President Trump, Part 2: The Fall of Trump

I wrote a Part 1 way back in January, focusing on the political mistakes made by the Democracts that gave President Trump a viable chance at re-election, but never got around to writing the second part. It’s going to be shorter, from what I remember, than originally planned, because I’ve forgotten what all details I meant to work in.

President Trump entered the early part of 2020, approaching the heart of the campaign season, in a surprisingly strong position. He had weathered a ham-fisted impeachment attempt where the personal motivations appeared to overwhelm any actual interest in the not-that-doubtful charges. The Democratic platform has friends in high places, and some traditional support in low ones – but Trump had done what decades of Republicans had failed to do, and appealed directly for minority support, on the obvious grounds that whether they really cared or not, Democratic policies hadn’t, on the whole, worked out.

And he was out in front of the coronoavirus thing. He’d insisted it was serious; over several months as it spread worldwide and to the US he’d been gifted foreign (Chinese), international (the WHO), and Democratic (chiefly in New York) mismanagement to dunk on – which isn’t good statesmanship, but plays well with a populist base. The staredown with the political establishment was, in short, going extremely well.

And then he blinked.

It’s not a surprise, of course, that many people resented the restrictions put in place to attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. There were a lot of things that weren’t known about the specific disease; and it was hard to believe, given the spread that continued to happen, that the measures were actually effective. Models showing what could have happened without preventative measures were not successfully explained, and their relatively short-term outlook was open to criticism.

But Trump had made his campaign run by taking on the GOP cronies; there is no good way to explain why he suddenly reversed course on the severity of the problem. Reporting suggested that by March at least two national emergency plans had been developed, one by a team of experts hand-picked by Kushner, and one by a panel of medical industry experts. Instead of using either plan, instead of trying to play FDR and lead the nation against a threat everyone know acknowledged, and which President Trump could have legitimately claimed to have been right about first, he threw in with the reactionaries. Instead of playing the big man in charge, which he’d done so successfully, Trump followed what he saw as his base’s mood. About the only thing he did get on track was the vaccine development authorization effort.

Then, once the coronavirus reality had truly set in, and states – almost all of them, even the most reluctant – started organizing ways to conduct elections by mail or with significant mail components, Trump again took on the inevitable instead of embracing it. It’s arguable he was forced into this logically by the previous stance; but politicians change their minds and hold incompatible positions all the time, and Trump had displayed his mastery of the art. Many of the criticisms leveled at mail-in ballots are entirely reasonable – but instead of trying to do the necessary the best possible way, Trump positioned himself in the way of the inevitable.

It should be mentioned that both of these stances belie the accusationg of fascism. Given every excuse to find an emergency and accumulate more power to the government and his own decision-making, President Trump declined.

It’s also difficult to say for sure how much these decisions contributed to the eventual loss of the election. My thesis is that Trump’s evident influence with the base would have carried at least the vast majority of his actual voters, while actual leadership in the crisis would have convinced enough of the doubters – again bearing in mind the Democratic candidates and platform. The only other plausible counterfactual I see is that the anti-authoritarian strain among Republican voters is in fact so strong that, if President Trump had done as I suggest and maintained his insistence on the coronavirus being a crisis, the GOP base would have split and we’d have seen an actual contested primary.

President Trump, Part 1: The Democrats’ Failure

No observer of President Trump’s habits and character could be surprised to find him the chief architect of his own political undoing in 2020. More perplexing to most observers would the question how he came to be in a position where he was virtually the only person who could have gotten in his own way. Admittedly it is not necessarily accepted that he was in such a position: but I believe such a case can be made, at least about Trump’s position after surviving the first impeachment against him.

The role of the Republican party in strengthening Trump’s position is obvious and not particularly interesting, as it mostly consisted of doing nothing and letting Trump “lead”. In fact the failure of a Republican-controlled Congress for two years – with the Senate majority maintained longer – to do anything of consequence at all is in my opinion a greater practical failure than virtual anything President Trump did or did not do.

By it is also the case that the Democratic party played a role in strengthening Trump’s hand. The strategic errors made in the 2016 election have been much discussed: primarily the appearance that was created of gaming the party process to ensure Clinton won the nomination, and then the Clinton campaign’s decision to, if not outright ignore, at least not take seriously certain surprise battleground states. Trump’s base of support as a candidate was surprising, but intelligent practice of politics must account for the situation that obtains.

The role of the Democratic platform is difficult to criticize directly, as the casual observer can hardly sort intentional party strategy from media coverage largely favorable to its main tenets. The image of the party, due to those twin influences, however, is calculated to create resentment, because it appears to emphasize social disruption and casting blame – legitimate media roles where social faults exist – over actually addressing problems, which a political party must at least pretend to do.

When that agenda majors on abortion, encouragement of sexual perversion, and vocal if admittedly not much practiced calls for stifling regulation of business – all while letting the major corporations that provide platforms for online discourse roam unsupervised – the more traditional America is horrified. A vague worship of northern Europe’s successful form of democratic socialism that would have no legal ground in the United States’ Constitution without significant amendments – on top of a century of vaguely socialistic programs enacted in defiance of said document and combined with a wilful ignorance of, or failure to repudiate, socialism’s and communism’s disaster stories and fanatical excesses – is hardly better. American history, in contrast, appears to be mentioned by Democrats only in the negative – the occasional appeals to vilify Republican actions as unworthy of the Constitution they generally so blithely ignore is calculated to create no reaction but bitter laughter.

The Democratic-friendly media attempt to make a slogan out of “resist”, unaware that overall media political leanings make the Democrats appear nearly ascendant even when they are out of power, was mostly just funny – especially when their choice not to deal really was a choice. President Trump’s agenda was not entirely in line with recent Republican posturing; support, compromise, would have been rewarded had a few Democrats crossed the line. I don’t say President Trump did any better in making his attempts to deal attractive to Democrats than the Democrats have done making their party attractive to Trump’s supporters. But if the mafia don’s deal is refused, nothing is left but, to save face, humiliating the opposition: and it was quickly apparent Democrats would major on opposition to President Trump far more than they would contest any issue on its merits: a sort of negative of the Republican party’s failure.

All of this could be excused. All of this could even, ignoring my own views, be considered a moral stand of sorts. What is most difficult to explain is the ineptness of the Democratic opposition. To highlight that ineptness, consider the impeachments against Trump.

