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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

It's not the differences that concern me the most

Last summer when Trump started to rise in the polls I gave it very little thought.  Because electoral politics and especially primaries can be so volatile, I usually don't try to make sense of things until a number of states have voted.  Having grownup in New York, Trump's exploits and style are easily ignored.  Now the matter deserves some attention:

Many Americans shook their heads in 2008 wondering how in the world President Obama was elected when he had told us plainly that he wanted to “fundamentally transform” our country. Then, the perplexity increased when he was reelected in 2012 long after his radical policies and disdain for the Constitution were abundantly evident. Unbelievably, after suffering through the effrontery of the Obama Administration’s arrogance and his flaunting of executive actions instead of bipartisanship, the nation is now enthralled with Donald Trump’s bombastic, flamboyant, but empty promises – based solely on his ability to capitalize on the public’s anger and to manipulate people’s fears, rather than specific policy proposals or potential for effective constitutional governance -- to come in and liberate us from the overweening government bureaucrats with their endless thirst for control and restore America’s greatness. The Washington Post summarized the situation by claiming that Donald Trump is giving the establishment (on both Capitol Hill and K Street) the “middle finger” and “his supporters love it.” One analyst likened Trump to a parasite eating up the host; another called him America’s “Fatal Attraction.”
So how did we get to the point that it was possible for Obama to be elected and for Trump to be a serious contender for the presidency?
Obviously, things are complicated, but generally root causes are fairly simple and foundational. I can think of three things that are fundamental problems that are endemic in our society.

Nebulous Faith: Despite President Obama’s claims to the contrary, America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It was founded to allow freedom of religion (as the saying goes, it was not founded to be free from religion).

PC Education:  Emotions and feelings are important and hard thinking is rarely taught or experienced. Politically Correct language is the norm; nothing can be allowed that offends the proliferating collection of victims on the Left.

Cultural Disintegration: There is no way to overstate the influence of the media and entertainment industries in shaping attitudes and values. In many respects both Obama and Trump are products of the media. President and Mrs. Obama have been media darlings since their earliest days on the national scene. With his ability to play to the crowd, Trump is always good for headlines. Neither man sees a distinction between politics and entertainment.
Ed Driscoll had some thoughts over at Instapundit:

The rise of Trump and the fall of free speech in academia are equal signs that we are losing the intellectual sturdiness and honesty without which a republic cannot thrive.

As with Obama in 2008, whatever his many transgressions, it’s tough to complain about Trump intuitively understanding that today’s pop culture was built for him to exploit to the fullest. “Years from now they’ll say: the center didn’t hold. The tree was hollow. All it took was one hard push from a virtuoso demagogue,” Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal writes on Twitter. Ah, but which one?


Angelo Codevilla is concerned that Trump would be another Obama:
Obama has been our first emperor. A Donald Trump presidency, far from reversing the ruling class’s unaccountable hold over American life, would seal it. Because Trump would act as our second emperor, he would render well-nigh impossible our return to republicanism.
 For two centuries, the government’s main decisions have happened through open congressional proceedings and recorded votes. That’s the republic we used to have.
Neither Obama nor Trump seem to know or care that cycles of reciprocal resentment, of insults and injuries paid back with ever more interest and ever less concern for consequences, are the natural fuel of revolutions—easy to start and soon impossible to stop. America’s founders, steeped in history as few of our contemporaries are, were acutely aware of how easily factional enmities deliver free peoples into the hands of emperors. America is already advanced in this vicious cycle. The only possible chance of returning it to republicanism lies in not taking the next turn, and in not following one imperial ruler with another.

Contrary to that perspective, this author explains that Trump has experienced healthy humiliations  which have had beneficial effect:
My guess is that Trump was a badly spoiled brat, a kind of would-be narcissist. His father sent him to a military academy, where every cadet is humiliated over and over again, and then built up by earning respect for meeting tough challenges every day, like Marine Corps training. 
The only thing that can cure NPD is a long diet of bloody noses. They don’t respond to talking therapy, but let them run into the same brick wall over and over again, and they can learn to grow up. Trump entered the military academy as a snot-nosed troublemaker, and four years later emerged as the head of the cadet corps. It took a lot of bloody noses to get there. 
The difference from Obama is that long history of painful setbacks and comebacks. Obama has always been surrounded by adoring fans, and still has genuine trouble dealing with setbacks. What Freud called the Reality Principle is the key to responsible adulthood. 
Hard to know for sure, but certainly interesting.  It's also interesting to watch foreigners  ignoring the obvious:
“Europeans are trying to wrap their heads around Trump’s popularity…with little success.”

Other than their version of the MSM completely failing them (which is always a possibility when dealing with old media), I don’t understand why not.



Peter said...

I'll take door #3, Howard, although I would call it more the cult of celebrity than cultural disintegration. The ironic thing is that similar complaints are being made on the left, which is frustrated their man Sanders isn't getting a fair shake. Of course, they tend to blame it on the "corporate media" when the problem is that Bernie is about as exciting as a Saturday morning lecture in microeconomics.

