Following a series of flip-flops by Trump, some in the media have once again engaged in their never-ending search for a “pivot” from the president to the center. But I’m much more inclined to agree with how Steve Benen described what’s going on.
I’ve seen some suggestions that the president is pivoting, changing his positions as part of some kind of White House reboot. I’m afraid that’s probably wishful thinking. Trump isn’t adapting to changing circumstances or shift his agenda to become more popular. He’s just swinging wildly in the dark, making up a haphazard agenda as he goes along.
Chalking this up to some kind of new strategy probably gives Trump and his team too much credit. What we’re witnessing is governing chaos, driven by longstanding ignorance and confusion, led by a clumsy president with few core beliefs to help him navigate.
Benen goes on to point to a similar column from E.J. Dionne, who zeros in on what Trump just said about his chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump said. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
As an aside, Dionne points out that the statement “I didn’t know Steve” is a lie given that the president appeared on his radio show nine times since 2011. It’s almost as if Trump can’t help himself and lying is an addiction. But there is also some truth in what he said. Based on things in his past — like attacks on the Central Park 5 and chronic birtherism — Trump didn’t need any help from Bannon on being racist.
Both Benen and Dionne suggest that the chaos we’re witnessing is a result of the fact that the president has no core beliefs or principles. I agree with that…to a point. But there are a couple of principles that have always been core to Trump. About a year ago, Franklin Foer identified them.
Donald Trump holds one core belief. It’s not limited government. He favored a state takeover of health care before he was against it. Nor is it economic populism. Despite many years of arguing the necessity of taxing the rich, he now wants to slice their rates to bits. Trump has claimed his nonlinear approach to policy is a virtue. Closing deals is what matters in the end, he says, not unbleached allegiance to conviction. But there’s one ideology that he does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny…
Trump wants us to know all about his sex life. He doesn’t regard sex as a private activity. It’s something he broadcasts to demonstrate his dominance, of both women and men. In his view, treating women like meat is a necessary precondition for winning, and winning is all that matters in his world. By winning, Trump means asserting superiority. And since life is a zero-sum game, superiority can only be achieved at someone else’s expense.
Dominance and winning will always be the foundation on which Trump engages with the world. They inform not only his misogyny, but his racism as well.
Those principles account for the fact that there have been no flip-flops or attempts to reign in the racist policies that are consuming the work of Attorney General Sessions or the Department of Homeland Security. I’ve already pointed out how we’re seeing that with Sessions plans to reinvigorate the war on drugs and his rhetoric with regards to undocumented immigrants. As David Nakamura reports, the administration continues to build up a nationwide deportation force.
The Trump administration is quickly identifying ways to assemble the nationwide deportation force that President Trump promised on the campaign trail as he railed against the dangers posed by illegal immigration.
An internal Department of Homeland Security assessment obtained by The Washington Post shows the agency has already found 33,000 more detention beds to house undocumented immigrants, opened discussions with dozens of local police forces that could be empowered with enforcement authority and identified where construction of Trump’s border wall could begin.
The agency also is considering ways to speed up the hiring of hundreds of new Customs and Border Patrol officers, including ending polygraph and physical fitness tests in some cases, according to the documents.
While some see a pivot to the center and others see chaos, the racist policies of this administration demonstrate that the core principles of Donald Trump, which were so vividly on display during the campaign, have not been abandoned. As Jonathan Chait wrote, “His message of tribalism is his most successful and dangerous accomplishment.”