Yes, impeachments, because President Trump was eventually impeached, twice. He was not convicted the first time, and I have significant doubts whether enough senators will prove comfortable with the idea of convicting a person no longer in office for it to happen on the second try. But what were the charges? Well, first of all, here are some of the things Trump was not impeached for:

  • President Trump was not impeached for attempting to create a “Space Force” on his own initiative – which reportedly got the Pentagon to start drafting plans for such a thing. The organization of the military is the responsibility of Congress: this could easily be construed as a usurpation. Perhaps most people were thought unlikely to care, and articles of impeachment would have been thought too transparently motivated; but then, the eventual impeachment hardly scores better on those criteria. It is not entirely clear to me whether Congress eventually giving the thing some sort of formal backing makes the situation better or worse.
  • President Trump was not impeached for abusing a national emergency order to access military funds which were reappropriated to build his pet border wall. There is little doubt that the handling of immigration at the southern border could be considered an emergency, even if President Biden has decided to retract the order rather than take advantage of it to promulgate his own solutions, and even if a swath of judges seemed at times more interested in rulings that would create problems and frustrate Trump than they did in meeting demands of either law or justice, not that President Trump seemed to care that much about the conditions suffered by those enduring his emergency either. The emergency may have been legitimate: the transparent abuse of process, hardly. But then, securing conviction seems impossible: Trump’s defense would certainly – if he could have kept his temper – have been that he was pursuing the means he thought best to address the situation, and a precedent of impeachment for bad judgment seems like it would find little favor.
  • President Trump was not impeached for pardoning convicted and alleged war criminals. This received about two days’ worth of media attention, is indefensible, and is certainly an abuse of authority. But perhaps it broke no laws – beyond making a joke of the military’s own due process, which could hardly endear him to anyone who takes our military virtue seriously – and the case would be too hard to argue.

It’s entirely possible there are other instances I missed, but any of these seems at least of worthy of condemination than what actually happened. The articles of impeachment that were eventually brought against Trump a little over a year ago had, nominally, to do with attempting to pressure a foreign power to investigate a connection of a political opponent; which is disreputable, but – and here is what the Democrats missed – “everybody knows” politics is a load of dirty money and dirty laundry. If there was a misdeed less likely to turn opinion against Trump, I can’t think of it – especially when circumstantial evidence suggests Hunter Biden’s connections wouldn’t stand scrutiny themselves, the Democrat-led process was hardly squeaky-clean, and Trump’s threat to withhold aid was never followed through on.

Now, had President Trump made enough enemies in the Senate that conviction could be secured, the case would have been a good one for the Democrats to pursue: the conviction would publicly throw the “swamp” back in Trump’s face, implicitly secure Biden’s reputation from public derrogation, and, of course, remove President Trump from office. But the combination of Republican stonewalling and Democratic attacks – sometimes verging on slander – had made that impracticable. It’s not that Trump seems likely to actually have been innocent, mind: merely that the case was neither chosen nor handled in such a manner as to create certainty of guilt and stain senators irrevocably should they demur from conviction.

The second impeachment is in some ways more appalling still. President Trump certainly ought to have been impeached after the election, when he was discovered, on a recorded phone call, soliciting for a fraudulent election count. He was even recorded giving a specific number of votes to be found! After all the hyperbolic warnings about possible fraud by others, the public relations gain the Democrats could have made by parading this hypocrisy around dwarfs anything they might have gotten from success last year and a one-year Pence presidency. What, after all, could the Senate say in defence? And what could the Republicans in the Senate do the stonewall on a charge that obvious? And, reputation after standing behind Trump for four years and then having to convict being what it would be, how likely is it the GOP would stand up to really resist any but the most far-fetched Democratic proposals, for quite a while at least?

Instead, the second impeachment depended on taking the most negative view of a couple tweets. A precedent that implies politicians should refrain from encouraging protests of perceived injustice, or that implies politicians who do so will be held personally accountable for any rioting that ensues, is chilling – and would condemn a huge number of politicians over the unrest last year, if the principle were carried out consistently.

It is also telling that the reaction to President Trump’s alleged encouragement of insurrection was first to threaten, not impeachment, but instead abuse of a constitutional amendment meant to provide for conduct of the presidency’s business in case of illness. This impeachment was the results of Democrats being unable to bully others into doing Congress’s work for them. The impeachment process certainly takes longer, but it suggests an agenda more interested in trying to implicate Vice-President Pence in removing President Trump – and thus get Pence out of favor with Trump’s base – than one interested in seeing the law followed or justice done.

The Democrats agenda, while at least openly proclaimed, is not carryingly popular. This calls for a scrupulous honesty to win further support and deflect criticism, or successful villification of opponents: but they failed to put a dent in President Trump’s support by attacking him directly, because their motivations appeared to be those of resentment rather than principle; and their methods seem as venal as his.

In a country plagued by non-participation in elections, Democratic efforts did eventually create enough interest to remove Trump from office by election; but it can hardly be said that the number of those willing to support Trump was diminished in any way. Of the support that did fall away, much of it was surely motivated by Republican inaction, as sketched above – and by Trump’s own failures of character and control, which I will discuss in part two.

The Devil You Know

The most baffling aspect of President Trump’s election and administration, to most observers, is the apparent inconsistency of his behavior with the proclaimed values of much of his voting base.  The only people not apparently puzzled by this are the most dedicated of those supporters and those of his opponents who were already prepared to write off those supporters as backward, ignorant, or villainous.  It was in some measure easier to explain immediately after the 2016 presidential election, when the Democratic field had – with rumored corruptions of its own – narrowed itself down to nominating Hilary Clinton, who ran an unimaginative (and it turned out, lazy) campaign leading to an election whose candidates in the public mind were “not Trump” and “not Clinton”.  While few outside his die-hard coterie expected great things from a Trump presidency, very few of any political stripe appear to have anticipated the chaotic nature of his administration or Trump’s own inability and indifference with regard to limiting his pursuit of personal goals or grudges.

Despite these problems, Trump’s popularity – relative to what’s necessary to run a reasonable campaign – does not appear to have gone anywhere, and the Republican party appears as firmly supportive of Trump as the Democratic party appears likely to be of its final choice this year.  One might have supposed a year or so ago that the Republicans would conclude that, having avoided Hilary, they could quietly drop Trump – or at least go through the motions of holding a regular primary election, a practice which the party holding the White House has avoided in recent years but which could have quieted some concerns about legitimacy.  Conservative commentators, while disappointed, are at least familiar enough with the Republican party to follow the electoral logic; progressive pundits remain consternated – particularly after a party-line impeachment process failed to remove Trump from the presidency.  (The impeachment aired quite a bit of Trump’s own disregard for legal procedures, and Republicans failed to argue convincingly – which was their best defense – that the process instigated by Democrats had been just as flawed procedurally.  However, Republican arguments to that effect from both congressmen and conservative media were roundly ignored or dismissed, generally without rebuttal, in most outlets.)

I suggest that Trump retains support for much the same reasons the Democratic party retains support throughout many of our cities suffering from flawed if not outright corrupt planning and administration – a fact which has baffled some conservatives for at least as long as I’ve been paying attention to politics: Trump makes gestures towards the things his base considers important, while his opponents have either a history or a declared intention of ignoring or even attacking those things.

