January 30, 2021

The “ISM” That Bears His Name.

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below


Generally, isms are reserved for definable and generally coherent movements, such as Conservatism, Liberalism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Consumerism, and on and on.

Distinctive doctrines or theories also rate their own “isms,” such as Capitalism, Marxism, Socialism, or Communism.  Some dictionaries also define ism’s as “oppressive and especially discriminatory attitudes or beliefs” such as Racism, Fascism, anti-Semitism, Nazism, or, let’s be honest, Birtherism.

Trumpism, however, really doesn’t fit comfortably into any of these categories. It is anything but a coherent movement, and it encompasses no particular distinctive doctrine or belief, other than political jargon such as “Putting America First” and “Make America Great Again.” The Trump-ism suffix really encompasses the behavior and decorum (or lack thereof) that has defined the former President. It also encompasses the steadfast and unshakeable loyalty of those who stand by him and support him no matter what; seditious rallies be damned.

Make no mistake about it, however, Trumpism has been, and is, a powerful phenomenon with the likelihood of influencing history for many years to come. It is characterized by a near-total reliance on one man’s instinct in formulating policy, rather than a deliberative process involving well-informed professionals, and well-documented historical perspective. That is not to suggest that informed judgment always yields desired results; but rather that the absence of such process will, far more often than not, produce undesirable ends.

Yes, the pros get it wrong sometimes, and, yes, great instincts are a great asset. But reliance on instinct over process and informed judgment are, over time, almost certainly a fool’s errand—especially when those instincts consistently leave so much to be desired.

The former president’s instinct to deal personally with authoritarian regimes and strongmen, will keep historians writing for years to come. When asked in Helsinki about US intelligence chief Dan Coats’ assertion that it was Putin’s Russia that interfered in the 2016 election, Trump’s instinct was to ask Putin about it and to accept his word when the Russian averred it wasn’t him or Russia that interfered.  “I don’t know why it would be (Russia),” Trump opined to the press. The White House press folks quickly jumped in to say that Trump misspoke and he really meant to say, he didn’t know why it wouldn’t be Russia.

Or when asked about Saudi Arabia’s planning and carrying out of the grisly murder of  Washington Post journalist and royal family critic, Jamal Khashoggi, Trump was predictably transactional and instinctively dismissive, noting that Saudi Arabia is an important trading partner with the United States. “I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time, all money, all jobs, buying equipment (sic). I’m not like a fool that says, We don’t want to do business with them. And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.” But what about blatant saw-him-up-into-little-pieces murder? “The middle east is a vicious place,” Trump demurred.

Then there was the abandonment of the Kurds, our allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria. While we conducted the air war against ISIS, our allies, the Kurds, did the hard-scrabble ground fighting in which they lost 11,000 men and women. Because of the Kurds, our casualties were kept to a minimum; six men lost. However, all it took was one telephone call from Turkey’s anti-Kurd strong man, Tayyip Erdogan, and Trump turned his back and abandoned our Kurdish allies. He did it abruptly and, in the opinion of this writer, shamefully. History will judge the propriety of that particular instinct.

Relying on instinct, Trump invested a lot of time and credibility in charming North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It was, as Trump liked to say, a real love affair. Well, not so fast. After three widely heralded face-to-face meetings, Kim surprised the world and President Trump last October with a display of new gargantuan, multi-warhead, inter-continental ballistic missiles the likes of which the world has never seen. 

The monster missiles are of no particular use in any future war with South Korea as Kim already has tens of thousands of missiles targeting its neighbor to the south. Everyone in the intelligence community knows the address where the new generation of monster missiles are to be delivered in case of war with the United States. As troubling as the new missiles are, the mobile, eleven-axle mobile missile-launching trucks on which the monster missiles were being paraded are an equaling troubling development. That’s because Kim no longer has to depend on fixed launch pads, which the United States can target. So far, Kim hasn’t tested the new monster missiles he now has in his arsenal. When, and if, he does, the proverbial fat will be in the fire.

Now, to be fair, I believe some of Trump’s instincts will be favorably judged by history. Criminal justice reform was long overdue, and it would have not happened without Trump’s support. Provisions of Trump’s tax reform that repatriated trillions of corporate dollars held overseas was a good thing. So was moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, and so was rejecting a treaty that gave Iran a glide path to nuclear arms development.

History, however, will not treat Trumpism as a highwater mark in American history. Far from it. With Trumpism, the truth has become the lowest coin of the political realm. Not that lying is a new phenomenon in politics; it’s just that chronic prevarication was never a hallmark of the Oval Office. With Trumpism, the truth has no value compared to an outrageous self-serving falsehood. Trump seemed to live by the old saw that a good lie can travel halfway around the world before truth can get its pants on. Lying is de rigueur with Trumpism, as truth is regularly jettisoned in the political moment’s interest.

Finally, crude, over-the-top insults and vicious attacks leveled against those who oppose or criticize have informed a generation of current and wannabe politicians. The practice has been made acceptable and routine and it will sully American political discourse for years to come.

