It has been a rough couple of weeks for President Trump.
The failure to enact health care reform (so far) can be partially laid at his feet. Controversies continue to brew inside the White House and conspiracy theories continue to proliferation outside the White House. In the first election since Trump was elected president, a Republican barely held on in a ruby red Kansas congressional district that went for Trump by 27 points.
In the midst of all of this, Judge Neil Gorsuch was appointed to the Supreme Court—a win for Trump and his conservative base, but it was the missile strikes against Syria, which President Trump recently authorized, that could do the most to improve his image and boost his popularity.
How is that possible? At times, Trump campaigned as a near-isolationist and had strong support from the “America First” crowd, including Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter, as a result. Doesn’t this dramatic reversal in policy hurt him with a key portion of his base? In addition, no military action this dramatic has occurred since President Bush sent troops into Iraq. And that decision, regardless of its merits, made President Bush quite unpopular by the end of his presidency. It would seem, then, that the president might have hurt himself with both his base and the public-at-large.
I don’t think that will be the case. Historically, Americans have generally proven to be both compassionate and patriotic. Their compassion is seen in the way they respond to humanitarian disasters. While the US government prepares to send military and vast amounts of resources, countless non-profit organizations and the private sector mobilize to do their part. Our response to the tsunamis in Asia over the past number of years shows this compassion.
The case for American patriotism throughout our history almost doesn’t need a defense. When the flag is threatened, Americans generally rally to her colors. This patriotism colors our engagement in world affairs. When we fight, we fight to win, and we do so with a sense of moral purpose. That is why conflicts without a clear rationale or pathway to victory tend to result in flagging American morale.
There have been numerous affronts to both American compassion and American patriotism over the last decade. Boko Haram kidnaps and enslaves a school full of girls. ISIS tortures and murders men, women, and children. Russia takes a bite out of Ukraine with impunity and threatens to nibble at the other former Soviet satellites.
What was our response to these affronts? Largely, nothing. We condemn them and speak of nations and organizations being on the “wrong side of history”—as if our petty politically-correct condescension has any effect on real world actors. While we are finally gaining ground on ISIS, it is only after persistent hand-wringing and a lack of vision or moral resolve. Russia suffered sanctions regarding Ukraine, while being invited to “mediate” between Syria and the U.S. after Syria crossed the “red line” and gassed scores of people in Aleppo.
Regardless of political perspective, I think it is fair to say that a lot of Americans have been demoralized by the persistent moral equivocating and perceived loss of esteem on the world stage. This is why such a vacuous phrase as “We don’t win anymore!” can have such political potency. If the cause is right and justifiable, Americans really, really want to win.
While suffering the expected attacks from the America First crowd, Trump’s decisiveness last week has won plaudits from both sides of the aisle and from our allies around the world. His action showed courage and its limited scope showed wisdom. He is also realigning our naval forces in the immediate aftermath to symbolically show those who have exploited our past weakness that we are to be trifled with no longer.
Perhaps this presidential moment will devolve back into the perceived chaos that we’ve come to expect or, perhaps, it signals the beginning of not only a new foreign policy doctrine, but the beginning of a truly presidential president. If so, this policy pivot may very well result in a polling pivot, as well.
Stephen Roberts is an Army Reserve chaplain, writer and evangelist living near Milwaukee. He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.