So I don’t actually believe this is true. At least not yet. I look at his manner, his total lack of discipline, his obsession with criticism, the absence of any organizing principles, and the very idea just seems impossible. What explains Trump seems more to do with Faust (as in the bargain) than Machiavelli. There is no plan. He seems constitutionally incapable of telling the truth. And he actually seems to believe that the most qualified people to advise him are his children (and their spouses).
But at some point we need to step back and wonder — is this man a genius? Not in the ordinary, comfortable sense of the term. Not a Yo-yo Ma sense of “genius” — incredibly talented, endlessly decent, the perfect conversationalist. Instead, “genius” in an idiot savant sense of genius. However clumsy, or repulsive, or pathological, a genius in just the ability to see just the right move, even when that move is “obviously the wrong move” according to everyone else.
The examples are endless. Time and time again he made, what the experts called, an outrageous mistake. Again and again, that mistake proved genius. Attacking Republicans for their dependence on rich donors. Calling George Bush’s war the worst mistake, ever. Attacking John McCain, the hallmark of the Republican Party, for his war record. Doubling down on political incorrectness, whenever possible. Floating policy ideas that while appealing (to some), were 10,000x more unlikely than Bernie’s “single-payer health care” — like the wall, or a 35% tariff. Calling Taiwan after the election, so as to further cement the new world order — US+RUSSIA vs. anyone else. Etc.
There’s a whole book to be written on each of these moves. But what unites them all is the almost universal judgment that each was a mistake, and often, predicted to be a fatal mistake. Yet again and again, the prediction was wrong. Again and again, Trump showed us he saw something everyone else missed.
None of this means we should be hopeful or sanguine. The international instability he has already created is terrifying. No medium sized company could afford the shoot-from-the-hip style that is his nature. Neither can the most powerful nation in the world.
But if this is true, then it is at least clear that the Republicans have tons to fear. For now that he is President, Trump’s genius will track something other than the GOP base. It will track instead a much broader America. He will be driven to positions that outrage not just “the Left” but also “the Right.” Yet positions that respond to the real public pressure that he feels.
Healthcare will be the first and most critical test. It has been Republican dogma for almost a decade that national health insurance is verbotten. Not a single Republican voted for Obamacare. Again and again, the Republicans voted to repeal it. And regardless of their town hall rhetoric, what the Republicans meant by the commitment to repeal was the promise to return to a world where everyone has to fend for themselves. They weren’t repealing Obamacare to get us something better. They were repealing Obamacare to exit “the road to serfdom.”
Now Trump is teasing a complete reversal. Yes, we must repeal Obamacare. But there should be “insurance for everyone.” Drug companies will not be coddled anymore. And we’re going to get the “best deal” for America, not just “for the special interests.” Trumpcare won’t be the bronze plan that Obama gave us. Trumpcare will be gold. Why not single-payer health care? Why not Medicare for all? Why not completely incapacitate the political Left, by giving America 10x more than anything Obama ever fought for?
Because this single move could completely reorder American politics today. He’d get (and quiet) the Democrats, and he could certainly bring 75 Republicans in the House along with him. And then would begin a completely new conversation about what these parties should actually stand for, and what the future of American politics should be.
The Right has deluded itself into believing it speaks for America. Yes, it has won the elections. But it has won at the federal level at least only because the system is rigged: Rigged because of gerrymandering. Rigged because we don’t have one person, one vote. Rigged because of the endlessly corrupting influence of money in politics. Rigged because not every American has an equal freedom to vote. That’s not to say the Left is any better at speaking for America. No doubt the Clinton campaign was out of touch. No doubt, as I’ve written, it was completely clueless about the central issue of corruption in 2016.
But the pressures that Tump will feel now are unrelated to that rigged system. They are pressures from all of America. An America that hates Washington. An America that wants to end the corruption that is Washington. An America that would happily celebrate both oxen (the Democrats and the Republicans) being gored. An America that finally wants to feel — not the insecurity of no health care, or of privatized social security—but the security of a future that rejects Dickens.
God is bored. Thus the age of endless surprise. And no doubt, what I’ve described would be an incredible (and improbable) surprise.
But would it be anymore surprising than the fact the 45th President is Donald J. Trump?
And what will we (on the Left) do, if in fact it is true?