Claremont’s The American Mind is thinking about Trump.
After almost three years, American progressives and the conservative Never Trumpers are no closer to understanding the man and the political situation he’s helped to create than they ever were. If we wish to make some progress in understanding him and the state of the country, we need to start from a different point of view.
Good character remains more desirable and honorable than bad character—even if bad character does not necessarily make for a bad president, nor good character for a good president. Based on his critics’ account of him, the question about Trump would seem to be, at least from the conservative point of view: how comes such a bad man to do so much good? That is, is it really the case, as the Never Trumpers’ minor premise asserts, that Trump is such a bad man? So bad that it was morally imperative to usher Hillary Clinton to the White House in his stead?
I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s line about the socialist Stafford Cripps: “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” The Never Trumpers see no virtues in Trump, and admire none of his vices. The resulting portrait is a caricature, a rough, unrevealing one. No one would ever call him a moral paragon—not even the president himself. But the Trump universe theorized by the Never Trumpers is all dark matter; it doesn’t acknowledge the traits we see with our own eyes, including some admirable vices, but also his distinctive virtues, whether we choose to dislike them or not. The critics seem to prefer an explanation of Trump that is, as the cosmologists say, non-luminous.
Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future (2004) is a short book with a useful distinction that begins to illuminate the phenomenon of Trump. It describes two countries, as it were. “Hard America” is shaped by the marketplace forces of competition and accountability. “Soft America” is the realm of public schools, self-esteem, and government social programs. The latter, according to Barone, produces incompetent and unambitious 18-year-olds, the former hard-charging and adaptable 30-year-olds. Somehow, uneasily, modern America includes both.
Donald Trump considers himself a kind of ambassador from hard America to soft America. Many (not all) of the asperities of his character are related to his career path. He calls himself “a builder,” and America “a nation of builders.” He knows his way around a construction site, and his virtues and vices skew to that hard, brazen, masculine world of getting things built quickly, durably, beautifully if possible, and in any case profitably. He wants to revive hard America’s mines, factories, and building sites, in the face of what he knows is the growing power of its despisers in soft America.
Trump also knows his way around a television studio. The hard reality of being a builder and landlord is combined, in his case, with being a longstanding reality-TV star. If the preceding president cast himself in the role of “no-drama” Obama, the current one plays all-drama-all-the-time Trump. From the beginning his kind of real estate verged on show business. Branding and selling his name, which have constituted the largest part of his business for a while, represented for him another step in the direction of show business. Show business is a business, however, and Trump likes to interpret what might be considered the softer side of his career in the hardest possible terms. He emphasizes numbers—the ratings, the advertising dollars, the size of his crowds. He has survived in several cutthroat industries, and intends to add politics to the list.
Whether in business or in politics, Trump disliked the airs and claims of “experts,” detached from and above the subjects of their experiments. He distrusted their glibness, too. He identified with working men and women, and promised (at least) to add jobs, to boost economic growth, to “win” for pipe-fitters and waitresses, too. He defended their Social Security but blasted the fraud of Obamacare, whereas Romney had scorned the 47%’s “entitlements” but gave Obamacare (based, you may recall, on Romneycare) a pass. Romney lacked perhaps what Kanye West would call “dragon energy.” When in a primary election he had done well among voters without a high school degree, Trump memorably declared, “I love the poorly educated.” You’d never hear Romney, nor any other mainstream Republican, say that!
These are but a few of the character traits that add up to make Trump, love him or hate him, one of our greatest and most accomplished Presidents—after not even two years in office. This is a long but REALLY good article, which serves as a springboard for several AmMind articles also taking a deeper look at Trump—including this one:
It is a testimony to the sanctimonious humorlessness of our elites that they still don’t find Trump funny. He has an undeniable knack for coming up with catchy, biting nicknames. No amount of Red Bull will ever help poor Jeb shed his “Low Energy” moniker. And who can hear Elizabeth Warren’s name and not think of Pocahontas? (Trump didn’t coin that one, but he definitely made it stick).
Though the political value of a sense of humor is considerably underappreciated, it is not, at the end of day, a great virtue. Courage is though. And here Kesler does not fully give Trump his due. He only ascribes to him “a kind of courage in defense of one’s own.” Trump, in fact, is manly. And it is his manliness, more so than his other qualities, his fame or his views that accounts for his popularity and his success — and makes up for his shortcomings and missteps.
Trump’s manliness is not that of a soldier who risks his life in combat or of a general who leads men into battle. In this regard, he is not as manly as his Secretary of Defense General Jim Mattis. Trump’s manliness is that of a man who is not afraid to say out loud what others only whisper and to incur the wrath of the ruling class for doing so. Trump is more manly than Mattis in this regard (and to almost any politician in recent memory, for that matter: if Mitt Romney had displayed half of Trump’s courage in 2012, he probably would have been President).
I don’t think it much matters to anybody whether Trump is “more manly” than Mattis—least of all, probably, to the two of them. In fact, the combination of attributes we used to call “manliness” shouldn’t be placed in some hierarchy according to which is the greater; one is either manly or, increasingly these days, one is not. No, courage on the battlefield isn’t quite the same as the courage required to stare down a powerful opponent across a boardroom table before cutting him to pieces in a hardnosed, high-stakes business negotation. But courage they both certainly are, I’d say, with their own distinct virtues and prospective pitfalls. And both are extremely valuable, and ought to be encouraged rather than denigrated.
We all know what we are not allowed to say in America. Every week brings a reminder of what happens to those who deviate from the accepted script when speaking of any of the Left’s protected identity groups. The state, it is true, does not criminalize hate speech, but public opinion does censor it. Heretics are not imprisoned — they are fired, disgraced and declared untouchable.
Not surprisingly, immigration has been Trump’s signature issue. He not only says what he isn’t supposed to say — “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best” — he doesn’t back down when the elites unleash their fury against him for saying it. In fact, he usually doubles down — “Mexico is forcing people in that they don’t want, and they want us to take care of those people.”
By challenging the reigning consensus on immigration and not bowing to the pressure to recant, Trump teaches his countrymen a lesson in courage. Americans see in Trump a man willing to take on the elites who scorn them and to not only withstand their attacks but to fight back — often successfully. Trump doesn’t just punch — as he likes to say, he counterpunches.
Okay, enough of the excerpting, although I could easily go on and on with this one too. Just read all of the both of ’em.