David Brooks writes:
You've got to give him credit — Donald Trump is a lot more adaptable than many of his critics.
Many of them reacted to Trump's shocking election victory in the fall with the view, which was justified at the time, that Trump represented a unique and unprecedented threat to the republic. He was a populist ethnic nationalist aiming to drag this country to a very ugly place. He was a crypto fascist, aiming to undermine every norm and institution of our democracy.
Many of us Trump critics set our outrage level at 11. The Trump threat was virulent, and therefore the response had to be virulent as well.
The side benefit was we got to luxuriate in that rarest of political circumstance: a pure contest between right versus wrong. Everything seemed to be in such stark polarities: pluralism versus bigotry, democracy versus fascism, love trumps hate.
Trump's totalistic menace allowed us to stand deliciously on the side of pure righteousness.
The problem is that Trump has now changed and many of his critics refuse to recognize the change. He's not gotten brighter or humbler, but he's gotten smaller and more conventional. Many of his critics still react to him every single day at Outrage Level 11, but the Trump threat is at Level 3 or 4.
These days a lot of the criticism seems over the top and credibility destroying. The "resistance movement" still reacts as if atavistic fascism were just at the door, when the real danger is everyday ineptitude. These critics hyperventilate at every whiff of scandal in a way that only arouses skepticism.
It's nice that Mr. Brooks has calmed down, but isn't it maybe possible that the "Trump has now changed" explanation is wrong, and that the more accurate explanation is that Trump is the same guy he was before, the Trump threat was just level 3 or 4 to begin with, and the Trump critics misjudged him, needlessly alarming their readers (but garnering lots of clicks) in the process? In other words, if the current criticism "seems over the top and credibility destroying," how does this, from Mr. Brooks on January 31, read?:
With most administrations you can agree sometimes and disagree other times. But this one is a danger to the party and the nation in its existential nature. And so sooner or later all will have to choose what side they are on, and live forever after with the choice.
"Justified at the time"? Or just wrong?
Anyway, Mr. Brooks, for all his excitability, does a nice job of describing the current situation. Perhaps part of the problem is that the commercial incentives of online journalism (click, share) may be biased in the direction of "panic!" rather than "don't panic," or even "don't panic yet."