Thursday, August 27, 2015

Who Is Howard Roark?

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.


Ares Olympus said...

I confess Trump's presidential candidacy continues to be a joke for me, one which I'm still looking for sense.

I studied election methods way-back in 2000 when Gore won a majority of the vote without winning the election, not to say I voted for Gore, but Nader of course, my "protest" vote, perhaps something similar to the Trump effect now.

I remember hearing an analysis of level of speech for the candidates, and I think Bush was like 2nd grade, Gore like 10th grade, and Nader's speeches required graduate school, which was cool, but did anyone understand anything he was saying? But anyway, Gore won Minnesota without my help, and Nader helped the Green Party get some status. But if you asked me if I seriously thought Nader could be a good president, I'd confess surely not. Advocates like Nader WANT to take sides, and want to never compromise, and so the small number of things he might accomplish as president would be too small for his patience I expect.

Anyway, back to election methods, the most practice idea I heard about is a "None of the above" vote, which is a way of protesting against all the choices for president, without accidentally voting for a candidate who you really don't want to be responsible for helping elect.

Really "None of the above" is most ideal in ONE CANDIDATE elections, like when an incumbent for county commissioner is running again for the 20th year, unopposed, then a NOTA gives a measure of discontent. So if an incumbent running unopposed gets 99% of the vote, he can be happy, but if he gets 51% against a 49% NOTA, then he'd better spend the next 2 or 4 years listening very carefully or someone is going to challenge him next time.

I wonder if a NOTA vote would help in the GOP presidential process, but with 17 some candidates, what more could voters want? Can they all be clowns? It doesn't make sense. Yet, I wonder how many of Trump's supporters would vote NOTA if it meant something? Why raise such a clown up? Do people really want President Trump?!

Some part of me is repulsed by the whole election process, although if I wanted to thwart billionaires, I admit 17 candidates would seem an ideal disaster for their games. But really, myself, I don't think I can say who I'd honestly choose for president. Its always much easier to try to decide who you don't want for president, and vote for anyone else, but now that the answer to "Anyone else" is Trump, I see the weakness of that strategy, AND the weakness of NOTA as well.

And yet, Trump does speak of building walls, and no sensible candidate can say such things, so maybe I want MORE crazy candidates saying things no sensible candidate says, and who cares who wins at this point?

I'd like a serious discussion for secession, for dividing the United States into parts, and building big walls between each part, and then we won't need presidents to be elected any more.

I'm looking for a Gorbachev, our perestroika, a complete restructuring of our nation back into our agricultural roots, where we don't have to care about how many billions wall streeters earn this year from the on going QE bailouts, because they won't exist.

Who will be the last president of the United States? Which state will secede first? Which ones will we toss out? And which ones will need walls to keep them out?

These are interesting and exciting questions. And only candidates like Trump and those who follow his lead can help us answer them.

priss rules said...

Actually, Trump is more like Gail Wynand the tycoon.

Howard Roark is an idealist-romantic who will not compromise his vision for any price or anyone. He sticks to his own principles, even if it means demotion, firing, and poverty.

Roark depends on money men for his projects, but he demands that they give him full freedom to do as he pleases.

Trump, like Wynand, will do anything for money and to win. He has no deep principles or scruples. He's an opportunist, a philistine schmoozer, a circus showman.
It's all art of the deal than inventing the wheel.

Howard Roark was almost monastic and purist in his devotion to his vision.

priss rules said...


I think Ayn Rand's advice to George Bailey would have been to just leave the town and follow his dream regardless of his father's business or the interests of the townsfolk.
And George Bailey starts out like Howard Roark. He wants to conquer the world and follow his vision.
But his individualism is tempered by a sense of family(he has a younger brother) and the community(that is preyed upon by Harry Potter). Bailey is very American because Americanism was a balance of the individual and the community, of progress and tradition. Ayn Rand took only the elements of Americanism that she liked--rugged individualism and competitive spirit--and expunged all else. She radicalized Americanism, and Howard Roark is like George Bailey with total commitment to his vision and no feeling for anything else. Americanism is anti-radical, but Rand radicalized Americanism, and that's why Randism is ultimately dangerous. Rand escaped from socialist radicalism to promote individualist radicalism. In truth, all forms of radicalism are bad. No single idea or method is the answer for everything. We should be monotheist with ideas or monoideist.

priss rules said...

More like Howard Roark or Tony Montana?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The reaction to Trump is a symptom of the real problem.

