Does Trump Trump? Angelo Codevilla on Our Present Moment

Angelo Codevilla is a former staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, and the author of more than a dozen fine books on politics, arms control, and intelligence (if I had to pick a favorite it might be The Character of Nations), including a fine translation of Machiavelli’s Prince published by Yale University Press. Most recently his essay-turned-book The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It caught the attention of Rush Limbaugh and many others. It argues that our fundamental political problem is not “big government,” but the creation of a ruling class, inhabiting both parties, that is steadily increasing its authoritarian control over the nation. In a conversation a few months ago Angelo remarked, “The 2016 election is simple; the person who runs on the platform ‘Who do they think they are?’ will win.”

It occurred to me that Trump is coming closest to this disposition, flaws and all, which explains why he has taken off. I asked Angelo for his thoughts, and he sends along the following, which ratifies the view that several of Trump’s supposed “mistakes” are anything but, though you’ll see at the end Angelo’s final judgment:

Does Trump trump?

By Angelo M. Codevilla

“In the land of the blind,” so goes the saying, “the one-eyed man is king.” Donald Trump leapt atop other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination when he acted on the primordial fact in American public life today, from which most of the others hide their eyes, namely: most Americans distrust, fear, are sick and tired of, the elected, appointed, and bureaucratic officials who rule over us, as well as their cronies in the corporate, media, and academic world. Trump’s attraction lies less in his words’ grace or even precision than in the extent to which Americans are searching for someone, anyone, to lead against this ruling class, that is making America less prosperous, less free, and more dangerous.

Trump’s rise reminds this class’s members that they sit atop a rumbling volcano of rejection. Republicans and Democrats hope to exorcise its explosion by telling the public that Trump’s remarks on immigration and on the character of fellow member John McCain (without bothering to try showing that he errs on substance), place him outside the boundaries of their polite society. Thus do they throw Br’er Rabbit into the proverbial briar patch. Now what? The continued rise in Trump’s poll numbers reminds all that Ross Perot – in an era that was far more tolerant of the Establishment than is ours – outdistanced both Bush 41 and Bill Clinton before self-destructing, just by speaking ill of both parties before he self destructed.

Republicans brahmins have the greater reason to fear. Whereas some three fifths of Democratic voters approve the conduct of their officials, only about one fifth of Republican voters approve what theirs do. If Americans in general are primed for revolt, Republican (and independent) voters fairly thirst for it.

Trump’s barest hints about what he opposes (never mind proposes) regarding just a few items on the public agenda have had such effect because they accord with what the public has already concluded about them. For example,Trump remarked, off the cuff, that “Mexico does not send us its best.” The public had long since decided that our ruling class’s handling of immigration (not just from Mexico) has done us harm. The ruling class – officials, corporations, etc.- booed with generalities but did not try to argue that they had improved America by their handling of immigration. The more they would argue that, the more they would lose. At least if someone more able than Trump were leading against them.

Our ruling class was sure that Trump had discredited himself  by saying that John McCain, whom they treat as an icon, is not an optimal personification of heroism regardless of what suffering he endured in captivity. But they were mistaken. Because Americans are sick of celebrating victims of defeats, and naturally eager to enjoy the kind of peace that only victories can bring, Trump’s expressed preference for heroes who “don’t get captured” resonated. Trump may or may not know any of the unsavory details about McCain’s actions as a POW and, as a public official, in regard to POWs and MIAs. But it does not take much research to find out why nobody will defend him other than by trying to prevent discussion those details. Surely Republican “architect” Karl Rove, who organized South Carolina’s military vote against McCain in the 2000 primary, knows them. The families of Vietnam POWs-MIAs pour onto anyone who will listen to their bitterness at McCain’s role in denying the existence of abandoned POWs and sealing information about them. The general public can get a glimpse such things by Googling the armed forces’ newspaper Stars and Stripes, Friday June 6, 1969, or the work of Pulitzer Prize NYT reporter Sydney Schanberg.

Moreover, Americans are becoming increasingly skeptical about their celebrities’ integrity. With good reason.

