Victor Davis Hanson
Basic Books, £25, from 25 April
Buy at Amazon
With President Donald Trump’s approval ratings in the low 40s and many of his policy pledges either unfulfilled or deeply unpopular, most pundits think that he is doomed to be a one-term president. Military historian and conservative commentator Victor Davis Hanson disagrees. In The Case For Trump, he argues that, despite what Hanson sees as a systematic attempt to undermine him, Trump’s two years in office have been extremely successful. He believes Trump has a good chance of being re-elected, but even if he isn’t, that he deserves to regarded as a heroic figure.
This is certainly a bold argument, but Hanson’s case for it is weak. He spends a lot of time looking back at why Trump was elected, with roughly a third of the book devoted to an analysis of the 2016 presidential election. He spends several chapters attacking the “deep state” of officials for their supposed anti-Trump bias, and the media for their obsession with allegations of Russian collusion. Hanson forgets that many of those officials were asked to stay on by Trump because he couldn’t find alternatives, and that on Russia Trump has merely reaped what he had sown, having spent a lot of time pushing conspiracy theories about his predecessor, Barack Obama.
When Hanson finally makes some positive arguments for Trump, rather than just attacking his opponents, they seem flimsy and insubstantial. He credits Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation with boosting US economic growth. But even he admits that the tax changes have also expanded the deficit, which could become a major problem if the US economy starts to slow (which it is already showing signs of doing). Real wages have risen slightly during the last two years, but this has more to do with hikes in the minimum wage in Democrat-controlled states such as California and New York than with Trump.
Hanson also argues that Trump’s foreign policy has succeeded in bringing North Korea to the table, ending the Iran deal and forcing other countries to listen to America’s complaints about “unfair trade”. In reality, trade talks between the US and China and the EU have stalled; North Korea’s willingness to talk about nuclear disarmament has cooled.
Hanson does make a few good observations. “He argues that Trump’s use of hyperbole and exaggeration, as well as his bluster, has helped him get away with hateful comments and scandals, because voters take him “seriously but not literally”. He is also correct that Trump’s opponents need to appeal to traditional Democrat supporters in the Midwest if they are to win in 2020. Still, The Case for Trump is ultimately a partisan polemic that is unlikely to change many people’s opinion of the 45th president.