The human body is an incredible machine, in its function, integration, adaptability, and resilience. Yet for all the good it is and it can do, they all produce shit. Shit can be the conveyer of new life, through the seeds it might carry and the fertilizer it provides or it can be an obstacle, or a conveyer of disease.
Regardless of the current travails of the former-President Trump, and whether he is successful as he tries to re-emerge from disgrace and defeat, to become the 2024 Republican candidate for president, I can’t help but wonder about the broad impact he has had already, such as on our military and economic alliances, multilateralism, global trade and institutions, even down to individual family relationships. It is indeed quite remarkable. Being hopeful, I want to assume it is all for the better, but how might that be?
Since his election in 2016, I have tried to understand the source of Trump’s success . How could such a seemingly reckless character be elevated to leadership? Victor Davis Hanson tries to answer this question in his book “The Case for Trump”, where he includes an account of his rise to power, a summary of the environment he faced, and helpful observations.
In particular, Hanson makes a distinction between the man and the message, which has helped me pin-point what has troubled me: the conflict between the vices of the man and the virtue of the message.
That Trump was not soundly defeated in the 2016 election suggested to me that many voters privileged the message over the man. I found this starling. It implied that the ends justified the means. I inferred desperation; a state of mind willing to accept the pain [of the man] for a solution [of the message], or as Hanson puts it, Trump as a form of chemotherapy. Such a mindset was completely foreign to me, yet having just prior to the election driven across Montana to Wisconsin, and to witness the hollowed-out mid-west, as Trump called it, I was able to see that there was a problem and the validity of his message. These people weren’t the toothless, uneducated deplorables Clinton spoke of; they were citizens who had failed to receive the dignity and respect of their government. They were the canon fodder of globalization.
Yet while the disposition of this messenger is and was so egregious, so crass, his opponent, Hillary Clinton was equally distasteful or so Hanson submits. And if you agree with that, which many do, then their characters cancel out each other.
With character off the table, Hanson’s case for Trump rests first on his policies to restore the position of the middle class and second, that he is the only one who could implement the necessary changes.
Hanson cites in compelling detail the demise of the American middle class as a result of globalization, the opening of the border to lower-wage workers and the continuous engagement in needless wars abroad. He notes that while past presidents, both Democratic and Republican, had promised to resolve these problems, none had delivered. Once in office, the pressures to comply with “norms” and institutional inertia were too difficult to overcome. They just couldn’t push back the force of the tide; there were all Canutes.
After decades of failure to take the promised actions, there were enough people among the voting public willing to overlook the manipulative character of Trump, his lack of morality, his instrumentalist or transactional view of relationships, his low ideological commitment, and rather to see him as a disrupter, and to vote him in to change the country’s trajectory.
In office, Hanson submits, Trump was able to overcome the resistance by leveraging his disruptive and unhinged personality to question existing dogma, shake up the bureaucracy, push American partners and allies to take on a greater share of the responsibilities to manage and govern the world order. Decoupled from the elites, unencumbered by political debt, untethered from personal doubt, Trump pushed through.
It was his characteristics voters were looking for, that they felt were so necessary to achieve results, that they were willing to over look the foibles that came with the “package”.
Hanson offers that Trump may be seen as a tragic Greek hero; maybe like Narcissus, who was so enamoured by himself, that he didn’t look for the opinion of others or may be Antigone who represents the tension between individual action and fate. Was Trump fated to serve in this one-term role simply to slash and burn? But not so long to completely destroy?
Yet, I can’t help but recall a comment by Steve Bannon who positioned Trump as “the perfect vehicle” [for their political purposes]. So, rather than being a Greek hero, maybe he is better thought of as a “McLuhan medium”? If so, then what is the message? Certainly his policies—the legislation his government introduced—is the content of a message, but it is all those many unanticipated consequences that are the more long lasting, insidious and important.
Whether he is seen as a tragic hero or a “McLuhan medium”, he may have simply been a Machiavellian tool to reset a government’s and society’s agenda and once done, discarded only to be resurrected by history as one of the great Presidents. Henry Kissinger is quoted as saying “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences.”
While it is questionable as to whether Trump will succeed in his 2024 bid, the issues remain unresolved. However, one of the “messages” we can draw from this experience is that there is a large group of the population, not just in the United States, but in many parts of the world, who feel unrepresented.