Donald Trump, we’ve often been reminded, lacks a proper respect for “experts.” In one arena after another, he also recklessly refuses to “follow the science.”
Often enough, this has been a serious problem for America under Trump. Then again, consider the curious case of Trump’s surprisingly respectable showing in last week’s slow motion election results.
Most of the expert political analysis and most of the scientific polling had forecast a more thumping repudiation of this ill-mannered president than American voters delivered.
Expertise and science, disobeyed again.
In politics as in war, to be sure, there is no substitute for victory, and victory has eluded Trump (though of course he won’t go quietly, or with dignity).
But merely by performing well enough to help Republicans apparently keep majority control of the Senate and hold or even improve their minority position in the House, Trump may have helped prevent the sort of rushed enactment of a sweeping woke “new deal” agenda that has been filling the dreams of leftists and the nightmares of grown-ups of all ages.
And there’s another sense in which this may be a rare case where coming close counts for something. Trump is on track to win, in defeat, more Electoral College votes than all but two of the past 10 losing presidential hopefuls — and far more than were carried by the first George Bush and Jimmy Carter, the last two ousted incumbents.
Joe Biden, as has been widely noted, easily received the most popular votes of any presidential candidate in history last week. Trump easily got the second most in history.
To have done that well despite a relentless, unprecedented and nearly universal onslaught of hostility from establishment media these past four years, and even before that, is impressive. To have done it despite impeachment, despite the pandemic, despite the enmity or indifference of many of his own party’s leading voices, and despite his own routinely self-defeating tendencies is simply one of the most uncanny personal performances in the history of American politics.
Trump’s defiance of political gravity even in defeat points anew to the uncomplicated solution to the mystery of the Trump era that bewilders so many, um, experts.
While the bragging, trash-talking, semiliterate tough guy shtick obviously has an enthusiastic core audience, many other Americans among Trump's 70 million voters merely put up with his barbarisms, and only with some difficulty.
What they’re enthusiastic about is Trump as a living, snarling repudiation to America’s smug, know-it-all professional, managerial, academic, bureaucratic urban elite — those self-anointed sophisticates who disdain, as much as anything, Trump’s unembarrassed declarations of love for America and respect for everyday, working-class Americans, with their admiration for their nation’s history, ideals and traditional culture.
Many millions, in short, dislike much about Trump, but dislike even more about his enemies.
And, my goodness, are the experts in turn disappointed with the people. Capturing the in-groupthink perfectly, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote this week that Biden might win, but America would be “the loser” because “there will be no landslide — no overwhelming majority telling Trump and those around him that enough was enough …”
The Washington Post’s George Will added that the insufficiently crushing wave of hatred for Trump was “an outcome the nation needed to avoid.”
And the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman declared that “our long national nightmare is not over” since as president, Biden might actually have to share power with an opposition party.
On and on goes the chorus of lamentation from experts who have been pronouncing landslide-worthy anathemas against Trump for five years, and are indignant at being reminded of what limited influence they actually have.
The reality is that this week’s apparent result is exactly the outcome the nation needed — but did not seem likely to get. It’s the kind of moderate, difference-splitting division of power that frustrates radicals of all stripes and demands — egad — compromise for government to get anything done.
Given the proud peacocks who presume to govern us, gridlock is often underrated. Voters last week contrived to at once reject Donald Trump while also humbling and hobbling those delirious with hatred of Trump and drunk with admiration of their own virtue.
America needed to jettison this president — his coarseness, his cruelty, his dishonesty, his addiction to strife. But it needed to do it without endorsing and empowering the leftist fanaticism that threatens to stampede a weary Joe Biden into unaffordable expansions of government largesse and power, and imprudent remodelings of constitutional structures. The results seem likely to both require and reinforce Biden’s moderate impulses.
The road ahead for America will be treacherous and difficult. But this election’s results will not be the reason why.
D.J. Tice is at Doug.Tice@startribune.com.