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

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Loving Donald Trump And The Outrageous - When Cant And Self-Righteousness Become Very Tedious Indeed

Donald Trump may not be the best President America has ever had, but he is without a doubt the most outrageous, incorrect, and burlesque; and by being so, he is the most revolutionary. His braggadocio, New York street attitude, and his refusal to accept the old, shopworn, and hopelessly repetitive nostrums of progressive liberalism are indeed counter-cultural. While his traditional successes and failures – the state of the economy, geopolitical influence, social and cultural change – will be discussed ad infinitum after he leaves office, the most telling aspect of his presidency will be his outrageously American personality, his unequivocal rejection of the cant, self-righteousness, and arrogance of the Left, and a dismissal of the way Washington does business.

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Trump is a vaudevillian, huckster, carny barker, and the best Catskill comedian since Shecky Greene.  He has never given a thought to reforming himself to fit the presidency because, despite historians’ paeans to past presidents, they all were cut from the same cloth, politicians from daybreak to bedtime no different from Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink Kenna who in the 1890s created a political machine based on graft and protection money from the saloons , brothels, and gambling halls of the Levee district in Chicago. All Presidents have been insiders, working the aisles, cadging money, currying favor and influence, and playing the game as it has been played since Polk, Fillmore, and Pierce.  They all ran the country as their predecessors had – elected by popular appeal, quick to pay off campaign debts, rejiggering campaign promises to suit the money brokers who got them elected, and planning for re-election from Day One.  All was as predictable as the sunrise, venal and self-serving – a show of principle, commitment and moral authority when it made sense, and Old Boy camaraderie when it didn’t.

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At the same time Presidents acted presidential in public.  They said the right things and gave the impression of deliberation and thoughtful enterprise.  They respected the decorum of the Senate, stayed clear of the barroom brawls of the House, and challenged foreign leaders with a composite of courtesy and firmness, all the while conniving and calculating political advantage, money, and personal influence and legacy at home.

What about Truman, true believers in traditional American politics ask? Wasn’t he above reproach? Didn’t he win World War II? Perhaps he ended it by bombing Japan into submission, but the incinerations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said his critics, were unnecessary, savage, murderous attacks on civilian populations only to show the Soviets what was in store for them if they didn’t behave.  Kennedy, for all the Camelot romance, off-the cuff humor, good looks, and social grace, was a political blunderer and J. Edgar Hoover’s lackey because of his injudicious affairs.  Hoover’s blackmail slowed civil rights to a crawl.  The Bay of Pigs and the many failed assassination attempts of Castro were fiascos; the Cuban Missile crisis an exercise in machismo and political arrogance.  Johnson, the author of the Civil Rights Bill and champion of the poor, played the game just like everyone else, got us involved in Vietnam and stubbornly refused to get out, and fueled the military-industrial-Congressional complex like no other president before him.  George Bush, Jr got us equally tangled up in ill-advised military adventures.  Ronald Reagan attacked Grenada, engineered a coup in Panama, bombed Libya to get rid of Kaddafi, juked and jived with the Contras in Nicaragua, and got us in a deeper hole with Iran.

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They all ‘acted presidential’, in other words they played by the same rules of intrigue, power politics, backroom deals, and corporate monied interest lobbying.  No war was surprising, no broken campaign promises shameful, no quid pro quo deals unexpected, no perks of office denied.  The status quo, regardless of liberal or conservative politics, remained intact and untouched.  Democracy worked in the same ways it always had – influenced by money, propelled by ego, supported by the flimsy support of a gullible electorate, and resistant to change.  The social class system remained unshakeable despite calls for income equality and equal access to the nation’s wealth.

In other words, nothing in national politics had changed much over 100 years or more. It had always been an Old Boy game.  It had always been a shell game of shifting loyalties, an amoral roundabout of self-interest.  Nothing new under the sun.  Until Donald Trump.

