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Presidents are not in charge of everything in the culture
Donald Trump's political opponents need to be disciplined in their arguments against him.
After voting against Donald Trump in 2016, I voted for him in 2020 because of his surprisingly conservative record on policy. While Trump's public character was indeed morally abominable - which is the primary reason that I will not vote for him in 2024 - his policy was solid. Trump was, in several areas of policy, a good President. Not surprisingly, David French argues against that position.
Some of French criticisms are correct. Trump did coursen our political culture. Viciously tormenting the widow of a woman who died tragically in 2001 and cheering the destruction of a political enemy's marriage are examples of Trump's deeply morally depraved character. Yes, our political culture was broken before Trump ever ran for office, but he made things significantly worse with the venom that came out of his mouth.
Trump was indeed fiscally irresponsible. The deficit and spending were out of control. Trump is now doubling down on fiscal irresponsibility by demonizing even minor attempts to reform government entitlement programs that, without intervention, will become insolvent.
Some of the criticisms are wrong. French dismisses Trump's tax cuts, instead giving credit to Paul Ryan. But the fact is that Trump signed the cuts into law. If Hillary Clinton had won the election those tax cuts would never have become law. Obviously Trump should get credit for the tax cuts that would never have become law if a Democrat was President.
Trump did indeed damage the Republican Party. He turned off voters in the middle with his combative style and nasty rhetoric, and he motivated Democrats to fight against him even harder. Now, we need to be clear: It is good to fight back. Politics is necessarily adversarial. For too long, Democrats understood that while Republicans did not. But Trump's personal vindictiveness, total lack of professionalism and needless trolling hurt both him and the party. Had Trump been more disciplined, he would likely have been re-elected.
What Presidents cannot do - no matter what promises they make on the campaign trail - is impact cultural trends that are out of the control of the political class. Blaming any President for increases in depression and suicide is absurd. Crime is a state and local problem, not a federal problem. The President can do very little about crime, despite Trump's promises to the contrary in 2016. French has been active in the public square for a long time and is well-read enough to know this, but blames Trump for it anyway.
Blaming Trump for things like the decline in the marriage rate, an increase in depression and an increase in drug overdoses is also bogus. French knows this. There are cultural trends the President does not have and should not have the power to fix. French himself has argued that these cultural trends are due to a decline in religious faith and cannot be fixed by government, but includes them as "evidence" that Trump was a bad President anyway.
There are many bad things about Donald Trump. It does not lend credibility to those pointing out those things when they overstate their case. One of Trump's biggest advantages in how his critics overreact to him and make arguments that are either counterfactual or logically unsound. At least in the primary, the best argument is that we need the adults back in charge. We need to return to Trump’s good policies without Trump's toxic persona. If we are to prevent Trump from returning to the White House, we need to be disciplined in our arguments against him.
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