There are many reasons to oppose Trump. But those aren’t the reasons being cited.
Count the reasons to oppose Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. His conservative credentials are thin, recent, and often haphazard. His brash style will likely alienate more voters than it will attract. What he calls being “direct” translates as gratuitously mean-spirited, rude, and even cruel. His knowledge of the issues, at least in traditional terms or compared with that of his Republican rivals, varies from spotty to nonexistent. And Trump often, like Hillary Clinton (e.g., dodging bullets in the Balkans) or Barack Obama (cf. the mythoi of his “memoir”), seems to make up details about his long business career.
All that said, there are two strains of opposition to Trump that seem incoherent. First is the suggestion that the majority of his supporters, the “Trumpsters,” are deluded — the naïve fooled by a buffoon. The second is the suggestion that the Trump candidacy marks a new low in American politics, in terms of decency and competence.
Let us quickly dispense with the second writ. Trump is a reflection of, not a catalyst for, a dishonest age. To illustrate my point, take a few of our contemporary public figures who are running for office on their assumed superior character and ethics. There is no need to dwell on the inveterate dissembler Hillary Clinton, with her labyrinth of e-mail, Benghazi, Clinton Foundation, and Wall Street speaking-fees deceit. Bernie Sanders, the archetypal socialist, calls for the wealthy to pay exorbitant income-tax rates. Yet Sanders himself paid an effective rate of about 13 percent, after taking thousands of dollars of itemized deductions, including a mortgage-interest deduction on a second home — all legal, and all just the sort of self-interested tax planning routinely embraced by Americans in the upper brackets, whose resulting reduced taxes the socialist Sanders is on record as abhorring. In recent interviews, the supposedly cerebral Sanders proved himself a veritable dunce, clueless about the U.S. banking system, current U.S. financial statutes, and the basics of how the U.S. criminal- and civil-justice systems work. I suppose if he were Trump, Sanders would argue that he was too busy making “huge” profits to sweat such details, but what is Sanders’s excuse for being so ill-informed? That he was too occupied as a U.S. senator to learn anything about the nation’s banking and legal systems?
Would Trump mar the protocols of the White House? Perhaps. But that is another horse that long ago left the barn. Barack Obama has recently invited a number of rap artists, with long pedigrees of extremist and racialist rhetoric, to the White House. One, Kendrick Lamar (said to be Obama’s “favorite rapper”), has a current album whose cover shows a number of African-American males on the White House lawn, boozing, holding wads of cash, and celebrating, while the body of a dead white judge — black crosses mutilating his eyes — lies before them. Deep, profound, heavy symbolism? Switch the ancestries of the album’s corpse and its celebrants, and the Southern Poverty Law Center would be all over it.
The other White House guest rapper, Rick Ross — does life really replicate album covers? — had his ankle-bracelet alarm go off following a presidential chat. A judge had it clapped on Ross’s ankle because he is currently on bail facing charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault, and aggravated battery (how does one get through the White House metal detector with a court-imposed ankle bracelet on — did someone pass him through with a wave of the hand?). Obama has praised Beyoncé as a role model for his own daughters. The singer’s just-released video shows her destroying cars with a baseball bat as she promises to exact revenge on rivals, or, more specifically, “I’m gonna f— me up a bitch.”
We could, of course, beat another presidential dead horse in Bill Clinton, a figure who makes Petronius’s Trimalchio appear staid and well-mannered. Is there a chance that a President Donald Trump would hire an intern and engage in oral intercourse with her in the Oval Office bathroom, after enduring a long string of complaints from a variety of women that he had variously grabbed their breasts in a White House hallway, pulled out his phallus in an Arkansas hotel room, and sexually assaulted a nursing-home operator? In Clinton’s case, this was all contextualized by his feminist wife — and current likely Democratic nominee — who now supports recalibrating sexual-assault laws on the premise that the allegations of female accusers “deserved to be believed.” I doubt that even the most imaginative writer on The Apprentice could top that. By “that,” I mean behavior that was once at least tsk-tsked by the Washington elite establishment, and that would easily get a teacher fired in Fresno or a fork-lift driver sent home in Akron.
But these are merely distractions in the age of the new normal, in which a president has ignored the Constitution, rendered immigration law null and void, doubled the U.S. debt, crashed U.S. foreign policy, and left us facing Armageddon from Iraq to the nation’s health care.