The real problem is a Republican Party that has become cowed. Republicans accept the postmodern Leftist philosophy of the mainstream news media, and react to it. The mainstream media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democrat Party. If we let them tell the story, we don't stand a chance. Romney showed that. We can't play by these rules anymore. Someone has to break through.

Trump goes over the media filter, because he can. He's Donald Trump.

The real problem is a lack of true courage in the Republican Party. There is an absence of real mettle. Donald Trump is not a real man, he is a self-infatuated blowhard. His cache is name recognition, celebrity and bluster. I saw the same response to the debt ceiling. His China response was disjointed and irrelevant to the question. But can we please be honest and acknowledge that the faux brouhaha of the debt ceiling is just that? Please. It's a non-issue, making a question about it a non-question. Why? Everyone knows the Republicans will cave because they truly come to believe they can't say no to a black president. They don't have the stomach for a government shutdown. Everyone in Washington spends all this money we don't have, then we have this periodic perfunctory event called "the latest debt ceiling crisis." That's been the narrative all along. Republicans accept the narrative, and react so they don't get seen as "racists."

Republican base voters look at that kind of nonsense again and again and they are disgusted. What are these same Republican "leaders" going to do when the first female president (Liawatha Lizzy Warren) comes to power? Are they just going to spend 8 years saying "Yes, dear"? Is that what we have to look forward to? Because the majority of journalists on the Sunday talk shows decide it is unseemly to question a woman's executive decisions in a job she volunteered for?

At its core, the problem the Republican Party has is that the leadership plays into all the awful things that are said about them. They buy it. They own it. They believe it. The Establishment would rather lose the election than lose their coiffed sophistication. When was the last time you heard Boehner or McConnell interviewed and call the Occupy _____ people "crazies"? Or the AFT, AFL-CIO, UAW or SEIU? They didn't, and don't. Obama calls people "crazies," and everyone just shrugs their shoulders. Obama does whatever he wants, the Republicans look impotent. They have no answer. Do we really need to see Boehner speak from that set and podium at the House and say more stupid things with no follow-through? If I were Obama, I'd have contempt for the Republican leadership, too. And he does...

Again, let me be clear: I don't like Trump. He's an ass. I just think we should consider what people like about him other than taking "The Apprentice" on the national stage. He's famous for being famous, which means he's a celebrity. But what are people responding to? They're responding to him because (a) he speaks about things that matter to people; and (b) he doesn't cow to the media. His continuing feud with Kelly is nauseating, but his exchange with Jorge Ramos was instructive. Does anyone think Jeb Bush would've taken Ramos on? Not a chance.

We are waiting for a real mainstream candidate to do something akin to what Reagan did in 1979 with his "I paid for this microphone!" Let's see some moxie, some fortitude. I'd like to see Rubio do it.

Obama is your true Nietzchean will-to-power. And the Republican Party does nothing.

The Randian comparisons don't work with Donald Trump. Even she couldn't create a character so vacantly diabolical. And she had some pretty extreme characters.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"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. "

Okay, then let's start a grass-roots campaign to get rid of Graham, Gilmore, Jindal, Pataki, Christie, Paul, Huckabee, Carson, Santorum and all the rest of these clowns who have no chance! You want to talk about vanity? Why in God's name is Lindsay Graham running for president? Because he doesn't like Ted Cruz? I like his stance on the Iran, but I am not a single-issue voter. He's a silly person for running for president. Why don't we start heckling and protesting against his filthy, vain conceit? George Pataki? Let's move on... I don't even know Gilmore's first name. The Huckster doesn't have a chance. Rand Paul is showing his fringy-ness. Chris Christie is never, ever going to win a single primary. Bobby Jindal is the darling of many, but no one will vote for him. Rick Santorum is still talking about visiting every country in Iowa the last time around. Ben Carson is an unelectable delight. I'm keeping Fiorina as a possible VP pick, especially if the Dems pick Hillary, so she might as well get some reps on the campaign trail.

So you're correct in your analysis... it is a vainglorious party. With little to show thus far. So let's talk about Trump some more. Just kidding.

And let's be clear: the Democrat Party is not in good shape, either. It's early. If I hear again about Beau Biden's deathbed wish to his father, I'm going to throw up. Can you believe... can you even believe that Joe Biden is seriously considering a run for the presidency? It's insane. He's been wrong on every single foreign policy issue for 40 years. And he's gaffe-prone. Gigantic gaffes. But all the journalists like him, so that means he should be POTUS. Nuts, says I.

