Monday, August 7, 2017

Outside In

There’s a reason a lot of politicians and presidential hopefuls campaign as Washington “outsiders” who, if elected, will “shake things up” and thereby make everything better: it sounds good.  Washington is broken, corrupt, stagnant, mired in the swamp and it takes guts to go in and try to fix it, so give the outsider a chance.

And it does have a certain populist appeal.  But there are two big obstacles to accomplishing that.  First, you have to win.  And second, you have to get the people you’re trying to shake up to go along with you, because one person railing against the establishment only works in Frank Capra and “Karate Kid” movies.  Even then, the outsider was charming and likeable.

Trump campaigned as an outsider and won.  But now he’s got to deliver, and he can’t.  It’s not because all of the forces he railed against are plotting against him.  It’s because he hasn’t got the competence or the people skills to make good on them.

Throughout our history we’ve had presidents who have campaigned as outsiders vowing to clean up the mess.  Within living memory they’ve ranged from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan.  They were very different from each other and were diametrically opposed on many issues, but one thing they learned pretty quickly was that they had to hire good insider people and build coalitions with a fair amount of quid pro quo in order to get anything done.  They also had the benefit of being governors in states where they too were outliers — Carter a liberal Democrat from Georgia (well, liberal for Georgia) and Reagan a hard-core conservative from California — and therefore knew something about working with people who didn’t necessarily have their agenda at heart.

But Trump, with no governing experience and the attitude that compromise and coalitions is for losers, came in determined to make it done His Way.  That might work if you’re charming and competent and have the wisdom to accept the occasional defeat.  But he lacks those capacities on breathtaking levels.  So instead of being a Frank Capra hero, he’s more like the scary dude outside the convenience store who yells at the clouds, which is why they keep him outside.