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.