February 29, 2016
“Whenever two people are talking, whatever they’re talking about, they’re talking about money”
(Proverb of disputed origin)
Another truism bites the dust. Given the unorthodoxy of the 2016 election cycle, this should now read:
“Whenever two people are talking, whatever they’re talking about, they’re talking about Trump.”
Take the last few days, for example, when various Republican-Conservative observers have offered differing perspectives on a ‘theory of the case’ for Trumpism.
First up, the New York Times’ conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, who constructs an argument for Trumpism based in part on the electorate’s repudiation of Obamaism:
“But Trumpism is also a creature of the late Obama era, irrupting after eight years when a charismatic liberal president has dominated the cultural landscape and set the agenda for national debates.”
It’s a bit of a stretch, not quite a non sequitur, but a thin piece of logic, at best. If anything has ‘dominated the cultural landscape’ during these past eight years, it is the Obama Derangement Syndrome, which has expressed itself in everything from Trump’s concocted stentorian pronouncements about Obama’s citizenship to Mitch McConnell’s declaration that Job 1 for the Republican Party following the 2008 election was to make sure that Obama didn’t serve a second term.
In the service of that parochial goal, Americans got government shutdowns, risible legislative efforts and misspent resources focused on repealing Obamacare, and the current refusal/ultimatum on holding Senate hearings for a nominee to fill the Supreme Court’s vacant seat.
Next comes Robert Kagan, a long-time foreign policy and national security adviser to a succession of leading Republican politicians, including Jack Kemp, George Shultz, Ronald Reagan, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. In Sunday’s Washington Post, Kagan probes the Trumpism phenomenon with a Frankenstein analogy, which leads to a Pogoesque conclusion:
“Let’s be clear: Trump is no fluke. Nor is he hijacking the Republican Party or the conservative movement, if there is such a thing. He is, rather, the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker. Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at?”
Rounding out this consideration of perspectives by Republican-Conservative essayists is a just-published piece in The American Interest – “The Age of Trump” – by Eliot Cohen, professor of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) who also served as Counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Having surveyed a variety of analyses of the Trump phenomenon by other Republican-Conservative commentators, including Kagan, David Frum, Ben Domenech, Charles Murray, and Joel Kotkin, whose insights he accepts, Cohen adds a two-word rationale: moral rot:
“The current problem goes beyond excruciatingly bad manners. What we increasingly lack, and have lacked for some time, is a sense of the moral underpinning of republican (small r) government. Manners and morals maintain a free state as much as laws do, as Tocqueville observed long ago, and when a certain culture of virtue dies, so too does something of what makes democracy work. Old-fashioned words like integrity, selflessness, frugality, gravitas, and modesty rarely rate a mention in modern descriptions of the good life—is it surprising that they don’t come up in politics, either?”
Hard to top de Tocqueville or to discredit the notion that when the ‘moral underpinning of a republican government’ begins to fray, so too does the sanctity and the security of the state.
On the eve of Super Tuesday, prognosticators, pollsters, pundits, and statisticians are poised to interpret the messages for candidates and parties alike. Irrespective of the results -- whether Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton take the clear lead in their respective parties, or whether the contest moves on to March 15th and beyond -- here’s what we know today.
Fred and Mary Anne Trump have given us Donald Trump. And Donald Trump has given us Trumpism. The former is immutable, the latter is not.
It could be that somewhere along the line of primary and caucus contests, Republican primary voters will show Trump the door. Nothing in the lead up to Super Tuesday suggests that will be the outcome. That means the nation may well endure the indignity of a Trump candidacy.
We can survive a Trump candidacy, but a Trump presidency would be quite another matter. And while the sweep and fever of his political rallies suggest that he could be on his way to the greatest upset in American political history, a certain residue of respect for voters and belief in something de Tocqueville observed nearly 200 years ago suggests that we may get it right next November:
“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”