For any Donald Trump skeptic or critic, like myself, perhaps it's time to take a fresh inventory of where we stand with the 45th president of the United States. There are often opposing forces at play causing one to loathe his presence in the Oval Office one minute, and wonder if there is a method to the madness the next. There is the yin, and there is the yang.
The yin of Donald Trump is the one he presents publicly: The president who is routinely dishonest, dishonorable, immature, erratic, reckless, spoiled and threatening to our legal and governmental institutions and norms. The yin is what his fiercest critics point to and say, “I was right all along.”
The yang of Donald Trump gets less attention, mostly for no one’s fault other than his own. It is the president who seems to get just enough policy victories and international leverage to keep his fiercest supporters crowing that, in fact, they were the ones who were right. “Take that Never Trumpers.”
Both his critics and supporters don’t like accepting that the flip side to Trump exists. But the duality is real and it’s important that each side acknowledge its existence.
The yin is what drove me and others to oppose his presidency. It’s the guy who is ambiguous at best about Nazis in Charlottesville. It’s the president who accuses a U.S. attorney of breaking into his lawyer’s office. The media critic who lashes out at America’s most successful company, Amazon, because the founder also owns The Washington Post.
The yin is the president who is on his golf course seemingly every other day, lining the pockets of his own companies and using his hotels and clubs as swampy influence peddling havens. It is the president who not only doesn’t care about the national debt but openly spurns it as deficits skyrocket; the one whose own staffers speak of him like a toddler to be managed—assuming they, the staffers, haven’t been indicted, resigned or passive-aggressively fired.
The yin is the president you can’t tell your kids about. The one who throws civil norms out the window and inflames national divisions. The one who can make Bill Clinton seem almost prude. From Stormy Daniels to playmates to “grab them by their…” You get the idea.
The yang is getting some things done.
It’s what everyone was thinking after they witnessed the leaders of North Korea and South Korea shake hands last week and call for an end to a seven-decade-long war. “Did… did calling Kim Jong Un ‘rocket man’ and daring him to start World War III… work?” It is the line from Blazing Saddles: “Hold it men, he’s not bluffing!… Listen to him men, he’s just crazy enough to do it!”
The yang of Trump leaves you wondering what you’ve witnessed. Was Secretary Pompeo’s visit part of an actually organized and coherent diplomatic strategy? Or was it a bit of good timing, along with leadership in South Korea pushing hard to end the escalating brinkmanship?
Maybe it’s a bit of it all. Maybe we just have an overly optimistic global audience whose forgotten North Korea’s past teases. Or maybe we can’t fathom the possibility that Trump actually is on the precipice of this type of geopolitical achievement.
And that’s the quandary with President Trump. What exactly is happening, which parts of it are working, and how much credit does he deserve, especially when weighed against all the baggage he brings?
Unemployment is indeed at a low point… but it was cruising in that direction before inauguration. The economy is churning… when the market isn’t reacting in mad swings to Trump statements or tweets on trade. ISIS is on the run and the joint mission in Syria with Great Britain and France seemed to be proportional and correct for the moment. By all accounts, Ambassador Nikki Haley is finally doing what many have wanted done at the United Nations for years.
Taxes were lowered. Conservative justices are being appointed. Obamacare wasn’t repealed but it hasn’t expanded. Regulations are being lifted or slowed giving U.S. companies room to grow. From a conservative point of view, there are things to celebrate.
So, is the yang worth the yin?
Is the tradeoff worth the damage he may cause long term to our politics or our institutions? Is the exhaustion of following his Fox & Friends-induced stream of consciousness for three more years… or seven… worth some quieter results? His supporters, or those who have simply accepted the situation for what it is, said yes a long time ago. There are moments like the Korea summit where his harshest critics should wrestle with the question again.
In the meantime, partisans are constantly harping about wishing a president to succeed even when they disagree with them. Perhaps we just need to wish for Donald Trump to succeed where he can, hope to be surprised more often, and give him credit when it is deserved.
But don’t forget the yin either.