The debate continues. Yesterday’s post, “Had Enough Trump?” elicited a fine round of intelligent and sometimes heated comments, mostly favoring the Donald. Rather than respond in the comments section, I will post about them here.
Before that, I remark on the bouquet that the Donald threw to his supporters yesterday:
I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's like – incredible!
From what I can tell, he is probably right. And yet, this is not flattering. Before you all accuse me of insulting Trump's supporters, it’s worth noting that the Donald was insulting them… to their face. And they did not even seem to know it.
Trump’s supporters may love him beyond reason, but that is not necessarily a good thing. There are words for that level of devotion, and most of them are not very nice. Among those that come to mind are: idolatry.
Which makes a certain amount of sense. Only a god could accomplish what Trump says he will accomplish. And only an idolater would believe it.
I am sure you know this already, but compared to the antics of the Olympian gods, shooting someone on Fifth Avenue would barely count as bad behavior.
Of course, Trump’s supporters are not alone in thinking that he is a god. He believes it himself and has believed it for some time now. For example, in 1984 Trump explained to the Washington Post that he could negotiate a missile deal with the Soviet Union:
It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway.
Let’s say that he is exaggerating for rhetorical effect, but if he believes that he can learn everything there is to know about missiles, in say a day and a half, we are not dealing with a common everyday run-of-the mill human being. We are dealing with a god. If you believe that he can do what he says, your devotion is idolatrous.
The rationale for the Trump candidacy, as many commenters have noted rests on the failure of the Republican establishment. About this failure Trump had precious little to say before a few months ago.
For those who think that Trump would be a fearsome warrior against the establishment, I would note that said establishment is currently flocking to Donald Trump. They are persuaded that they can deal with him. They are not worried about Trump.
Thomas Sowell explained it:
Yet there are even a few people with strong conservative principles who have lined up with this man, whose history has demonstrated no principles at all, other than an ability to make self-serving deals, and who has shown what Thorstein Veblen once called "a versatility of convictions."
With the Iowa caucuses coming up, it is easy to understand why Iowa governor Terry Branstad is slamming Trump's chief rival, Senator Ted Cruz, who has opposed massive government subsidies to ethanol, which have dumped tons of taxpayer money on Iowa for growing corn. Iowa's Senator Charles Grassley has come right out and said that is why he opposes Senator Cruz.
Former Senator Bob Dole, an establishment Republican if ever there was one, has joined the attacks on Ted Cruz, on grounds that Senator Cruz is disliked by other politicians.
When Senator Dole was active, he was liked by both Democrats and Republicans. He joined the long list of likable Republican candidates for president that the Republican establishment chose-- and that the voters roundly rejected.
With both establishment Republicans and anti-establishment Republicans now taking sides with Donald Trump, it is hard to see what principle-- if any-- is behind his support.
But then, what do these establishment Republicans know that you do not know?
They understand a point I have been making for lo these many months, namely, that in terms of government, Donald Trump is a rank amateur. While he certainly knew enough about real estate to negotiate real estate deals, that does not mean that he can or will know enough about every subject that falls within the purview of the American president. It is absurd to think otherwise.
Recently, the New York Times published a long article describing how Trump negotiated the Plaza Hotel deal. Certainly, he negotiated very skillfully. But, note well, he was negotiating, not just from strength, but from knowledge. He knew real estate and he knew real estate people.
Nevertheless, by his own admission, he overpaid for the Plaza Hotel. When the real estate market went sour and Trump was forced to hand the Plaza, along with a mass of his other properties over to the banks, they sold the Plaza for considerably less than he had paid for it.
Just because you are an expert deal maker, does not mean that you always make good deals.
Trump will surely try to hire good people to work for him, but that assumes that good people will want to work for him. And it ignores this fact: someone who is woefully uninformed about policy, politics, foreign affairs, military affairs and the functioning of the federal government will be completely dependent on his advisers.
If that is the case, what will happen when two of your brilliant advisers disagree? Either you know enough to make a decision or you flip a coin. A leader who knows very little about his job will be the most easy to manipulate.
In other words, Trump does not know enough about the function of government to do anything that will upset the Republican establishment. If you disagree, and many of you will, ask yourself this: what do they know that you do not know?
As you also know, National Review and other members of the conservative intelligentsia have been subjected to withering criticism for noting that Trump is not a conviction conservative. He has always been a deal maker and has happily supported people on all sides of the political spectrum. Which is thoroughly appropriate for a businessman who wants to build buildings and golf courses and who needs to deal with government officials.
