Sign of the Times

Donald Trump is our national obsession. Almost six weeks after the election and on the eve of Christmas and Hanukkah he is topic A at every gathering. People have Post Traumatic Trump Disorder and feel compelled to share their thoughts and feelings, their joy — “I can’t stop feeling happy!” said a normally contained editor and intellectual, to his own surprise — and despair. My world is full of Hillary Clinton supporters and intimates. At a Manhattan Christmas party last week a despairing Democrat told me that she had not only wept on election night she had vomited. She was still beside herself.[1]

The truest and most profound revelations are often those advanced by they who do (or seem) not to realize the ramifications of what they are declaring. I encountered such a moment recently from one familiar to me, who is given to victimization, exaggeration, lies, blatant slanders, and lawsuits. She has long accused one of her parents of abuse; the extent of the charge which I have never found particularly credible considering that I have had past dealings with that same person. Admittedly, there are individuals particularly adept in presenting a pleasing, or least innocuous public persona while being gargoyles in private.

However, in recent conversations, she confided that this parent would go into her bedroom every night when she was a child and be a “real and loving mother,” apologizing for any excesses that may have occurred during the daily rants; (rants which I had observed). And it struck me, although I doubt the same insight occurred to my interlocutor, that this daily habit of asking forgiveness and reconciliation is stereotypical of the perpetrators of abuse. I had doubted any wild charges claimed by one prone to mendacity unless I had personally observed them. But this unintended revelation gave some credibility to her story.

Now Peggy Noonan, the author of the quote above, is by no means given to mendacity. She continues to be among the top three of my favorite American journalists/pundits, along with Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept and Conor Federspiel of The Atlantic; diamonds among the dung of advocacy and sycophantic journalism; all with a different basis of appeal, but with a common commitment to the pursuit of intellectual integrity in their scribblings.

Noonan’s particular gift is in absorbing the mood and comprehending the soul of her nation; which some might denigrate as a more primitive form of “intelligence.”[2] Yet, despite all of the political theory written by the self-identifying rationalists of ancient Greece, including that template of all ensuing political dystopias, Plato’s Republic; Hellenist civilization was incapable of establishing enduringly stable and peaceable city states and thereafter kingdoms. Alexander’s Empire took but ten years to disintegrate into quadrants. (It took Imperial Rome about three centuries to accomplish half that feat.) And large reason for that political incompetency was the Hellenists’ denigration of the “lizard brain,” and consequent lack of “emotional intelligence.”

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For years before the present epochal moment, Noonan has registered an unease that there exists an unrest stirring beyond the culturally gated community of the Versaillean elites of the Potomac and Hudson. The natives are restless. But whether Noonan realizes the historical significance of a republic’s obsession with a particular leader of the moment cannot be garnered from the article in which she observes and reports the phenomenon.

The republican ideal not only seeks to disperse socioeconomic and political power between many power bases so as to make the rise of tyrannical rule and oppression that much more difficult. A healthy republic requires a morally and politically competent populace, from within which a good many men of nobler qualities would arise to contemporary notability. Yet none becomes a colossus bestriding the narrow world [under which] “petty men walk under his legs and peep about.”[3] Indeed, Cincinnatus, who was appointed dictator for short durations in 458 and 438 BC in order to deal with immediate national emergencies was the model to which both early Roman[4] and American republicans aspired.[5] Even a major American city is named after him. After doing his tour of duty, the Roman patrician would return to his austere and modest lifestyle as a plougher of fields, to retire into a quiet life on his farm, under his vine and fig tree.[6]

But since JFK, whose hubris, whether in his nation and/or in himself, thought it possible and prudent to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” there has emerged a fawning adoration for a new class of Caesarians while congressional legislators have in comparison become petty and venal men walking betwixt the columns of the elected demigod.

Indeed, there has likewise emerged a new class of Eusebian apologists singing paeans to these new Constantines.[7]

I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. … He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. … So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. … He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.[8]

It is unimaginable that the present occupant of the White House, that initiator of that “moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,”[9] could ever deign to return to the common life, and certainly not to the cotton fields.

When a nation and its populace increasingly place such singular political privilege and regard upon its primus inter pares (“first among equals”), its princeps; it is little wonder that when their champion loses out, some might stress,[10] put on the pounds, lose their libido, and sell all their possessions in preparation for their own personal apocalypse.[11] In an age of mice, actual men appear as giants (nephilim – Numbers 13:33).

