A sampling of recent headlines: “Art in the Age of Trump;” “Truth in the Age of Trump;” “Feminism in the Age of Trump;” “Hate in the Age of Trump;” “Reading Yeats in the Age of Trump;” “Anything At All Can Happen in the Age of Trump.” And that’s barely scratching the surface.
Concerned about the impact of the “Age of Trump” on science? A wealth of recent literature examining that topic awaits you. Ditto for sex, gay rights, cities, philanthropy, bioethics, foreign policy, fashion, investing, anxiety, faithfulness, the Arctic, and even “vegan activism.” The list goes on: In the “Age of Trump,” everything is changing, and bigly.
To judge by the avalanche of commentary exploring every aspect of his eponymous “Age,” our recently inaugurated president is to the United States what Caesar Augustus was to Rome or Louis XIV was to France. Just months in office, he is already putting a profound mark on virtually every aspect of human endeavor.
So at least hordes of hyperventilating journalists, scholars, activists, bloggers, and opinionated citizens purport to believe. Mark me down as skeptical. My bet is that when future historians render a verdict on Donald Trump they will see him as our least consequential president since Benjamin Harrison, whose signature diplomatic achievement was to persuade Europeans to lift a ban on pork imported from the United States, or even since William Henry Harrison, B. Harrison’s grandfather, who died after a mere thirty-one days in office.
Particularly on the home front, the prospects of Trump achieving anything of lasting significance are rapidly diminishing. Barring some domestic equivalent of Pearl Harbor, Trump’s own incompetence, compounded by the internal dysfunction besetting his administration, will severely limit his prospects of making much of an impact. Throw in extreme partisanship, relentless sniping from the establishment press, and the obstructions posed by courts and the permanent government, and you end up with a recipe that almost guarantees paralysis.
That Trump will retain the ability to fire up his supporters and enrage his detractors will doubtless be the case. But for the balance of his term, fending off investigations and indictments is likely to absorb the preponderance of his attention. Whatever mischief he succeeds in committing, whether by cutting social programs or conferring favors on major corporations, can be overturned or reversed once he departs the scene. So unless Trump plunges the nation into some disastrous war—a possibility, alas, not to be discounted—Americans will end up mostly remembering their forty-fifth president, fondly or not, for his tweets.
Yet to suggest that Trump will end up on the Harrison end of the presidential spectrum is not to imply that the United States as a whole will remain stuck in neutral as long as he occupies the White House. On the contrary, dramatic, fundamental, and probably irreversible changes are transforming American society day by day before our very eyes. It’s just that Trump himself is irrelevant to those changes, which predate his entry into politics and continue today all but unaffected by his ascent to the presidency.