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

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Last Dance–A Serious Commitment To Conservatism Amidst Trump’s Circus

Many Americans love Donald Trump’s vaudevillian, big top circus, and side show antics.  Never has anyone seen a president like him, they say, nor will they ever again.  He is a man who never wanted to be president, was surprised at his victory, never doubted his ability to navigate the swamps of Foggy Bottom, and never balked, changed course, or tried to reinvent himself.   Nothing doing.   He made his fortune ten times over on the mean streets of New York where he was a master of intimidation, braggadocio, false promises, bait-and-switch, and high-stakes shell games.  He took this persona to Hollywood as the make-or-break bully of The Apprentice. Millions loved his scowl, his impertinence, impatience, and ‘You’re fired!’.

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Most observers thought that Trump’s background would lead to his downfall.  No man of such bombast and vaudevillian smoke-and-mirrors; no one, however skilled in the art of the deal, could possibly steer a course through the chicanery, double-dealing, smarmy double-talk, and back room intrigues of Congress.  No one of his temperament could possibly put up with the ad hominem sleaze of official Washington, and the dutiful deference, respect, and compromise it expected.  To their outrage, he never even tried.  He called them liars, masters of deception, and empty-headed, self-important fools.  He treated Senators and Congressmen no differently than he did his adversaries on Wall Street – “So sue me”.  He wanted no part of their false modesty and false hopes, and especially no part of their bad suits, inelegant wives, and lack of American popular culture.

Both the old guard of Washington and the young avant-garde were nonplussed, flustered, and frustrated.  This was not a smiling, good-natured Ronald Reagan who took insults as a matter of course, had only the mildest ripostes to the persistent attacks of the Left, and left office as one of the most admired, loved, and respected presidents of the recent past.  As a matter of fact not only was Donald Trump unlike any other president, he didn’t even try to act presidential.  Perhaps worst of all,  he was no Jack Kennedy, a man of taste, culture, humor, and social grace – a President with a sophisticated wife of old wealth, a fondness for Pablo Casals and Robert Frost, a self-deprecating, ironic old-school humor, and a winning way with women.   Trump was all arm-candy, glitz, cheap glamour, oversized mansions and yachts, and a love of fast food and Hollywood romance.

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A number of political commentators thought that this was exactly what Washington needed – a cultural shakeup, populism brought to Washington with a vengeance.  Not just Jefferson-speak or nostrums about ‘the people’, but bass boats, gun racks, frilly dresses, make up, sequins, and high heels.  It was time to give the uneducated, unsophisticated, unreflective, emotional middle a place at the table.  Trump’s outrageous claims, wild assertions, histrionics, and hucksterism were exactly what this middle was used to.  American popular culture has been filled with snake-oil salesmen, carny barkers, doomsday preachers, revivalists, vaudevillians, and clowns for centuries, so why not the President?

The last four years have been the greatest show on earth.  Nothing done as usual, as expected, or de rigeur.  Perhaps more importantly, lie was given to the prevailing Washington culture of elitism, sanctimony, presumptuousness, and emotional idealism.  It was a welcome return to the bare-knuckle politics of the past.  As bloody as those old 19th century floor fights could be, they were no different from those in the barnyard or back streets.  They were up-front, name-calling, free-wheeling, fisticuffs.  None of this supposition of righteousness and impossible political arrogance.

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The Trump years have indeed been a free-for-all, a circus, and a Las Vegas show of glitz and lowbrow taste, and cheap glamour.  It was a welcome change from staid, business-as-usual bureaucratic, political Washington.  It was a spectacle, a wonderful show of Borscht Belt humor, Ziegfeld Follies, and soap operas.  It will be missed.

Many critics have wondered how any serious conservative, could be so delighted with Trump’s vaudevillian antics which clearly have been not only a distraction from those fundamental principles of Adam Smith, Hayek, Friedman, Buckley, and Reagan, but a distortion of them.  Why did they not dismiss Trump for the clown that he is, call out his lies, blowhard rhetoric, and misrepresentations of an important conservative agenda?

Their answers have been clear and unequivocal. Trump, for all his unbecoming behavior, exaggerations, and blurred distinctions between fact and fantasy, has espoused the agenda of conservatism and stood firm against the growing influence of the progressive Left.   He has been for fewer government regulations, lower taxes, and far less intrusion in private affairs.  He has been for a strong, if not defiant international stance, bullying the bullies of Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia.  He has been in favor of the Constitutional originalism of former Chief Justice Antonin Scalia, and has chosen Associate Justices who follow his principles.  He is for returning contentious, undecided, complex issues such as abortion and homosexuality to the electoral process, not limiting them to the confines of the Supreme Court.  

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He has challenged notions of gender fluidity, the irrelevance of the two-parent family, and the insignificance of religion in American life.  He has been for the dismissal of identity politics and a restoration of individualism.  He has acknowledged the problem of unlimited immigration.  He has forced an objective look at race, social dysfunction, and the persistence of a minority underclass.  He has refused to tolerate historical revisionism and the extra-judicial indictment of accused sexual offenders on campus.  He has demanded a return to the classical principles of Ancient Greece and Rome which have underlay all successful civilizations.  He has condemned affirmative action in favor of equal opportunity for all. He has supported the private, entrepreneurial dynamism of the American economy.

The problem of course is that his Big Top circus performance is likely to lose him the election.  The Left has cannily created and manipulated its caricature of Trump as a misogynist, homophobic, radical Wall Street capitalist.  It has encouraged many to conflate his strong stance against the current urban riots, his equally determined position about religious and social values, and his consistent support for the private sector, with cultural insensitivity and intolerance.  Trump, who has never apologized for his character, personality, or behavior, plays into the hands of this equally determined opposition.  As much as many voters have loved his very American, Wild West persona and the show of defiance and dismissal of the elitist Washington establishment, they are traditional at heart.  Maybe it is better to have a more reasoned, reasonable, conciliatory, and less incendiary man at the helm.

The current polls two weeks from the election suggest a Trump trouncing by Biden; and if so, both the Greatest Show on Earth and the conservative agenda will soon be things of the past.  Intelligence, said Friedrich Luykens, an 18th century Dutch metaphysician, is the ability to hold two opposing views in one’s mind at the same time. Trump the vaudevillian and Trump the promoter of the conservative agenda. 

Could a more temperate, collaborative president done more to promote the conservative agenda?  Did Trump’s bombast do us all in?  Perhaps.   Many will be sorry at Trump’s loss because they will have lost an advocate for conservatism.  While they have enjoyed the clown show by-product of the Trump Presidency, they paid the price of admission.  They plotzed in the aisles.  They howled and cheered like everyone else in the audience, and walked out smiling and chuckling.  They were lucky because the show came to town only once and would never return.  Once is enough, and through the hangover of the morning after, they will see a very different America; and for that they will be sorry; but their minds will be clear – no more having two minds.

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