Trumpism looms large at a time when so many Americans are bereft of real news and, instead, seek to affirm rather than inform their thinking. Trumpism will be with us for a long time, and that is not a good thing. It is certain to find new political practitioners who are less crude and a lot smarter, and that will be a very bad thing.


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15 responses to “The “ISM” That Bears His Name.”

  1. Michael Gong says:

    Please explain to me the difference between the “seditious rally”, that Trump called for on 1/6, and an outright act of treason. The “rallyers” were armed, dangerous and attempting to overthrow the seat of the US government by violent force. Isn’t that the very definition of treason? Isn’t that what we accused Communism of trying to incite? And these rallyers were actually doing it before our very eyes. Yet, from what I can tell, none of these traitors have been charged with anything more serious than spitting on the sidewalk. And what is the usual penalty for such acts of treason? To paraphrase that great statesman, Chris Christie, if that isn’t treason, what is?

  2. Janice Marcus says:

    When are you going to stop talking about Trump? I personally would like to here what you think of the 30+ EO’s That our new “Dear Leader” has signed. I use that Term because Biden himself said that using EO‘s is what dictators do.
    I would also like an essay on the phenomenon of sore winners. It’s interesting to me that for four years I was afraid to wear a Maga hat, I was afraid that I would be physically harmed. Now all of a sudden Trump supporters are this evil bunch of violent criminals. And why not toss in some thing about censorship. That’s a hot topic! You’ll have to dig outside your comfort zone for that one, because in your world there’s no such thing.
    I would also be interested in hearing about the corruption on Wall Street and how it’s rigged for the elites. We don’t have to agree Hal, but to not talk about these important issues, it’s just sad to me.

  3. DK says:

    I cannot begin to express how disappointed I am with the narrow mindedness of your arguments. As someone who supports Trump’s policies, I feel both condescended to and personally offended when you categorize me as a closet fascist and racist. I am sure that others do too, but don’t have the guts to stand up and be counted. If your goal is to make smart arguments to persuade others, this is not the way to do it.

    Perhaps you should do some research on who Trump proponents are and what they believe, before you classify 1/2 of the population of America as dumb, racist, hicks. America First has never been about racism or nativism as you interpret it. It is about approaching issues with our citizens well being as a top priority. Coming into office by signing executive orders that only negatively impact working people in America is the exact opposite. Ask the Trump voters working on the pipeline, the low wage workers who are impacted by uncontrolled immigration, the citizens of Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland (not ANTIFA first), the manufacturing plant workers who’s jobs are being eliminated by a country that is not our friend, what America first is and you will get a proper answer. Trump improved their lives dramatically by doing what he said he was going to do.

    BTW, perhaps you should throw Trump some credit for coming up with vaccines in record time. Perhaps you should think about the tens of thousands of people who have died because Trump hatred required the destruction of the only effective treatment of COVID. Hydrochloriquine worked around the world, but god forbid Trump mentions it. Elitism killed! CNN killed.

    There has never been a Presidency starting out as liberal as this one. Perhaps it is time to turn off CNN, shred The NY Times, and start going to the source materials for information.

    On a side note, there is great irony in your comments regarding Putin. The facts turn out to show that Putin told Trump the truth. Our intelligence agencies tried to orchestrate a coup concocted by Hillary Clinton.

    Trump is an ass, but he spent three years defending himself as the Democrats tried to remove him. I imagine that if Trump and his supporters believe the Democrats had been willing to do anything and everything they could to remove him, it would not be unreasonable to assume that means rigging an election is not out of the question. It is certainly easier then impeachment on bogus charges.

  4. BLB says:

    I totally agree with Janice!! And I was thinking the same thing as I read your essay. Trump is gone! Enough!! Let’s move on to CURRENT events and the 40+ Executive Orders signed in 10 days…. the most ever by a President in that period of time. That is certainly newsworthy and something to write about. Those of us trying to understand why the new administration campaigned (sort of) on centrism and is implementing the opposite, world enjoy hearing an opinion on that.
    I might add, I hope all the never-Trumpers and those that hated Trump so much that they voted “for” Biden are happy with his Executive Actions so far. Far from what he campaigned on. We’ll see where we find ourselves in the next two years. I find it very scary.

  5. Response to DK and Janice Marcus:
    You impute to this week’s essay criticisms of Trump supporters that the essay never makes. While the essay makes reference to Trump’s steadfast supporters, the descriptions alleged are yours, not mine.

  6. BLB says:

    P.S. Cheers to DK…. well stated..

  7. Prover Stephen E. says:

    Phenomenal essay.
    I am pleased you addressed Janice and her less proud initials only contributors with their fantasized imputations
    concerning today’s blog. This week I will not respond to these contributors. For now I give up. Their defensive, paranoiac rants are revelatory and speak for themselves. Whether or not you choose to speak about Trump I do not doubt he will remain in our discourse for some time to come.

