The Irreverent Contractor
During the 2016 Presidential campaign, commentators on the Right were conflicted. Was Donald Trump an interloper, a renegade New York liberal adopting conservative policy themes only because he had decided to run as a Republican? In the past he had supported New York and national Democrats, even his current opponents, the Clintons, donating money and hob-nobbing at their dinners. Did he have any core principles at all?
One clue, too lightly considered by the political literati, was his blunt disregard of political decorum. The southern border, he avowed, was letting in ‘rapists’ and ‘murderers’. We need to build a Wall to stop them. This immediately got Mr Trump branded a ‘racist’ by vested interests in the unrestricted flow of illegal aliens (both Left and Right); you don’t say such things! Then The Donald’s erstwhile buddy from New York, Mrs Clinton, floundering in her email scandal, became ‘Crooked Hillary’, and deserved to be ‘locked up’; candidates shouldn’t use such blunt language! She quickly denounced him in turn as a loose cannon, unfit for the office, and then began to claim he was in cahoots with the Russians (this of course was the tip of a sinister iceberg launched by the Obama administration, but that’s another story).
Candidate Trump attacked our lopsided and unfair trade with China, and the failure of NATO nations to live up to their financial obligations under the treaty. Other candidates, all professional politicians, pussy-footed around these issues. Donald Trump spoke his mind, and garnished his debate appearances with nicknames for his opponents, ‘Lyin’ Ted’, ‘Little Marco’, ‘Low-Energy Jeb’. Clearly this approach resonated with Americans who were tired of being condescended to by the politically-correct Left and the timid Right, hungry for straight talk and blunt speech.
There was already a hint of his appeal, of course, in his self-portrayal as no-nonsense boss on his TV show ‘The Apprentice’. I had never watched it, so was unprepared for his bravado and self-confidence. But I realized quickly enough, once I was led to his 2005 testimony in the Senate on the UN Building boondoggle (see ‘Trumped by The Trump’, in August 2016), that we were not dealing with an equivocator. This was a man used to working in the real world, creating businesses and buildings, a man who understood the exigencies of the practical life, how to deal with people at all levels of experience and power, from carpenters and union bosses to financiers and CEOs.
It bothered me at first that Mr Trump was confident but unschooled in the world of statecraft. He knew the trades, and understood Trade, but he did not know what the Nuclear Triad was. Hadn’t he read the papers all during the Cold War? I should not have worried: he is a quick study, and he is not afraid of being corrected. That again, is the sign of a man of the world, a doer not a talker.
Pundits call Mr Trump a ‘Pragmatist’. It’s a word I don’t care for, because it sounds like a philosophical, or worse, an ideological, position, contrary to its origins. He is at best a problem solver, a man who looks at the dilemma of the moment and figures out a way to address it. Not necessarily the only, or best, way, but a way forward. It is the modus operandi of the good general, or the good contractor. Listen to the UN testimony: he’s a good contractor.