The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019


It's pretty obvious that progressives in general and the Democratic party as a whole hate Donald Trump with a venom that has driven them close to or into derangement. They have called Donald Trump a racist, a misogynist, a bigot, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, unhinged, insane, and a dictator or facist or Nazi or ... They've done this so often and with such viciousness that many people simply tune them out.

But progressives and Dems are not along in their hatred of Trump. Within the GOP, there is an array of NeverTrumpers such as Bill Kristol, Jonah Goldberg, Peter Wehner, and many others who oppose Trump because of his "unprincipled" conservative approach, his bombast, and his "unpresidential style." They ball of all this into the general accusation of "lack of character." Unlike the Democrats who rely on the fantasy that Trump has accomplished nothing for the people of the United States, NeverTrumpers acknowledge that his administration has many important domestic and foreign policy wins, but that his leadership style is unacceptable.

It's this "lack of character" and unacceptable leadership style that have been the topic of two important commentaries offered by Roger Kimball and separately, by James Piereson.

Kimball responds to NeverTrumper Jonah Goldberg's accusation that Trump lacks character and that his presidency will end badly. He writes:
While acknowledging that the president is an imperfect man (but at whom can that criticism not be leveled?), I also defended Trump’s character. Quoting Cardinal Newman, I noted that character was a multifaceted attribute. A man, said Newman, “may be great in one aspect of his character, and little-minded in another. . . . A good man may make a bad king; profligates have been great statesmen, or magnanimous political leaders.” I believe President Trump has been astonishingly successful during his first two years. I believe further that his success is a testament to the strength of his character.

Responding to the defense that many other politicians, including the sainted Barack Obama, have done things that demonstrated a clear lack of character (e.g., lying about the ramifications of Obamacare or the reasons for Benghazi), NeverTrumpers accuse Trump defenders of "whataboutism". They argue, correctly, that two wrongs don't make a right, but that doesn't mean that we can castigate a man for his flaws and refuse to consider the counterweight of his real, tangible accomplishments. Kimball writes:
... Many people were surprised when Peter Thiel [a well known Venture Capitalist with focus on technology] declared his support for Donald Trump. He was just about the only Silicon Valley entrepreneur who did. One interlocutor, citing something unpalatable that Trump had done or said, asked Thiel how he could support Trump given his outré behavior. I don’t support him because of the things he does that I don’t like, Thiel said, but because of things that he does that I do like.

I think that is a mature and politically enlightened attitude.
I agree.

James Piereson also notes that NeverTrumpers suggest that "character is destiny" and that since trump has none, he will come to a bad end. Maybe. He then recounts the philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli:
The problem with this proposition, at least as it applies to politics, is that Machiavelli destroyed it five hundred years ago in The Prince, and thereby laid the foundations for modern politics. This is not to say that Trump’s character and norm-breaking style are unimportant or irrelevant to his performance in office, but that the general proposition (“Character is destiny”) is generally false as applied to political life. Trump may fail, but most likely for reasons unrelated to his character ...

Trump may be in greater control of himself than his critics give him credit for. The president likes to pose as a tough guy who enjoys a good fight, but how much of that is real and how much of it is a pose designed to have an effect? We know that this is a piece of his well-known negotiating style: let’s scare them first, and then we’ll get a deal more to our liking. This may be true as well of his name-calling and his twittering: it’s all part of a style he has adopted to achieve the ends he seeks because he thinks the “nice guy” routine is stale and does not produce results. There are some who think that Trump is “trolling” America, and liberals in particular, in order to get under their skin, draw a reaction, throw them off balance, and provide entertainment for his supporters. If that is so, then he has certainly achieved that goal. But that implies that he is engaged in an act, a presentation of himself, rather than an expression of his character ...

Is Trump perhaps, then, the ultimate Machiavellian, pretending to be a demagogue, a crude and tasteless public figure like many of our Hollywood celebrities, all for the purpose of achieving some large service on behalf of his country? That is also a possibility worth considering, in which case he would deserve to go down in history as one of the great actors of all time. In a strange way, Trump seems to know what he is doing, even if everyone else thinks he is unhinged or out of control. He also appears to be comfortable in his own skin, likewise a useful quality in a first-rate actor. After all, in a time when celebrity intersects closely with politics, it is possible to think that the Donald Trump we see on stage is not the real Donald Trump at all, but a public concoction made out both to satisfy and to confront the bizarre culture in which we live.
NeverTrumps and all Democrats view Trump in a overly simplistic manner. They hate his style and therefore reject anything he or his administration accomplishes by couching it in terms of any of the "isms" they perpetually hurl at him. For example, his attempts to reform immigration policy are characterized as "racism" or "immoral" even though every knowledgable person recognizes that our current policies are badly broken. But even worse, his most active critics never seem to offer alternatives that would appreciably correct the immigration problems Trump identifies. It almost seems they're happy to retry failed policies, to restate failed positions, and to recommend failed strategies have been proven not to work.

Their style may be more acceptable, but the end result won't be.