Tweets and the­ater en­ter­tain, but Congress is main event

The Denver Post - - OPNION - By Charles Krauthammer

The most amus­ing part of the Trump tran­si­tion has been watch­ing its ef­fort­less con­found­ing of the me­dia, of­ten in fewer than 140 char­ac­ters.

One morn­ing, af­ter a Fox News re­port on lefty nut­ti­ness at some ob­scure New Eng­land col­lege — a flag burn­ing that led a more­con­temptible-than-usual cam­pus ad­min­is­tra­tion to take down the school’s own Amer­i­can flag — Don­ald Trump tweets that flag burn­ers should go to jail or lose their cit­i­zen­ship.

An epi­demic of con­sti­tu­tional chin tug­ging and civil lib­er­tar­ian hair pulling im­me­di­ately breaks out. By the time the me­dia have ex­hausted their out­rage over the loom­ing abo­li­tion of free speech, ju­di­cial supremacy and af­ford­able kale, Trump has moved on. The tem­pest had a shorter halflife than the one pro­voked in Au­gust 2015 by a Trump foray into birthright cit­i­zen­ship.

Trump so thor­oughly owns the po­lit­i­cal stage to­day that the word Clin­ton seems pos­i­tively quaint and Barack Obama, who hap­pens to be pres­i­dent of the United States, is to­tally ir­rel­e­vant.

Trump has mes­mer­ized the na­tional me­dia not just with his elab­o­rate Cabi­net-se­lec­tion pro­duc­tion, by now Broad­way-ready, but with a clus­ter of equally the­atri­cal per­sonal in­ter­ven­tions that by tra­di­tional stan­dards seem dis­tinctly un­pres­i­den­tial.

It’s a mat­ter of size. They seem small for a pres­i­dent. Pre­vent­ing the shut­down of a Car­rier fac­tory in In­di­ana. An­nounc­ing, in a con­text­less 45-sec­ond sur­prise state­ment, a ma­jor Ja­panese in­vest­ment in the U.S. Call­ing for can­cel­la­tion of the new Air Force One to be built by Boe­ing.

Pretty small stuff. It has the feel of a Cabi­net un­der­sec­re­tary hag­gling with a con­trac­tor or a state gover­nor drum­ming up busi­ness on a Cen­tral Asian trade mis­sion.

Pres­i­dents don’t nor­mally do such things. It shrinks them. But then again, Trump is not yet pres­i­dent. And the point here is less the sub­stance than the sym­bol­ism.

The Car­rier coup was meant to demon­strate the kind of con­cern for the work­ing man that gave Trump the Rust Belt vic­to­ries that car­ried him to the pres­i­dency. The Ja­panese SoftBank an­nounce­ment was a down pay­ment on his prom­ise to be the “the great­est jobs pres­i­dent that God ever cre­ated.” And Boe­ing was an os­ten­ta­tious dec­la­ra­tion that he would be the zeal­ous guardian of govern­ment spend­ing that you would ex­pect from a cru­sad­ing out­sider.

What ap­pears as ran­dom Trumpian im­pul­sive­ness has a logic to it. It’s a con­tin­u­a­tion of the cam­paign. Trump is acutely sen­si­tive to his le­git­i­macy prob­lem, as he showed in his tweet claim­ing to have ac­tu­ally won the pop­u­lar vote, de­spite trail­ing sig­nif­i­cantly in the of­fi­cial count.

The mini-in­ter­ven­tions are work­ing, but there’s a risk for Trump in so per­son­al­iz­ing his com­ing pres­i­dency. It’s a tech­nique bor­rowed from Third World strong­men who spe­cial­ize in demon­strat­ing their per­sonal con­nec­tion to the or­di­nary cit­i­zen. In a gen­uine democ­racy, how­ever, the en­durance of any po­lit­i­cal sup­port de­pends on the larger suc­cess of the coun­try. And that doesn’t come from Car­rier-size fixes. It comes from pol­icy — pol­icy that fun­da­men­tally changes the struc­tures and al­ters the tra­jec­tory of the na­tion.

“I alone can fix it,” Trump ring­ingly de­clared in his con­ven­tion speech. In­deed, alone he can do Car­rier and SoftBank and Boe­ing. But ul­ti­mately he must de­liver on tax re­form, health care, eco­nomic growth and na­tion­wide job cre­ation. That re­quires Congress.

The 115th is Repub­li­can and ready to push through the leg­is­la­tion that gives life to the prom­ises. On his part, Trump needs to avoid need­less con­flict. The Repub­li­can lead­er­ship has al­ready sig­naled strong op­po­si­tion on some is­sues, such as tar­iffs for job ex­porters. Nonethe­less, there is enough com­mon ground be­tween Trump and his con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity to have an enor­mously pro­duc­tive 2017. The chal­lenge will be to stay within the bounds of the GOP con­sen­sus.

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