It’s enlightening to approach the question by asking what items Trump’s administration has been most adamant about.  I count four general items: support for the pro-life movment; appointment of judges committed to law; appreciation for the role played by and sacrifices of American servicemen (whatever one may think of the dangers his policy exacerbates); and distrust of immigrants.  The first two are the most important basics of American conservatism to the extent it exists as a principled political program.  The third is an American universal – though it indicates on reflection, as Chesterton said of English pride in their empire a century ago, that America may not have much else to be proud of.

The last in the abstract is baffling.  Christianity requires hospitality to the traveler, foreigner, persecuted, and dispossessed: from Abraham to Ruth to Christ himself those forced or called from their homes have played integral parts in salvation.  However, in the current context it can be explained at least three ways.  The most charitable is to recall concerns about law, and the fact that American law is not currently hospitable to strangers.  This is an argument for changing the law: but in the meantime, most conservative Christians would be inclined to say that laws which do not demand actual sin should be followed, and illegal immigrants are therefore lawbreakers.  The fact that not many actually care to change the laws can be laid either to other concerns – or to ignorance of the severity of the laws, which are rather convoluted as well as unforgiving.

The least charitable explanation is that Republicans have attracted the majority of America’s remaining racists.  This is largely, I suspect, true, because the Democratic party has made it fairly clear that the only racism allowed in its ranks is antisemitism.  However, I am not convinced it applies to more than a minority – and not a very sizeable one – within Republican ranks.  In between the principled and the wicked, I suspect, stands the majority distrust of foreigners, living here or not: a feeling that there is something very insecure about the American identity right now, and that bringing in more and more persons fiercely (it is assumed) attached to their own identities, without attempting to instruct them in The American Way, is tantamount to cultural suicide.  Pragmatism does not justify immorality: it does, however explain why an unexamined stance on the matter may not produce guilt.  The obvious thing to do is hard to examine fairly to see if it might be wrong.

And the fact of the matter is that in contrast to these four positions, the views advocated by Trump’s opponents are certifiably insane.  The Democratic party has all but ostracized all pro-life advocates from its ranks.  The progressive theorists for the last century, from Wilson and those who inspired him to today’s activist judges who keep trying to sideline Trump’s legal – if morally dubious – orders, treat law as merely an expression of common will that loses its force – not just its practical force, which is a truism, but its authority – if that will is understood to have changed: and then take it on themselves to interpret the so-called “common” will.  The military – as mentioned above – goes largely uncriticized, but the few who admirably do dare to criticize it tend not just to villify particular excesses but to treat the American military as one of today’s great collections of villains.  And, finally, Democratic politicians praise all variety of different cultures – being particularly, um, tactful about Islamic ones – while treating America’s Christian and European heritage with contempt and suggestions of legal repressions to come, in the name of coddling and preferring just about any vice, but especially the sexual ones.

Trump’s actions are not the actions of a responsible candidate.  His character before election should have disqualified him to the public mind for office: his attitudes in office have been self-aggrandizing, insecure, and intemperate.  Apart from likely misuses of his official prerogatives, his pardoning of war criminals – one not even tried yet – is inexcusable.  And yet – especially when throughout their attempts to bring these charges home his opponents have badly muddied the procedural waters – since Trump retains a consistent message on these pieties of his base, and his opponents are determined that most if not all of those values are incorrect, this is why Trump retains the support he does.  Trump’s personal foibles and misdeeds will continue not to count for much when balanced against the promise to institute a regime that disdains all of the values Trump claims he will protect.

Choice of Words

As far as I can tell, the conventional political wisdom on immigration right now is that countries should for their own benefit prioritize those persons who have marketable skills or qualifications.  Allowing entrance of the less fortunate is not generally defended in policy terms but in humanitarian terms.

In fact this plausibly pragmatic position is a betrayal both of the concept of human rights – why should a free person not travel where they want, short of a criminal status whose proper punishment would preclude traveling at all? – and of the American ideal of providing such a free society to all interested parties – especially “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses”.  But it is not an invention of President Trump’s, nor is it any surprise that he would be in agreement with anything that tends to favor the elite of the world.

When it was alleged that Trump, in what he probably thought was a private consultation, used a mildly vulgar epithet to describe some of the less fortunate nations in the world today, I was surprised that anyone could muster even a pretense of shock.  President Trump is not a civil man.  I would point out that very few people know whether the apparently horrifying word “shithole” was actually used – but the charge was absolutely plausible.  As for the reaction – that is in some ways mildly baffling.

First, of course, we have Senator Durbin’s spreading the story: an unremarked feature of the whole charade is that scoring partisan political points is apparently more important than saving national face.  Then we have the reaction from the allegedly insulted countries, which has consisted of angry speeches and demanded apologies, appropriately enough – though since Trump denies the incident, and the Republicans present back up his story, an actual apology is unlikely.

Finally we have a bunch of liberal outrage – in which the anger is not mainly directed at the position taken (which, as I noted, is conventional enough, though bad), but at the insult.  From liberals, though, this is ridiculous.  In my experience they specialize in vulgarity and vitriol.  Public comments – in TV satire, the less well-mannered partisan journals, and from individuals on facebook – are absolutely chock full of insults, innuendo, and the sort of thing a college sophomore might think is “edgy” but adults ought to have moved beyond.  In fact President Trump talks like an Internet Liberal about his opponents, and I have a half-baked theory that liberals are extra-mad about his taking Republican positions because they know he really “ought to” be one of them.

(The stereotypical conservative fault, in my experience, lies in a different direction, one we call “slander”.  Any half-believable ridiculous story about a Democrat gets play.  In one light it reflects a slightly better understanding of the morality of public judgments: we should judge by actions, not honest opinions.  But you can’t claim a moral anything when you go making up the bad actions, and spreading false stories, so that the judgments made are flawed.  Viewed in another light, it’s not hard to prefer the open diatribe of the liberal mind.)

My point I can sum up very simply.  If you wish to criticize the vulgarity and ostentatious boorishness of the current President, without making yourself look ridiculous, be careful how you do it.  No one can take liberal criticism of Trump’s manner seriously when any disagreement with progressive orthodoxy results in a flood of vulgar invective directed at the dissenter – and, in my experience, almost always leaving the dissenter’s arguments un-addressed.

From Beer Hall to Park

The riot in Charlottesville this past weekend can readily be recognized as an action straight out of Hitler’s SA playbook: stage a disturbance, and blame the Communists.  The “Communists” in this case are headlined by “Antifa”, a loose collection of anarchists, actual Communists, and various other radical and not-so-radical Leftists who proclaim themselves “anti-fascist”.  The rise of National Socialism to power (in the person of Adolf Hitler) has popularly been put down to any number of uncommonly harsh conditions in Germany: the unrealistic Treaty of Versailles, the Great Depression, the ineffective Weimar government – and so on.  But these explanations rooted in political or economic circumstances overlook the emotional factor: the root of this tactic is that people who would not – one assumes – ordinarily have sympathized with the Nazis were inclined to give them some credence due to their stated opposition to other groups.  It’s a standard enough political tactic, and it does not inherently have to lead to or give cover to violence.  But it can do that too, and the number of people who fell for it this past week is worrying.  Fool us twice, shame on us.

