Ross Douthat sums up Trump’s First Year:
“But whatever the offenses may be, the real-world policy effects that Trump’s critics have feared from l’Affaire Russe — an alliance of strongmen, the subordination of American interests to Moscow, the unraveling of NATO — haven’t materialized at all. Trump may desire a détente, but instead we are escalating our proxy war with Russia in Ukraine even as sanctions remain in force and our troops train in Eastern Europe and the Pentagon’s National Security Strategy treats Moscow as a major threat. If Trump is supposed to be advancing Kremlin interests from Washington, the bargain isn’t working, and the Russians might as well just release the pee tape and have done with it.
And what’s true with Russia is true on other fronts. A vast gulf between the things Trump says he wants — which are, indeed, often authoritarian — and the things that actually happen is the essential characteristic of his presidency’s first year.
He promised to bring back waterboarding and worse; he was easily talked out of it. He promised a Muslim ban; a much more modest travel ban is now tied up in the courts. He launched a voter fraud commission, which his critics regarded as a step toward massive vote suppression; it was ineffective and broke up. He keeps threatening to change the libel laws; they aren’t changing, and the anti-Trump press is thriving. NATO and Nafta are both still there; the trade war with China has been postponed; we are not at war with Iran or (yes, I know, yet) with North Korea; the scope of the Russia investigation has only widened since Trump’s hamfisted intervention.
Before Trump took office, it was reasonable to worry that he would fill high offices with cronies, but the real cranks have rarely lasted and many appointments have been reasonable and conventional and even boring. The president is filling the courts with Federalist Society conservatives, not his sister or Ivanka or Newt Gingrich, and his cabinet looks a lot like a generic Republican administration, whose efforts liberals understandably oppose and sometimes deplore, but which are not remotely like the workings of a fascist cabal circa 1935.
And then legislatively, the story of the Trump era so far is failure on every front save tax cuts, an outsourcing of policymaking to Hill Republicans, and a general incompetence that is bringing us yet another government shutdown. The recurrence of these shutdowns is, certainly, a symptom of the republic’s sclerosis — but it is not a Trump-specific problem, and he seems to have made it neither better nor much worse.”
President Trump watches television and tweets. The True Cons are running the administration. They are pushing through their agenda on the Hill. They are stacking the courts with their people. While Donald Trump made all sorts of unorthodox promises during the campaign, it hasn’t translated into policy changes. We’re effectively getting the Ted Cruz presidency.
The Alt-Right isn’t in power. Steve Bannon isn’t even in power anymore. This is a conventional Republican administration doing things that mainstream conservatives have talked about for years: nullifying the Obamacare individual mandate, pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a massive Reaganite corporate tax cut, massive increases in military spending, the Keystone XL and Dakota pipelines, opening up ANWR to oil drilling, etc.
That’s the story of the Trump administration so far. We will see how long this continues. Seeing as how 2018 is an election year, I am expecting a return to the campaign rhetoric.