Conservative political commentator Laura Ingraham marveled Monday that, just 200 days into his first term, President Donald Trump has accomplished a pretty good bit in spite of “the 24/7 media onslaught against him.” That’s one way of looking at the Trump administration: One man against the world. Climbing a hill, dodging each coming obstacle, striving for success. An underdog battling an unyielding establishment. But I, and a few others with whom I’ve discussed the administration, are beginning to see a different picture. Trump is the presidential equivalent of a rodeo clown. He’s taunting the establishment bull, doing everything he can to make it charge at him as his government quietly makes progress on the other side of the arena. It’s not as idyllic as the underdog scenario– but it gets more done.
This theory isn’t, of course, relegated to my political powwow circles. In fact, some folks on the left began declaring Trump’s tweeting habits and boorish interactions with media a smokescreen months ago (though, even if a few major players on the left believe Trump a master in the art of distraction, far more have proven themselves incredibly willing to be distracted by reacting with outrage to even his smallest gestures).
And earlier this month, The Atlantic made one such pronouncement about Trump in a sort of warning to the leftist faithful: Watch Trump’s circus all you want– but you’re missing the real action behind the scenes.
Atlantic political writer David Graham pointed out:
There is so much attention paid to the chaos in the executive branch that it’s easy to come to believe that Trump is getting nothing whatsoever accomplished. Even for people who don’t support the president’s agenda—especially for them, in fact—it is useful to step back occasionally and take stock of what this presidency is doing to work toward its goals.
Trump’s complaints that the press is ignoring his victories in favor of covering controversies ring hollow. You can’t very well go around setting things on fire and then asking why the press keeps covering the fires. But warnings that the Trump administration is doing X to distract from Y seem misguided for a couple of reasons—one being that they ascribe a greater organization that the White House evinces in any other sphere, and another being that the supposedly distracting stories are often just as catastrophic. But the large-scale disasters do keep attention focused away from what smaller agencies are doing, as Ben Carson acknowledged recently.
“Let me put it this way,” the secretary of housing and urban development told the Washington Examiner. “I’m glad that Trump is drawing all the fire so I can get stuff done.”
Besides painting much of what Trump’s government is accomplishing as he takes heat in the media in a negative light and declaring aspects of the current administration not mired in controversy the real “shadow government,” Graham’s piece is pretty good for what it points out is being accomplished.
The president delivered on a conservative Supreme Court Justice via Neil Gorsuch’s appointment– and it’s extremely likely that there are more to come.
The administration dealt a massive blow to the economically disastrous Paris Climate agreement. And its Environmental Protection Agency has quietly and fastidiously begun dismantling Obama-era environmental regulations, maneuvering toward an ultimate goal of pulling teeth from the Clean Power Plan and 2015 Waters of the United States act which endanger economic security and private property rights for millions of Americans.
Over at the Justice Department things are also rolling in a very different direction than they were just a year ago. While I can’t say that I agree that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ doubling down on civil asset forfeiture laws and obsession with rebooting 1980s era drug war policies are a positive thing for small government advocates, he’s getting stuff done with little outside criticism beyond the protests of civil libertarians.
And that’s where things get a little complicated for Trump’s supporters. Just as his liberal detractors can be easily tricked into shouting about Trump scandals and tweets while missing real policy redirects occurring right under their noses, the president’s conservative supporters risk getting so wrapped up in defending “the man” that they miss moments when the administration deserves fair criticism for stepping away from small government policies.