Once again, let me clarify at the outset that I’m not a Trump supporter. I think [score]Ted Cruz[/score] is the president we need. So I don’t write this from the perspective of someone who wants people to vote for Trump.
I do write it from the perspective of someone who is daily astounded by the wild, urgent desperation of those who are horrified by Donald Trump. It’s like a whole segment of the American population has lost its mind.
The segment has two basic components. One is the radical left, which is turning out in droves to rant dementedly against a candidate the radical left has little if anything to fear from. (One somewhat different aspect of the insanity here — and here.)
— Nicole Vowell (@NicoleVNews) March 19, 2016
Policy-wise, Trump has never proposed anything the rad-left might object to that’s at all likely to happen. Nor is there any reason to think Trump would try to do things he hasn’t talked about that the rad-left would oppose. Trump isn’t a limited-government, rule-of-law conservative. He’s just fine with using government to prejudice outcomes – and he and the left aren’t as far apart on outcomes as the media piously suggest.
They’re certainly not far apart on principles for the use of government. The rad-left doesn’t want freedom for Americans, and Trump is not a “freedom-on-principle” guy. Trump and the rad-left are both on the opposite side from me, because neither of them thinks actual freedom is better than using government prejudicially.
One random, illustrative example. I think businesses should not be under a government mandate to — picking one item out of many — install wheelchair ramps on the floors of factories.* There’s a whole apparatus of disability regulation at the federal level that needs to be lifted off of businesses. (States can do what they want – if the people approve it.)
Trump doesn’t want to try to fundamentally change that regulatory burden; he doesn’t think of it as government that’s too big. He’s not a freedom-on-principle guy.
The rad-left sees all such regulation as a method for shakedowns and rent-seeking. The more government regulates, the more power regulators have to tie the people down and pillage them. The left’s life is dedicated to this dynamic.
The big difference between Trump and me is that Trump thinks of the left’s political desires as something you just have to negotiate a deal with. (What I outlined just there is the grand bargain of the “old consensus,” by the way.) I don’t agree. I think government needs to be kept so limited that the left can’t get its foot in the door to pillage and shake down the people.
I make these clarifications to show why it’s crazy, from a logical viewpoint, for the rad-left to hate Trump so much. Much of the conservative right recoils from the high-handed methods implied by Trump’s heroic proclamations, but the rad-left is totally fine with those methods. And since the rad-left doesn’t care about the actual people and problems it purports to care about – it only uses them as totems for political advantage – it has no valid reason to embrace the wildly exaggerated fears being fanned about what Trump might do to “hurt” immigrants, blacks, Muslims, women, etc.
The radical left’s real concern
For what it’s worth, I think the radical left has a visceral fear that Trump represents something else. He represents not a menace to “minorities,” but a trust-busting effort on behalf of the left’s main victims: the middle class. In particular, Trump resonates with what we might call the lower half of the middle class. This is the half that is the most vulnerable at any given time to slipping backward into the unemployed, underemployed, financially distressed “lower” economic stratum.
This half is the promise of the future in every generation – but it’s the half that has taken the biggest hits in the recession we’re still in, if we judge by the actual impact of the economy on people’s lives.
The rad-left doesn’t want to see these people spoken for. It doesn’t want to see them liberated from the burdens big government heaps on them.
And it recognizes in Trump not a man who would lift those burdens – he won’t, at least not deliberately – but a man who has a message of hope for those people, and isn’t plugged in to the apparatus of government that keeps their burdens in place.
The rad-left is absolutely hysterical over the possibility that that apparatus (which it is a part of) might lose its grip on government power. The rad-left’s behavior seems almost uncontrollable, driven by demons that even the rad-left doesn’t understand.
Meanwhile, there is the second component of this anti-Trump segment of the populace. That’s the old-consensus conservative right.
Here’s what principally stuns me about the old-consensus right’s reaction to Trump. The reaction is so much stronger, so much more visceral and urgent, than it has ever been to Obama. Yet Obama is every bit the “liar” Trump is called – and more so. He’s a demagogue, a self-satisfied narcissist, a whipper-up of divisions among the people and brute emotions in his supporters, a wrecking ball being wielded against the Constitution.
It was much more legitimate to have uneasiness about Obama in 2008, when he posed himself in Riefenstahlesque venues and sparked layer upon layer of Stalin-era artistic urges in his followers, than to have the same kind of uneasiness about Trump in 2016. Trump is just a flamboyant businessman with his own jet. Get back to me when he starts making with the Greek temples and the speeches at the Victory Column in Berlin.