It is not that Trump has changed the way government works.  The system has inertia, the Constitutional provisions for divisions of authority are still in force, and the bureaucracy is still manned by lower-level lifers more resistant to change than anyone inside or outside of government.  Yet Trump has given a loud ‘Fuck You’ to all of it – the hysteria of the sanctimonious Left, the assumptions of what is right, wrong, and proper international behavior, and demands to tone down, cleanse, and reform his language to fit the new politically correct guidelines.  He was elected to do exactly this.  When his supporters voted for him to ‘clean the swamp’ of Washington, they hoped for but never really expected his wholesale dismissal of the way Washington does business.  They wanted him to apply his New York real estate bareknuckle street-fighting to governance, but wondered if he could do it.  They were tired of coastal elitism, arrogance, and dismissal of working class convictions, happy that Trump challenged all of it, unsure of how his confrontational attitude would set on Capitol Hill, but have been delighted at his successes and his absolute refusal to kowtow to political cant and correctness.

His tweets, his impersonations, his Borscht Belt caricatures are exactly what his supporters expected and what the country needed.  How could anyone possibly keep quiet, they say, when the the likes of Pelosi and the Seven Dwarfs spout dreck and nonsense? Just as they try to incriminate him by invective, personal smears, and pompous assumptions, so will he attack them for their sanctimony, hypocrisy, and elitist arrogance.  He is politics’ D.H. Hughley and the young Eddie Murphy – outrageous, incorrect, and unapologetic for their ridicule.

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Washington wants decorum and rules; and this president does not like the former and does not play by the latter.  Of course he twiddled with Russia and Ukraine; and he did on the international stage exactly what politicians like Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John did in Chicago and Marion Barry did in Southeast Washington – walking around money, deals, and unrepentant ward politics.   Why make nice in public when the long knives are out everywhere? Trump can deal with Kim Jong Un because he is as full of himself as the Korean is.  Over-the-top threats of nuclear annihilation are just upgraded Monopoly moves, poker hands.  He gets along with Putin and Netanyahu because they like him take nothing from nobody – tough leaders, convinced of their authority and purpose.  Gone are traditional alliances – the EU, NATO, pacts and treaties.  The Machiavellian world suits Trump just fine, and his people, as atavistic as he is, love every minute.

The never-ending posturing over race, gender, and ethnicity has become predictable, hopelessly tired, and irrelevant.  When everything is seen through the same distorted lens, the distortion becomes evident to those looking more clearly. No matter how public conversations begin, they turn to the politically correct.  On a recent BBC World Service news program on which the increasingly political nature of the Nobel Prize was discussed, the talk quickly turned to Islamophobia, the oppression of black Americans, and the misogyny of men in power.  No discussion of politics, economics, finance, innovation, art, or religion is exempt. 

How is it that ordinarily reasonable observers can so quickly and so irretrievably be wedded to such group-think? Orwell was absolutely right when he wrote about political complicity – a simpleminded, credulous populace believing just about anything, and happily willing to give up whatever independent thinking they might have to belong to a larger group.  The bandwagon of progressivism is getting bigger, louder, and more universal.  While most hear nothing but loud, annoying music, those in the know keep banging away.

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American liberalism in an earlier day had its good points.  The nature of modern democracy and its market economy should be examined within the context of the country’s founding principles.  How to balance an increasing concentration of wealth with the increase of economic opportunity? How to redress social imbalances without giving away principles of moral responsibility, intellect, enterprise, and work?  How to address social plurality without compromising individual freedom?

Today’s stepchild of that rational liberalism – progressive idealism – has turned inward on itself, has given up rational inquiry, and substituted a priori belief and the litanies, liturgies, and cant derived from it for objective deliberation.

So like opposes like.  Trump’s theatrics, Hollywood glitz, and Catskill comedy against the MSNBC-CNN-Seven Dwarfs side show.  Only the progressive cabal takes themselves seriously.  Ultimately, Trump is popular because he does not take himself seriously.  How could anyone bred on the streets of New York, be an icon of Hollywood and national television, a star of Las Vegas, and the headliner on any stage on which he has performed take himself seriously?

Despite the media impeachment brouhaha Donald Trump will likely serve out his term, and given the inconsequential nature of the Democratic contenders for the presidency, he is likely to be elected for a second.

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