Allow me to take a slight exception with Peggy Noonan. Calling Donald Trump a “nut,” as she does provides a bit of rhetorical flash, but it does not really tell us anything. Admit that Noonan is being slightly tongue-in-cheek, but since most of her column is about the “sane” Donald Trump, we cannot say that she is being totally ironic.
So, the meme of the sane Donald Trump, the Donald Trump that many imagined would be leading Republicans to victory merely distracts from the matter at hand.
One senses that even Noonan is not entirely thrilled with the trope. Calling Trump a “screwball,” as she did, is slightly kinder and less clinical.
In her words:
I get the Reagan fantasy—big guy with a nonstandard résumé comes in from the outside, cleans out the stables, saves the day. But it’s a fantasy and does not apply to this moment. I get the Jacksonian fantasy—crude, rude populist comes in from the hinterlands and upends a decadent establishment to the huzzahs of normal people with mud on their boots. But it’s a fantasy, and doesn’t apply.
Because he’s not a grizzled general who bears on his face the scars of a British sword, and not a shining citizen-patriot. He’s a screwball. Do you need examples? You do not, because you’re already thinking of them. For a year you’ve been observing the TV funhouse that is his brain.
On numerous occasions I have made the point that people are looking to Trump to be manly. God knows America could use a dose of manliness. Eight years of feckless, pusillanimous spinelessness has demoralized large parts of the nation and diminished America’s status and standing in the world. We did not just lose national face by being defeated. We lost it because Barack Obama gave it away. Or better, apologized it away, surrendered it away, chickened out. Heck, even the Socialist President of France has recently claimed that when he wanted to punish ISIS for its attack on French soil, the American president demurred. If you want to know what the nation is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, look to Barack Obama.
Therapists across the nation are being deluged with patients suffering from extreme states of anxiety over the current election. They are terrified of Donald Trump. They believe that Trump is making them crazy. Of course, their therapists agree. What did you expect from therapists?
The truth of the matter is this: people are anxious and anguished over the conditions that made Donald Trump a serious political candidate. Donald Trump exploited those conditions, but he did not create them. The author of the current malaise must be the man in charge, our stately president, Barack Obama. The president sets the national mood. He sets the national tone. He defines the national attitude. And, Obama the role model has diminished the nation.
Think of national pride. Think of the recent spectacle of a wealthy quarterback provoking disloyalty to the nation. Colin Kaepernick has been taking a knee for the national anthem, the better to show his lack of patriotism for a nation that represents—he believes— oppression. Since he apparently no longer knows how to play football he could not find a better way to draw attention to himself.
One football player does not make the national mood. But when President Obama chimed in that he respected Kaepernick’s disloyalty—he called it dissent-- the floodgates opened and other players, from the professional to the high school ranks, felt that it was OK, it was approved from on high, to disrespect the nation. Thus, to refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag.
The immediate result has been bad ratings for the NFL. More broadly, it redefined what it meant to be an American. Instead of saying that we are all Americans with different opinions, it said that we are not citizens of a great nation, but that we should identify by ideology or party. A house divided against itself… etc.
One understands all that, and yet one also understands Donald Trump offered to restore American manliness by being more macho than anyone else. One senses that Trump is posturing, because macho men always posture. One senses that he is a caricature, but one knows that in female-dominant cultures that’s usually all you get. Where a man’s man competes in the arena, a macho man affirms his manliness by seducing and even abusing women.
Even if you accept that Trump has built great buildings, when he brags about it and brags about abusing women he is acting as though his business success was anything but earned. Real men are humble. Real men give everyone credit for their success and take sole responsibility for their failures. Trump has reversed it. Thus, more macho than manliness.
It has nothing to do with anyone’s mental health. Or even narcissism. For my part I have emphasized Trump’s weak character, his lack of humility, his arrogant presumption, lack of experience, his lack of preparation, his flaunting his outsider status, his wish to show that he has not been corrupted by the ways of government.
And yet, the downside to that persona—and persona it certainly is—lies in the fact that the candidate does not know enough (about politics, about policy, about the law, about history) to make the case against Hillary or for himself. And he does not know that he does not know. Or so it seems. Thus, he seems headed for defeat.
Hillary Clinton is a sinister character but an utterly pathetic candidate. To anyone paying attention, her manifest flaws, weaknesses and wrongdoing made themselves apparent one way or another last night. The evidence continues to mount every day. A modestly capable candidate could make hash of her.
Trump is not the man. He can barely frame a coherent thought or articulate a comprehensible argument against her.
It has nothing to do with sanity. It has to do with not having put in the time and effort required to take command of the material and to prepare for the job. Trump has been going with his gut. He believes that his gut is infallible. It looks like he is about to be proven wrong.
Anyway, Noonan explains that Trump succeeded at first because he exposed the failings of establishment Republican politicians:
Mr. Trump’s great historical role was to reveal to the Republican Party whathalf of its own base really thinks about the big issues. The party’s leaders didn’t know! They were shocked, so much that they indulged in sheer denial and made believe it wasn’t happening.
