Not Transformation but Competence

One consequence of the creepy cult of personality surrounding Barack Obama is that Republicans were primed to get in on the act. I don’t want to venture too far into David French’s turf, but the willingness of many evangelicals—and people who play them on TV—to embrace Archangel Donald was among the most shocking features of the Trump presidency. He was a “modern day Cyrus” and a new “King David.” Trump was in his own Manichean struggle against Satan, against witchcraft, etc.
Of course, not everyone embraced the religious version of Trumpism. But the secular MAGAs were no less committed to the idea that Trump would be a transformational, messianic, redemptive force—and quite a few are still committed to this stuff. They think that through sheer force of will a handful of politicians and the scribblers who love them can “Make America Great.” I left off the “Again” because the most passionate partisans in this struggle have given up on making America more like the 1950s, as impossible and silly as that was (if you haven’t noticed 2022 Hungary doesn’t look a lot like 1955 Cleveland). They now bat around batty ideas about making America more like Prussia in the 1550s.
I used to argue that the problem with George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was that it wasn’t an alternative to Bill Clinton’s “feel your pain” liberalism, but a Republican version of it. I think with the benefit of hindsight that’s becoming even more obvious. I suspect historians of the future will see a similar continuity in the transition from Obamaism to Trumpism.
But the through-line is this increasingly bipartisan hunger for “transformational” politics and the belief that the presidency is less a political and policy position and more of a metaphysical or even mystical talisman. As Kevin Williamson has long argued, there’s a good deal of idolatry in how we think of the presidency these days. In short what people want from the president, and politics generally, isn’t actually “transformation” but “transmogrification”—the magical process of transformation.
And it’s all nonsense.
The quasi-religious obsession with making government an engine of social transformation is a direct byproduct of the government’s inability or unwillingness to do the simple, normal, work of government. Talking about “transformation,” “making America great,” fighting Frankfurt School Marxism, white supremacy, structural racism, the deep state, and all the other abstract hobgoblins that consume our imaginations is what you get when politicians don’t know—or don’t care—about doing their jobs.

Source: Jonah Goldberg, Transformers: Less Than Meets the Eye – The G-File