It is eye-opening for me to see that the old-consensus conservative establishment is so out of touch with reality. Take, for example, David Brooks’s “Never Trump” manifesto from this past week:
Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out. He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa.
Trump is perhaps the most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetimes. All politicians stretch the truth, but Trump has a steady obliviousness to accuracy.
This is mind-boggling. So, sure, Obama has advisers – whose radical views and agendas were all extensively documented back in 2008. If you could read English, you could see Obama coming. But every other word Brooks uses here describes Obama to a “T,” and yet Brooks has never registered this pulsating horror at Obama. He reserves it for Trump.
This is nuts. How do these people not see that Obama is far worse than Trump, because Obama has cloaked a greater, more deliberately targeted, and yet extremely mendacious radicalism in a veneer of political conventionalism? How can the superficial trappings of convention blind them so?
It’s worth noting in passing that the old-consensus right has tried to distance itself, throughout Obama’s tenure, from the kind of over-the-top rhetoric it now uses about Trump. No matter how much Obama was lying through his teeth, stonewalling tough questions, ignoring the Constitution – no matter how bad it got for the millions of people whose lives have been altered for the worse by Obama’s policies, the old-consensus right behaved as if it was intemperate to state clearly what was happening.
Trump hasn’t even done anything yet, and the same people have him turned already into the Slayer of the Republic.
The right, mistargeted
The focus on Trump – Trump Trump Trump – is weird, at least to my ears. It’s as if people who’ve been able to reason very competently for years are suddenly unable to get past knee-jerk reactions and ad hominem attacks.
Consider another example: Kevin D. Williamson’s now-infamous article about Trump’s “dysfunctional” white working class supporters. As it happens, I too know that there are white people in economically depressed areas who game the welfare system and complain a lot. But those aren’t the people who form the main core of Trump’s support. The chronically dissatisfied who live by gaming welfare programs don’t make it to political rallies. They mainly make it to the liquor store.
The people who actively, passionately support Trump do work, and want to work, and they want working to bring the rewards it did only a few years ago. What’s going wrong for them is much bigger and more intentional than life moving on from outdated industries and leaving towns without a revenue base.
It’s government policies forcing all economic life into a regulatory straitjacket, in which the price of entering the “free market” is so high that more and more people can’t get in on the ground level.
It’s a mindset that that’s an intractable reality, one that we can do nothing about. And yet, that’s the factor we could do the most about, by resetting our idea of what government is for to something more like what our Founders envisioned.
Now, is Trump making that case? No, he’s not. But it’s the legacy conservative right that should be making it, instead of whupping up on “dysfunctional working class whites.”**
Trump’s supporters are 100% correct: the deck is stacked against them. But it’s not stacked by big banks or “free trade” or the other things cynical populist demagogues inveigh against. The deck is stacked by the very government policies that purport, deceitfully, to be for our good.
Government is still the problem. And yet the old-consensus right is so mesmerized by TRUMP and his fascinating, exotic supporters that in 2016, it can’t seem to reason its way out of a paper bag and make that point.
There’s one more point that demands making. Listen with fresh ears, and see if you can detect what’s wrong here.
Much was made of Trump’s victory speech after the Nevada caucuses in February, in which he said the following:
We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated. We’re the smartest people, we’re the most loyal people, and you know what I’m happy about? Because I’ve been saying it for a long time. 46% were the Hispanics—46%, number one with Hispanics. I’m really happy about that.
So I’m very proud of you, this is an amazing night. I love the country, I love the country.
Gasp. Trump said “I love the poorly educated,” like that’s a good thing.
But why isn’t it? A yuuge number of Americans are poorly educated today. Poor education is what we’ve been paying for in the public schools for the last 40 years. It’s what we import with the massive influx of illegals into the country. That’s a lot of people out there who, in our popular culture and politics, are basically despised; by the left, certainly, which sees them as a political commodity, but even on the right.
Stop and listen, just for a minute, and consider what it means that the one candidate who says “I love the poorly educated” is the one who is an unsinkable phenomenon in this election cycle. Consider that maybe it’s the words and the sincerity that matter – you can decide to whom – and not the cynical interpretations of politics.
