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Trump is Final Proof that the Political Class Has Failed

There are two main theories cooperating to explain the Trump phenomenon:

  1. Donald Trump is today’s best self-promoter and professional opportunist.

  2. The Republican field of presumptive candidates for president is lame.

But neither of these, nor even both together, can adequately explain what’s going on. We can’t even turn for supplemental help to subtheories that emphasize the rise of celebreality culture, the fall of Sarah Palin, or The Continuing Story of Bungling Barry. These variables all appear somewhere in the equation that has produced the Trump phenomenon. But none of them explain it.

Trump is suddenly “winning” as a political figure because the political class has failed. The authority of our political institutions is weak and getting weaker; it’s not that Americans ‘lack trust’ in them, as blue ribbon pundits and sociologists often lament, so much as they lack respect for the people inside them.

There is a lot of crazy surrounding the Trump phenomenon — some excellent, some embarrassing. But the massive fact dominating it all is that never before has such a famous outsider jumped into national politics with such an aggressive critique of a sitting president and the direction of the country — and never before has the response been so immediate and positive.

For now, that’s good news and bad news — as anyone knows who’s acquainted with Churchill’s dictum about eagles and parrots. No amount of His Trumpness can renew or replace American political authority. Republicans make a dangerous mistake when they think of politics as a pathological farce that can only be cured by a business worldview that sees economics as the master science. Even though, as Tocqueville observes, money really is more important in democratic times, money is not the measure of all things. We — we Republicans, we Democrats, we Americans — still need politicians who can rule wisely, bravely, and well. Look at what’s behind the huge novelty of Trump’s rise, and you find a venerable truth. There is no substitute for statesmen.

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  1. ParisParamus

    Actually, what I think is really going on is that while people have been becoming less serious, and more entertainment-oriented for years, social media and the Internet have, to quote Mr. China For A Day Tom Friedman, flattened politics.  What this means is that we can get facts and arguments from many sources, thereby diminishing the relative need for a politician to be serious, fact and policy-oriented.  So with that serious/gravitas hurdle lowered, send in the entertainers: Obama, Trump, and even, to an extent, Sarah Palin (sorry C4P..she is entertaining).

  2. River

    So true, and I think it’s because our Ruling (political) Class has been modeling itself on the European Union. Rumblings indicate they’re hankering to switch to the Chinese model. Thank you Thomas ‘Kinky’ Friedman.

    I’ve lived in England and a number of EU countries, and the people there don’t have anything like the passion for politics we have in America. They abdicate their power, trusting in the education and supposed wisdom of their leaders. A rude awakening is taking place while we speak.

    It’s not too late for the GOP to awaken and smell the coffee. They must embrace and assist Tea Party candidates.

  3. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    Yes, indeed, Trump is a clown, and he is making the most of it — for this is the silly season. You will have to admit, however, that The Donald, as he once was called, is entertaining.

     Who else could get a letter published in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/opinion/lweb08trump.html?_r=3), in which he says that he has “great respect for” the newspaper’s editor “Ms. [Gail] Collins” for having “survived so long with so little talent”? Like the fool in a Shakespeare play, he speaks a mixture of nonsense and truths that no one else dares say.

  4. Leslie Watkins

    I’ve come to believe that the United States has become too large, too diverse, and too ethically unwieldy for a federal system to work (in the sense of exhibiting the values and demands of the vast majority of its citizens). I doubt that even the very thoughtful commenters here on Ricochet could agree on what our national interests are, much less have that agreement square with the values of the multitude of other groups comprising the citizenry. Without such a shared meaning—and given the incessant battling over what “we” believe—is it any wonder that the fallable, attention-seeking human beings running for national office are stumbling before the dais? I do not wish for this to happen, but I could see the United States splitting up into regions, and though I like to think of myself as open-minded, I’m so weary of the media propaganda and its grip on the citizenry that I’ve kind of begun to wish that we would. As Rose Wilder Lane once noted, she adored America but would leave it in a second if the values of liberty and personal freedom were no longer part of the American mindset.