The moral corruption of our elites predated and transcends Donald Trump, and is second nature to many of his likely critics. Take one example from our premier legal institution, Harvard Law School, steward of America’s jurisprudence. Recently at a Law School panel on the Middle East, a young Harvard law student, Husam El-Qoulaq, asked visiting Israeli dignitary Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister and a center-left representative in the Israeli Knesset, a simple question: “OK, my question is for Tzipi Livni. Um, how is it that you are so smelly?”
Aside from the anti-Semitic pedigree of the slur about “smelly” Jews and the crassness of the question, what was the reaction of Harvard Law School? It refused to release the name of the questioner, and in Orwellian fashion edited his question out of a video altogether (in the same manner that the White House initially edited out from its official video French president Hollande’s reference to “Islamic terrorism”). El-Qoulaq so far faces no disciplinary action, and thus apparently is emblematic of the values of Harvard Law School. But were he Jewish and were the visiting dignitary a Palestinian, he would have been expelled or become persona non grata on campus.
Harvard Law School and its aptly named Dean Minow are just coming off another “teachable moment,” in which it is likely that the supposedly racist defacing of the photos of African-American law professors was not the work of white racists at all, but yet another campus example of supposed anti-racists seeking to concoct micro-aggressions to justify their own advocacy existence — again, to the silence of Dean Minow. But it’s not just Harvard. Few administrators at Duke, Yale, the Clinton Foundation, or the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change would have the requisite moral fides to accuse Trump of either lying or corruption.
Back to the first charge. In fact, Trump’s supporters are not nativists, xenophobes, and veritable nihilists. They represent instead a mass revolt against insanity of the sort that we have grown accustomed to assume is normal.
Consider that almost half of all traffic accidents in Los Angeles these days are hit-and-run. Has Jeb Bush or John Kasich or, for that matter, Jorge Ramos been hit by a driver who left the scene of an accident, and who was without car registration or insurance? I have twice — and on four occasions I have had a driver veer off the road onto my property, destroy numerous grape vines, ditch his wrecked auto, and flee. The government response was not to help track down the fleeing criminal in order to allow compensation. Instead, on one of those occasions, an officer warned me that if I were to tow the abandoned car away for salvage fees to set against the damage I would be arrested. The tragic and needless death of Kate Steinle is, for those at ground zero of illegal immigration, a “There but for the grace of God go I” moment that thousands share.
Who is the more ethically bankrupt: those who in Confederate, John Calhoun style promote sanctuary-city nullification of federal laws — as in San Francisco’s refusal to turn the seven-time felon and five-time deported murderer of Kate Steinle over to the immigration authorities — or those “radicals” who simply wish to enforce existing federal law? And who are the insurrectionists: those who call for federal law to be honored, or the members of the Obama administration who, in emulation of South Carolinians circa 1861, insist that local communities and federal officials can ignore federal laws as they see fit?
What the elites now consider normal and standard seems, to a growing minority of Americans, aberrant and unhinged — and they are looking for a remedy, even if it is mostly rhetorical and chimerical.
Members of the so-called establishment do not fear receiving a memo announcing that an immigrant technician on a work visa will be taking their place or that their jobs will be outsourced overseas. For that matter, I don’t expect that my employer, the Hoover Institution, will move to Mexico to cut costs, or that National Review will hire a foreign national to write this column for 40 percent of what it currently pays.
When the son or daughter of someone in New York or Washington who despises the symbolism of the Trump candidacy does not quite top out on the SAT, or does not make it to Ghana for his or her cultural-diversity summer internship, or does not earn a prep school’s full recommendation, and so does not get into Yale or Princeton, does the parent happen to know a powerful public figure, an Ivy League insider, or a rich donor who might wish to call and put in a good word for an underappreciated but talented white male? If so, then that parent is navigating around affirmative action rather than upholding it. Meanwhile, the 18-year-old son of a truck driver in Grand Rapids, of the wrong sex and color, is out of luck. I can attest to that from teaching thousands of students for 21 years in the California State University system. An Ivy League grandee once called me about potential graduate students and noted, “You have great minority applicants — any more of them?” When I said, “And equally good white males too,” He said, “Oh.” And that was that.
These are just a few of the goads that drive legitimately angry voters to prefer Trump to the far more sober and judicious Cruz, who would more likely translate their anger into concrete change.
Trump is certainly not the answer for our mess, but he is not the cause of it either. His supporters are not saints, but they embrace the argument that elites promote policies in the abstract whose negative consequences in the concrete always fall on someone else less wealthy and well-connected. Their anger at those hypocrisies deserves to be heard with respect. For the most part, they are supporting a candidate who, by the standards of a debased age, is no more disingenuous or disreputable than he who currently sits in the White House or she who will likely sit there in 2017.