McCain is just a minor example of a phenomenon that characterizes our ruling class: reputations built on lies and cover-ups, lives of myth protected by mutual forbearance, by complicitous journalists, or by records deep-sixed, including in in government archives. Ever wonder, for example, why the establishment of Martin Luther King as a national icon superior to George Washington, as the only American with his own national holiday, was accompanied by sealing government records about him for seventy five years? Because those records reflect well on him and his partisans? Sure. Countless other figures – need one mention Barack Obama? – live by images sustained by denigrating questions about their factual bases while restricting access to those bases. As they lord it over us, they live lives that cannot stand scrutiny.

The point here is simple: our ruling class has succeeded in ruling not by reason or persuasion, never mind integrity, but by occupying society’s commanding heights, by imposing itself and its ever-changing appetites on the rest of us. It has coopted or intimidated potential opponents by denying the legitimacy of opposition. Donald Trump, haplessness and clownishness notwithstanding, has shown how easily this regime may be threatened just by refusing to be intimidated.

Having failed to destroy Trump, Republicans and Democrats are left to hope that he will self-destruct as Perot did. Indeed, Trump has hardly scratched the surface and may not be able to do more than that. Yet our rulers know the list of things divide them from the American people is long. They want to avoid like the plague any and all arguments on the substance of those things. They fear the rise of an un-intimidated leader more graceful and precise than Trump, someone whose vision is fuller but who is even more passionate in championing the many resentments the voicing of just a few channeled so much support to Trump.

Here are some examples: Justice Kennedy’s majority opinions in Windsor and Obergefell preemptively accused anyone who opposed redefining marriage to include homosexuals of being “offensive,” “hateful.” Refusal to honor homosexual unions, he wrote, is not “explicable by anything except animus.” What if a statesman, speaking for the American people, were to ask what, precisely, is so honorable about anal intercourse that those who refuse to honor it should be so stigmatized? Before 1961, all 50 states criminalized anal intercourse, heterosexual as well as homosexual. Why precisely were they wrong in doing so? By what right does anyone place such questions “out of bounds”?

After a video showing officials of federally-funded Planned Parenthood taking orders for body parts of babies to be custom-slaughtered for that purpose, House Speaker John Boehner deflected demands for legislation to stop this by saying he needed more information. An unintimidated statesman might ask: Do you not know that each of these little ones’ DNA shows him or her to be an individual son or daughter of an individual mother and father? Like Lincoln, he would argue that no one has the right to exclude any other human from the human race and demand that Boehner answer why he continues to sanction so to dispose of millions of little sons and daughters?

Republicans and Democrats profit personally and through their corporate cronies by a welter of legislation and regulation by which they command what we must eat, how to shower, what medical care is proper and what is not: mandating that a third of the U.S. corn crop be turned into ethanol, restricting the use of coal, how we may use our land, etc.  They justify these predatory intrusions into our lives by claiming that peculiar knowledge of science unavailable to others. They refuse to justify their scientific conclusions with the likes of us. An un-intimidated statesman, reiterating that science is reason, public reason, not pretense, would throw the notion that “science R us” back into their faces.

At increasing speed, our ruling class has created “protected classes” of Americans defined by race, sex, age, disability, origin, religion, and now homosexuality, whose members have privileges that outsider do not. By so doing, they have shattered the principle of equality – the bedrock of the rule of law. Ruling class insiders use these officious classifications to harass their socio-political opponents. An unintimidated statesman would ask: Why should not all “classes” be equally protected? Does the rule of law even admit of “classes”? Does not the 14th amendment promise “the equal protection of the laws” to all alike? He would note that when the government sets aside written law in favor of what the powerful want, it thereby absolves citizens any obligation to obey government.

Habitually, our ruling class tries to intimidate its opponents by calling them “haters” (“racists,” etc. is part of the all too familiar litany.) A statesman worthy of the title would respond that calling people such names is the very opposite of civility, never mind love. Such a leader would trump our rulers.

Donald Trump is not such a person.

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