Commentators today are mostly struggling, finding themselves outside their comfort zone of writing about the realm of ideas. They have no choice, they say, but to try to figure out psychological motives and discern moral dispositions, topics on which they have little expertise. An analysis of political thought is secondary, if it counts at all. Some have concluded that it is government by sheer impulse, and even when the president has on one issue swung over to their side there are more grounds for suspicion than trust. Others have come to the view that the president has no clue what he is doing, pure and simple. As difficult as it is to fathom, America’s position can be one thing one day, something entirely different the next. Those on the other hand who continue to search for a guiding logic to the president’s positions, even if not one grounded in firm ideology, are split in their conclusions. Some see beneath the to-and-fro a malevolent inclination to further far-right populist instincts. Others insist we are watching a masterful strategist, a genius of popular communication, bidding to shake things up and open up politics to a new set of relations beyond the old ideological rigidity.
What does one say in the face of this novel and unsettling situation? For the moment, it is next to impossible to divert one’s eyes from the main show. The president’s large or, as Vice President Pence likes to say, “broad-shouldered” persona forces itself willy-nilly on everyone and everything. Might he ever become, as Jimmy Carter did on so many days, irrelevant and uninteresting? In today’s world, especially with the colorless figures leading the House and Senate, it is difficult to imagine that this is possible. Most are accordingly unable to turn their gaze elsewhere, and they focus the greater part of their attention on the president. All this is understandable, though perhaps not very helpful.