But why did it work?  It worked because there was another group present to blame.  Political scapegoats can certainly be manufactured or exaggerated easily enough, but it is easier to pull the stunt off if some person or group is already there, asking for the label.  The United States’ political scene is increasingly publicly interpreted in terms of Right and Left – which is odd, as actual variety of political views seems in my experience to be increasing.  To those who know they are considered “the Right” it seems that “the Left” has failed to take responsibility for the riots, violence, and vandalism resulting from its own protests.  Though the vast majority of “the Right” would prefer to distance themselves from neo-Nazis, white supremacy, and the like, there are twin fears which result in mere mumbling of platitudes.  The first fear stems from the – sometimes legitimate – assumption that many on “the Left” already see everyone on “the Right” as essentially Nazis-in-waiting: if the “rightist” condemns the white supremacist now, who will he be pressured to condemn next time?  The second is negative: if condemnation of the white supremacists is issued, but their also-violent opponents are ignored, how is the “rightist” supposed to convince his fellows he’s not really a “leftist”?  (The “Leftist”, of course, faces the opposite social pressure: if he admits a “leftist” protest got out of hand, how can he demonstrate he’s not really a “rightist” condoning unjust police violence and systemic oppression of women and minorities?)

We should recognize this kind of fear for what it is.  This is political thinking.  In a political party, I may not be expected to sing the copious praises of the candidate from the next town over at all times, but I am expected to show up at his rally and politely call him a “good American” and parrot whatever the catchphrase of this year’s campaign may be.  What we see, in short, is that violence is being politicized, with neither “the Right” nor “the Left” willing to criticize the vandals with whom they know they are grouped.

It would be as well to distinguish two sorts of civil disturbance.  (There may be others.)  The first – as in Ferguson or Baltimore – helps nobody, but there is a clear cause of perceived governmental injustice.  The second – as this January in Washington at the Inauguration or this weekend in Charlottesville – is about the advancement of a political agenda, simply and solely, by show of force, whether that force remains a demonstration of numerical strength or spills over into actual violence.  The first we should have some sympathy with (even if the crowd’s assumptions are not totally justified), though we can hardly condone the acts and may disagree about the facts.  C. S. Lewis notes for us that, “Hard words sound less unlovely from the hunted than from the hunter,” and I take the same to be true of deeds.  But the second is more complicated: legitimate and secured by law when peaceful; when violent, simply criminal.  The transition is often hard to identify.

If I have digressed this far, in many ways equating the habits of “Left” and “Right”, it should not be taken to obscure the point I began with.  I undertook in this piece to briefly set out the reasons I see for the reactions I’ve seen.  Todays “Left” at times radically misunderstand humanity and what would really happen if their goals were met; but they at least profess to aim at a further realizing of equalities enshrined in American law and ideal.  The “Right” sometimes falls short of even professing those goals – but the white supremacists and related activists who provoked the clash in Charlottesville are attempting to project on us an ideal twisted in essence and refuted in our history by force of arms and law.  To find evil continuing should surprise no one with an honest appreciation of history – even without the Christian doctrine of depravity – but to excuse it out of fear we ourselves will be later libeled is heinous.  And to a real extent, excusing an evil now would only add to the weight of the charge later.  “I was afraid,” is much more pardonable than, “I meant to do badly,” but the results are all too often very similar.

What Wasn’t Said About Trump

On at least one subject I find myself in general agreement with the sentiments commonly expressed by today’s brand of feminist: I believe that the objectification of women is wrong.  I was therefore disappointed to see this point somewhat muted in the response to the video which surfaced of Trump discussing – boasting of – what can only be considered sexual assault.  In fact a number of people went to great length to separate bawdy talk from the idea of sexual violence, when the obvious connection should have been made, and made strongly.

What I witnessed wasna combination of taboo enforcement and guilt reaction.  People decided to be shocked (shocked!) that a politician would “openly” (the quotes are because no one knew about the conversation before a media leak) discuss actions we prefer to pretend are beneath the character of our leaders.  Blaming someone else – especially someone who is already unpopular – is safer than examining one’s one behavior.  When Trump excused his comments as “locker room” talk, athletes and athletic organizations issued pointed denials, which a great many people chose to accept – and ignore for the moment scandals from “sexts” to domestic violence.  As long as the appearance of Trump as an unusually awful outsider was preserved, all would be well: that was the message sent.

In contrast, when a fraternity makes offensive and immature banners, various persons go around screaming imprecations on the state of society.  When high school football players are involved in a rape, the very fabric of American culture is seen to be threatened.  In a sense this is actually a saner reaction.  The problem with Trump is not really that he has dragged the obscene onto the stage: the problem is that the obscenity Trump has dragged onto the stage is us.

As something of a traditionalist and conservative, I read history primarily to discover what has worked (or not), not merely to discover abuses we can blame our ancestors for while congratulating ourselves on our progress.  As a Protestant Christian, I read my Bible.  In either case, by law natural or revealed, I believe in patriarchy, assuming by that term we stick strictly to its technical definition of male strength, responsibility, and authority.  (That the point can be reasonably disputed from human history I grant: that it can, generally speaking, be disputed Biblically I do not grant.  While one could easily frame a definition of “authority” which would be experientially plausible and also significantly different from Biblical concepts, I offer the general rebuttal that – theologically speaking – if the use of a thing differs from its Biblical purpose, we have not “use” but “abuse”.  Abuses cloud the reputation of any principle: thus the bad name of patriarchy and the very valid objections to some of its most offensive manifestations.)

The key to a valid patriarchy is responsibility, and a chief responsibility, again to speak Biblically, is love.  Therefore it is a great shame on our churches today that so many pastors and Christian men in other secular positions of authority have abused their positions to take advantage of women emotionally or physically.  It is unconscionable for Christians, especially those men who are Christian leaders, to be continuing to recommend Trump personally.  (It was in fact, merely from what was known of him as a celebrity businessman, absurd and dangerous to stand with him as a Christian: those whose endorsements helped Trump even in the primary elections have cast their reputation and judgment into serious doubt.  But revelations since then – however “strategic” or “biased”, have pushed continued endorsement of Trump’s character from questionable to insane.)  I go so far as to say it is irresponsible to vote for him either as citizen or Christian, though I still stop short of saying I am sure of such a vote’s immorality.

But I am not here concerned mainly with Trump.  I believe Trump’s incendiary candidacy and his very good chance at election are not primarily his fault but ours.  What exactly do we mean by the “objectification” of a woman?  It cannot merely mean appreciating her beauty, or even discussing it, else we have to throw out about four fifths of all poetry ever written, and the Song of Songs in the bargain.  On the other hand, I do not accept the (at least vaguely coherent) argument that the real problem is that women are appreciated differently in culture than men are, and to solve the problem we have to allow the objectification of everybody: the thesis that the problem is not the action but some bizarre form of “discrimination”.  I see no reason to assume the two sexes ought normally, let alone necessarily, have their attributes receive the same cultural treatment.