  5. Severely Ltd.
    Paul A. Rahe: Like the fool in a Shakespeare play, he speaks and mixture of nonsense and truths that no one else dares say. · Apr 9 at 11:06am

    This sums it up. He is so brazen, so apparently un-rehearsed and immune to embarrassment that listening to him is refreshing. I’m sure it’s the same phenomenon that swept Jesse Ventura into office. My hope is that his plain speaking encourages someone sane, electable, and Republican to adopt the same policy.

  6. Kenneth

    Pity the poor artist commissioned to paint President Trump’s official portrait. 

    They say hands are the hardest part to get right, but that hair….

  7. KC Mulville

    We don’t want a talented businessman in politics, because he’d be tempted to use political power to engineer a business success. And that’s exactly what we don’t want. We want the government to stay out of business. If the business experience teaches the politician how to leave well enough alone, OK, I’d be happy with that. But if the suggestion is that we need someone to lead the economy by using presidential power, count me out.

    I don’t want a “business” president to avoid social issues because it will “distract” from the economy. I don’t want a “business” president to make political decisions based on the economy first, all other issues second. 

    Trump is attractive because he’s a proven manager, and he’s shown leadership of his own company. But political management is different. The simplest reality is that a manager can motivate an employee with the threat of firing him, but Trump couldn’t fire a Congressman from whom he needs a vote. Management is a lot tougher when you can’t fire people. 

    Trump is excellent, but right where he is. 

  8. Mel Foil

    Trump is the guy who sprints out to take the lead at the start of a marathon, gets the commentators to say his name, and then never finishes the race.

  9. Jim Chase
    James Poulos: There is no substitute for statesmen. ·

    Do we as a nation even know how to produce statesmen anymore?  Seems to me statesmanship is a dying breed. 

  10. KC Mulville
    Leslie Watkins: I’ve come to believe that the United States has become too large, too diverse, and too ethically unwieldy for a federal system to work

    With respect, I disagree. 

    Every few decades, Time or Newsweek runs an article about the presidency being too big a job for one man to handle. They did it when Carter was president, but it was motivated by the fact that Carter couldn’t handle the job. When Reagan came in, all those worries about managing government went away. Obama is such a poor manager that we revisit the old question, but the answer is still the same.

    As it is, the moment the manager is responsible for more people than he can personally know, there has to be a transition of management style. The manager must manage in the abstract, rather than by personal engagement. At that point, a manager must persuade, not command. That’s why political leadership has to be realistic and honest. Although it can’t wallow in PR, it does have to communicate. 

    It can be done, but our current president ain’t the guy to do it.

  11. Leslie Watkins
    KC Mulville

    Leslie Watkins: I’ve come to believe that the United States has become too large, too diverse, and too ethically unwieldy for a federal system to work

    With respect, I disagree.

    … 

    It can be done, but our current president ain’t the guy to do it. · Apr 9 at 11:49am

    I very much hope you’re right, KC. Thanks for the feedback.

  12. Tuscarora Jack

    Trump is the political P. T. Barnum of our time.  Like a snake oil salesman of yore, he has a nostrum for everything that ails a body, no matter how far fetched the remedy compared to the symptom.

    Trump panders to all who will listen as he strikes a chord in everyone with his shotgun approach to addressing concerns of the average American.  And what Trump does not address directly, there is the implication from his other pronouncements, that he has a solution for everything.  Ah, if like were so simple as that.

    Trump does serve a useful purpose for Republicans in that he raises issues that many career politicians find too hot to handle.  I consider Trump to be a useful tool for Republicans.

    I, too, do not want to see a businessman come in and try to run the country like a business.  It’s one thing to apply certain fundamental business practices in leading and managing the affairs of state and another thing to treat the country as an economic laboratory to be tweaked, massaged and molded into a business model.  Micro managing the economy is a proven recipe for disaster. 

  13. Xennady

    Let me offer something of a defense of Trump. I realize we’re early in the presidential season, etc, and my opinion will probably change based on events.