Interestingly enough, atheist libertarian Nick Gillespie is the commentator I thought picked up on this with the most sensitive ears when Trump spoke in February:
Trump “loves” the poorly educated without qualification, just as he loves the rich and the poor, the naked and the clothed, the fat and the skinny. Last night in Vegas, he was channeling Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman and the universal oversoul of the American family. As long as you vote for him, it’s all good. He will look out for you and your interests. He’s happy that he won the Hispanic vote, because it proves that we’re all on the same side—his side—and we’re all in it together.
It’s easy to be cynical about this (and to be frankly terrified of a Trump presidency), but Trump is the least cynical politician in the 2016 race.
He may be unprincipled, unphilosophical, and all over the place, but nobody doubts that he believes everything he says, at least at the moment he’s saying it.
I wouldn’t agree so much with Gillespie’s invocation of Emerson and Whitman, although I do think there’s something to that. It’s tangential, in my view. But he goes on to say this (I’m using unedited excerpts so it’s clear what Gillespie’s perspective is):
It was an unintentional laugh line when Hillary Clinton, earlier this year, said she wanted to talk about “love and kindness.” Her entire career is a testament to low-grade paranoia and the “politics of personal destruction.” The most common sense of her, according to Gallup, is “Dishonest/Liar/Don’t trust her/Poor character.” People may not like Trump either—he’s the only candidate with even higher negatives than Clinton—but they’re more likely to believe that he will do what he says he’s going to do.
And they are more likely to believe him when he talks of love and kindness, too. Because he actually says it from time to time too.
Has our framework of politics become such that no one but Donald Trump is motivated to notice the government-inflicted burdens the people are staggering under, and show some enthusiasm and care for those people?
By David Brooks’s lights, Abraham Lincoln would have been poorly educated. Most of our ancestors came to America poorly educated. From the standpoint of academic credentials, most of them stayed that way all their lives. But the opportunities of freedom, and our bedrock belief that all men are created equal, gave them a far bigger boost than all the education they could undoubtedly get even in unfree societies.
The tiebreaker of America is freedom, even more than education, and it’s the connection between freedom and hope that Trump is tapping into. Trump may not be a freedom-on-principle guy – but Trump is a hope guy. He cares that people live by hope. He’s in sync with the human belief in a better future. I think he knows what it is to look at the poorly educated – a state every one of us starts life in – and see the future.
That brings me full circle back to David Brooks and “Never Trump.” Brooks makes this passing point so briefly we’re likely to miss its epic meaning:
Well, some respect [for Trump’s voters] is in order. Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.
But, as they say in Textistan, OMG. What “American” system??? We haven’t been living in the American system for several decades now. There’s nothing American about a system so heavily regulated that starting businesses and hiring Americans just cost too much, and are attempted by fewer and fewer entrepreneurs. The system we have now is more European-socialist than American.
The things people can’t do in America today are the fault of overweening government. They can’t be the fault of freedom, because we haven’t had economic freedom for a long time now. Today’s young people don’t even know what it looks like. All they know is the overregulated economic unfreedom that created the distress of the 2016 Trump voter.
Why are so many conservatives spending their precious air time denouncing Trump, and even his voters, instead of making the case for freedom and limited government? The why is for another time; but the pattern is marked. I know why the intransigent left never does anything new or different, but seeing the old-consensus right so unable to correct its course is thought-provoking in a way nothing else has been in our lifetimes.
I’ll leave this with one final thought, as we contemplate the strangely ungoverned reactions of so much of America to the Trump candidacy. We can think of various reasons why our polity seems to be galloping off in such a weird direction this year. Maybe they are fully explanatory; maybe not. Here is an interesting passage from the Bible to ponder (1 Corinthians 1:27-29; NIV):
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
* We need to stop buying the lie that this kind of freedom means being cruel to disabled people. If you want to integrate disabled people better into society, which I am all for, you’ll make it happen much better and faster by approaching it through privately-sourced activism (the great American strength that de Tocqueville so admired) than through government mandates.
The government mandates will kill your life’s hopes and opportunities before they ever meet anyone’s standards for mainstreaming people with disabilities. All government mandates do is set up shakedowns and sinecures that bleed your resources dry. The people ultimately pay the cost of everything – everything – government does.
** Take the welfare-lifestyle programs away and see how long the “dysfunction” persists. Better still: take the overregulation away too, and let the people create and hope, instead of just telling them it’s someone’s fault that things haven’t remained the same as they were in 1908. The whole point of most government programs is to keep things the same as they were in 1908 – or 1950, or 1990, or 2016.
I can’t keep going off on tangents in the base text, but somebody has to say these things.