On January 8, I tweeted about the Sussex-Markles: ‘Obviously the plan is to return to Canada, lead a revolt against British rule, and establish an independent Canadian monarchy.’ Two days later, the New York Times opened a story about the emigrating couple: ‘Some have suggested they could become king and queen of Canada.’ IT WAS A JOKE, please believe me! Otherwise, I’m going to have Canadian security surveilling my cottage in Ontario as a node of Sussexite sedition.
Seventeen years ago, I was part of a presidential administration that chose war with Iraq. We had with us a broad international coalition, an authorizing vote in Congress and majority support in public opinion. We were acting at the zenith of US power, at a time when Russia had ceased to be a factor in international politics and China had only barely become one. And still we failed to leave behind a stable, western-oriented Iraq. In the weeks since Christmas 2019, President Trump has been driving to a similar conflict with Iran. But Trump can claim none of the advantages behind George W. Bush in 2003: no support from Congress, massive opposition from the public, no international coalition and a much less favorable international situation. Unlike the Iraq hawks of 2003, today’s Iran hawks deny that they intend a war. They say the plan is to squeeze Iran to the point where the Iranian people arise in democratic revolution. The Iranians themselves will change their regime. But violent revolutions seldom lead to liberal outcomes, least of all in the Middle East. The peace of the region may depend on Trump’s impulsiveness. In January, he unpredictably picked the harshest measure on a menu of options, a targeted killing of the terrorist-general Qasem Soleimani. Back in June 2019, Trump equally impulsively vetoed at the last minute a military response to the shooting down of a US drone. Who knows what he will do next? Certainly not him.
Meanwhile, the peace of my house has been hugely improved by the completion of the last revisions of a new book about US politics after Trump. The book releases on May 5. I spent my first post-book weekend starting a long-awaited project to digitize our family photos. It’s been very moving to scan my way through 30-plus years of marriage and the raising of three children. Every phase has been different; all have been sweet. Yesterday’s task was the period 1993-95: the double toddler years. Almost every image of my wife’s beautiful face in those pictures is shaded by an expression of faint worry. Even when smiling on a tropical beach, the worry appears in her eyes. As Danielle said later looking back on it: ‘The most beautiful sentence in the English language is “The bathroom is over there.”’
Youngest daughter Beatrice is completing applications to university this fall. The looming departure casts gloom upon a house that has grown larger as the resident population has dwindled. But at least we’ll have tuition bills for company. A year at a prestigious private college such as Yale or Columbia costs more than twice as much, after inflation, as it did in 1980. At a state school like the University of North Carolina or the campuses of the University of California system, tuition costs as much as 15 times what it did a generation ago. If young Americans seem in a bolshie mood in 2020, it may be because so many of them are subject to tsarist-style predation and exploitation.
The next weeks of the US political calendar will be crowded. President Trump delivers the 2020 State of the Union on February 4. If the impeachment trial is still pending, be prepared for an outburst of world-historical insanity. After the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3, we should have a fair idea of who is most likely to run against Trump for the Democrats. The British election of 2019 offers an obvious warning to Democrats: don’t nominate some outlier candidate on a gamble and a dare. It offers a warning to Republicans too: unpopular candidates tend to lose. Donald Trump is the most unpopular first-term president in the history of polling, the only president never once to attain 50 percent approval in any reputable poll. A plurality of Americans want him impeached and removed. Those numbers may not suffice to overawe the Senate — but they warn of an incumbent president in serious trouble. Trump’s 2016 success in the Electoral College despite his popular vote defeat startled many pundits into doubting the rules of politics. Yet as former Romney campaign manager Stuart Stevens memorably put it: ‘In a casino, the house does not always win. Still, that’s the way to bet.’
This article is in The Spectator’s February 2020 US edition.