    But right now I’m a fan. I heard him on the Limbaugh show recently. He said something I’ve never heard from any potential president- that is, our “allies” and trading partners are screwing us. Since I’ve long thought the US has become essentially a merchantilist colony of the rest of the planet, I was thrilled to finally hear someone state the obvious. Plus, he’s willing to ask questions about Obama’s past, and hasn’t crumbled when the Obamista media drones attack him for it.

    It’s not about the birth certificate, folks. If a president can’t go up against TV talking heads successfully or worse will let them rule certain subjects off limits I humbly suggest that person probably should not be president.

    Again, it’s early. Maybe he won’t even run, or something else could wreck his candidacy. But so far he sounds a lot more like a president than any of the other likely potentials, exemplary men and excellent governors they may be.     

  14. Leslie Watkins
    Xennady: I also disagree. I think what has happened is that the Federal monster on the Potomac has gathered nearly all the governing power unto itself, and thereby leached away nearly all the democratic flexibility a real federal system would have. …

    So if we’re now to unwieldy to be a one nation, blame Washington, DC, not anything else. · Apr 9 at 12:34pm

    Edited on Apr 09 at 12:35 pm

    Just so you know, Xennady, I do not blame anyone. It just seems to have happened as a result of success and growth, both materially and culturally, and it doesn’t surprise me that decadence is on show among the political elite. Making parallels to Rome is always perilous, of course—most especially at a site that VDH frequents!—but to me, contemporary American politics is much more similar to the divided empire under Constantine’s sons than to united rule under Constantine himself.

  15. JoBeth Gerrard
    Trump is suddenly “winning” as a political figure because the political class has failed.

    I think Trump is “winning” not because he is a public figure, nor because of how cleverly he is framing the political debate, nor even because he is following Limbaugh’s “winning political strategy” of “bashing” Obama.

    Trump is “winning” airtime and popularity because he is pointing out the corruption in Washington that everyone knows is happening, but no one dares say out loud. The media is of course aghast. If and only if Trump doesn’t back off the missing BC, and soon, that will be the end of his airtime.

    Review Sarah Palin’s rise and fall and see the same thing happened when Palin refused to back down in her stance against a nuclear Iran and Islamic terrorism.

  16. Jaydee_007

     What separates The Donald from the rest of the political class is that The Donald is playing to Win and the rest are Playing to Not Loose!

    That is an Attitude thing, has nothing to do with content or method.

    Get a Republican, any Republican, who starts playing to Win and people will respond.  (i.e. Chris Christie)

  17. James Poulos
    C
    Jim Chase

    James Poulos: There is no substitute for statesmen. ·

    Do we as a nation even know how to produce statesmen anymore?  Seems to me statesmanship is a dying breed.  · Apr 9 at 11:38am

    Well, we’re instinctively prejudiced against the production of statesmen insofar as it takes time. Sadly, our dire situation really does add an aspect of real crisis to the phony rhetoric of crisis that has come to take over our political discourse.

  18. Kenneth
    Paul A. Rahe

    Caroline: Has anyone compared Trump with Berlusconi? · Apr 9 at 12:11pm

    The comparison would be apt. · Apr 9 at 12:43pm

    Trump reminds me of Vladimir Putin. Astonishingly blunt, prone to making shocking statements without blinking an eye. 

    I’ve often thought we could benefit from a President with an erratic streak that would make our international foes quake with trepidation.  Putin is good at projecting erratic..  Trump, unfortunately, truly is.

  19. Kenneth

    Great statesmen of the past were shaped in a different educational environment: Latin, the classics, philosophy, history, mathematics and modern languages formed minds capable of comprehending and addressing complex challenges.

    I think it no coincidence that the decline of our political class coincides with the decline of educational standards.

  20. Palaeologus
    James Poulos: There are two main theories cooperating to explain the Trump phenomenon:

    1. Donald Trump is today’s best self-promoter and professional opportunist.

    2. The Republican field of presumptive candidates for president is lame.
    But neither of these, nor even both together, can adequately explain what’s going on.

    How about:

    3. There is no Trump phenomenon. He’s just a big-mouth getting air-time when virtually no one in America is paying any attention to the presidential race.