For decades, the Economist steadily built its sale in the United States as it found a market that was constantly growing in wealth and numbers and that could not be reached by the banalities of Time and Newsweek.
Henry Luce’s “American Century” at Time tapered off into trite American vanity expressed in sophomoric attempts at sly writing. Newsweek was just the leavings shaken out of the Washington Post and finally ended up offering no news at all, only a series of tired opinion columns, as if any sane person would pay to have such material printed on glossy paper and stapled. The Economist’s world reach, authoritative departments, robust Oxbridge English, clever photos and covers, and even smart Fleet Street cutlines, with its enlightened conservatism, were a winning formula in the US. (At the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, it ran a black-and-white cover of a riot scene with charging mounted police and clouds of tear gas over the cutline: “In this United Kingdom.”)
For a long time the Economist had too much faith in big and bossy government, and more concentration on apparent competence at execution and at the parliamentary dispatch box or Washington press conference than in sound public policy. But the Economist, for a time, understood America. It was engulfed in the Watergate inundation and joined the righteous tide, unlike much of the continental European media that saw it all (accurately) as a pious exercise in Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy covering the crucifixion of a capable and successful president (and there remains no convincing evidence that Richard Nixon committed any illegalities). But the Economist also saw, unlike almost all of Europe, that Ronald Reagan was the man in 1980, that Jimmy Carter was too insipid and indecisive to lead, and that the Soviet Union was effectively out of control in Afghanistan, Central America and Angola, and that the United States was starting to resemble “the pitiful helpless giant” that Mr Nixon had warned Americans it could become.
After the end of the Cold War, the Economist took its stance inflexibly for an integrated federal Europe, world free trade and almost open borders regardless of the resulting disruptions of immense flows of desperate people and dumped goods, the disgorgement of hundreds of billions of dollars to fight chimerical climate change, and a depressingly misguided or passive America. The Economist had reservations about George W Bush’s hare-brained pursuit of democracy as it produced democratically elected anti-democratic governments. It has been magnificent in its exposé of the failure of the American drug war and absurd over-sentencing and incarceration levels, and is generally fairly strong in non-political areas.
But the Economist did not understand at all the intolerable failures for America of one-sided trade deals, open borders, a bungled retreat from Alliance leadership, over-taxation, opening the welfare floodgates and flat-lining economic growth while enthroning political correctness and embracing a foreign policy that chiefly consisted of inviting America’s enemies and allies to change roles and places.
Like the corrupt, morally bankrupt media apologists for the Obama-Clinton failures and peculations, and the fatigued snobs of highbrow conservatism who have deserted the Trump Republicans, they rose out of the water like salmon in anger at Donald Trump’s rough but effective campaigning methods, but completely failed to notice that he was the only candidate speaking for the country and the national interest.
The Economist has lost no opportunity to denigrate Trump as a boor, a circus idiot, a dishonest businessman and a predestined failure as president. There is plenty of room to criticise Trump’s career and his official performance, but it is unprecedentedly unprofessional for the Economist to sandbag an incoming US president and give no benefit of doubt or possibility of success. In their edition for his first six months, their special report is a disjointed travelogue and the lead editorial is just an onslaught on the president. It prejudges his tax reform bill (yet to appear) as a giveaway to the rich, falsely claims he has “undermined the courts, the intelligence services, the State Department and the [Environmental Protection Agency]”. It blames Trump and not the obstructionist Senate Democrats who are responsible for the slow confirmations of administration officials, spuriously implies improprieties in current relations between the government and Trump’s business interests, and, fantastically, blames the confection of the Frankenstein’s monster of canards about election collusion with Russia, on Trump, and not on the bloodless assassins of the Democratic Party and their parrots in the national media. The Economist defends the boobs in the Congressional Budget Office (who have never predicted anything correctly in living memory), and blames lack of bipartisanship exclusively on Trump. It naturally sees no difficulty with the previous administration’s imposition of the expenses of employees’ contraceptive, abortion, and sterilisation expenses on Catholic institutions, which the Trump administration is ending, or on its suppression of political activity by any religious organisation.
To the Economist, Trump already is and will remain “a bad president” who is responsible for America’s failed state education system and uneven healthcare (after six months in office). Trade deals that import unemployment into the US are desirable and the fatuous Paris Accord was a “forum where countries [would] work together to solve problems”. I had to check that this was the Economist I was reading and not a handout from the Democratic National Committee or CNN (interchangeable). Most of Trump’s official and media enemies are venal hypocrites and incompetents who created this crisis of American decline these last 20 years, and if Trump fails, they will complete the disaster they began. It is distressing to see the Economist in such company. Walter Bagehot (son-in-law of the founder and most famous editor of the publication), and some of his recent successors, would be appalled. I still believe Trump will succeed, because he must, and that the Economist will return to its editorial senses.
This article first appeared at National Review Online (nationalreview.com) and is published with permission