The party’s leaders accept more or less open borders and like big trade deals. Half the base does not! It is longtime GOP doctrine to cut entitlement spending. Half the base doesn’t want to, not right now! Republican leaders have what might be called assertive foreign-policy impulses. When Mr. Trump insulted George W. Bush and nation-building and said he’d opposed the Iraq invasion, the crowds, taking him at his word, cheered. He was, as they say, declaring that he didn’t want to invade the world and invite the world. Not only did half the base cheer him, at least half the remaining half joined in when the primaries ended.
America has been so weakened by the Age of Obama, Trump was saying, that it needs to turn inward, to get its own house in order, to restore its manly courage and its manly virtue. So went the message. The problem was that the proposed solution was really the problem. America has been weakened, even emasculated by a president who disengaged from the world and conceded world leadership.
And yet, while Trump wants to avoid entangling military adventures, he threatens trade wars. And he threatens to slap tariffs on foreign products. One reason is clear. He understands international trade and does not understand military action or foreign policy. So, he has promised to fight on a terrain where he can credibly claim some expertise.
Of course, everyone who knows anything about trade wars insists that they should be avoided at all costs. Famed investor Jim Rogers has said that Trump’s trade wars would bankrupt America. He added that Hillary’s policies would bankrupt America. The difference, he said, was that Trump would do it more rapidly.
I don’t recall whether he mentioned it—I assume he did—but America’s bankruptcy has been engineered by an administration that doubled the national debt in eight years. Who knows when the bill will come due, but an extra $9 trillion in debt has certainly produced a semblance of economic activity. Unfortunately, it does not produce wealth. And it cannot last forever.
Anyway, Noonan introduces her fiction, a sane Donald Trump, and explains how he would have conducted his campaign. This assumes that he wanted to win, not just to make a point:
Sane Donald Trump, just to start, would look normal and happy, not grim and glowering. He would be able to hear and act on good advice. He would explain his positions with clarity and depth, not with the impatient half-grasping of a notion that marks real Donald Trump’s public persona.
Sane Donald Trump would have looked at a dubious, anxious and therefore standoffish Republican establishment and not insulted them, diminished them, done tweetstorms against them. Instead he would have said, “Come into my tent. It’s a new one, I admit, but it’s yuge and has gold faucets and there’s a place just for you. What do you need? That I be less excitable and dramatic? Done. That I not act, toward women, like a pig? Done, and I accept your critique. That I explain the moral and practical underpinnings of my stand on refugees from terror nations? I’d be happy to. My well-hidden secret is that I love everyone and hear the common rhythm of their beating hearts.”
Sane Donald Trump would have given an anxious country more ease, not more anxiety. He would have demonstrated that he can govern himself. He would have suggested through his actions, while still being entertaining, funny and outsize, that yes, he understands the stakes and yes, since America is always claiming to be the leader of the world—We are No. 1!—a certain attendant gravity is required of one who’d be its leader.
Restore America’s place in the world. Make America great again. Overcome the self-deprecation and demoralization that has been afoot during the Age of Obama. It was a nice thought. But it had to be more than a thought. It had to become a plan for consequential action. It had to lead to victory, not to excuses.
Sane Donald Trump would not treat the political process of the world’s greatest democracy as if it were, as somebody said, the next-to-last episode of a reality-TV series. That’s the episode that leaves you wondering how the season will end—who will scream, who will leave the drunken party in a huff, who will accuse whom of being a whore. I guess that’s what “I’ll keep you in suspense” as to whether he’ll accept the election result was about. We’re being teed up. The explosive season finale is Nov. 8. Maybe he’ll leave in a huff. Maybe he’ll call everyone whores.
To make America great again you must begin by winning. Not just winning the nomination by bullying opposition, but by winning the general election. One notes, with chagrin, that if you win the nomination by trashing your opponents, the task of uniting the party becomes that much more difficult. Still, you cannot make America great again unless you do everything in your power to win. And unless you work your hardest to ensure victory.
You don’t make America great again and you don’t make the Republican Party great again by appearing to throw the election to the wife of America’s most decadent president, to a woman who excels at corrupt practices, who acts as though she is entitled, and who postures at being strong and resolute. Hillary may have been posturing, but in the debates she looked stronger and resolute, more in command of her brief, than the candidate who was looked like he had been overcome by his own greatness.
You cannot make a case for your ability to restore American manliness when everyone thinks that you got beaten by a woman. And that you barely even put up a fight.
This morning the New York Daily News gives us a front page headline, to the effect that a landslide victory over Donald Trump will restore America’s honor. Strange thought that. Electing a candidate whose primary qualification is her husband and her gender will not restore America’s honor. You cannot restore America’s honor by electing a fundamentally corrupt individual who is not respected anywhere around the world. And you cannot restore America's honor by electing a woman who failed miserably in her first foray on the world stage.
Remember when Hillary, as the newly minted Secretary of State presented a “Reset” button to the Russian foreign minister. The word on the big red button was rendered in the Russian and the gesture was supposed to show that a new sheriff was in town and that the bad old Bush days were over. (In passing, has anyone really figured out why Hillary thought that a big red button would be just the right symbol?)
Remember what her Russian counterpart said to her. He said that she had gotten the word wrong. Did you find that to be strange? If you didn't, you should have. He is a diplomat. He knows how to make face saving gestures. He chose not to. He preferred putting her down, humiliating her… by announcing in public that she was incompetent on the most basic level.
If that's who you lose to, you do not look like the toughest guy on the block.