“If you try to tell me what to do, I’ll do the opposite.” You’ve probably heard a friend or acquaintance say that, or something like it. It’s sounds defiant. It’s feels gutsy. And it’s ultimately self-destructive.
Yes, it’s rude for someone to try to order you around, and it’s healthy to stand up for yourself. But automatically doing the opposite as a knee-jerk reaction is pretty damned stupid.
You won’t always know the right answer; sometimes, another person will. If you tune that person out because you think you’re the ultimate expert on everything – and no one else has anything of value to offer – eventually, you’ll fall flat on your face. And when you do, who’ll be there to pick you up? Certainly not the people whose advice you shunned.
This tendency is more likely than anything else to be Donald Trump’s downfall. He has a penchant for ignoring advice and doing things his own way because he believes he, and he alone, knows best. The stronger the pushback against his ideas, the more likely he is to try to implement them.
Don’t antagonize your allies, they say? He’ll do it. Don’t cozy up to dictators with a history of bad behavior? He’ll do that, too – and praise them as great leaders.
Stop tweeting? He’ll tweet more. Don’t separate kids from their parents? Let’s do that! Tariffs will drag down a strong economy? He’ll impose them anyway. He’ll hire people who are unqualified or potentially corrupt because he feels like it, without checking their references (or ignoring them if they run counter to his “instincts”).
It's still the economy, stupid
At some point, those instincts will fail him, and one of his ideas will go so far wrong that a lot of people will get hurt. Those people will turn on him, and he’ll be left politically isolated. That hasn’t happened yet, but the economy – the number one concern of Republicans, not to mention voters in general – has been strong. If it tanks, do you really think they’ll stand by him? Ask the previous Republican darling, George W. Bush, how that worked out.
That’s why Trump’s beloved tariffs are a bigger threat to his presidency than any of the other bonehead go-it-alone moves mentioned above. People will look the other way when it comes to foreign affairs (“too far away”), government corruption (“they all do it”) or even the welfare of children (“they ain’t my kids”). But hit them in the pocketbook, threaten their livelihoods – or, for corporate shareholders, their profits – and it will be another story.
Trump’s supporters will hold their collective noses and go along with the tariffs unless and until the economy starts to head south. Then, they’ll desert him. But by that point, it will be too late. Again, ask George W how this works, and ask Republicans who have distanced themselves from that administration because they lost the White House for the next eight years.
The problem with Trump’s go-it-along contrarianism is that he’s not really going it alone: He’s dragging the rest of the country along with him. No one roots for a president to fail, but if he’s going to fail – as Trump seems prone to doing (six bankruptcies, a failed “university”, a gutted spring football league) – isn’t it best that he do so before the damage is so great that the rest of the nation fails along with him?
Unfortunately, that may not be possible. Trump has convinced Republican lawmakers that it’s in their political interest to go along with him, even against their long-held principles. It’s no longer a conservative party. It’s Trump’s party, conservative or otherwise. Because Republicans control Congress, they control the nation, and so, like dominoes, Trump’s arrogance could well be the first domino to fall in a line of devastation that trickles down – or flash-floods its way – through the GOP and on to the nation as a whole.
Trump has failed before. Repeatedly. But his selective memory only sees his successes and glosses over, hides (tax returns, anyone?) or lies about his failures. He’s convinced his supporters to do the same, rewriting history in a way that would owes more to Stalin’s Soviet propaganda machine than it does to any American tradition
But if the economy starts to fail, even that won’t protect him.
The housing bubble that led to the Great Recession might turn out to be nothing next to Trump’s overinflated ego. I hope I’m wrong about that. No one wants a president to fail. But no one wants to stay aboard a train that’s rushing toward a washed-out bridge over the Grand Canyon at 100 mph, either. Someone needs to apply the brakes now. Republicans in Congress. Voters in November. Anyone. Before it’s too damned late.