- - Tuesday, April 11, 2017


It looks like former Obama administration National Security Adviser Susan Rice will get a reprieve. With all the hullabaloo from last week’s military action by President Trump in Syria’s — do we call it Syria’s civil war or a massacre? — it now appears Ms. Rice’s mishandling of surveillance is going to subside from the headlines temporarily. Well, her mishandling of surveillance on the Trump team can wait. What Mr. Trump did last week in public was historic. He changed his mind.

How many presidents change their minds in public? Moreover, how many have changed their minds for the good? Up until last week neocons were snickering at the president because of his irenic statements about using force in foreign policy. They called him an “isolationist.” Voices on the left heard his boasts about our unsurpassed military power and feared he was a hawk. What he showed late last week when he ordered a cruise missile attack on the military facilities of the Syrian butcher, Bashar Assad, was a non-ideologue in action. When circumstances change, Mr. Trump will change. What he demonstrated last week is that he is not afraid to act.

Unlike former President Obama, he does not draw lines in the sand and then forget about his lines when he has been caught up in his own bluster. Tyrants who make threats against the United States ought to remember the pictures of before and after the U.S. attack on Mr. Assad’s air force. Possibly, the smoking hulks lying in their gutted bunkers were the same attack jets that had dropped canisters of sarin gas on the defenseless citizens of Khan Sheikhoun just days before.

The language Mr. Trump used to explain his change of mind was quite eloquent. “Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children. It was a slow, brutal death for so many,” the president said to the nation. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” Yes, he said “no child of God.” The never-Trumpians should think of these words the next time they start jabbering about our playboy president.

Yes, Mr. Trump changed his mind. It should surprise no one who has been scrutinizing him the last couple or years. He is an American First, as they say. He likes beer and baseball and all kinds of competition. Check that first item. He does not drink. He has, however, competed in sports, business and the entertainment industry. He likes to win, but has had his share of losses. After a life of highly successful business deals, he entered politics a year or so ago, and brought with him a fresh approach to the great game of politics. As to his political values, he has demonstrated them in the Cabinet he chose and the initiatives he has pushed in his first days in office. His choice of Neil Gorsuch, who now sits on the Supreme Court where the great Antonin Scalia once sat, demonstrates that the president is pretty much a conservative.

For almost 50 years, a counterculture has been growing and spreading across the country. One hears little about it from official Washington and mainstream media, but the conservative counterculture has been taking root across America. We see it in state government and in local school boards and local government. Now we are seeing manifestations of the counterculture in the Trump administration. I saw one such manifestation over the weekend in a huge piece about one of presidential strategist Steve Bannon’s favorite writers. He is Neil Howe.

Mr. Howe has been writing for some 40 years. He began his career as an early managing editor of The American Spectator. In 1987 he wrote a featured piece in the Spectator’s 20th anniversary issue. In it, he outlined thoughts that he would eventually refine for the book Mr. Bannon admires, “The Fourth Turning,” published in 1997. In Mr. Howe’s 1987 magazine piece he wrote, “Twenty years from now we may be so burdened by demographic and economic liabilities that visions of a better future will seem practically unattainable without onerous and long-term sacrifices in both our public and private lives.” In his 1997 book, Mr. Howe writes of generational cycles that America has experienced since the American Revolution. We now have entered a cycle of crisis he writes that will not end until 2025. Given how prescient Mr. Howe was when he laid down his 1987 thoughts, I think it would be wise to take him seriously now.

Mr. Bannon has, and I would think the president has, too. We have a population alert to the problems we face. It is the conservative counterculture around the country. Last week’s military action suggests conservatism can be effective without being ideological.

• R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is author of “The Death of Liberalism,” published by Thomas Nelson Inc.

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