Trump’s challenge to official Washington
The smug establishment still doesn’t get what’s happening
The bipartisan Washington elite still cannot grasp the Donald Trump phenomenon. How can someone possibly succeed in politics by telling grassroots America that he understands their anxieties and intends to do something about them? The Beltway crowd has for years conditioned the country to expect lofty platitudes followed by failure and inaction.
When the presumptive Republican nominee for president speaks, large constituencies hear a straightforward message. Then official Washington — in all of its contempt for voters — anatomizes and reads between the lines until they have grossly distorted his words.
For example, Mr. Trump’s policy of “America First” says that he will place U.S. interests at the top of the agenda when he negotiates with his contemporaries on the world stage. The D.C. establishment runs to the history books and find similarities with the isolationists of the 1930s. So, Mr. Trump must be an isolationist, right?
Wrong. Mr. Trump is telling hardworking Americans that he will fight for their jobs and prosperity in trade deals and other international agreements. He appreciates their frustration with political figures who appear more concerned about accommodating multinational grievances than the future of their own countrymen.
For years, free-trade deals have been anything but free. They are complex documents that run thousands of pages long and pick winners and losers. The U.S. citizenry believes that they are too often the losers. They feel that they are the patsies in global economic affairs that require the United States to open its markets to foreign competitors while foreign markets remain largely sealed.
As a businessman, Mr. Trump recognizes that everyone involved must benefit under such accords. Americans become excited by the prospect of a leader who will actually represent their concerns and needs.
He talks about building a wall at the border with Mexico, which enrages the D.C. aristocracy. It’s impractical, cruel and outrageous, they say. Meanwhile, they have only blown hot air about fixing immigration for 20 years and have allowed the problem to fester into nearly uncontrollable proportions.
The grassroots intuitively know that a nation governed by laws cannot exist with an open southern border where illegal workers, drug runners and terrorists walk across with relative ease. They know that a nation of laws must enforce all of its laws without prejudice if it is to survive.
Mr. Trump talks about the troubles associated with radical Islam, including Muslim immigration. They witness the massacres in Paris, Brussels and now Orlando. They see nearly unregulated European borders and the mass sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. Americans sense that something is wrong, and that their leaders don’t confront it. America is looking like Europe.
Immigration is a very sensitive and delicate topic in the United States because it requires balancing core American humanitarian concerns with very real existential dangers. Mr. Trump has clearly touched a nerve with voters.
Americans don’t hate Muslims. They recognize that they have nothing to fear from much of the Muslim community.
Neither are they blind. They’ve seen the beheadings and the genocide of religious minorities in the Middle East and Africa, as well as the savagery in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Paris, Brussels, London, San Bernardino and Fort Hood.
The current commander in chief responds by refusing to acknowledge that Islam plays any role in the threat from Islamic terror. The White House has prohibited talk of radical jihad, even going so far as to edit official transcripts and recordings. It has instead become “workplace violence” and “man-caused disasters.” Orlando is “terror” and “hate,” but not jihadist or Islamic terror.
“What exactly would using this label accomplish?” he asks.
Americans know that the approach isn’t honest and it’s not working. Orlando proves it, again.
Mr. Trump will, at a minimum, engender a discussion about the most pressing national security matter of our time. Orlando makes it more urgent.
Sometimes he stumbles into areas he shouldn’t, as with his criticism of a judge presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University.
Mr. Trump speaks bluntly and often abrasively when he addresses the issues, but he hears the grassroots when they say they are sick and tired of political correctness and the inability to accomplish anything.
Congress can’t even pass a budget. Does anyone honestly believe that Washington’s continued “kick the can down the road” approach will return the republic to greatness anytime soon?
The smug culture of polite talk and ineffectiveness has not solved many of the problems that plague the United States. The voters have concluded that an honest broker and aggressive personality might finally get something done in Washington.
President Obama and the left built the foundation for the Trump campaign by their intolerance. By trashing every Republican as an intolerant, racist warmonger, they removed all opportunity for a thoughtful discussion on national security. Does anyone doubt that Hillary Clinton would not have deployed the same attacks if any of the other candidates had won the nomination?
The political establishment should not feign so much indignation over the rise of Donald Trump, especially when it created the conditions necessary for his success. Pete Hoekstra is a former chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee.