WASHINGTON, DC — In the wake of an unconventional term and an unexpectedly close election, the question remains: What should we learn from the Trump presidency? In a new symposium, What Happened: The Trump Presidency in Review, American Compass and The American Conservative convene leading conservative analysts to address this question, constructing and examining the Trump administration’s record of accomplishment.
The collection, framed by a foreword from Modern Age editor Daniel McCarthy, features essays by Rachel Bovard (Conservative Partnership Institute) on the administration’s personnel, Julius Krein (American Affairs) on its vision, Wells King (American Compass) on its policy action, and Oren Cass (American Compass) on the economic results. Several key themes emerge:
1. Trumpism cannot be declared a “success” or a “failure” because it did not exist. The administration, which neither emerged from nor erected institutional infrastructure or an intellectual framework, lacked both overarching vision and an integrated policy agenda. For most statements, appointments, and policy actions there exist equal and opposite ones.
2. Personnel proved an insurmountable obstacle. The administration’s indeterminacy and internal conflict were in part the result of the principal’s own style and substance. But its unusual ideological variability and its reliance on big names over steady hands greatly compounded the challenge. Agendas formed, rose, and fell on the strength of small teams in specific departments, while the prospect for progress requiring interagency coordination or an all-of-government approach was virtually nil.
3. The conservative future remains unwritten. The Trump administration leaves behind countless initiatives to debate and then build upon, or discard, with lessons in each case to be learned. But it is a case study, not a template. Future leaders could not replicate it if they tried, nor should they want to. Equally foolish, though, is using the administration’s shortcomings as evidence for a return to the pre-Trump status quo. As Trump’s presidency underscored, America faces many problems to which its right-of-center has long been unresponsive. Conservatives must now apply their principles to the development of a new path forward.