Who's going to lead this country? Is anyone out there happy with who they see? Maybe we should all rally around Lincoln Chafee to create economic stimulus by changing all our road signs to metric. Or confiscatory taxation with the frontrunner Bernie. Or the shirtless whiner O'Malley. Why are we paying attention to the Republican race in the first place? Oh yeah, because Donald Trump is leading.

Ares, I bet you like the metric system, don't you? So sophisticated...

Unknown said...

I love how desperate everyone is getting about Trump. Is he serious? Maybe not, but unqualified? Compared to who? 7 years ago, the GOP was blaming the loss to Obama on George W. Bush. So who do they want now? His even worse brother Jeb! Seriously?
People say Jeb is the former Governor of Florida as though this was a good thing. Florida may be a pivotal state, but Bush didn't retire from term limits, they hate him there!
The Bush family is despised by the media, and hated by conservatives. What happened? Weren't there any members of Nixon's family that would run?
I am beginning to suspect that people are right and the GOP is the new Whig Party. I don't know who they represent anymore. Do they have any voters in mind? They hate the TEA Party and Conservatives and Libertarians. Who is left?

David Foster said...

See my post Dangers of A Plague on All Their Houses:

Dennis said...

As I have stated before Trump is a creation of a Republican party establishment that goes along to get along. They seem to have no core principles which they will defend. The few who do stand up are punished by the establishment.
Living in Florida I know few people, and this includes democrats, who hate Jeb Bush. Like me many of us dislike his emphasis on Common Core and many are opposed to political dynasties that the Clintons and Bushes are an example. I seriously doubt conservatives hate Bush. Bush is a tired example, just like Hillary Clinton, of old failed policies that have failed us all. Note they graduate from the same types of schools with the same kind of indoctrination. To consider that they might think outside that small little box they live in is too believe in unicorns. Isn't it time those who graduate from Harvard or Yale, et al, stopped doing so much damage to this country?
Much like IAC I don't particularly like Trump as a political candidate, but he does speak to the fact that many people are tired of political insiders at all levels and having a media that really does think it can make or break anyone foolish enough to challenge their ideas. If Trump actually create a Republican candidate with a spine and some real principles then he will have served a purpose.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Dennis @August 28, 2015 at 6:14 AM:

"The few who do stand up are punished by the establishment."

And what do they stand up and say?

They say things that make the D.C. and wealthy donor set uncomfortable at networking events and cocktail parties, where they are teased by their sophisticated Lefty friends who use peer pressure to associate them with "those kooks." Sound like high school to you? Sounds like middle school to me. And all their friends and elite movers and shakers "graduate from the same types of schools with the same kind of indoctrination." Elite colleges are Leftist seminaries.

The Establishment is ashamed of the base they count on (and take for granted) to win elections. Part of the reason we haven't won the last two presidential elections because the base has stayed at home in disgust with these Establishment candidates who are cowards... just like them.

If it's all about making lots of money through arbitrage, safeguarding corporate tax loopholes or protecting the family trusts, fine. But don't mock those of us out here who want an America we can be proud of. Who don't want our kids to go to school in order to learn about their demographic identity so they can huddle up and become part of the victim class and look forward to a life of activist sloth. Out here, we don't make our living from political intrigue and meddling.

The economic status quo sucks. Work gives people purpose, meaning and a sense of contribution. We're reliving the 1970s. Work is for suckers. The labor participation rate is abysmal. Obamanomics rewards anyone with an angle to get in on bureaucratic socialism. If you've enjoyed 0% interest rates the last 15 years, fine. There are lots of people in "flyover country" who believe that 0% interest rates encourage the worst kinds of behavior, while the government needs it to stop the deficit from ballooning out of control. We're sick of what's convenient for those living in D.C., with its wealthiest zip codes in the USA.

We are compromising with a Democrat Party that has been taken over by ideologues who call us "extremists." They take positions that are so crazy, and then we feel reasonable in trying to be constructive and meet them halfway. They call it "compromise" or being "reasonable." Look at the trajectory of this country since the Great Society. I it is amusing when Republicans are called "The party of 'NO'". Someone has to be an adult. Grow a pair!

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Peggy Noonan captures the zeitgeist:

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

One other thing...

These Republican Establishment types don't believe in their base because they do not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are vacant, nihilistic materialists. They are embarrassed by people who could possibly believe I the resurrection of the God-Man. They have no faith whatsoever... in God, man, or anything except their latest material possession or egoic triumph that is the basis for their entire existence. They do not believe in freedom from sin. They believe in themselves and their own power on this earth. And then they die.

Forgive the rest of us who spit at that thought of betrayers of those who claim the mantle of what this country is all about. We do not condemn them, we merely think then foolish.