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Biscuits and marmalade: Check.
Classical piano music: Check.
Apricot nectar: Check.
Now then, hiking through the online thicket, the common theme that emerges from across the political spectrum is that in his acceptance speech, Donald Trump paints a distorted and unnecessarily bleak picture of America. The candidate’s canvas, we are told by Slate’s Franklin Foer, is, “an anarchic mess, beyond the technocratic solutions proposed by desiccate, politically correct elites.” Over at CNBC, I read where our friend and Ricochet commentator John Pohoretz laments, “The America Donald Trump portrayed is a horrible place, awash in barbarity, crime, disorder, decay, deceit, rigging, cheating, exploitation.” Podhoretz continues:
I could be fancy and find myself a quote from Tocqueville, but it’s really the philosopher Merle Haggard who said it best: “When you’re running down my country, Hoss, you’re walking on the fighting side of me.” Trump spent nearly 77 minutes running down my beloved country, and I don’t take kindly to it.
On ABC, Chuck Todd opined that, “He painted a dark picture of where America stands today.” To which former Clinton Administration operative George Stephanopoulos said, “And, Martha Raddatz, a pretty dark speech labeled Hillary Clinton the candidate of death, destruction terrorism and weakness and mass lawlessness.” Over to you, Martha: “Yeah. If Americans are not scared for their safety before tonight, they are tonight,” she said. The diversity of opinion, which varied between sycophancy and unanimity, was numbing.
Here, I turn off the music, push aside the biscuits, take a gulp of coffee and point a few things out, not least of which is that here in Memphis, Trump’s diagnosis sounds remarkably like our local newscast, which has become little more than a daily police blotter of death, mayhem, theft, a burgeoning anarchic class, and governmental corruption and ineptitude. Last night’s news, for example, featured the usual reports of various shootings around town along with a hideous story of a pregnant lady who was raped at gunpoint and went into labor as a result.
The city of Memphis barbecue, Beale Street, and Graceland is fast descending into a jungle of deadly violence in which no one and no part of town is safe. To date, 129 people have been killed here, 103 of them black, 62 between the ages of 18 and 29. A total of four of these 129 deaths involved the police, while two Memphis police officers have been killed in the line of duty in the last 12 months. The violence has reached such a level here that on Beale Street a $10 cover charge has been introduced for those wishing to take in the music clubs and barbecue joints after 10PM in an effort to weed out local predators. Why? From WREG:
It was only a week ago when Officer Verde Smith was killed after police said Justin Welsh shot three people and hit Smith with a stolen car. The week before, a stampede involving hundreds of people broke out downtown. And the week before that, Myneshia Johnson was shot and killed on Second Street just a block away from Beale. The teen and two other people were shot when a man sprayed the crowd with an assault rifle.
And that’s just in the tourist district. This is the reality of life across Memphis these days and across much of the country at large. Even the New York Times, hardly an appendage of the Trump campaign, admitted that, “Many of Mr. Trump’s facts appear to be true,” though the Times was quick to add sufficient qualifiers and contextual interpretations of the data to soften the stark reality that civil society is unraveling before our eyes. But they did not dispute, for example, Trump’s contention that homicides spiked by 17 percent in 50 of the country’s largest cities last year, or that homicides are up by 50 percent in Washington DC or 60 percent in Baltimore, or that Barack Obama’s hometown has seen more than 2,000 shooting victims this year alone, or that approximately 180,000 illegal immigrants who have been ordered to be deported are currently moving freely about the country.
I will grant you until the cows come home and Gabriel’s trumpet sounds that Donald Trump is a badly, and perhaps fatally, flawed messenger, but the message remains and the facts will not change themselves. You can’t extinguish a fire by shooting the fire alarm. So what is it that accounts for the anger at Trump’s having identified a reality that a great many Americans see with their own eyes on a daily basis? Here, I think the inestimable Charles Murray put his finger on an important tendency in a recent interview with Jim Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute:
Well, you’ve got two kinds of problems with experts, and one of them has to do with all of the mistakes that they have made. And that is, we have had experts on how to do deal with poverty, how to deal with welfare, how to deal with crime, how to deal with other things over the past 50 years, who have recommended policies that have been disastrous. The experts have been simply wrong. They were wrong about school busing; they were wrong about “prison only makes people worse” back in the 1970s when the prison population dropped even though crime was soaring; again and again you’ve had people who were experts who were advocating and passing policies that ordinary people looked at and said, “This is absolutely nuts.” Affirmative action, by the way, sort of falls into that category as well. So one problem is that they’ve been wrong.
Another problem with the experts — and I think that this gets to a lot of the visceral anger that people have — is that the experts have been recommending policies for other people for which they do not have to bear the consequences. The case of immigration is a classic case where I can sit down with economists on both the left and the right, and we with great self-satisfaction talk about all of our wonderful analyses that show that this idea that immigrants are driving down wages of native-born Americans is way over-exaggerated; that immigration is essentially a net plus, so forth and so on… Those analyses may be right, but that does not change the fact that we aren’t the people who are like the carpenter who used to make $16 an hour, and he is losing work because contractors are hiring immigrant carpenters for $12.
Okay. So perhaps it’s an unpleasant mixture of those who, A) are disconnected from the implications of their own rules and policies, and B) those who understand the implications all too well, and therefore refuse to cede the floor to realisms that would call into question their general competence. Recall please Peggy Noonan’s insightful essay on the protected and the unprotected classes in America:
Many Americans suffered from illegal immigration — its impact on labor markets, financial costs, crime, the sense that the rule of law was collapsing. But the protected did fine — more workers at lower wages. No effect of illegal immigration was likely to hurt them personally.
It was good for the protected. But the unprotected watched and saw. They realized the protected were not looking out for them, and they inferred that they were not looking out for the country, either.
The unprotected came to think they owed the establishment — another word for the protected — nothing, no particular loyalty, no old allegiance.
Mr. Trump came from that.
Indeed, and it was to those people that Donald Trump spoke during his acceptance speech. Yes, he spoke in “all caps” throughout the thing, and yes he was repetitive and long-winded. But with respect to John Podhoretz, it wasn’t Donald Trump who was running down our country, but rather the predators and thugs who roam our neighborhoods, far from the gated communities of the protected, who fill our local newscasts with atrocities and our lives with uncertainty. Trump merely confirmed that which a great many of us already see and understand, and he’s not unpatriotic for having done so.
It was sober analysis, not a lack of patriotism, that led Whittaker Chambers to write in the middle of the last century that:
It is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.
For his part, if Mr. Trump can curb his infantile vindictiveness and avert his gaze from Ted Cruz long enough to continue shining a much needed light not only on the crime and lawlessness that eats away at our country like a cancer, but on the air of approbation that circulates from the White House down to the editorial offices and outlets of the media and into the halls of academia which fuel that cancer, we may yet have a slim chance at restoring a great nation.