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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Outrageous, The Oversized, The Arrogant, And The Indifferent – The Surprising Rise Of An Unlikely Political Genius

Baxter Lennon had been brought up properly – to color within the lines, to go to Mass, to respect his parents, and to act appropriately.  He was a member of an important family and whatever he did reflected well or badly on it.  There were to be no rough edges, nothing that ever chafed or irritated, a sense of decency, moderation, and reserve.

He was an Honor Camper at Camp Wanaweta awarded for his good behavior, his example of respect and obedience, and his sense of allegiance and duty.   He got all A’s on his report cards, singled out by his teachers not only as a good student but polite, orderly, and congenial.  He was an altar boy and soon the principal acolyte to Father Brophy at High Mass, an honor and tribute given to very few.

 was kind to his sister, never complained about his chores, went to bed on time, ate everything on his plate, and was careful not to soil his clothes or scuff his shoes.

In Sophomore Year in high school, something snapped in Baxter.  Perhaps it was because of Arnie Boone, the music teacher that the very proper private school hired because of his reputation - he had been once feted as one of Connecticut’s rising stars and been graced with a recital at Bushnell Hall at a young age – but barely tolerated because of his eccentricities and willful disobedience of school rules. 

 Baxter had some talent in music, and although his parents, not wishing to waste a semester on a below-average, non-high tier college track course objected, they demurred.  After all their son was near the top of his class and excelled at more ‘proper courses’, so one semester off the grid couldn’t possibly hurt.

Perhaps it was Bobby Inman, the son of an influential industrialist and scion of one of New England’s first families, but who – unlike Baxter – resented his parents dutiful respectability and was considered by school administrators as a ‘bad seed’ – an incorrigible, disruptive, and corrupting influence.  Bad boys having a sexual allure that was irresistible to good girls,  it was no surprise that Bobby was the school’s Valmont; and because of his popularity, his conquests, and his Olympian status at Bradley, he was Baxter’s hero. It was one thing to have praise from teachers, priests, and parents; another thing entirely to be adored by girls.

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Perhaps it was ‘still waters run deep’, and that Baxter’s moral probity was only an add-on to a naturally rebellious, independent personality.  Whatever the reason, in short order he became as bad a seed at Bobby Inman.  He was ‘short-circuited’ said his teachers, who thought they had seen everything.  He was basically a good boy whose circuit breakers would quickly be switched back to ‘On’, and he would be off to Harvard.

He was never happier, and felt liberated -  finally freed from the respectability of right behavior.  It was a feeling of euphoria, fantastic release and satisfaction.  For the first time in his life he was doing what he wanted, when he wanted, and nothing could be better. Because behind all the tattoos, delinquency, and ill-mannered, resentful behavior, he was one of Bradley’s best students.  Not just for his year but for any year.  He whizzed through the most advanced math courses the school could provide, wrote fiction like a professional, won the Bonner Fielding Prize for the best historical essay on Puritan New Haven, and learned two languages well.  The school couldn’t very well dismiss him.

Whether this rebellious indifference to the norm was a matter of genes, psychology, or environment, Baxter left Bradley relentlessly anti-social, anti-establishment, and anti-normative.  He joined the Harvard Conservative Union, not because he was a an advocate of Hayek, Friedman, Buckley, or Reagan but because it felt good to mold the Union into the most radical student organization on the East Coast and to defy the stale and boringly predictable campus liberalism.  Theirs was a philosophy of Nietzschean will, Kierkegaardian determinism, and social Darwinism.

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He dated wild Ashkenazi Jewish girls from Radcliff – girls who had dumped the radical Judaism and Gompers socialism of their parents into the Charles.  He took drugs, slept with goomba townies from the North End, invited them – all gussied up in bouffant hairdos, low-cut dresses, costume jewelry, and cheap perfume -  to Adams House teas, defied professors who inserted their reformist agenda into the most apolitical courses, and was the most outspoken pro-life, pro-heterosexual advocate Harvard had ever seen.  He reveled in his classmates opprobrium and encouraged it.  His sarcasm and bitter, dripping irony became his trademark.  Few had the ability let alone the temerity to challenge him.

He was a master of duplicity, a genius with a silver tongue, a persuasive orator who loved to see a rapt audience, nodding in agreement, and becoming his.  As hard as the Harvard establishment tried to marginalize him, ridicule his ideas, and separate him from the community, they could not.  Baxter simply didn’t care either about the radical ideas he professed or the increasingly virulent attacks against him. 

Politics, of course, was the best place for Baxter once he left Harvard.  There he could find a constituency, build it, expand it, and move up the political ladder.  Even before he graduated, he was noticed by conservative political operatives who saw in this smart, engaging, and influential young man a rich future.  He became their advance man for youth.  His charisma, polish, and mesmerizing presence would easily win over the gullible young and make waves among the hidebound liberal establishment.  Before long he was elected to public office at the state level, and then won a seat in Congress.  Before long he was considered as an enviable candidate for President.

Baxter’s story has been abridged here.  His rise to power was not quite so meteoric as it might appear – American politics are a dirty, venal, and brutal business and only the most durable and savvy survive – but the nature of his ascendancy is important.  Americans – a bourgeois, settled lot indifferent to all but Hollywood, money, glitz and glamour – would not seem to be ripe for a man like Baxter Lennon; and yet they took to his bombast, outrageous assumptions, defiance of cant and received wisdom like a duck to water.  He tapped something in them, awakened his dormant independent spirit just as Percy Boone had done for him at Bradley.  There was nothing really settled about these Middle Americans.  They were marching in place because they had to, were obliged to, and resented the arrogant dismissal of politicians who took them for granted, laughed at them, and relegated them.

Baxter could care less about the plight of the forgotten American.   They were as uninteresting as his Harvard classmates – both suffering from pedestrianism - and while his constituents might deserve more understanding because of the inevitability of their lot, he had none.  He was in all this for himself.  He delighted in the adulation of increasingly large crowds not because of any arrogance or self-importance but because of the exercise itself.  Manipulation was the means and the end.  There was no final idyll at the end of the road – progressives had staked out that fabulist territory for themselves – nor any satisfaction in any adoption of the platform he treated as a Hollywood script, complete with villains, heroes, damsels in distress, power, and glory.  He simply loved the fact that he could get people to do his bidding without them having the slightest idea that they had been brought to his trough by him and him alone.

Baxter Lennon had been out of office for many years by the time Donald Trump became president; but the two were identical twins.  They both were outrageous, irreverent, manipulative, amoral and brilliant to the core. 

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The Left never understood Baxter Lennon nor could they figure out Donald Trump.  They were continually surprised at his appeal.  How could this ignorant, retrograde, immoral man possibly have any following at all? The answer of course is simple – bad boys, the outrageous, attractive, irrepressible, and very confident men, always win the crowd. 

Baxter spent his retirement years as happy as could be watching Donald Trump infuriate the Left and excite his crowds.  In his first term and especially in his second, he was one of a kind.  No matter how progressives whined, there Donald Trump was on Twitter, on the podium, and before the cameras – not only touting a conservative agenda but doing it with braggadocio, flair, and fireworks.

There is most definitely a place for outrageous, amoral, indifferent willful Nietzschean man in American politics.  Just as we prefer Hollywood and Las Vegas to reality, we prefer the likes of Trump.  The quiet, respectful, men of moderation like Joe Biden may win the hearts of the already-committed Left, but no one else.

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