But Trump has not thought through the major philosophical questions. He has not thought through the major policy issues. There is no reason to believe that he would stand for principle when he does not really know enough about principles to know when he would or would not be yielding on them. Besides, when faced with the choice of standing up for principle or making a deal, which would he choose?
About that Thomas Sowell offered a couple of sobering thoughts. Admittedly, he, like Trump believes that many of Trump’s supporters have not really thought things through, that their support is more emotional than rational.
Trump boasts that he can make deals, among his many other boasts. But is a deal-maker what this country needs at this crucial time? Is not one of the biggest criticisms of today's Congressional Republicans that they have made all too many deals with Democrats, betraying the principles on which they ran for office?
Bipartisan deals -- so beloved by media pundits -- have produced some of the great disasters in American history.
Contrary to the widespread view that the Great Depression of the 1930s was caused by the stock market crash of 1929, unemployment never reached double digits in any of the 12 months that followed the stock market crash in October, 1929.
Unemployment was 6.3 percent in June 1930 when a Democratic Congress and a Republican president made a bipartisan deal that produced the Smoot-Hawley tariffs. Within 6 months, unemployment hit double digits -- and stayed in double digits throughout the entire decade of the 1930s.
You want deals? There was never a more politically successful deal than that which Neville Chamberlain made in Munich in 1938. He was hailed as a hero, not only by his own party but even by opposition parties, when he returned with a deal that Chamberlain said meant "peace for our time." But, just one year later, the biggest, bloodiest and most ghastly war in history began.
If deal-making is your standard, didn't Barack Obama just make a deal with Iran -- one that may have bigger and worse consequences than Chamberlain's deal?
What kind of deals would Donald Trump make? He has already praised the Supreme Court's decision in "Kelo v. City of New London" which said that the government can seize private property to turn it over to another private party.
That kind of decision is good for an operator like Donald Trump. Doubtless other decisions that he would make as president would also be good for Donald Trump, even if for nobody else.
In response to which and in response to National Review, one Theodore Roosevelt Malloch denounced the conservative intellectuals for having been wrong all along and for taking the wrong side. Thinking that his being a descendant of TR himself made him something of an expert on TR, Malloch also pointed out that, to his mind, Trump recalled Teddy Roosevelt.
About the intelligentsia Malloch said to the Daily Caller:
“The motivation simply is: life or death,” the scholar told The DC. “They want their cushy jobs, going on talk shows, getting free lunches and cocktails, being important and the prestige it brings. They are in fact part of the ‘ruling political class’ and that will end [under a President Trump].”
For the record, Malloch is a writer, but not exactly a scholar. He runs a company that sells ideas about strategy and leadership. His argument against the conservative intelligentsia is quite simple. He does not address their ideas; he impugns their motives. It’s much easier to impugn motives than to argue the issues or the policies.
Why then are Republican politicians and lobbyists flocking to Trump? About that, Malloch has no answer.
Malloch, like many other Trump supporters likes the Donald because he’s:
…a doer — not an idle thinker or theorist. He represents a kind of national conservatism that has a popular rather than an elitist stance.
And yet, since Trump has never done anything as a public official or as an officer of the government, the thought that he can walk into Washington and actually do things rests on faith, not on evidence.
Defending Trump, Malloch asserted:
“Donald Trump is perhaps best viewed as the 21st century Theodore Roosevelt. The two leaders have much in common — from style and swagger to substance and outlook,” he wrote in a Forbes column in December.
According to the scholar, Trump is like Roosevelt in understanding “the value of capital and labor;” advocating a “strong policy of American Nationalism;” creating “another kind of conservation;” and believing “good government is rooted in good citizenship.”
Of course, Theodore Roosevelt was also one of the founders of the American progressive movement, but why quibble over details. TR was a great president, but he was also a great intellectual. He counts among the best writers we have ever had in the White House. TR was a prolific author and wrote his own books. They were invariably well written and showed a commanding grasp of the workings of government, of world politics, of the military. He had served in the military, had been assistant secretary of the Navy, a commissioned military officer, the Police Commissioner of New York City and the governor of New York State.
TR wrote his first book when he was an undergraduate at Harvard. It was published when he was 23 and was entitled The Naval War of 1912. It might not have sold as many copies as some of Trump’s books, but it was widely respected as one of the best studies of its subject.
TR’s contemporaneous op-eds about World War I count as brilliant analyses of the foreign policy and military issues. They are collected in four volumes, the first of which is America and the World War.
True enough, the Republican establishment of the day was horrified at TR, someone who was not really one of them and whom they did not believe they could control. Why did they not like TR? The reason must have been that he had considerable experience in government and knew more than they did, about almost everything.