Milbank: Redefinition puts greatness within reach of Trump

Dana Milbank
on Twitter @Milbank
Dana Milbank


WASHINGTON — President Trump has been losing so much he surely is tired of losing.

Yet another attempt at repealing Obamacare failed again last week. His candidate in Alabama lost a Senate primary. He walked away from his call for a private-public infrastructure plan. His lofty vision for tax reform is fast devolving into a budget-busting tax cut. He has made no progress on his border wall. At least two of his former aides are in big trouble in the Russia probe. He is mocked by the North Korean dictator as a dotard.

What to do?

Trump's first instinct is to deny reality. That's what he did last week when, after Luther Strange lost to Roy Moore in Alabama, Trump erased all his tweets in support of Strange — a Soviet-style airbrushing. When the health care bill failed, he invented a narrative that it was because a GOP senator was in the hospital.

At the same time, Trump is retreating further into his information cocoon, safe from unwanted facts and contrary data points. Trump aide Stephen Miller has been helping to build this happy place for Trump. When the administration was debating a refugee cap, The New York Times reported recently, Miller intervened "to ensure that only the costs — not any fiscal benefit — of [admitting more refugees] were considered."

Alas, such solutions are imperfect, for they do not sway those Americans who still reside in reality-based communities. A better fix is needed. And, happily, the Trump administration has already happened on one: moving the goal posts.

Take, for example, the pesky goal of getting broadband service to more Americans. The Trump-era Federal Communications Commission has discovered that it is not on target to reach broadband access goals set in 2015. So, as The Washington Post's Brian Fung reports, the FCC is considering a solution: Lower the definition of broadband from 25 megabits per second to, say, 10. Instantly, millions of Americans would have "broadband" — without internet speeds changing. Problem solved.

At the Federal Aviation Administration, likewise, an advisory panel has decided it's too hard for airlines to hit the requirement that pilots have 1,500 hours of training, so it wants to count classroom work toward that total rather than just flying experience. The industry gets more pilots, and the flying public can rest assured that if airline pilots no longer know enough about flying planes, they at least have read books on the subject. Problem solved.

The president seems to be warming to goal post shifting. On the eve of the latest Obamacare-repeal failure, he told reporters: "Eventually we'll win, whether it's now or later." A loss is just a victory that has not yet materialized.

Many such redefinitions are perfectly consistent with Trump's promises for deregulation and shrinking government.

The State Department doesn't need so many diplomats if it redefines its mission to remove such cumbersome goals as "democracy promotion." Budget balancing becomes easier if you simply set projected annual growth at 3 percent rather than the 2 percent economists actually expect. And bankers can no longer be accused of favoring profits over a client's best interests when there is no requirement that they do otherwise.

If you think about it broadly, there is no problem Trump can't solve by redefinition.

Trump's promise to rebuild the nation's aging infrastructure, particularly bridges and airports (for one-third the regular price!), is not looking so good. But a simple redefinition could fix this. The American Society of Civil Engineers reports that the average American bridge is 43 years old. But if the Trump administration were to define "years" for infrastructure in Jupiter years rather than Earth years, those same bridges would only be 3.6 years old. Problem solved.

Trump has pledged to deport 11 million people living illegally in the United States — but it appears his administration is actually deporting fewer people than before. Here, a simple word change would do: Strike the word "illegally." About 15 million people in the United States self-deport each year (we come back when our vacation or business trip is over, but Trump can leave that part out). Goal met.

In a broader sense, Trump's "Make America Great Again" goal won't hold up well when his supporters realize that coal, steel and heavy manufacturing jobs aren't coming back. But what if he redefines greatness, not by the number of jobs but by the number of people who stand for the national anthem at football games?

Greatness is within reach — if we define it down.