"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, April 16, 2018

Donald Trump, The White House, Congress, And Washington DC–Finally Looking Like America

Presidents are supposed to be presidential, or so it is said.  Only men of rectitude, honor, ability, courage and compassion belong in the Oval Office; and with few exceptions our presidents have fit the mold.  In some cases like that of FDR, JFK, and the Bushes, a patrician upbringing has assured a certain moral authority and noblesse oblige.  In others like Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton,  and Harry Truman, a difficult if not poor childhood gave a less complicated, less philosophical righteousness.  The values of hard work and belief in the American dream plus an innate ambition and confidence enabled them to rise to power. 

In a few cases – Nixon, Harding, Garfield, and Buchanan come to mind – presidents fell far short of the modest standards established by tradition.  Few Presidents have matched the intelligence, insight, and canniness of Jefferson and Adams and most of the Founding Fathers; but all in all they have been in consistent company.  They were not of the people but for the people.  No one expected an American president, a French one, or a British Prime Minister to be of the hoi-polloi.

Image result for images warren harding
The standards of American leadership were best expressed by Cato the Elder, educator of the Roman elite whose diptychs enunciated the principles which must guide those who were to lead the Empire.  Honesty, intelligence, courage, discipline, respect, compassion, and diligence were among the attributes deemed necessary for leadership. 

Thomas Jefferson, of all American presidents, was a Roman model.  He epitomized greatness in leadership.  Schooled in world history, philosophy, art, and science, Jefferson was the ideal person to configure a new nation.  He of course had his own particular political philosophy – democratic populism – and he necessarily ran up against conservative colleagues like Alexander Hamilton who was wary of popular rule; but Jefferson was always an uncompromised, legitimate, and respected leader.

Image result for images cato the elder

These men – and even the slightly ragged and disreputable among them – represented the ruling class.  Even though they may have had more affinity with the poor and disadvantaged – like LBJ and FDR – and even though they may have risen from humble roots, they were of the elite.  By the time they had ascended to the Presidency, they had lost whatever they had in common with dust bowl farmers, oil riggers, or factory workers.  Their past may have inspired their political philosophy and provided an incentive for their policies and programs, but they were a world apart from their origins.

This was as it should be, according to popular and academic wisdom.  A leader must be aware of the nature of his national constituency, but there is nothing which suggests that he be of the same makeup, leanings, and aspirations.  Americans have been conditioned to admire their Presidents but to like them from afar.  They have understood that leaders are of a different breed than followers and have unashamedly sworn an oath of allegiance to a ruling elite. While Americans may have rejected the idea of aristocracy a priori and out of hand, classism has been ingrained in them as it has been in all societies and cultures.

What then to make of Donald Trump who is the most American president since 1789.  Who but Trump has better expressed American social ambition, tinsel, glitz, glamour, beauty, and wealth? Who better to represent the country than someone with the morals of a street-fighter, a Wall Street investor, a real estate fixer, and a Hollywood mogul? America, taken in the aggregate, is not a pretty place; and Americans have achieved their economic success and international clout thanks to bare knuckles, insider trading, and a preference for victory over good.


Trump is hors de série, one of a kind, unique, and indisputably American.  Who better than a man of Hollywood, Las Vegas, New York to lead the country?  Who better than a street-fighter to go up against the Russians or Kim Jong-Un? A man of enforcer mentality and take-no-prisoners ethos to run America? A man of supreme egotism, bombast, and arrogance to send the progressive Left scurrying?

Why do Trump’s approval ratings remain high despite his antics – scurrilous tweets, precipitous firings and immediate hiring, fake news, bare-faced, bald distortions of the facts?  Because he, for the first time in American history, is one of us.  Forget the current progressive idealism – the fight against injustice, climate change, and predatory capitalism can be won and a new and better world can be had – Americans want no part of pie-in-the-sky fantasies that deny history, human nature, and social dynamics.  Trump is a an opportunist, and a manipulator; a gunfighter, a lone wolf interloper afraid of and intimidated by no one.

Gunfight at OK Corral

Most Americans do not want Pablo Casals, Picasso, or Brahms.  We might have been enamored by the sophisticated JFK White House, but this was just a princess fantasy.  We might admire aristocratic taste, but what we really want are pole dancers, neon lights, slot machines, hot starlets, and Hollywood scandal.  We love Trump’s Miss Universe and Mar El Lago;  his private jets, Fifth Avenue apartments, and private sojourns.  Of course he consorted with models, runway queens, porno stars, and the pleasure-dome mob.  Of course he was and still is a bronco. No corral can hold him, no justice but frontier justice need apply.

Despite Trump’s unapologetic dismissal of the Washington establishment; his outrageous, provocative, and shoot-from-the-hip tweets; his chaos; and reports of his sexual exploits, a significant percentage of Americans are still very much for him.  Are his precipitous moves rational and in America’s best interest? A trade war with China, an abutment against free trade on the Southwest border; a free-for-all cascade of uncertain fiscal, economic, and financial policies; and a wild circus of in-Washington, out of Washington presence are neither criticized nor examined by the 40 percent of the American electorate who support him.

This significant support has nothing to do with policy, white papers, or official proclamations.  It has all to do with the support and embrace of the first president who is like ‘us’.  Of course Donald Trump does not reflect the principles, ethos, or personality of the coasts – no inclusivity, multi-everything pluralism, environmental idealism, and social reform – but that is exactly why he is so revolutionary.  He is neither classically conservative like Reagan, Buckley, and  Friedman; nor muscularly assertive like the Bushes; nor as internationally innovative as Richard Nixon; but he is as fundamentally conservative as his 40+ percentage of supporters.  Regardless of his coincidence with many classically conservative positions, his appeal is social, cultural, and emotive. 

What most progressive and international observers cannot understand is the parallelism of Trump and his American electoral base.  They cannot understand the visceral appreciation and approval of this outrageous, uncontrollable, exuberant political outlier. They look only through the narrow lens of ‘rational’ political consideration and opinion and the presumption of a consistent standard of national leadership. They miss the point entirely.

Trump is likely to make the 10 Worst Presidents list; but this will have been compiled by those with a traditional political perspective; but anyone looking more closely, will rank him near the top.  When a President embodies the zeitgeist of a time and place, expresses its fundamental principles, and evokes visceral support, he cannot be ignored.  Is Trump’s populism or liberal progressivism the real zeitgeist? Only time will tell; but it is more likely that Trump’s uber-bourgeois Presidency is the one most Americans will remember.

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