You would not know it from the headlines, or the polarized nature of our politics, but America today is a happier place than it was a year ago.
President Donald Trump will not receive credit for that, but it is largely his doing, and it is important to understand why, especially if the political pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, risking a return to the politics of divide-and-rule that Barack Obama brought from Chicago to the Oval Office.
The signs of healing are everywhere, if you know where to look.
Starting with the obvious: the economy is roaring. It is true that the recovery began under Barack Obama. But it was far weaker than it should have been, because Obama and the Democrats insisted on regulating everything in sight. In fact, it was only after the Tea Party helped Republicans take the House in 2010 that the recovery began in earnest, because it stopped Obama from doing more.
Moreover, throughout the recovery — the slowest in the post-Second World War era — President Obama focused on inequality, and the need to, as he once put it, “spread the wealth around.” He demonized the rich and the successful — even as he golfed with them, vacationed in their holiday homes, and cashed their maxed-out political donations.
Enter Trump, who talks up the economy and talks constantly about success — his own, and that of the nation as a whole. Much of it is hyperbole, but it excites what John Maynard Keynes called the “animal spirits” that drive an economy. Consumer confidence is soaring, the stock market keeps hitting record highs, and people are starting to believe in the future again. In times of plenty, divisions are destined to fade, and they already seem to be doing so.
Trump likes to fight — too much, his many critics say — with his opponents. But note: he never fights with ordinary people. He spars with the media, with politicians, and with celebrities.
He can be nasty, and even “unpresidential.” But he is not constantly impugning the American people, or attacking the country’s foundations; or talking up racial divisions. On the contrary, he talks constantly about unity: “Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people, under one God, saluting one flag,” he says frequently in his speeches.
The president does jump into divisive cultural issues. But again, he does so on the side of the majority, and on behalf of what Americans all share in common. He stood up to the NFL players over kneeling for the national anthem, for example — and won. In Charlottesville, Trump took a lot of flak for criticizing “both sides” for the violence, but his point was that everyone in America has the same right to free speech. That is our common creed.
And remember ISIS? Trump crushed them this year. A few days ago, the Iraqi government declared that the war was over. No one seems to have noticed — there have been no “Mission Accomplished” banners — but it happened.
Recent political events, like the bitter Alabama special election, might seem to point to enduring divisions. But they also provide reasons for Americans to feel happier. Democrats, who once feared (irrationally) the dawn of a fascist dictatorship, now have a few victories under their belts, and feel that the country is finally turning around.
Even Republicans can afford to be happy about Alabama — and not just because the GOP will avoid being saddled with Roy Moore’s controversies. When a Democrat wins in a red state, or a Republican in a blue state, it is a reminder that we are not implacably divided along tribal lines, and that no party can take the voters for granted.
Moreover, when a candidate like Jones wins by working harder — as Republican Scott Brown did in 2010, traveling Massechusetts in his famous pickup truck — it reminds us that in spite of Washington, the people really do still rule.
Republicans, meanwhile, continue to be pleasantly surprised by Trump’s conservative record in office. Yes, there is more to accomplish — especially the border wall — but there are real, long-term achievements to celebrate, like the appointment of a cohort of conservatives to the federal bench, the Jerusalem decision, and likely more to come.
Trump’s victory in 2016 was a reminder of the innate capacity of American democracy to renew itself, to find the leaders that it needs in key moments. Yes, his has been a disruptive presidency, and that has thrown the media and the political establishment for a loop. The chaos that drives the news cycle can easily be mistaken for crisis. But it a sign of renewal: things from the past that ought not to have been done are being undone.
That leaves room for Americans to rebuild, to heal, to move onwards and upwards. We don’t need to agree on Trump to celebrate that.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
This post has been updated to note the defeat of ISIS.