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Monday, October 9, 2017

The Canny Alexis De Tocqueville–To Him Donald Trump Would Not Be An Aberration But Quintessentially American

The hysteria and histrionics of the Left have calmed somewhat as the reality of a Trump Administration sinks in. They are still angered, upset, and frustrated at his outspoken commitment to turning back years of progressive liberalism but find themselves powerless to to anything to stop it. 
The more they encourage street protests, public disrespect of American traditions, continue public promotion of the most morally questionable abortions, and persist in disparaging religion as an essential, worthy, and intricate part of American life, the more moderate conservatives join the Trump fold. 

The Left feels they have been beaten by an impostor, a carny barker, a bourgeois poseur, a clown, and a deceptive, dishonest, and arrogantly stupid man.

Yet, Trump remains in office, and is as dismissive of his critics now as President as he was as a candidate.  Not only that, he knows instinctively how to enrage the Left.  His golf outings are not 18 holes with friends, but deliberate, conscious, and publically staged events that let everyone know that there is no such thing as ‘acting presidential’, that times have changed, and that an unapologetically middle-brow, ambitious outrageously American president is in the White House, and is not about to leave.

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If Donald Trump is Middle America’s cultural hero, he is also the champion of longstanding political ideals.  Not only does he have what most Americans want – wealth, beauty, property, and popularity; the defiant amoral individualism to get them; and the confident swagger to show them off – but he reflects basic, fundamental American political principles.

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In an article in City Journal, Jean Yarbrough, Professor of Social Sciences at Bowdoin and lecturer in political philosophy has added this dimension to Trump’s Americanism.  Forget his bombast and outrageous personality, she writes.  Pay attention to the same principles that have underlain American exceptionalism since the founding of the Republic. 

In her article Trump – and Tocqueville? she suggests that if the French aristocrat were to return to America today, he would not be surprised.  Things have really not changed since the days of Andrew Jackson.
Visiting the United States in 1831, when Andrew Jackson was president, Alexis de Tocqueville was appalled by the “vulgarity and mediocrity” of American politics. After meeting Jackson, Tocqueville concluded that the low tone of American society started at the top. In Tocqueville’s estimation, Jackson was “a man of violent character and middling capacity.”
Worse, he seemed to have no talent for politics: he rode “roughshod over his personal enemies” in a way no president had done and treated members of Congress with disdain. “Nothing in all the course of his career had ever proved that he had the requisite qualities to govern a free people,” Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “so the majority of the enlightened classes of the Union had always been opposed to him.”
Considering his view of Jackson, imagine what Tocqueville’s first impressions of President Trump might be. Real-estate mogul, host of The Apprentice, owner of beauty pageants, and backer of WrestleMania, among other louche enterprises, Trump would seem to confirm Tocqueville’s worst fears about debased standards of American public life and leadership.
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Considering his view of Jackson, imagine what Tocqueville’s first impressions of President Trump might be. Real-estate mogul, host of The Apprentice, owner of beauty pageants, and backer of WrestleMania, among other louche enterprises, Trump would seem to confirm Tocqueville’s worst fears about debased standards of American public life and leadership.

And yet, as Yarbrough continues,  “Trump campaigned on issues that have a Tocquevillean resonance…Tocqueville highlighted certain dangers to democratic liberty and greatness that Trump—who, it is safe to assume, has not read Democracy in America—instinctively seized on to win the presidency.”

Yarbrough begins with immigration, a contentious issue that has divided opinion on may levels, but one which has as an underlying principle a sense of national integrity, nationhood, and republican unity no different than that espoused in America more than 150 years ago.
Trump has spoken to the long-term interest of American citizens in remaining a unified and self-contained people—what Tocqueville called their “self-interest, well understood.” Today, the American project of assimilation has come under sustained attack.
Multiculturalists and globalists in government reject the idea that immigrants should adopt American culture and argue that foreigners should have the right to live in America in disregard of its immigration laws.
Trump seized on this shift to call for secure borders and a renewal of America’s national identity. At the same time, he remained open, in principle, to immigrants from all nations.
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The issue of immigration is a complex one and has as much to do with economics as it does cultural integrity.  Americans are more concerned about jobs, public expenditures, and taxes than they are about ethnicity; but there is no way in a heated political environment that the two cannot help but be conflated. 

Yet there is something very positive about an appeal to nationhood.  There in fact is something about America that is more than just two borders and three seas, more even than the collective believe in opportunity and fulfilled expectations; and more even than freedom.  It is that America is that of cultural inclusivity.  Americans have always welcomed immigrants but on the condition that they espouse American values, contribute more than they take away, and quietly and responsibly assume the role of citizen.

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The truth of course is that most immigrants do indeed follow this model of assimilation, have come here to work and improve their lives, and respect the established laws and traditions of their new home.  Yet there is something very emotional about patriotism and nationalism.  Logic does not always apply and in fact seldom does.  Donald Trump as well as Americans in 1831 are no different in their sentiments.

Tocqueville found early 19th century Americans very patriotic, and ‘love of country’ was fundamental and unchallenged.
Tocqueville had been struck by Americans’ love of country; he would not be surprised by the appeal of Trump’s full-throated patriotism, especially when set against his critics’ championing of multiculturalism and globalization.
For Tocqueville, national identity was bound up with religion, which, in the United States and in Europe, meant Christianity. Long before the 2016 presidential election, though, Democrats had clearly come to regard Christianity as an obstacle to their goals…Ironically, it was Trump—the twice-divorced, lapsed Presbyterian—who took up the cause of beleaguered Christians, reaching out to evangelical and Catholic leaders alike, promising to stand up for them in their battle to preserve religious liberty. Tocqueville would have approved.
Mentions of God were removed from the Democratic Party platform in 2016.  Democrats have consistently championed secular rights over religious ones, and have ignored the moral concerns of small business owners and church-sponsored institutions; and the Trump Administration has chosen to roll back these initiatives.

Tocqueville also understood the essential individualism of early America and its suspicion of government and public overreach.
Democracy in America draws a distinction between “great parties” and “small parties.” Tocqueville describes great parties as “more attached to principles than to their consequences; to generalities, and not to particular cases; to ideas, not to men…”
Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp”—by which he meant scaling back the administrative state that had risen up alongside America’s three constitutional branches of government—can be understood as an application of great-party principles. It represented an attempt to limit the power of government’s unaccountable, irremovable, and self-interested bureaucrats.
It is no surprise, then, that Trump has begun to lessen government regulation of private enterprise and public and private life.  He intends to stop the politicization of education and the intrusion of politically correct programs and agendas which dilute the process of learning, give false and unethical hopes to children, and corrode the infrastructure of American progress.

His actions to question international accords and treaties, his appointment of a Constitutional originalist to the Supreme Court, and his unilateral stances in foreign affairs are all consistent with this fundamental American exceptionalism.

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Tocqueville while in America was prompted to ask the question: “Can democracies achieve greatness or must they be content with a comfortable mediocrity…?’
Tocqueville worried about whether democracies were capable of pursuing great foreign policy goals, warning that democratic citizens lacked the patience and determination to pursue long-range policies. Wars would have to be short, policy objectives clear, victory decisive.
Ignoring Tocqueville’s doubts, Trump promised to restore America’s standing in the world.
Yarbrough concludes with this passage:
Whether President Trump can deliver on these Tocquevillean themes remains to be seen. It will take patience and skill in the art of leading a free people—an art that Tocqueville believed Andrew Jackson did not possess. The French aristocrat would likely have taken a similarly dim view of Trump—but he might also recognize, in the president’s pledges and commitments, echoes of some of his own deeply held principles.



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