We at The American Spectator have nought but admiration for the cool, calm, and collected manner in which the president-elect is assembling what in Lincoln’s time was termed a team of rivals. As did Abraham Lincoln, who came to the presidency with less than a majority of the popular vote, Donald Trump finds that the country and incidentally his new administration will be well served by a group of lean and hungry men, some of whom thought, maybe still think, of him as beneath their own intellectual and political stature.
The chattering classes are stuck in the habits of denial and denigration that characterized their postures throughout the recent campaign. These postures varied according to whether one was of the left or of the right, a job-seeker or a cad, a mere opportunist Beltway man or a villainous one. Degrees of blindness naturally were affected by mere selfishness or vanity. There is no reason why this should not continue. In the time of President Ronald Reagan, the same phenomenon persisted well into his second term and even beyond, though there was amongst these sorts, give ’em at least this, some attenuation when they were forced by facts to admit the 40th president was successful in many of his aims.
Including the two basic ones: put the federal government on the side of American economic growth rather than in its way and advance the cause of freedom in the world, which, after all, is perhaps not essential to our own but renders it easier to defend. In choosing a Cabinet, the president-elect seeks to make an administration that will achieve no less, and none too soon, given the past 28 years of uneven, when not flawed, executive leadership.
A simple, if pricey, dinner between the president-elect and a former governor who, during the campaign, said ugly things about him and vowed never to support him is not foreign to our political tradition. President-elect Lincoln sat down for a light lunch with Salmon P. Chase or William Seward, perhaps causing eyebrows to be raised, even more so when he invited the likes of Montgomery Blair and Simon Cameron to talk about the Union. It turned out that he knew what he wanted.
And, mystery of true leadership, he showed them they wanted it, too. It is quite possible, when you consider the matter soberly, that the ex-governor of Massachusetts came out of the French restaurant where he met with Mr. Trump and Mr. Priebus the other evening with an acute sense that the Paris embassy is the post he always deeply wanted, notably inasmuch as he would prefer it to the Kinshasa embassy, which, his host may have insinuated, would be mentioned to Miss Conway for her next round of interviews on TV. Would Gov. Mitt Romney want it known that, “due to family considerations,” he had turned down an offer to serve the United States of America in one of the world’s most dangerous places? Better to just say yes to Paris.
But think about it. What would a man who puts his country first say? Although I — full disclosure — announced already my willingness to accompany the governor to Paris to help with the French (the language and the natives) and the tennis (I’ll get him into the Racing Club through old connections), I, personally, would advise him to take the Kinshasa post. And I am ready to go with him and help with the language and the sports. It gets a bit cacophonic, seeing as how they speak many languages, and for strenuous activity on the courts, you have to mind the humid weather, a man his age. But somebody has to do it.
The Congolese appear to be heading for civil war, with the incumbent president, the strongman Joseph Kabila, resisting pressure to respect the old free-and-fair. War in Joseph Conrad’s heart of darkness — but did he mean the place or the man? — has been intermittent, since the Belgians pulled out and we, as too often, intervened but failed to follow through. Kabila inherited his position from his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who came to power in a lightning east-to-west campaign backed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s Tutsi legions, intent on destroying their Hutu enemies’ sanctuaries in eastern Congo.
Order was quickly restored, following the assassination of Laurent-Désiré in 2001, but there has been no end of violence, notably in the eastern provinces. Some of it was, still is, perpetrated by United Nations “peacekeepers,” while warlords of various tribal allegiances stalk the land and plunder its natural resources, most likely with the aid and abeyance of regional neighbors, including Rwanda and Zimbabwe, which, along with Congo itself, represent two fantastic success stories for the democracy missionaries in the State Department and its satellite NGOs.
What could be more interesting and challenging for a man thirsting for glory in the service of the republic? Africa is viewed as a prize to be conquered by Islamic radicals; the red Chinese are increasingly active; key countries remain unstable such as South Sudan, which President G.W. Bush helped midwife, and Algeria, whose president may be on his last legs and whose Berber minorities long for a more liberal order that remains elusive. And in the middle of it all — Congo.
By contrast, Paris — a man of the governor’s wealth and stature will always have Paris, won’t he? So where’s the challenge? The test of his manhood, resourcefulness, patriotism? The French are about to go into a presidential campaign, and it is likely that by May, when the new ambassador has figured out where the john is in the handsome building on avenue Gabriel, they will have a conservative president.
Ya never know — look at what happened here, despite what all the smarties (conservatives no less than liberals) said. With the incumbent, his popularity ratings hovering around zero, not standing, it is possible his Socialist Party will nominate a winner, and it is also possible a nationalist party, the National Front, will make a go of it. Many observers, however, feel that the moderate, parliamentary, and responsible right will put their man in.
The man in question is François Fillon, who was prime minister during the most recent conservative turn at-bat. (Their leader then was the husband of the popular singer Carla Bruni. I forget his name.) Their main achievement was to wreck Libya.
As prime minister, Monsieur Fillon had little to do with foreign policy; he, however, appears to be rather keen on the current Russian regime. He earned a reputation as a tightwad and has promised to radically trim the admittedly bloated state sector. He is unhappy history is neglected in the schools. Most schoolchildren, for example, probably do not know who the Franks were or the Gauls. (Hint: Stone Age tribals of Antiquity.)
It is difficult to see how such a figure would cause the U.S. any trouble or pose any sort of challenge. M. Fillon is a traditional Catholic, father of five. He has made some ambiguous comments about Jews, but he has been specific about Islam: He views it, at least in its militant form, as the enemy of France. He knows the Franks won the Battle of Poitiers.
He considers French policy to be neither east nor west but French: In this, he is merely repeating Charles de Gaulle, who was a general. Fillon has been nothing other than a politician. De Gaulle had contempt for most professional politicians. But I digress. The point is: Leading the U.S. diplomatic mission to France will not require the likes of Benjamin Franklin or Charles Bohlen, previous ambassadors. The current envoy is the distinguished Jane D. Hartley.
So there you go. As to whom the president-elect will choose for secretary of state, it may be none of our business, but, admittedly, we raised the issue last Monday. We also want to discuss to the important post of director of the White House Tennis Courts, but we understand Mr. Tyrrell has the president-elect’s ear on that, so, mum’s the world, but watch who Mr. Trump dines with. If they eat at Junior’s on Flatbush, it’s jake for TAS.