You may be aware that our new PM is visiting Washington today and is apparently taking the city by storm. He is still enjoying a lengthy political honeymoon and I think will for some time. Since his election, which surprised a lot of people because he was widely seen as spoiled and shallow, he has been playing the celebrity game brilliantly, combining irresistible photo-ops with inspirational banalities. The public loves it and hardly seem to be even aware of what he is and isn't doing (he's setting a record for broken promises). Except, of course, for cranky conservatives complaining about too much government and surly leftists who want to talk about higher tax rates. Just this morning he told some gathering of Washington poobahs that "we" should not be afraid of the world and that history teaches us to look outwards, not inwards. Oh wow. That sounds to me like something Chauncey Gardner would say, but his audience seems to be marveling at how "positive" he is. Meanwhile his wife, who is outspoken, beautiful and comes from privilege, is busy giving interviews on breast-feeding and how she is a woman "in her own right". The Twitterverse adores her. Sound like anyone you know?

Where I disagree with you is in blaming the MSM and entertainment industries. I'm not sure there ever was an era when elections featured the kind of erudite debates over ideas we political wonks enjoy and think they should, and I'm quite certain there was never an era where a well-educated electorate expressed a critically sound judgments on competing platforms. There is little doubt that celebrity is what the public wants, so what else do we expect them to do? Maybe the 2020 GOP primaries should be modeled on The Bachelorette where the losers don't get a rose and are sent home.

Trump may have blown any chance for a GOP win in November, but I will say this about him. In barely two months, he has spawned more critical self-analysis among conservatives than we've seen for years. If serious intellectual exchange and rigour is what you are after, we've got it now and will no doubt profit once all the blood has been wiped up off the floor.

Howard said...


You're right, a cult of celebrity is a big part of what is happening. It seems to be what the public wants.

Barry Meislin said...

I think it's much more than "cultural disintegration".

After all, folks complain about that in every generation.

The problem, as I see it, is the ubiquitous lying---a culture of prevarication---along with a media has been actively complicit in propagating the culture of lies that pervades the Obama administration.

Obama and his minions have let loose the dogs of untruth (as it were), and---who could possibly have guessed!!?---have wrought a serious backlash.

From some very angry and desperate people.

Indeed, Obama, with the media's avid support, has been fighting a seven-year campaign (with the worst yet to come) against America---or, at least, America's middle class.

And the GOP has been seen by those who would support it as powerless to stop him (for whatever reason one might wish to use).

As gutless cowards. Or in collusion with the administration.

And so, I see Trump is the Frankenstein that Obama's relentless, ideological, no-holds-barred assault on America has created.

Meanwhile the lies and prevarications continue to be spewed forth by the administration, as should be expected. While Obama is gearing up to do as much damage to his ideological enemies (America, the West generally, and Israel in particular) as he possibly can in the next nine-and-a-half months.

He will be trying his best; if he succeeds, he may well be considered as the most successful president in American history.

Trump is succeeding because it is no longer, unfortunately, enough to "stand athwart history and yell, 'Stop!'"

Barry Meislin said...

As for Trump being another Obama, I wouldn't worry overly.

Assuming he'll be elected (a huge assumption), he can always be impeached.

Unlike Obama, who simply cannot be.

Barry Meislin said...

And then there's this:

Peter said...

Sometimes conservatives have to stop blaming the Dems and the left for everything, pull their pants up and look in the mirror.

Bret said...

I'll go with the PC thing propelling Trump forward as well as his ability to play for a crowd and the media.

One thing that's missing in the post is that his competition for the nomination is really, really lame.

I do think that Codevilla is right on with his descriptions of "cycles of reciprocal resentment" which are made worse as the President presides with ever more power. That's one reason I say, when in doubt, go for the less powerful government.

Howard said...

Just to clarify: I'm not a Trump supporter, but I have no need to bash Trump or his supporters. I think the core of both parties in the U.S. are rotten. Leadership elsewhere in the world doesn't seem very good either.

erp said...

Trump just cancelled the rally in Chicago where apparently Bill Ayers is among the "protestors."

Unlike the author of the article, I have voted for a Democrat, one George McGovern whom I judged the lesser evil than Nixon. This time there is no lesser evil.

Some times I regret not being able to drink.

Clovis e Adri said...


Some times I regret not being able to drink.

It is never too late to start.

erp said...

Waaaaaaaay too late for me.

Harry Eagar said...

Howard is an example of what might be called inverted Coueism: if every day you say to yourself, every day in every way, things are getting worse and worse, then they will.

erp said...

Harry, can you say sophomoric?

Howard said...

Silly Harry,

I realize that on those occasions when you slip out of you're default state, "often mistaken but never in doubt," you get so easily confused. Let me help you. I'm not a pessimist. In voicing concerns, I'm merely trying to maintain an appropriate level of vigilance. Something of which you've evidenced no understanding. It's just something people do when they think most progress comes from common genius rather than suffering from the fatal conceit.

Barry Meislin said...

Another view, FWIW: