Opinion

Trump's first 100 days were not a failure. Far from it.

He didn't usher in apocalyptic disaster — just a new kind of politics

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of affinity for President Trump, you ought to agree that in his first 100 days, he has proven his harshest critics almost ludicrously wrong.

In a culture where only panic and outrage can reliably break through the white noise of online blather and round-the-clock pseudo-news, intelligent people caught pants down by Trump's victory and tremendous departure from political business as usual had fair reason to spin out nightmarish warnings as far as they could go. But for now, at least, Trump has not only defied the diatribes; he has distinguished his administration by elevating a truly new — and truly unforeseen — political group to national preeminence: outsider elite liberals.

For all the similarities to Davos Men of yore, we haven't seen anything quite like the Kushner wing in the White House. And with all the fur flying around Trump's ostensibly reactionary rebellion, we're apt to miss the real revolution unfolding in our midst.

For America's insurgent nationalists, the rise of the Kushner wing might yet qualify as a reckless catastrophe brought on by a fatuous and easily flattered Trump. But this would be wrong, too. Just as Trump has "failed" to impose fascist rule and "failed" to destroy the economy, he has also "failed" to double down on an initial populist approach, associated with Stephen Bannon, that paid too few early dividends. Yes, Trump genuinely upset a lot of patriotic Americans. Then, from his internet policy to his Syria policy to his policy on White House personnel, he also upset a fair swath of his base. Yet, at every turn, these first 100 days were nothing close to the world-historical disaster his critics predicted. Far from it. It was just politics.

For now, the task of advancing Trump's politics has passed in unprecedented measure to the president's trusted circle of the rarest of birds: liberal elites who would never have gotten a seat at the table in any Clinton or Obama administration of elite liberals. Goldman Sachs haters (or fans) might object that the company's alums are never more than a power lunch away from political power in America. But taken as the unit they now are, the configuration of New York non-conservatives clustered around Trump — despite being so well-established in global economic, financial, and cultural circles — is uniquely green on the scene in Washington. And with Trump clearly unwilling to spend his next 100 days getting shot down by court after court, with disapproval numbers to match, the Kushner wing has a historic opportunity to aim liberal governance in a direction Obama never achieved and Clinton would never try.

Caution, No Labelers: We're not talking about your long-prophesied ascendancy of the radical center here. Instead, the degree of improvisational freedom and unaccountability to party correctness that the Kushner wing enjoys is more likely to usher in a strangely Americanized version of parliamentary politics, where ad hoc alliances between uneasy cosmopolitan elites and prickly constitutional nationalists address a few intolerably persistent problems and punt indefinitely on once-standard fights over traditional Republican and Democratic hobby horses. What Americans want is glaring: abroad, a definitive finish to our multi-generational conflicts, and an end to existential nuclear peril before it starts; at home, a hard and high baseline of social service guarantees paired with a sustained strategic brake on runaway coastal urbanization (and the socioeconomic drain it exacts on the interior).

Will this uncanny revolution actually work? We can't know in advance, which is why all this 100 days hype rings so hollow. But we do know Trump's less militant voters are broadly unfazed by its first stirrings, indicating in polls that they're fine with revising expectations so long as the vector of Trump's unorthodox presidency stays aimed in a promising direction.

It's been a predictably turbulent several months for this White House. And even if the worst predictions fell predictably flat, crunch time for the administration is still ahead. In this political season of strange fortune, America's fate is poised to turn on the Kushner wing's uncanny trump card.

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