American politics has entered the twilight zone. As the Donald becomes a serious candidate for president, conservative commentators are aghast and appalled. If you want to read some really nasty anti-Trump rhetoric you need but glance at the National Review.
Being as I live in New York, I have more than a few friends and acquaintances of the liberal persuasion. To a man (and a woman) they are thrilled by Donald Trump. They have no reason to attack him or to try to destroy him. They are happy to watch the spectacle of Trump destroying the Republican Party.
You might say that liberals and conservatives are both wrong, because Donald Trump transcends normal politics. But, if they are both right and if you think that the best hope for the American Republic is a conservative president, you might very well live to regret your enthusiasm.
Many people think that American politics is such a mess that we need a bulldozer to raze it all and start anew. To which Charles Cooke, in National Review wrote this:
Does the Republican party have problems? Certainly. Are there any circumstances in which Donald Trump could be considered the best antidote to them? Not on your life. To suggest that Trump is the best remedy for what ails the GOP is as if to suggest that an axe to the chest is the best remedy for what ails a man with bronchitis.
I am sure you hate it, but Cooke does have a point. If you take it as a given that the system is broken, how can someone who never worked in the system know how to make it work? If the state of Iowa or Wisconsin or Texas has budgetary problems should it ask a real estate developer from New York to fix them? Even one whose political speeches are mostly paeans to his own greatness.
As for those Republicans who imagine that Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina could do the job of POTUS, I have no idea what they are thinking, or even if they are thinking.
I do not agree with Cooke that Trump is a new Narcissus. The original Narcissus fell in love with his image while gazing at it in a limpid pool. Donald Trump more closely resembles Howard Roark, hero of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.
Howard Roark was tough and uncompromising. He designed phallic buildings. I do not know whether he had a blond mane, but, as a leonine character, he even had a roar in his name.
Others have suggested that Trump is a quintessential bully and therefore that he is helping Republicans by showing that they do not know how to respond to a bully, the point is well taken.
After watching Mitt Romney wimp out in the last election, Republicans are understandably thrilled by the prospect of having a candidate who, whatever his many flaws, will never back down… even when he is in the wrong.
On the other hand, Trump’s habit of bullying journalists—especially female journalists-- is not, in the long run, going to endear him with too many voters. Beating up on Megyn Kelly does not make him look strong; it makes him look weak and whiny.
Many Republican voters like Trump’s raw will-to-power. They love the authenticity. And yet, when his critics examine what exactly he has been saying, the results are none too encouraging. Trump tends to speak out of both sides of mouth, to contradict himself and to look like he does not know what he is talking about.
Yesterday, while he was suggesting that the Republican Congress refuse to raise the debt ceiling Trump went off on a riff about the trade deficit with China. Now, the national debt and the budget deficit are not the same thing. And neither of them are the same as the trade deficit. Trump sounded like he was free associating, as though he had not thought the issue through.
And then there is Trump’s appeal to evangelical Christians. This one is far harder to understand. In principle, people who draw their moral values from religion want a president who presents himself as a beacon of moral probity, someone whose example, when emulated, will naturally produce a more virtuous populace.
Jesus did not teach the will-to-power. The philosopher who did, Nietzsche, was not a devout Christian.
After all, the president is a role model. He is the ultimate role model. His behavior sets the moral tone of the nation. Religious people were appalled by the example set by one Bill Clinton; they ought also to have been appalled by John F. Kennedy.
Yesterday, Frank Bruni—yes, I understand that you don’t care what he thinks, but he is, as a New York Times columnist, very influential—asked this question of Trump’s Christian supporters. After all, they could support a pastor like Mike Huckabee or a pastor’s son like Ted Cruz. So, why are so many evangelical Christians drawn to the morally imperfect Donald Trump?
Bruni offers this observation:
If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant, judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making amount of sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I’m at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I’ve amassed?
Seems to work for Donald Trump.
But that’s not all. Bruni continues:
What’s different and fascinating about the Trump worship is that he doesn’t even try that hard for a righteous facade — for Potemkin piety. Sure, he speaks of enthusiastic churchgoing, and he’s careful to curse Planned Parenthood and to insist that matrimony be reserved for heterosexuals as demonstrably inept at it as he is.
But beyond that? He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-“losers” rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.
When voting for president, one votes for a human being, not a personality type. One does not vote for the man who most closely corresponds to the right Randian (or even Randy) fictional character.
Several months ago, prior to the Trump ascendence, I suggested on this blog that it was not so good for the Republicans to have so many vanity candidates. Other wiser commentators disagreed, saying that it was good to be able to show off so many great, qualified candidates.
My point, if I may repeat myself, was that a party with many vanity candidates starts looking like a vanity party, a party that exists to stoke the ego of whoever comes along. And a vanity party does not look like it is taking the office of the presidency seriously.
Moreover, a multiplicity of candidates fragments the unTrump vote and makes it impossible for a single candidate to lead the counter forces.
Little did I know that the vanity party would find its supreme leader in the ultimate vanity candidate, a candidate who excels in vanity and who offers little more than vanity.