A non-ide­o­log­i­cal pres­i­dent

Trump’s Syria about-face was prompted by alarm­ing news of atroc­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By R. Em­mett Tyrrell Jr. R. Em­mett Tyrrell Jr. is edi­tor in chief of The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor. He is au­thor of “The Death of Lib­er­al­ism,” pub­lished by Thomas Nel­son Inc.

It looks like for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Su­san Rice will get a re­prieve. With all the hul­la­baloo from last week’s mil­i­tary ac­tion by Pres­i­dent Trump in Syria’s — do we call it Syria’s civil war or a mas­sacre? — it now ap­pears Ms. Rice’s mis­han­dling of surveil­lance is go­ing to sub­side from the head­lines tem­po­rar­ily. Well, her mis­han­dling of surveil­lance on the Trump team can wait. What Mr. Trump did last week in pub­lic was his­toric. He changed his mind.

How many pres­i­dents change their minds in pub­lic? More­over, how many have changed their minds for the good? Up un­til last week neo­cons were snick­er­ing at the pres­i­dent be­cause of his irenic state­ments about us­ing force in for­eign pol­icy. They called him an “iso­la­tion­ist.” Voices on the left heard his boasts about our un­sur­passed mil­i­tary power and feared he was a hawk. What he showed late last week when he or­dered a cruise missile at­tack on the mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties of the Syr­ian butcher, Bashar Assad, was a non­ide­o­logue in ac­tion. When cir­cum­stances change, Mr. Trump will change. What he demon­strated last week is that he is not afraid to act.

Un­like for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama, he does not draw lines in the sand and then for­get about his lines when he has been caught up in his own blus­ter. Tyrants who make threats against the United States ought to re­mem­ber the pic­tures of be­fore and after the U.S. at­tack on Mr. Assad’s air force. Pos­si­bly, the smok­ing hulks ly­ing in their gut­ted bunkers were the same at­tack jets that had dropped can­is­ters of sarin gas on the de­fense­less cit­i­zens of Khan Sheikhoun just days be­fore.

The lan­guage Mr. Trump used to ex­plain his change of mind was quite elo­quent. “Assad choked out the lives of help­less men, women, and chil­dren. It was a slow, bru­tal death for so many,” the pres­i­dent said to the na­tion. “No child of God should ever suf­fer such hor­ror.” Yes, he said “no child of God.” The never-Trumpians should think of these words the next time they start jib­ber­ing about our play­boy pres­i­dent.

Yes, Mr. Trump changed his mind. It should sur­prise no one who has been scru­ti­niz­ing him the last cou­ple or years. He is an Amer­i­can First, as they say. He likes beer and base­ball and all kinds of com­pe­ti­tion. Check that first item. He does not drink. He has, how­ever, com­peted in sports, busi­ness and the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. He likes to win, but has had his share of losses. After a life of highly suc­cess­ful busi­ness deals, he en­tered pol­i­tics a year or so ago, and brought with him a fresh ap­proach to the great game of pol­i­tics. As to his po­lit­i­cal val­ues, he has demon­strated them in the Cab­i­net he chose and the ini­tia­tives he has pushed in his first days in of­fice. His choice of Neil Gor­such, who now sits on the Supreme Court where the great An­tonin Scalia once sat, demon­strates that the pres­i­dent is pretty much a con­ser­va­tive.

For al­most 50 years, a coun­ter­cul­ture has been grow­ing and spread­ing across the coun­try. One hears lit­tle about it from of­fi­cial Wash­ing­ton and main­stream me­dia, but the con­ser­va­tive coun­ter­cul­ture has been tak­ing root across Amer­ica. We see it in state gov­ern­ment and in lo­cal school boards and lo­cal gov­ern­ment. Now we are see­ing man­i­fes­ta­tions of the coun­ter­cul­ture in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. I saw one such man­i­fes­ta­tion over the week­end in a huge piece about one of pres­i­den­tial strate­gist Steve Ban­non’s fa­vorite writ­ers. He is Neil Howe.

Mr. Howe has been writ­ing for some 40 years. He be­gan his ca­reer as an early man­ag­ing edi­tor of The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor. In 1987 he wrote a fea­tured piece in the Spec­ta­tor’s 20th an­niver­sary is­sue. In it, he out­lined thoughts that he would even­tu­ally re­fine for the book Mr. Ban­non ad­mires, “The Fourth Turn­ing,” pub­lished in 1997. In Mr. Howe’s 1987 magazine piece he wrote, “Twenty years from now we may be so bur­dened by de­mo­graphic and eco­nomic li­a­bil­i­ties that vi­sions of a bet­ter fu­ture will seem prac­ti­cally unattain­able with­out oner­ous and long-term sac­ri­fices in both our pub­lic and pri­vate lives.” In his 1997 book, Mr. Howe writes of gen­er­a­tional cy­cles that Amer­ica has ex­pe­ri­enced since the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. We now have en­tered a cycle of cri­sis he writes that will not end un­til 2025. Given how pre­scient Mr. Howe was when he laid down his 1987 thoughts, I think it would be wise to take him se­ri­ously now.

Mr. Ban­non has, and I would think the pres­i­dent has, too. We have a pop­u­la­tion alert to the prob­lems we face. It is the con­ser­va­tive coun­ter­cul­ture around the coun­try. Last week’s mil­i­tary ac­tion sug­gests con­ser­vatism can be ef­fec­tive with­out be­ing ide­o­log­i­cal.


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