Well before the actual demise of a free civic polity and the establishment of a new autocracy, there is required an increasingly fawning and servile mindset in the populace and the laying of the ideological and cultural foundations of a new political paradigm and milieu in order to “prepare ye the way of the lord”, to abuse the Biblical intent of that phrase (Mark 1:3, Isaiah 40:3).

 

© Copyright John Hutchinson 2017

 

[1] Peggy Noonan, “The Smartest Thing I Heard in 2016,” The Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-smartest-thing-i-heard-in-2016-1482450561.

[2] Joe Klein, “Donald Trump’s Lizard Brain,” Time, February 18, 2016, http://time.com/4228885/donald-trump-lizard-brain/; John Oliver, “Canadian Election,” Last Week with John Oliver (HBO), October 15, 2015, [YouTube] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0V5ckcTSYu8.

[3] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 1599, Act 1, Scene 2.

[4] Plutarch, “The Life of Cato the Elder,” ca. 75 AD, translated by Bernadotte Perrin in The Parallel Lives (Vol. 2), Harvard University Press, 1914.

[5] Rob Hardy, “Cincinnatus,” The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, accessed January 2, 2017, http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/cincinnatus/.

[6] Joel Achenbach, “George Washington could have been a strongman, but kept giving power away,” The Washington Post, July 28, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/achenblog/wp/2016/07/28/remembering-the-miracle-in-philadelphia-and-george-washingtons-greatest-acts/?utm_term=.ea5cc3706ed3.

[7] Eusebius, “The Life of Constantine, Oration of Constantine to the Assembly of the Saints, and Oration of Eusebius in Praise of Constantine,” early 4th century AD, in Volume 1, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, translated by Bagsley, ed. by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Edinburgh: T & T Clark; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1890, pp. 1040–1544.

[8] David Remnick, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, New York: Vintage Books, 2010, p. 274.

[9] Senator Barack Obama, Remarks on Final Primary Night, St. Paul, MN: June 3, 2008, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/06/03/obamas-nomination-victory_n_105028.html.

[10] Paul Schwartzman, “Psychologists and massage therapists are reporting ‘Trump anxiety’ among clients,” The Washington Post, March 6, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/how-do-we-know-america-is-anxious-about-a-president-trump-shrinks-and-massage-therapists/2016/03/03/e5b55a22-e0bb-11e5-846c-10191d1fc4ec_story.html?utm_term=.c2174a3a037c.

[11] Jim Geraghty, “The Season of Liberal Panic,” National Review, December 27, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443355/donald-trump-liberal-hysteria-unhealthy-politically-counterproductive.

Les Déplorables

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right . . . The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now how 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

– Hillary Rodham Clinton at LGBT for Hillary Gala – Sept 9, 2016

If I was to be grossly generalistic, I’d say that you can take Trump supporters and put them in two big baskets. There are what I call the deplorables. They’re racists, and the haters, and the people who are drawn because they think somehow he’s going to restore an America that no longer exists. So just eliminate them from your thinking because we have always had a paranoiac and prejudicial element within our politics.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Interview with Yonit Levi, Israeli TV – Sept 8, 2016

There are knock-out zingers or gaffes which make or break a public persona. Certainly, Mulroney’s “you had an option, sir” comeback qualifies as the defining and determining moment in a 1984 Canadian Federal Election debate; or Reagan’s folksy “there you go again” in a 1980 U.S. Federal Election debate; or contrariwise, Rick Perry’s infamous “Oops,” after an early stage senior’s moment.

While lacking the virtue of hindsight or empirical polling date, it seems virtually certain that a politician, publicly denigrating a quarter of the electorate of one’s nation as a basket (with intimations of “basket case”), as deplorables, as irredeemable, and as un-American, more than qualifies as such a defining and determining moment.

Such intuitions arise not merely from the amount and duration of play that these terms have generated in the media, including the foreign press and the now nakedly partisan mainstream media (MSM), who normally protect their Champion from self-inflicted wounds through non-reportage and other media contrivances. But such disparagements as Hillary Clinton’s are sufficiently over the top that they cannot be ignored.

It is rather because such sentiments speak directly into the zeitgeist of the moment; namely the disrobing of a hitherto veiled contempt by the cosmopolitan elite for the commons, the unwashed masses, the ignorant rubes of the hinterland, and the vengeance that such disdain would naturally provoke in the latter. It is open class warfare in a nation whose civil religion has hitherto repudiated and denied the existence of class in America. And Hillary Clinton has successfully auditioned for the starring role of that horror film.