  8. evc says:

    I think anyone still “hung up” on Trump needs to see a psychiatrist. Indeed there is so much to write about our new administration and the damage they have done in record time. We have people in the White House standing behind a President who doesn’t even know what he is signing. Likewise he doesn’t know what he is reading off the prompters that someone else wrote. “Come on man” lets hear what the future holds for all citizens of the USA. That is what’s important today.

  9. When are liberals going to stop bashing Trump and wasting time on another impeachment when Trump has already left the office? Facing 2 more years of useless hearings by the Democrats, and you are trying to unify America too?
    Now we have BLM nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. A radical, anitifa group who has done nothing to improve the lives of black people, but certainly did a lot of looting and rioting.
    Recognize Trump for his good deeds, like destroying ISIS, blockading Iran and tearing up a worthless Obama/Kerry treaty that had NO inspections, building a wall with Mexico, thus closing our borders to thousands of illegal immigrants trying to come to America for free housing, free medical care, free food. Trump had four other Arab countries make peace with Israel and moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. Until the pandemic, our unemployment rate was the lowest in 50 years. Trump pulled us almost entirely from Afghanistan and no new wars began. He neutralized the leader of North Korea, who Obama was afraid to confront.
    Biden is already killing thousands of jobs for the Keystone
    Pipeline. We must finish the wall with Mexico, keeping out possible Covid carriers, keep out guns, and keep out drugs.

  10. LK says:

    Hmmm. Just to be accurate: Joe Biden has issued thus far 24 executive orders. Over the course of his four year presidency Donald Trump issued 220 EOs. Over 8 years Obama issued 276. Reagan: 381. Nixon: 346. Janice, let’s not start throwing the D word around without some context.. For completeness, see https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/statistics/data/executive-orders.

  11. LK says:

    “ Perhaps it is time to turn off CNN, shred The NY Times, and start going to the source materials for information.”

    DK: what might those source materials be?

  12. Robert a borns says:

    You write wonderful well thought out well researched essays and have a large admiring group of regular readers. But your continuing to focus on trump is a waste of your talent and skills. With a new president and party running the senate it’s time to change your focus. Our country has so many many problems to be debated and dealt with that you could write 24/7 columns and barely scratch the surface. I believe your readers would learn a lot if you would attack the national state and local current leaders with the same vigor you used to attack trump and his administration. And it’s not just politics that need addressing. It’s things like equity v equality, the collapse of the current school students learning, drugs destroying our people, spreading anti Jewish anti Israel activity ,crime,the overspending of government, etc etc etc.

  13. JB says:

    Ignoring Trump will not make him disappear.
    That’s like saying if the world pretends ideas don’t exist they will be gone, Thats really scary
    Thank you fir your intelligent thoughts

  14. Mike says:


    No need for me to pile on. After I read your essay yesterday I decided to invoke the 24 hour rule before responding.

    Now, having waited the requisite amount of time, I get to write a much shorter response because several of the folks have articulated my thoughts.

    But first, so that there is some context, LK embarrasses himself by comparing the number of executive orders issued by Biden in his first 10 days to the total number of executive orders issued by our previous presidents. What LK overlooks is that in his first 10 days, Biden has issued more executive orders than Clinton, Bush Obama and Trump combined did in their first ten days

    And make no mistake about it several of these EO’s are highly consequential. Shutting down the keystone pipeline or eliminating the drilling of oil on federal lands will cost thousands of great paying jobs, surrender our energy independence and help our good friends, Iran and Russia. Allowing transgender athletes to compete against females will obliterate the Title Nine protections and over the years potentially destroy access to scholarships for thousands of female athletes. Opening our borders will encourage hundreds of thousands immigrants to come to America. And you have no problem with this in the era of a pandemic?

    The list goes on and on but I won’t. Your essays could address issues much more consequential than Trumpiam. With that thought in mind may I suggest that you consider taking a hiatus until the impact of TDS Trumo Derangement Syndrome passes or at least subsides a bit.

  15. Marc says:

    DK and Goldfine, I like the way you guys talk. Stop with the Trump crap. He’s gone and won’t be back. No one is voting for an 80 plus year old for presidency. Anyway, let’s talk about the insane group still in power, like Pelosi and Schumer. She cracks me up!!!!. She says take the walls down on the boarder, but wants to install permanent walls around the Capitol. Someone should inform her that WE own that building. Tell her to go home and eat her 18.00 ice cream in her $10 mil. walled home. Oh yeah and cancel the Keystone pipe line. For what god forsaken reason. Just because it was Trump’s vision to get it done. What a bunch of vindictive idiots. If they were in the real business world they wouldn’t last 5 minutes. One thing I learned in business, never be vindictive it won’t turn out well and it takes too much time away from actually being productive. Oh yeah, there is a novel term for the Democrats – being productive. Just waste time impeaching a man that is no longer the president. The Chinese and Russians are getting a real side show. What a bunch of clowns.

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