Permalink to Trump Is Final Proof that the Political Class Has Failed

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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Members have made 53 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of ParisParamus Member

    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).

    • #1
    • April 9, 2011 at 10:53 am
  2. Profile photo of River Inactive

    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.

    • #2
    • April 9, 2011 at 10:55 am
  3. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    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.

    • #3
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:06 am
  4. Profile photo of Leslie Watkins Member

    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.

    • #4
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:20 am
  5. Profile photo of Severely Ltd. Member
    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.

    • #5
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:25 am
  6. Profile photo of Kenneth Inactive

    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….

    • #6
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:28 am
  7. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member

    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.

    • #7
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:33 am
  8. Profile photo of Mel Foil Inactive

    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.

    • #8
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:33 am
  9. Profile photo of Jim Chase Member
    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.

    • #9
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:38 am
  10. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member
    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.

    • #10
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:49 am
  11. Profile photo of Leslie Watkins Member
    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.

    • #11
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:56 am
  12. Profile photo of Tuscarora Jack Inactive

    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.

    • #12
    • April 9, 2011 at 11:57 am
  13. Profile photo of Xennady Member

    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.

    • #13
    • April 10, 2011 at 1:05 am
  14. Profile photo of Leslie Watkins Member
    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.

    • #14
    • April 10, 2011 at 1:15 am
  15. Profile photo of jobethian Member
    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.

    • #15
    • April 10, 2011 at 1:18 am
  16. Profile photo of Jaydee_007 Inactive

    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)

    • #16
    • April 10, 2011 at 1:23 am
  17. Profile photo of James Poulos Contributor
    James Poulos Post author
    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.

    • #17
    • April 10, 2011 at 1:27 am
  18. Profile photo of Kenneth Inactive
    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.

    • #18
    • April 10, 2011 at 1:49 am
  19. Profile photo of Kenneth Inactive

    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.

    • #19
    • April 10, 2011 at 1:54 am
  20. Profile photo of Palaeologus Member
    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.

    • #20
    • April 10, 2011 at 2:19 am
  21. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    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. · Apr 9 at 1:54pm

    No question about it. The decline of liberal education brings with it a decline in perspective. Sometimes experiences provides it; most often it does not. We have to settle for someone quick to learn — and we are lucky if we get that.

    • #21
    • April 10, 2011 at 2:31 am
  22. Profile photo of Mac Sledge Inactive
    James Poulos: 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.

    Respectfully, I’m not sure this is really true. Perot ’92 (until he started on about his daughter’s wedding), anyone? And I say this as someone who, at this point, is open to Trump. But I’m not convinced yet that this is little more than a case of nature abhoring a vacuum. And let’s not forget, too, that Trump is getting a fairly free ride from the media, which he will continue to get just as long as the media don’t think he’s truly a threat to Obama.

    • #22
    • April 10, 2011 at 2:32 am
  23. Profile photo of John Marzan Inactive

    I LOVE listening to trump talk about Obama’s birth certificate. but that’s just me james.

    GOP candidates should criticize trump on the birther issue– it’s a distraction when there are so many other serious stuff the republicans can use to nail obama.

    • #23
    • April 10, 2011 at 3:11 am
  24. Profile photo of Crow's Nest Member
    Paul A. Rahe

    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. · Apr 9 at 1:54pm

    No question about it. The decline of liberal education brings with it a decline in perspective. Sometimes experiences provides it; most often it does not. We have to settle for someone quick to learn — and we are lucky if we get that. · Apr 9 at 2:31pm

    Could not agree more. The reconstruction and reapplication of that education may be the sine qua non of saving western civilization.

    • #24
    • April 10, 2011 at 3:30 am
  25. Profile photo of RB Inactive
    RB

    I guess my view is Trump would be a spoiler, just like Ross Perot was. Still to early to tell but I hope he stays out of politics. But guys with egos like that…. you can’t do much to keep them from getting involved if they want to and have enough support.

