There are many ways to assess Trump. The debates and rallies give us glimpses of his ill-preparedness (at least in comparison to his rivals). So far his vision has not transcended banalities and generalities. He seems to have no team of respected advisers, at least not yet. Indeed, at this point, advising Trump apparently would be a career-killer in the Boston–New York–Washington corridor. No one quite knows who talks to him on foreign policy. He is an empty slate onto which millions write their hopes and dreams, as “Make America great again” channels the empty “Hope and Change.”
Those are grounds enough for rejecting him. But what we don’t need is high talk about Trump as something uniquely sinister, a villain without precedent in American electoral history or indeed public life. That is simply demonstrably false. Trump thrives despite, not because of, his crudity, and largely because of anger at Barack Obama’s divisive and polarizing governance and sermonizing — and the Republican party’s habitual consideration of trade issues, debt, immigration, and education largely from the vantage point of either abstraction or privilege.And if you click the link, you'll see Hanson pull out dozens of examples in which our betters from the party of Bull Connor have said or done things that match up well with Trump's particular sins. A particular favorite:
Trump is all over the place on abortion, flip-flopping almost daily and without much clue about the mission of Planned Parenthood. But he has not seen abortion on demand as a good thing because it falls inordinately on the poor and minorities — in the fashion of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who matter-of-factly said to a friendly reporter, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” If we thought Ginsburg’s callous remark was a slip of the tongue, she clarified it a few years later with a postscript: “It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people.” Did prominent philosophers, ethicists, and humanitarians sign a petition demanding that she step down, given her judicial ill temperament and what can only be described as displays, on not one but two occasions, of crackpot notions of racist eugenics?That's what we call a rhetorical question. And Hanson's larger point bears repeating:
We could play this tu quoque all day long, but the fact that we can play it at all suggests that Trump is hardly, by current standards, beyond the pale, much less that he is aberrant in U.S. presidential-campaign history. He is or is not as uncouth as Barack Obama, who has mocked the disabled, the wealthy, typical white people, the religious, and the purported clingers, and has compared opponents to Iranian theocrats and said that George W. Bush was “unpatriotic” — all as relish to wrecking America’s health-care system, doubling the national debt, setting race relations back six decades, politicizing federal bureaucracies, ignoring federal law, and leaving the Middle East in shambles and our enemies on the ascendant.Emphasis in original. If you'd like to argue we should be better than all that, I agree. But we aren't, now are we? That's another rhetorical question. Our esteemed commenter Picklesworth was making a similar point yesterday:
What if the problem isn't the candidates for president? What if the problem is the electorate? I realize that no candidate can say that. Nor can any party. But it might well be true.
OR... what if our problem is systemic, not based on personalities or electorates at all? What if our system produces dysfunction over time. Over any short period of time we might see decent leaders, but as the field grows, we'll see a progression towards the mean. I'm no statistician. Not even close. But isn't that a possibility? And why do we keep assuming that our system is just plain awesome when the results suggest that this isn't necessarily true?If you would reject Donald Trump for his ignorance, his lassitude, his bluster and his evident lack of any guiding principle other than "Donald Trump ought to run things," I hear you. I agree with you. If you are arguing that we should elect someone who is a better, wiser human being than Donald Trump, hear hear. If you're arguing that Donald Trump is a uniquely malevolent force in public life, nope. Or, as T. S. Eliot put it:
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”
We're quite good at planting corpses in the garden.