“Objectification” occurs when we view another person not as human but merely as a vehicle for our own desires and their gratification.  The objection to this is nothing new – “If your eye offend you…”  And thus we reach the connection between porn and the locker room, and sexual assault.  If one is in the habit of discussing women merely as sexual objects, the moral difference between discussion of lust and the violent action suggested by that lust is one of degree, not of kind.  (I am not even convinced a consensual affair – though it does show a minimal respect – is significantly different in kind if the woman is still in the man’s mind only an object gained.)  I am not saying the action adds no weight.  I am not trying to advocate any kind of thought crime.  I am not calling for the imprisonment of fifteen year old young men with an internet connection.

But I am insisting that we need to make the connection between our own habits and the things which occur in our culture’s public space.  The fad for criticizing so-called “rape culture” was just that – a fad – but it had latched on to a kernel of truth.  I think most of those engaged in that criticism had causes backwards: while some visions of masculinity certainly are “toxic”, it is not strength and responsibility that need to be discouraged, but insatiable lust.  Of course the combination can result in heinous abuses.  I am not disputing that.  In fact with lust encouraged in the general culture, we need to be conscious – much more than in a healthier sexual environment – of the potential for abuses, much as we need to be more conscious of jellyfish when near the ocean.  But mere strength is a factor that can contribute to abuses, not the source.

Many people want to say the lust is fine “as long as” – as long as it is between adults; as long as there is consent; as long as the age difference is minimal… whatever.  Many people, even Christians, are increasingly timid about suggesting any restraints on cultural “appreciation” for sex.  I think the minority reactionary attempt to make or remake laws is the wrong path: without social agreement, those laws will be ignored or abused; with social standards, such laws will be passed naturally or will be unnecessary. But at least that is a recognition that there is a dangerous area.

What I wanted to happen, while we issued our condemnations of Trump, was for the feminists – and the rest of us, Bible-thumpers and traditionalists and egalitarian activists and anyone with even a pretense of civility – to stand up and say, “See?  This is what we are running the risk of if we continue to treat sexual issues in such a cavalier fashion.”  Obviously I do not expect an immediate agreement between such disparate groups about what the appropriate sexual ethic is.  But the simple appeal to take it seriously is in fact a common theme we can strike.  For instance, I think “sexism” is overblown and often (sorry) trumped up.  But I still definitely think emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or rape, especially of women, is bad.  See?  Agreement.  I was disappointed that so many wanted to treat Trump as an exception, rather than recognize him as the logical expectation, in our culture.  Improvement does not come (only) from ostracizing the worst offenders, but from deterring even the little sinners.

Trump Culture

This is also an old post – the draft has been sitting around waiting for proof-reading since June – but in it I address many of the specifically sexual issues exposed by revelations about Trump.  I have edited this now rather more substantially than the previous piece, while keeping a lot of the overall structure.  But this still isn’t really about Trump, because Trump is a symptom, not the problem itself.  Trump is a disastrous reflection of what a lot of us Americans have been practicing unnoticed all along now.

The main fact I wish to address is this: rape is bad.  A rapist is a violent criminal and sinner.  It seems odd – almost vulgar – to state the case so plainly: not because there is any moral doubt on the subject, but because we instinctively understand rape to be a certain kind of evil, and one not to be dwelt on too much.  Or at least, one which a healthy society understands and does not need to tell on too much.  It’s an evil we associate in stories with wicked brigands, barbarians, and out-of-control armies in the worst wars; one we learn about indirectly as the desire of wicked villains and villainous knights.

Fundamentally, rape is an uncivilized crime in a way which many others are not.  Sex is necessary for the continuation of the species and any society which is a part of humanity; by an obvious growth from that necessity, a culture’s sexual habits, codes, and taboos are among its most essential characteristics.  Many throughout history have argued and still argue that determining and maintaining correct sexual behavior is vital to the health of a society: tellingly, most today within this tradition condemn our modern sexual libertinism.

I have been horrified, as discussion of rape has spread recently, to find the phrase “boys will be boys” discussed as though it were an excuse commonly made for abusive or sexually-charged behavior.  Previously I cannot remember encountering the sentiment as anything other than a way of summing up – some would say stereotyping – young male behavior as opposed to female: fights and noise and not sitting still versus hair-pulling and screaming and talking too much.  But even allowing some misinterpretation by persons dismayed by any differences between the sexes, I have simply seen the sinister use alleged far too often to dismiss it as non-existent.  Moreover, I have on the internet personally observed far too many persons, mainly male, supposedly committed to equality or feminism or (in contrast) gentlemanly behavior discussing women in terms mainly or only of attractiveness, or justifying fairly embarrassing, or occasionally contemptible stories with the disreputable phrase, “Doesn’t matter; had sex.”  This is putting aside, for the moment, relatively less contemptible stories, desires, and anecdotes I’ve heard of in face to face encounters – “IRL” in cheezburgrspeek.

There is a plain explanation for this unbridled public lust.  We have been told for some time now of the joys of sexual liberation.  Who does what with whom is largely regarded as nobody else’s business.  Sex, sometimes in its kinkier variations, is generally celebrated in movies, checkout line magazines, and popular books.  The “sex scene” for many if not most people has lost whatever shock value in once had by virtue of rarity.  “The internet is for porn” is a standard joke and a by-word around that same internet.

One of the dangers of telling people what to do is that they may do it, and you may not like the consequences.  And many young people – especially young men – have embraced this sexual “liberation”.  The apparently unexpected consequence – unexpected by the “liberators”, at least – has been that sex is for many no longer a subject of cultural taboos but instead a rabid expectation.  If – especially – a woman does not “put out”, she’s regarded as not playing fair, because one is expected to want to have sex at any if not all times.

In this toxic cultural context, rape becomes to many little more than taking what one “should” be getting anyway.  There is little hope of overcoming “rape culture” as long as “sex culture” holds sway, especially over the young men who have throughout history generally been the majority of the most violent criminals.  Certainly the element of violence still generates horror in most minds, but the act itself becomes no more terrible morally to this corrupted conscience than a gunpoint robbery.  (That is itself a nasty crime, but I note that while discussion of the problem of rape has grown more frequent, there has been at the same time a tendency to want to reduce penalties for crimes in general.  Perhaps another indication that, while many “crimes” are almost legal fictions, people know rape harms the social foundations?)

