It’s time to stop assuming that the Trump phenomenon will collapse under its own weight. Trump has held a continuous lead in the RCP polling average since July 20th. That’s already longer than any candidate not named Mitt Romney held the lead in 2012, and Trump’s lead is growing rather than shrinking. His main competition at this point is Ben Carson, who has neither the money nor the campaign experience to land the kind of knockout punch that will end Trump’s reign at the top of the field.
The assumption that Trump will say or do something that will alienate his supporters is also a false hope, for Trump opponents. If the unmitigated stream of gaffes, errors, offensive remarks and boorish behavior that constitute the Trump campaign hasn’t alienated his voters by now, it’s difficult to see how continued exposure to them will do the trick. Trump is what he is. More or less, everyone understands what Trump represents right now. His supporters are fine with this. They seem disinclined to go anywhere.
So here we are, Donald Trump is running away with the nomination for one of the two major political parties in this country, and what does that say about us as a people? What does it further say that attacking Trump for not knowing or understanding basic points of policy, or for making an absolute fool of himself (which he does constantly) causes him to go up in the polls rather than down?
I’m reminded of Roman Hruska’s famous speech in favor of the confirmation of G. Harrold Carswell to the United States Supreme Court. One of the prime criticisms of Carswell was that he was an average judge and an average intellect. Hruska’s defense of Carswell, which would eventually be etched into the annals of history as a crackling good joke, was as follows:
Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.
At the time of this debate, it was well understood by the American people that mediocre people are all well and fine and good. Salt of the earth folks make the world go round and were largely responsible for making America into the great nation that it is. But when it came time to select people for given positions (e.g., Supreme Court justice, President of the United States), we would hope to be able to find someone in America who rises above the mediocre* – who we can entrust with great responsibility and put into public positions where they could make the whole country proud. Someone about whom we could say as a people, “Here is an exemplar of what this country can produce, as a people.”
That, really, is the mark of a serious people. Serious people take pride in their own work and accomplishments, but understand that not everyone can be great at everything. A good farmer should be proud of his trade and his vitally important role in society, but should understand that flying military jets should be left to the jet pilots. People who are over six feet and 200 pounds like I am should enjoy dabbling around with basketball and leave horse jockeying to people who won’t kill horses just by sitting on them. And so on and so forth.
I don’t think we qualify as a serious people anymore, frankly. We’ve taken not being ashamed at our inability to know everything and transformed it into actual pride at ignorance and lack of sophistication. So Donald Trump doesn’t know who Qassem Suleimani is, and instead of saying, “Gosh, maybe I don’t know that but I sure do wish the guy who’s running for President would,” a sizeable portion of the adult party in America when it comes to national security actually applauds Donald Trump for sticking a finger in Hugh Hewitt’s eye by brashly admitting that knowing things is for chumps.
One of the most distressing things is how quickly it’s happened to us as a movement. Just four short years ago, Rick Perry fell from first place to fifth in the span of about two weeks for committing the sin of flubbing a couple questions in a debate. “Jeez,” we said to ourselves. “We don’t want this guy representing us on a national stage. He said he had three reasons in that answer but it turned out that he only had two! How embarrassing!”
Donald Trump commits more gaffes every day before brunch than Perry did during his whole campaign – and yet his supporters seem actually proud of this fact, as opposed to embarrassed.
I get anti-establishment sentiment as well as anyone. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times, Boehner and McConnell need to be burned to the ground. I expect I’ll be saying it with even more force three weeks from now when they inevitably capitulate on Planned Parenthood funding. And hey – there are good options for you if sending a middle finger to [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] is your most important goal in life – reasonable people like [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] and Ben Carson come to mind.
But what’s happening in this GOP primary has descended into the same level of farce that characterized the Greek electorate’s response to being told that they were out of money, as a country. What’s happening now is not anger or frustration that’s guided by any level of reason, or planning, or thought. It’s rather just an unthinking temper tantrum that will ultimately accomplish no change or reform at all – and if Trump is nominated, it will serve to clear the field of any meaningful opposition to the Democrat agenda whatsoever, as many Republicans who are actually worth saving will be taken down in flames in the ensuing electoral debacle.
And if that’s the route we want to go, I’m not even totally opposed to it. There’s a decent argument that Goldwater’s historical whitewashing in 1964 led to a needed re-alignment. But the difference is that Barry Goldwater, for his flaws was (at least in 1964) a man who was capable of carrying the banner of American conservatism without embarrassing its adherents daily – a man who serious people could support and be proud of, even if his positions were at odds with the mood of the country such that his epic defeat was inevitable.
Donald Trump is none of those things. A man who publicly suggested that a reporter who asked him tough questions was menstruating at the time is not someone serious people want carrying their banner. And yet, and yet. He continues to march forward and away from the rest of the field, and the really terrible news is that whoever the Democrats nominate will doubtless be even worse for the country than he is.
The great – and also terrible – thing about Democracy is that we will get the President we deserve. The sad thing is that in the case of American democracy, the rest of the world has to pay the price for our poor choices, as the heartbreaking pictures of that little boy from yesterday so painfully illustrated. But we have to face the reality that just maybe, Donald Trump is the best reflection of our country. Which doesn’t speak well of our country at all.
*The experience of Justice William O. Douglas indicates that sometimes, we settled for the far less than mediocre. Nonetheless, not many people understood what a terrible and incompetent justice Douglas would be at the time he was confirmed.