    • #25
    • April 10, 2011 at 4:06 am
  26. Profile photo of Hegesias Inactive

    James, the title of this piece alone really nails it, as does Paul Rahe’s wonderful remark that “Like the fool in a Shakespeare play, he speaks a mixture of nonsense and truths that no one else dares say.”

    When I think about Trump, the question I keep asking is how bad could that disaster really be? I find myself wanting to hide the likely true answer to that question just because among all the ills that would come of it, at last his election just might shake up this deeply entrenched way of doing things we call politics, at least a wee bit. I come to my senses, but I think the longing such thoughts express is itself telling.

    • #26
    • April 10, 2011 at 4:29 am
  27. Profile photo of Jim Chase Member
    Crow’s Nest
    Paul A. Rahe
    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. · Apr 9 at 1:54pm

    No question about it. The decline of liberal education brings with it a decline in perspective. Sometimes experiences provides it; most often it does not. We have to settle for someone quick to learn — and we are lucky if we get that. · Apr 9 at 2:31pm

    Could not agree more. The reconstruction and reapplication of that education may be the sine qua non of saving western civilization. · Apr 9 at 3:30pm

    I also agree with all of the above. But I don’t think there’s much hope in turning the tide. I wonder if the modern information age is too detrimental to the pursuit of knowledge and perspective. The pace of the world has become much too fast for adequate introspection. Could a modern era “statesman” win an election today?

    • #27
    • April 10, 2011 at 5:01 am
  28. Profile photo of James Poulos Contributor
    James Poulos Post author
    Mac Sledge

    James Poulos: 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.

    Respectfully, I’m not sure this is really true. Perot ’92 (until he started on about his daughter’s wedding), anyone? And I say this as someone who, at this point, is open to Trump. But I’m not convinced yet that this is little more than a case of nature abhoring a vacuum. And let’s not forget, too, that Trump is getting a fairly free ride from the media, which he will continue to get just as long as the media don’t think he’s truly a threat to Obama. · Apr 9 at 2:32pm

    Ross Perot didn’t have a smash hit multiple-season reality network TV show with a celebrity spinoff. Nobody called Perot “The Ross.” You’re right about the fairly free ride, and of course I think the vacuum goes far beyond the GOP field, such as it is for now. But.

    • #28
    • April 10, 2011 at 5:49 am
  29. Profile photo of barbara lydick Member

    Speaking of H. Ross… Back when he sold EDS to GM, tho remaining as head of EDS with a seat on the Board of GM, he dreamed of being the influential guy who would turn the corporation around. But he raised the ire of Roger Smith and other Board members with his rants about what GM was doing wrong (purchasing Hughs, for example). My point is that when he became so popular, I was unable to convince some friends who were supporters that he would be a dreadful mistake. Because he was unable to speak the language of business in a manner to pursuade and convince his cohorts – who subsequently threw him off the Board – how was he going to perform in Washington where there were dozens of “languages” spoken?

    While Mr. Trump is saying things we all want to hear, a business background is not the sole determiner of success in the Oval Office. (Tho lord knows, it would be a welcome addition if Obama or anyone in O’s cabinet had even a shred of business sense.)

    • #29
    • April 10, 2011 at 6:07 am
  30. Profile photo of Instugator Thatcher
    Xennady: But right now I’m a fan….

    …that is, our “allies” and trading partners are screwing us.

    …he’s willing to ask questions about Obama’s past, and hasn’t crumbled when the Obamista media drones attack him for it.

    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. · Apr 9 at 1:05pm

    Right now, I am a fan too.

    Second point re US trade relationships, I also agree with.

    The third point is key for me. I saw video of Trump on ‘The View’ and the key takeaway isn’t that he asked about the President’s origins the key point is, that he was able to go to a liberal bastion, talk intelligently about a subject they normally wouldn’t even condescend to discuss, much less listen to a different point of view.

    That speaks volumes about his ability to negotiate and unless we get veto-proof majorities in both House and Senate, negotiation is how we will eventually solve our problems.

    • #30
    • April 10, 2011 at 6:46 am
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