Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Form and Substance

So much in a world today is about form rather than substance.

On a personal level, how you look, dress or speak often carries much more weight than what you do or who you really are.

In politics, this has been true for a long time. Promoting noble ideas and talking a good game is the rule. Delivering results is the exception rather than the rule.

There is no one that better exemplified form over substance than Barack Obama.

He looked the part. He acted the part. He talked the part. However, he never really got much done. And those things he got done never really met expectations. Form always trumped substance.

It was a lot of talk for eight years with not much to show for it in the end.

The Affordable Care Act was his signature achievement but it destroyed the individual health insurance market in the process and resulted in huge premium increases for everybody else unless they were Medicaid-eligible or qualified for subsidized premiums.

Donald Trump is the exact opposite. He doesn't look, act or talk according to form. We often hear that he does not speak or act like a President should.

In many ways, this is the reason that he won the 2016 election. Trump did not talk like a politician. He said things that others saw and knew to be true. However, no other politician was willing to say it.

Just as clearly, Trump's unwillingness to conform to the expected political norms is why so many in the Washington establishment and the liberal media dislike him. This also seems to explain why they seem unwilling or unable to appreciate the substance of what he has accomplished. If Trump is right, what does that mean about them? Could they have been wrong?

Victor Davis Hanson has written an excellent article with a slightly different slant on what I refer to as the form and substance of politics above. Hanson writes about "When Normality Became Abnormality" at American Greatness.com. It is worth the full read.

His point is that we have been living in a world in which the powerful political elites have been trying to convince us that what is common sense is, in fact, abnormal thinking. He points to this as being the result of a progressive agenda that came to be accepted as conventional assumptions with the Clinton-Bush-Obama-Romney generation. That agenda became an ingrained status quo that could not be questioned even if common sense suggested that what was being sold to us was very much suspect. To do so got you instantly branded a heretic that should be censured or worse.

Hanson frames it this way.

The current normal correctives were denounced as abnormal—as if living in a sovereign state with secure borders, assuming that the law was enforced equally among all Americans, demanding that citizenship was something more than mere residence, and remembering that successful Americans, not their government, built their own businesses and lives is now somehow aberrant or perverse.

What sets Trump so far apart from his predecessors and the Washington elites is he is not worried about form. He is looking at the substance of a problem or issue.  He also has the confidence and courage to not be afraid to challenge that status quo when necessary.

Here are a few examples from the article.

Iran Deal

Everyone knew the Iran deal was a way for the mullahs to buy time and hoard their oil profits, to purchase or steal nuclear technology, to feign moderation, and to trade some hostages for millions in terrorist-seeding cash, and then in a few years spring an announcement that it had the bomb.

No one wished to say that. Trump did. He canceled the flawed deal without a second thought.

Iran is furious, but in a far weaker—and eroding—strategic position with no serious means of escaping devastating sanctions, general impoverishment, and social unrest.

Paris Climate Accord

Everyone realized the Paris Climate Accord was a way for elites to virtue signal their green bona fides while making no adjustments in their global managerial lifestyles—at best. At worst, it was a shake-down both to transfer assets from the industrialized West to the “developing world” and to dull Western competitiveness with ascending rivals like India and China. Not now. Trump withdrew from the agreement, met or exceeded the carbon emissions reductions of the deal anyway, and has never looked back at the flawed convention. The remaining signatories have little response to the U.S. departure, and none at all to de facto American compliance to their own targeted goals.


Rich NATO allies either could not or would not pay their promised defense commitments to the alliance. To embarrass them into doing so was seen as heretical. No more.

Trump jawboned and ranted about the asymmetries. And more nations are increasing rather than decreasing their defense budgets. The private consensus is that the NATO allies knew all along that they were exactly what Barack Obama once called “free riders” and justified that subsidization by ankle-biting the foreign policies of the United States—as if an uncouth America was lucky to underwrite such principled members. Again, no more fantasies.


China was fated to rule the world. Period. Whining about its systematic commercial cheating was supposedly merely delaying the inevitable or would have bad repercussions later on. Progressives knew the Communists put tens of thousands of people in camps, rounded up Muslims, and destroyed civil liberties, and yet in “woke” fashion tip-toed around criticizing the Other. Trump then destroyed the mirage of China as a Westernizing aspirant to the family of nations. In a protracted tariff struggle, there are lots of countries in Asia that could produce cheap goods as readily as China, but far fewer countries like the United States that have money to be siphoned off in mercantilist trade deals, or the technology to steal, or the preferred homes and universities in which to invest.


Open borders were our unspoken future. The best of the Chamber of Commerce Republicans felt that millions of illegal aliens might eventually break faith with the progressive party of entitlements; the worst of the open borders lot argued that cheap labor was more important than sovereignty and certainly more in their interests than any worry over the poor working classes of their own country. And so Republicans for the last 40 years joined progressives in ensuring that illegal immigration was mostly not measured, meritocratic, diverse, or lawful, but instead a means to serve a number of political agendas.

Most Americans demurred, but kept silent given the barrage of “racist,” “xenophobe,” and “nativist” cries that met any measured objection. Not so much now. Few any longer claim that the southern border is not being overrun, much less that allowing a non-diverse million illegal aliens in six months to flood into the United States without audit is proof that “diversity is our strength.”

I don't know how many times I have heard political pundits talk about issues like those above and add a sentence or two about about Trump's position on the issue that includes the following--- "Trump can't do that." "He just doesn't understand." "It won't work."

Somehow he has gone ahead with it, the world did not end and it has improved the position of the United States in the process.

It is quite remarkable when you take a step back and see how significantly Donald Trump has changed the conversation on these topics. He also accomplished all of this almost single-handedly. He did not have a lot of others offering political support on these when he started. Too many were interested in their form.

In the process, form has been shown to be vastly overrated. Substance also appears to have been vastly underrated. Could it be that the last several decades we were being taught to not expect enough of our leaders?

Hanson would say that a lot of this came about because we were being told that normal was abnormal.

The current normal correctives were denounced as abnormal—as if living in a sovereign state with secure borders, assuming that the law was enforced equally among all Americans, demanding that citizenship was something more than mere residence, and remembering that successful Americans, not their government, built their own businesses and lives is now somehow aberrant or perverse.

The big question in the 2020 election may well be determined by which view of "normality" wins. The Democrats seem intent on doubling down on a progressive agenda. What makes this election particularly interesting is that the Democrats are not hiding that agenda. Heretofore it seemed to be understood that Democrats would campaign as moderates and only govern as liberals. Now they seem to want to campaign as socialists and govern as socialists (or worse).

If nothing else, Trump has clearly delineated the political battle lines.

Choices will need to be made.

What is normal and what is abnormal when it comes to America?

Is form more important than substance?

Do we want to make America great again or do we think that America was never that great to begin with?

Trump officially kicks off his campaign tonight in Orlando. The Democrats have their first debate in Miami next week (June 26 and 27).

Enjoy the show between now and November, 2020 but always be thinking about form and substance.

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