There is an especially dangerous mix in many parts of America, where Christian social roles have not been exactly lost, but are corrupted by widespread abandonment of accompanying responsibilities.  (Determining to what extent they were ever fulfilled is not my purpose here: but when the ideal result is barely even taught, certainly the overall results will degrade.)  A man by social habit still expecting to be treated as a leader, but no longer raised with any significant awareness of the corresponding duties and also in the modern manner expecting and desiring sex, becomes a vicious predator.  Various men, particularly pastors, have masked despicably hypocritical behavior this way.  But I am not sure such massive scandals, bad as they are, are as worrying as the widespread degradation of behavior I refer to here, except as a symptom.  More young men play sports than middle-age ones lead churches: not only pastors commit crimes.

This year we have seen this breakdown of cultural morality come to vivid political life in the person of Donald Trump – who periodically claims to be a Christian, and many of whose supporters at least attach the cultural label “Christian” to themselves.  Among those with no particular moral education, beliefs, or habits I fail to find it surprising, but we need to address the problem of why these failures – exemplified now by this support for Trump – are prevalent among the culturally “Christian” or “conservative”.

The first is a desperate opposition to the far more popular perversions, which are often understood strictly “us” versus “them”.  It would be deadly to the morality play propagated by many – especially leaders – to admit our own failures, so mere sexual violence – as opposed to the other depravities – is ignored if at all possible.  After all – as I said above – we all know it’s wrong and don’t need to dwell on it, right?  This allows “them” to continue to be evil only, while “our” intentions are pure, and the frenzy of zealotry is maintained.  Yet we know that, when a problem does exist, it needs to be addressed, and by more than the word “mistake”.

The second is that most in these communities don’t really expect the problem to occur, and may not look for it or understand what they should be seeing.  “Somebody else” has sexual problems.  Small town horrors are probably not as rare as we like to think, but still shock us when they make the news: violence and sex – and sexual violence – these are (in part justifiably) thought of as “inner city” problems.

The third is a sometimes over-generous application of a particular understanding of Christian charity – and American privacy.  If a problem has occurred, if it can be dealt with quietly, it is often felt that even an effort to alert people that there has been a sin or crime – or that there is potential for a problem to occur or reoccur – is somehow a violation of confidences.  Although the potential for abuse is heightened when combined with wilful ignorance, this motivation I at least find laudable in as much as it shows concern for others – but in practice it is merely concern for personal popularity (no one wants to be known for offering bad news) and even amounts to a lack of awareness and accountability.  Worse still is when reluctance to make problems public becomes a reluctance to even take proper measures to keep original offenders accountable – what if someone notices that?

However, while the conservative holdouts of America see this obsession with sex combining with their own typical sins in deadly ways – while many find themselves in the despairing position of feeling driven to vote for a lewd and predatory man – while many are not even particularly despairing about it because at least “he” isn’t “them” (never mind that Trump was and still, substantially, in habits and associations, is) – it is oversimplifying things if we try to shuffle off American sexual brokenness on conservatives alone.  It is even oversimplifying things when churches – trying to be responsible – attempt to “own up” to any and all American sexual failings, as though they all originated with hypocritical Christians.

I have no idea what the distribution of violent sexual misconduct is now when correlated with political party or professed ideology.  I do not know how things would break down if we count up cases of adultery and divorce, though allegedly the latter at least is, without fine distinctions among creeds, indistinguishable from churches’ American surroundings.  The Republican party has had a great number of sexual scandals among its leadership.  All of this is true: but it must be said that the conservatives have not – generally speaking – yet been guilty of the public embrace of sexual libertines and perversion which more and more characterize progressive politics.  The failures of the conservatives – including religious conservatives – are many: but the responsibility for propagating the anti-social beliefs and habits driving much of the sexual breakdown is not to be put on the conservatives, except in so far as they – we – failed to successfully combat pernicious ideas before they took hold.

How do we break the grip of this sex obsession?  There is an earnest effort underway by the heirs of the original sexual liberators to focus on the violent aspect of rape and create a new feeling of guilt for violating a person’s body without their consent.  This is well-intentioned and correct as far as it goes, but it is not sufficient, because it does not address the fundamental problem.  As long as sex is considered to be practically an abstraction; as long as we talk about sex as though its natural place were merely among the pleasures like chocolate or music, separated from any relationship or biological realities of society; as long as we treat sex as something to be desired in any context and at any time, rape will continue to be just another petty misdeed, another stolen candy bar, to many people.

I am not demanding that a largely areligious society return – if in fact it was ever really there – to some ideal of Christian marriage.  I am not that unrealistic, nor do I particularly believe in making adults do things they do not understand and do not themselves believe in.  But it will be impossible to maintain sexual sanity without some set of rules, call them what you will: habits, taboos, expectations in the culture generally.  To an extent I think I see this happening already, in reaction, as the “status” of relationships takes on social importance, and many people begin to treat at least certain kinds of – still unmarried – sexual partner with as much seriousness or more than others have come to treat a spouse.  I don’t think all of the resulting habits are good; I think it will take far more than a little quiet reaction (while the loonies still go on preaching “liberation” and “finding yourself”) to regain stability; I think among the worst mistakes made by popular culture is to ignore conservative and especially Christian warnings that sexual relationships need to be taken seriously.  The re-emphasis of the villainy of sexual crimes is hopeful, although some of the proposed solutions and resolutions are – curious.  Still, while as a Christian I remain less than sanguine about the long-term prospects without actual reformation and repentance, as a mere citizen I see some hopeful signs that the seriousness of the situation is being realized, and slowly addressed.

On the Republic, and If We Can Keep It

This post was originally composed back in March.  I’m unsure why I didn’t publish it then.  I’ve done some minimal editing, mostly to recast the tense of the discussion.  I’m now treating this as the first part of a discussion of Trump – and how his disgusting displays reflect all too clearly many of the problems with American culture.  In the second part I plan to address the sexual and social angle, but I think this groundwork or recognizing the lack – often embraced – of American political involvement is necessary too.

I had previously issued a general critique of Sanders, and discussed some of the reasons for Trump’s incredible, not to say fanatical and worrying, popular support.  I am now going on to state a more general concern.  The 2008 campaign of President Obama has become a model for executive campaigns.  An energetic, media-savvy candidate; a couple parts conjuring trick about some noble (or not so noble) cause, and a dose of hero-worship: this is the new model for success.  I mentioned the current President’s campaign; McCain probably got more support (almost certainly more attention) from his selection of a running mate than his policies; Romney was dismissed, sometimes explicitly, far more for not being interesting than for his policies – he didn’t excite people.  And this time around, Cruz and Clinton, running tight, generally well-managed campaigns, were unable to pull away from Trump and Sanders respectively.  Cruz eventually capitulated: Clinton won but in a race close enough to generate ill feeling and conspiracy theories until swallowed up by the threat of Trump.  This is particularly notable for Cruz, who – unless you oppose his policies, which most of his party does not – is most substantially criticized by the claim that Washington insiders (that is to say, his coworkers) don’t like him: and for many Republicans, given the general level of trust in the politicos, that is practically an endorsement.  The more or less complete lack of traction for the best-credentialed Republican candidate, Kasich, is perhaps even more telling.

