Sometimes there is a split-screen moment that perfectly encapsulates the country’s divisions. We witnessed this Friday, when Beltway and media elites were consumed with chasing yet another story about President Donald Trump — one from a fine reporter but still resting entirely on anonymous sources. Meanwhile, they once again ignored, or failed to grasp, another significant foreign policy achievement by the Trump administration.
Trump presided over a very important set of handshakes Friday. Judging how important requires memory. I visited Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo in 2009 at the invitation of the California National Guard, only a few weeks after then-Vice President Biden. We were assigned the same room. Not plush. Nothing at Bondsteel is plush. But the tour of the border, the heavily armed crossings, the burned-out villages, was eye-opening. (Joe Biden must know what these accords mean. Watch his 2009 speech at Bondsteel. He understands how deep the ancient hatreds in the region run.)
To have Kosovo and Serbia normalize economic relations is a big deal in itself. But both countries agreed to take steps to support the momentum for peace in the Middle East generated by the peace treaty between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. National security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and senior adviser Jared Kushner had traveled to Israel to make a historic, first direct flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi. While Kushner continued on to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, O’Brien split off to join the president and Richard Grenell, former ambassador to Germany, in the final negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia.
It paid off: Serbia agreed to move its embassy to Jerusalem, and Kosovo, a majority Muslim nation, said it would establish ties with Israel. More dominoes were falling toward peace. Another may follow soon.
So when Grenell teed off on a seemingly disinterested media, his frustration was understandable — and helps explain Trump’s rise and continuing appeal. Elites in the country — represented by those reporters — have power to shape narratives but not necessarily the wisdom to choose the important ones.
Thus, on Friday reporters were chasing a story by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that alleges the president, on a trip to France in 2018, said horrible things about the service members buried in the American cemeteries outside of Paris. On Friday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who has spent more time around the president than any other senior official — denied ever hearing the president defame service members, living or dead, on that trip or ever, and former press secretary Sarah Sanders and former national security adviser John Bolton did so by the afternoon, which is a hat trick of people traveling with the president.
Meanwhile, the media all but ignored the immense significance of the Kosovo-Serbia agreement — two countries whose enmity has required tens of thousands of Americans over two decades to spend years away from their families to prevent savage killing. Astonishing.
The endless attempts to “get Trump” are now concisely, persuasively packaged by veteran journalist Byron York in his new book, “Obsession: Inside the Washington Establishment’s Never-Ending War on Trump.” It’s a riveting, careful look back at the war on Trump. The Atlantic story is just another chapter for the paperback edition of York’s book.
The electorate is weary of this anti-Trump alarmism. The decision on the minds of the undecided: Who is going to keep the economy recovering after the coronavirus? Who is going to contain China? Who is going to make the country better for kids and grandkids? In the minds of Trump supporters, it is not the Beltway’s dug-in mandarins. Many of Trump’s supporters see these folks as bad people, not professionals.
If you watched “Game of Thrones,” especially if you read the George R.R. Martin books, you’ll recall the elites of cities along Slaver’s Bay. The heroine of the long story, Daenerys Targaryen, conquers three different strongholds of bad guys in her march to the end game of battle with the biggest villain. As any good storyteller does, Martin makes his heroes mostly good with some flaws, and her enemies all bad. That’s not the way in our real world.
But in U.S. politics in 2020, each side views the other in the stark terms of a fantasy epic. Both sides think they are Daenerys, battling evil. The reality of diplomatic breakthroughs or of threats like the vast military buildup overseen by the Chinese Communist Party are all but ignored in the scramble to make everything fit the miniseries.
The electorate will decide. They can vote for another four years of the Trump reset. That’s the central question in the minds of many: Keep shaking everything up or settle down? Trump’s not going to change, so when the final result arrives, there won’t be any doubting the message it sends.
Hugh Hewitt is a Washington Post contributing columnist and hosts a nationally syndicated radio show on the Salem Network.