The Wall Street Journal reported the other day that numerous early and all-seeing promoters of the 401(k) account acknowledge — sigh — they got it wrong. 401(k)’s didn’t result in all the saving that was foretold; in fact their emergence encouraged employers to scrap pensions.
But let’s get to the real point, which isn’t the merits or demerits of the 401(k). The point is the inability of all, save possibly the divinely inspired, to triumph in the prediction game. More specifically, the point is the unlikelihood of predicting what the Donald Trump era will look like: notwithstanding our inability to give up trying to predict, in exhaustive and contradictory detail, its shape and methods.
“He’ll drain the swamp!” “No, he won’t. He’ll repatriate the possums and ‘gators!”
“He’ll crawl in bed with Putin!” “Not till he picks his pocket he won’t!”
And so on.
Regular and surprising events feed these surmises. No sooner had Republican House members voted, embarrassingly, to x-out an independent ethics committee than Trump led a successful charge against this PR-challenged move. He tweeted his dissatisfaction with the vote. His unruly pupils had had no idea teacher could feel so strongly. They hadn’t asked him: That was maybe one reason.
Meanwhile, though still days away from formal assumption of power, the president-elect sparred with the White House over a U.N. resolution critical of Israeli settlement and a planned pre-inaugural coup to free as many Guantanamo inmates as practicable.
What the prophets might not have predicted was the president-elect’s aptitude for hand-to-hand political combat. He wasn’t supposed to be where he is, you know. He was supposed to lose. The polls and commentators said so. I said so myself.
Political prognostication is less than an exact science; it is no science at all. It is instinct and guesswork. It is crossed fingers and toes and prayers breathed in the stillness between rhetorical gasps.
As Congress convenes and the superstructure of seats for the inauguration rises before the Capitol, I tell you this: We don’t know how it’s all going to come out. We don’t know what kind of show the old medicine man — as I naively, and cutie-pie-like, called him during the primaries — is going to put on, or what kind of reception his wares will meet. We kid ourselves, and the customers, if we make out that we do know.
I have the distinct feeling — a feeling, mind you, not a piece of heavenly wisdom on smoking tablets — that foes and friends alike don’t really have the measure of the man: possibly because we’ve seen nothing like him in our political past. We don’t know what he’s going to do next. Or how it will come out when he does it. Or on what premises he will act.
What many voters — clearly not all — will enjoy is the sweep and the whoosh of the scythe as he wields it, slicing this way and that, a dramatic change from the introverted, purse-lipped, tightly buttoned style of Barack Obama, with his perpetually wagging forefinger, subtly telling those who didn’t support him how morally deficient are their ideals and presuppositions. The Rev. Mr. Obama seemed always to be lecturing us: the good father incapable of shutting up.
I suggest — despite my tattered credentials as prophet — that Trump’s sometimes sunshiny, sometimes blustery self-confidence could be his legacy to us, much more than any political achievements he contrives: appointments, budgets, regulations, and the like. The Trump who comes rumpled and laughing from the busy marketplace all around us is a more typically American figure, it seems to me, than the university lecturer who precedes him: well-read, well-prepped; a bit deficient in the human-sympathy department.
Democracy, as conceived and practiced, is less about governmental ends, outlined in policy papers and refined in speeches and seminars, than it is about human hopes and human affections — and how to give those hopes, those affections, a running start in the great game of life. The democrat-in-chief we have elected will be judged in the end, I predict — nervously — by how well and tellingly he bucks us up and slaps our weary, sagging backs.