Many among Clinton’s allies have condemned her remarks; a meritorious few among them out of genuine concern for the public good. “We believe in redemption, not just because you’re a liberal but you’re American. When you right off people and blame the customer; that is really bad.” – Mark Shields)

But a surprising number have thought it prudent and shrewd to embrace her sentiments, to violate the politically correct nostrum of modern democracy concerning the decency and virtue of the common man.

Partisan Considerations

Having no direct skin in the U.S. election, I have little interest in the Stock Ticker of partisan gamesmanship. Nevertheless, it seems quite evident to me that this ‘basket of deplorable’ motif exhibits a dearth of political acumen which plunges well beneath the lowest bar of expectations for a veteran politico and a major political party. It is unfathomable how such an indiscriminate and amorphous insult against one’s own electors could produce a net partisan gain. The stings of verbal assault linger far longer in those against whom they were directed than with those who enjoy a momentary glee.

Certainly, the optics of declaiming, at an LGBT gala, the theists and moralists, who do not buy into the LGBT agenda (and thereby summarily qualify as a homophobic heretic in an LGBT moral universe), is supremely rich in irony and dissonance from the latter’s perspective (Isaiah 5:20). It is well reported that many among the theists and moralists have been having a crisis of conscience in voting for Trump; these, who have hitherto dutifully supported whatever Champion the Republican Party proffered. But in that such malevolent attitudes permeate the soul of Clinton and her allies towards them, those, who may have otherwise sat on their hands, may find it a compelling existential necessary for their own welfare to effectually vote against Clinton.

The evident general contempt for the unwashed masses and ignorant rubes of the hinterland by this member of the cosmopolitan elite may arouse even more nativist rubes, who have never or rarely voted, from their apathy in a singular display of defiance. One would have thought that someone within the Clinton coterie would have picked up on the political blunders of the Remain side on the Brexit referendum.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus – The New Colossus (1883)

It is also rich irony in a nation whose founding myth includes America as refuge for the many who were deemed the social outcasts, the deplorables, within their native homelands. This is an attitude that many first generation immigrants, residing in the United States, would have first-hand knowledge. The myth of the immigrant is celebrated more by the progressive liberal set than their political adversaries; a myth which includes a new start for those who had been considered irredeemable. Yet the would-be governor of America has inadvertently positioned herself, in her updated version of wretched refuse against a large swath of the governed, as an instigating agent of emigration.

Higher Considerations of Statesmanship

As intimated elsewhere, I have been of the studied opinion since the late 1980s that United States has been sleepwalking (and now hurtling) towards civic conflagration, barring a preemptive coup d’état. There are seminal causes, which underlie the accelerating polarization and schisms since especially the 1960s, whose crosscurrent dynamics are now in abundant display. But the flurry of empirical evidence of imminent civic tumult is now rushing faster than one can countenance it all.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties (factions) in the state . . .

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is  itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

George Washington, Farewell Address (1797)

One might wish that some American Cincinnatus or Scipio, with substance and natural nobility, might emerge from the culturally gated communities of the American optimates or the subterranean swamps of the populares, who recognize the present peril and demonstrate genuine will to forestall such civic conflagration. However, not only have recent politicos been blissfully oblivious to the dangers, but they have exacerbated and contributed to this hurtling vortex. In that none exists among the representatives of the American populace, with the wisdom to recognize, acknowledge, and address the present peril, it may be indicative of America’s ethical and intellectual depletion.

It is within this context that Hillary Clinton’s “basket case of irredeemable deplorables” must be framed. The underlying attitude, and the brazen shamelessness in publicly expressing it, makes her an active agent of civic division and conflagration and a contributor to the imminent ruin of the free civic polity and public liberty. Beyond the mendacity, the venality, the greed and self-aggrandizement, the corruption, the lack of core convictions and dedication to a transcendent vision beyond that of mere self-interest; Clinton’s arrogant contempt towards large swaths of the populace and her divisiveness makes her intrinsically unfit to lead her nation.

What a woeful state of affairs! For in Donald Trump, the Americans have an ignorant and unprincipled yet politically shrewd operator, the first edition of many demagogues, who provides a partial template for future authoritarians in the ashes of the American Republic’s demise. And in Hillary Clinton, they have an equally unprincipled but politically dim-witted Marie Antoinette (“What difference, at this point, does it make?”), whose schismatic attitudes and the policies and actions/reactions, which invariably would emanate from those attitudes, will quicken that demise.