California, once a citadel of conservatism, now a bastion of liberal progressivism, continues to harbour a few intellectual redoubts on the right. Up north you can find the Hoover Institution, which is located on the Stanford University campus. And down south, near Los Angeles, there is the Claremont Institute, another scholarly outfit which also happens to view President Trump with general approbation.
On Thursday I met one of Claremont’s leading lights, Charles R. Kesler, for lunch at an Italian establishment near Beverly Hills. Kesler was kind enough to supply me with a copy of the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books, which contains a spirited riposte by him to the Never Trump faction of conservatives. Kesler maintains that ‘every conservative publication has been forced to admit, however grudgingly, that President Trump had significant accomplishments in his first year.’
But perhaps his most intriguing observation is that there has been a shift in criticism of Trump in both the left and right. Here Kesler focuses on the ideologically ambidextrous Andrew Sullivan as emblematic of a turn from describing Trump as a kind of proto-tyrant to a bumbling and ineffectual dolt.
A kind of—dare I say it?—Bertie Wooster rather than Roderick Spode, the hulking fascist leader of the black shorts, whom Bertie dismisses as ‘a frightful ass… swanking about in footer bags’? I mention the hapless Bertie because Kesler’s publication also features a deft essay by Joseph Epstein on P.G. Wodehouse, the British master of farce who ended up decamping for America. Reading it prompted me to muse about who might play the role of Jeeves in the Trump administration. The candidates seem to be shrinking almost by the day as Trump finds someone new to sack from his retinue. But if Thursday’s performance is anything to go by, the old boy sure is in dire need of some assistance.
Speaking in Richfield, Ohio, he contradicted his own administration’s policy by announcing that he intends to pull out all American troops from Syria, a move that Iran, not to mention Russia, would doubtless welcome. He also cast doubt on whether he would implement his new free trade agreement with South Korea and seemed to want to create his very own DMZ on the border with Mexico—he lauded North and South Korea for installing ‘the finest equipment, barbed wire all over the place.’ But maybe Trump’s most unusual move was to elevate his personal doctor Ronny Jackson, who has no experience running organisations, to head the Veterans Administration. Trump was apparently moved by the assiduity with which Jackson vouched for his mental acumen and physical prowess. Even Wodehouse might have had trouble conjuring up a scenario as loopy as that.