It is evident from all of this that the American people, as a citizenry, do not take their government particularly seriously.  As we are allegedly a democracy, and constitutionally a republic governed by representation, we can further say that we are not particularly interested in self-government.  And this is born out in practically every other sense the phrase can be taken.  Our habits are libertine, and we celebrate it.  Our social involvement, especially with neighbors outside our particular groups, is limited.  And quite often our actual participation in government might as well not exist.  I speak here as a guilty party, for the record: I am less than diligent about things like cleaning the apartment; I have put in few appearances and less effort at local social or municipal functions; and I would have to look up the name of my mayor, let alone state delegates or congressmen.  I could probably pick my 2014 ballot out of a lineup if the alternatives were not too similar, but I could not recreate it from memory.

Heinlein wrote a story, published as part of the novel Time Enough for Love referencing the “man who was too lazy to fail”.  In Cheaper by the Dozen, the loosely biographical novelization of Frank Gilbreth, Jr.’s childhood, his father (the efficiency expert) is mentioned to have looked for the laziest worker in a plant to figure out the best way to achieve efficiency.  Similarly, when I was in high school and college, there seemed to me to be a sort of unspoken challenge: who could achieve the most while appearing to work the least?  At times it seemed much more important to meet this challenge than it did to actually learn anything, which no doubt explains why I never did learn – or have forgotten – quite a bit that I was and am supposed to know.  The aphorism attributed to Brander Matthews, that a gentleman does not need to know Latin, but should at least have forgotten it (after previous study) is small comfort; and I am at any rate duly punished for my sins by the humorous karma of trying to persuade current high school students to actually learn their mathematics.

This juvenile approach to work is quite alive and well among theoretical adults.  If you spend much time poking around the internet, you will quickly discover vast numbers of people cheerfully admitting to wasting time on the web while they are supposed to be working.  Sometimes this is justified with a, “Well, my boss hasn’t given me anything to do so…”; more often, it’s implied or claimed that the work is done already.  While there may be a legitimate question of what working hours are really necessary, the general tenor of such comments is not particularly concerned with it, except as an excuse.

The same determination to make the minimal necessary exertion extends to politics, in several alarming ways.  The most obvious is what passes for our public political debates.  A reasonably nuanced introductory explanation of a plausible policy position, including the goal, its relation to current reality, and what would be necessary to change things would, on virtually any political topic, take a good fifteen minutes.  A plausible debate between two candidates – let alone several – on one topic – let alone several – could therefore hardly begin with less than a pair of speeches, taking at least (what with applause, the commercial break between, and so forth) forty minutes; an attempt to ask thoughtful questions, and answer them reasonably, much longer.  And while the total time allotted might not be too different from reality, the format certainly would be.

As for the persons included in the debates, much is made of the “two party system”, but very few have pointed out that this is due far more to the media than to any constitutional requirements.  (Though both state and federal regulations quite often have been crafted to maintain the imposition of this system.)  The so-called “election cycle” is stretched out by inordinate attention to party primaries – and cast as a two-party race from the initial stages by ignoring the other parties.  It’s not like it’s particularly difficult to talk about narratives with more than two parties: there are these things called sports which media similarly obsesses over, and even when the Yankees and the Cardinals (say) get most of the attention, the Nationals, Red Sox, and so on are hardly out of the public eye.  Yet the same attention to detail is noticeably lacking in political coverage.

Part of the difficulty is that few people are particularly interested in nuanced evaluations, political compromise, or even understanding other citizen’s concerns.  I have been appalled this election cycle at the number of people I have talked to who have expressed their distaste for the caucus system practiced in some states: who, they seem to say, would ever want to go talk to other people, especially all those unwashed masses, about political opinions?  Many people’s only real concern seems to be electing someone who, more or less, will enforce their own desired political program.

And I do mean enforce.  Whether we are talking about the projection of military and legal force implied by Trump, or the expansion of governmental programs of Sanders (or the precursory programs such as the “Patriot” or “Affordable Care” – it’s an open question which was less accurately named – acts under Bush or Obama), the prevailing opinion on all sides seems to be that governmental power is something to be wielded as a big stick against those culturally or socially recalcitrant.  The metaphors applied by politicians are as frequently as not violent ones; so and so will “fight for” your putative rights; such and such a policy is a “violation of” liberty, as though liberty were a peace treaty; and so on.  And so, while the media – allegedly run by responsible persons and charged with telling the truth – is responsible in some sense, it is not really surprising that two large camps should form when the rhetoric is that of conflict.  Political success in a democracy, especially when “government” is reduced to the application of force in demanded directions, is on the side of the big battalions.

So far I have hardly said anything new, that you cannot find lamented somewhere else.  And, if I were merely repeating the complaints, I would go on to talk about all the usual remedies, “tolerance”, “bipartisan action”, “reform”, and so on.  It does not take a very attentive mind to notice that all of these tend to mean, “enact the speaker’s preferred policies” – and the process of doing that brings us right back to the problems noted above.

So what are the causes of this political immaturity?  What are the solutions?  The causes are harder to identify in detail, but there are a few things which seem obvious.  The first is recent history: the United States has been for some hundred years now in the midst of one crisis after another, many of them military.  The habit of looking for an enemy is one easy to ingrain, and hard to eradicate – to paraphrase Lewis, the great majority of moral teachers have repeated the same basic truths, because they need to be repeated.  It is not hard to fall into the habit of regarding a political opponent with the same distrust as one would a foreign enemy in time of war: friendship between such opponents is rather more notable.

The second is, I think, a side-effect of the first.  Because it made dealing with crises easier, by self-deception or perhaps for some honest conviction, the restraints of government have been largely discarded or dismissed.  Some of these restraints have been removed honestly and by due process – I am thinking particularly of the expansion of voting rights and the change in senatorial elections – but others have been swept away by government usurpations, the products of which we are now accustomed to and objections to which are ignored, or dismissed (by those who benefit) as old-fashioned or by appealing to an alleged impossibility of retrieval, or excused by the (fallacious) reasoning that, since change happens, changes which have happen must be justified (as long as the speaker agrees with them).

Election Status: August 1 – Presidency

I may update my opinions as the election draws nearer, especially if debates reveal anything useful.  I will also be writing a section at some point containing thoughts on Congressional and local races, together with some analysis of Maryland races once I do some research.  For now, the Presidency:

At the moment, there are four candidates who could be elected to the the office of President of the United States under normal circumstances: Hilary Clinton (Democratic), Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Jill Stein (Green), or Donald Trump (Republican).  Due to vagaries of the system, these people are recognized more by their party’s ballot access than direct possibility of voting for them: as a result, Stein’s candidacy would take a strange coalition to succeed; additionally, Johnson and the Libertarian party are, as of this date, lacking access in several states – most importantly New York and Ohio.  I do not know whether with three months to go this can or will still be changed – and if so, in which states.

