From and Angry Reader:
Dear Professor Hanson,
Evidently you are a supporter of Donald Trump. If I read your essay on this subject correctly, you seem to be implying that, unlike the false elitism of the Washington Beltway, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley, we should look to the real basis of brilliance and repute in a “demonstrable record of moral and intellectual excellence.”
Do you seriously mean to say that Donald Trump’s life has such a “demonstrable record”? A man who cavalierly treats women as objects for his sexual pleasure and lies at the drop of a hat we are to believe is a man of high moral character? Or one who has trouble constructing a sentence using a vocabulary of more than 100 words (everything is just “fantastic”) demonstrates intellectual excellence?
The problem with Trump is not so much his policies, about which reasonable people may disagree, but his character flaws. As David Brook recently commented, Trump is “ripe to be played” by foreign leaders like Putin who are smarter and more wily than he is. But Trump has such a fragile ego that he is likely to react to being played in his typically childish, immature way by lashing out at everyone and anyone he thinks is disrespecting him. He never takes responsibility for anything, always blaming others for his own mistakes, and he does not know how to accept and deal with criticism in a rational way. He also suffers from what, as you classicists know, the Greeks called hubris. And you know what hubris leads to: tragedy.
Let’s just hope that the tragedy ends up being his personally and not ours collectively. With such a man having access to the nuclear trigger, we should all be hoping that we somehow manage to survive these next four years without a tragedy of monumental proportions.
Sanford G. Thatcher’
P.S. I attach a short bio so that you know my background.
Sanford G. Thatcher
Frisco, TX 75034-5514
“If a book is worth reading, it is worth buying.”-John Ruskin (1865)
“The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.”-Walter Bagehot (1853)
“Logic, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding.”-Ambrose Bierce (1906)
Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:
Dear Angry Reader Sanford Thatcher,
There is no need to attach your biography in our new age of populism; the persuasiveness of your argument should stand or fall by what you have written rather than the authority of your CV.
As you know, I certainly did not equate Trump with proof of non-elite moral excellence; rather I explained his election through the widespread anger at political and media elites that was aired through his populist candidacy.
I voted for Donald Trump when there was a binary between his agenda and that of Hillary Clinton.
There is some truth in what you have written about Trump’s rhetorical crudity and his past behavior, but, of course, the Clintons were a virtual crime syndicate—she using her office to leverage cash for the Foundation (a sinecure for unemployable Team Clinton politicos between campaigns) and Bill’s speaking career. Of course, when she lost and is now permanently out of federal office, she can do no connivers any good and so the money dried up and the Foundation is reeling—proof of sorts that the entire operation was a pay-for-play enterprise of the sort that earns most people an indictment.
Actually hubris is a result of Koros (instability and excess resulting from power and wealth) that leads to leads to Hubris (overweening arrogance) to Ate (madness and self-inflicted destruction) and ends in Nemesis (divine and fated retribution), which is all the stuff of tragedy, given that the sequence is usually associated initially with people of talent and good intentions.
All this may certainly apply to Trump’s earlier business implosions, and it fits Bill Clinton perfectly, and Obama may end up the same way.
My point is that in 2016 the choice was not between two characters as much as two agendas: I preferred a foreign policy of deterrence backed by military strength as a better way of preventing wars and interventions, an end to doubling the debt, zero interest rates, and record low GDP growth, a stop to illegal immigration and racial polarization, a restoration of the health care system, and efforts at tax and regulatory reform to restart the economy, as well as renewed energy production—all as a mechanism to help the so-called forgotten man, the middle classes who were the losers under globalization.
I saw far greater hope that Trump might enact such an agenda, and no hope that Hillary Clinton would.
As far as character flaws, pick your poison. His I thought were mostly rhetorical (as you note with your unease about his limited vocabulary) and in the private sphere; hers were concrete and at the public expense, from her cattle futures fraud, to her Wikileaks scandals to the Clinton foundation criminality to her callousness and lying about Benghazi. Hillary as you know is a serial liar, from the mundane (her landing in the Balkans under sniper fire) to the existential (lying to the families of the Benghazi dead).
You might have noted that we survived Bill Clinton committing sex acts in the Oval Office bathroom with a subordinate intern less than half his age (the sort of thing that gets a professor fired summarily), and then lying about it under oath, resulting in his disbarment—the sort of crudity I think you are implying disqualifies one for high office?
Obama, remember, tapped the communications of AP reporters, monitored the communications of James Rosen of Fox News, droned US citizens, bombed Libya without congressional approval, granted amnesties of the sort that he had once warned were unconstitutional, lied about the ACA, and simply chose not to enforce various federal laws he found at odds with his progressive agenda.
If you are arguing that Trump is a Frankenstein monster, then the Dr. Frankenstein creator is surely Barack Obama whose executive orders, partisan rhetoric, nullification of federal laws, and abject ruination of the Democratic Party at the state, congressional, and presidential level all empowered Trump.
So far job growth and the stock market are up; Trump’s appointments in the national security sphere are centrist and heralded. His selections from the business and military fields are a welcome change from the tired retreads from academia and government. And his illegal immigration initiatives and energy agendas are overdue.
As far as hubris, self-reflect: in the last 90 days liberal commentators and pundits have variously called for Trump’s murder, his immediate removal for health reasons, his impeachment, and his resignation.
His phone calls to foreign leaders and communications have been illegally tapped (and so note that the media is now backing away from their Russian collusion charges that proved so far groundless, as they worry more that intelligence agencies’ tapping and the leaking may be exposed as the felonious acts they were); his wife has been accused falsely of prostitution and immigration fraud. Trump himself has been falsely accused (in print) of urophilia and suffering from neurosyphilis.
One New York Times columnist has begged the IRS to commit a felony and send him the Trump tax returns; another compared his election to the mass deaths of Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Is not all that indicative of classical madness that will surely lead to an accounting? Trump, the supposed buffoon, polls higher in the public’s estimation of veracity than does the highbrow media).
On the larger topic of the “elite,” I think we could say that those in Bakersfield or Des Moines did not give us record debt, serial corruption in the IRS, VA, GSA, or EPA, and a world in free fall abroad. Here in California the best and brightest managed to deliver the highest basket of income, sales, and gas taxes in the nation resulting in infrastructure and schools rated near the very bottom in state-to-state comparisons. The Orville dam is a metaphor of elite indifference to existential problems while it pursued transgendered restrooms and bobcat health.
Victor Davis Hanson