bernie was not a pro immigration fanatic and did not like illegal immigration. The Green and Libertarians were even nuttier. For all Trump's appalling appalling defects the world dodged a bullet when he won.
      The important person to watch now is Macron

    2. I was probably wrong but I disliked Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher because of their economic policies and because they never did anything conservative - except conservative in the sense of free market economics
      During the 2016 election I agreed with Katty Kay of the BBC that Trump was really a Democrat but I have changed my mind - he seems now to be a truer conservative than any President since Coolidge or Hoover.