In addition, numerous small parties or independent candidates have some ballot access but not enough to secure the Presidency under normal circumstances.  There are, it seems to me, a great many problems with how elections are structured – but as the system currently tends to benefit the two largest parties, I have small hope of seeing the changes I might hope to be made.  In fact I will not even spend time on Stein’s candidacy: I do not believe she is at all likely to win or even poll particularly well.  Additionally, I have very little agreement with the Green party’s positions.

This leaves three candidates: Clinton, Johnson, and Trump.  If I were to guess, I would guess that Trump is likely to win the race.  In the first place, his candidacy for the Republican party seemed to show some support – judging by open primary states – from normally Democratic voters, suggesting a cross-party appeal.  In the second place, he reflects far too closely what I see day to day – especially on the internet – as the typical American political discourse: insults, angry sound-bites, sexual irresponsibility, vulgarity, and distrust of anyone not in one’s own personal “group”.  I see these habits in people claiming all sorts of different ideological positions.  I suspect his tone therefore resonates strongly with those who more or less agree with his positions (such as they are), and I doubt those opposed to him will be able to mount effective criticism when they tend to indulge in the very kind of nonsense they want to criticize him for.

When I say I think Trump will win, I do not mean that he ought to win, except perhaps in a “get what we deserve” sense.  His presence is angry, immature, and destabilizing.  His policies are not always consistence and as plans incoherent.  Apart from his ability to seize attention, he has very little to recommend him in office.  There are, I think, only two reasons to vote for Trump.  One is that he does seem to care about a certain kind of often-ignored citizen – the relatively poorly off working class, especially if white.  Reintroducing their concerns into political decision-making can hardly be a bad thing: except I still do not see Trump as the person to address those concerns competently.

The other reason would be if the alternatives are worse.  When comparing Trump with Clinton, I am honestly not sure who is more dangerous to the state of the republic.  Trump is a public disgrace: Clinton appears to be competent, but her stated goals are to push us further down an immoral and unConstitutional track, and I very much doubt her political integrity.  By this I mean that – much like President Obama, or perhaps more accurately Senator Reid – she is prepared to use any method, however questionable, which she can get away with to implement policies which she believes will work.  I do not much like being told what to do on quite a number of matters Clinton thinks are public business, and moreover I do not like what she seems likely to try to tell me to do.  I am not sure it is much of a defense to say she “means well”, though I believe that somewhat nebulous phrase does apply: I do not think she is interested (only) in personal aggrandizement as Trump is.

I am not content with the concept of voting for “the lesser of two evils”.  Even considered as “the most possible good”, there seem to be cases where it is hard to find any meaningful distinctions.  If in fact there were no moral distinctions to be made, and both options are bad, a moral person is justified – I am tempted to say required – to choose neither, even if this means abstaining.  Of Clinton and Trump, Clinton is more likely to be a responsible President, but Trump is less likely to impede whatever good policy comes from Congress.  How to choose?

In the event, I currently find Johnson preferable to either.  His basic legal principles and record are superior.  He has not to my knowledge either been involved in any scandal or made an idiot of himself nationally.  I do however have reservations, because on two key points he seems entirely in tune with today’s dangerous tendencies.  He has indicated, in the first place, that he is comfortable using executive orders to achieve good policy – to what extent I am not sure as no interviewer (to my knowledge) has questioned him seriously about this.  He also is unwilling to face down the Supreme Court, especially on abortion: he sounds on the subject just like any other Court supremacist.  (He is, however, far more likely than Clinton – who would pick a probably radical progressive – or Trump – who would likely pick a crony – to make solid appointments to the courts.)

If the election were tomorrow, I would as of now vote for Johnson.  I do not want to make this an endorsement, because the drawbacks of his positions are nearly as big as the advantages.  At the same time, I see – especially in comparison – virtually nothing but drawbacks to either of the other candidates.

The Trump Thing

According to my observations, there are four primary groups active in American politics today: there are a large number of people who would like to return to the ’60s and somehow combine the air of rebelliousness with the idea of doing something important; there is another large group – I would guess larger – but one generally less vocal, which would like to return to the ’50s and a (mostly idealized in memory) unquestioned American security and prosperity; there is a smaller number of people dedicated to a mostly coherent progressive liberalism constructed on the primacy of human choice and self-definition; and there is another small number, I’d guess smaller, dedicated to a consistent adherence to traditional legal and social principles which follow from natural law, whether supernaturally affirmed or rationally considered axiomatic.

To understand Trump’s lasting popularity (so far) when three of those groups despise him – the two idealist factions for being a hack, a liar, and proudly anti-intellectual in tone, the ’60sists for personifying The Man – you have to understand that Trump’s rhetoric and sloganeering appeals to that second group, that group that wants things to be “the way they were”.  Much as President Obama’s campaign energized the liberal-leaning bloc with the idea of “Hope and Change” and a black man in high office as an important symbol, Trump’s “Make America Great” appeals to this conservative-leaning bloc.  That is to say, Trump has managed to do what a great number of people were wondering how the Republican party would ever accomplish – energize the politically unmotivated.  A great many people are saying, “Yes, this guy speaks my language.”

Liberal critics are ascribing this mainly to racist motives, while conservative critics are mostly just baffled.  The first is – at best – an oversimplification, while the latter betrays an unfamiliarity with a great many people’s concerns.  The conservative-leaning bloc is not mostly concerned with the issues of legality and precedent which vex conservative idealists: these Trump supporters resent liberal social revolutionism, but generally on social, habitual, or strictly religious grounds, rather than the legal ones (or reasoned socio-ethical ones) an idealist writes thousands of words about.  And they are accustomed to the idea of an all-powerful Federal government – Social Security, Medicare, a military modeled on the old British “next two most powerful” principle: and the association of America with unquestionable rightness.  Liberal critics are not entirely incorrect in considering this vaguely fascist or tending that way, though very slow to realize or admit this attitude could be traced essentially straight to FDR (if not Teddy and Wilson), and to generations taught to revere him (or them).

Of course, the Republican party has relied on these voters for years.  In a sense Trump is both a caricature and the logical endpoint of the pro-military, pro-spending, God-insisting-on, opponent-bashing rhetoric Republican candidates (though Democrats have their own shibboleths) have spouted to the point it’s become mindless.  (And for this very reason, I’m not convinced Trump in office would necessarily be any worse an official, or be actually less conservative, than many of these talking-point-parroting GOPers have turned out to be.)

Trump has collected as a base several groups which one or the other or both party establishments have alienated for years, either by mocking as hypocritical rubes or by paying lip-service to while ignoring their concerns.  Trump is as insincere as they come – but America all but expects its politicians to be insincere.  One can’t attack his policies, because he has no serious policy suggestions.  Sanders has gained an immense following, and the respect even of his opponents, by appearing to buck that trend.  Trump is taking the easier path – and success despite no respect – taking advantage of expectations.