Understanding Trump Better Than He Understands Himself?

One of the interesting facts about Trumpmania is the number of people who are supporting Trump secretly. I recall seeing a Tweet a few weeks back from some Hollywood personage who said that at a recent lunch with some other Hollywooders every one at the table admitted after a long while that they were voting for Trump, but that they wouldn’t be saying so publicly.

There’s something of this going on among a lot of conservatives, too. Have a look a the new anonymous website called the Journal of American Greatness, which has a number of very smart pro-Trump pieces, like this:

These are degenerate times.  Trump did not make them so.  He may in some sense be a product of them and have been a contributor to them, but right now he is fighting the predominate degeneracy.  The implicit calculation that Trump’s high-minded conservative critics have made (though we doubt any have really thought this through) is that Trump’s occasional exhortations to repay thuggishness in kind are worse—far worse—than what will follow if we assent meekly to the thuggishness of Trump’s enemies.  Who are also our enemies—the enemies of the historic American nation and all who pledge allegiance to it.

I’m pretty sure I know who is behind the Journal of American Greatness, just as I know the author of another interesting series of anonymous pieces of Trump interpretation being closely circulated. Here’s one short sample from a much longer piece:

The authority of the ruling elite in America is not social, economic, or even political.  What unites the ruling elite, establishes their prominence, and establishes their public authority is knowledge. They understand the world through their attachment to professions, academic, scientific, economic, business, media, entertainment, and even religion.  They have no political consciousness of themselves as a class.  Many of them do not even think of themselves as political. They are professionals, whose interest and loyalty is to what it is they profess to study and what they think they know. What unites them, and establishes their intellectual and political authority, is their role in the production of what passes for knowledge in the administrative state. The administrative state has made it possible to politicize the elites in a manner that disguises their political role.  When nearly every social, economic, scientific, religious, political problem is decided in a bureaucratic, or legal, way, and at the center (Washington), the professional elites are given a stake in the political and bureaucratic world.   That is why public intellectuals, liberal or conservative, detect the danger of Trump. . . The question is whether Trump will be able to begin the process of re-establishing the authority of the people.  In appealing directly to them, he has bypassed the intellectual authority of the knowledge elite.

There’s much more from this particular person, and I’ll see if I can draw him out.

Meanwhile, one person who is not secret in his sympathetic analysis of Trump is Ken Masugi, who offered up “Trump’s Constitution” Wednesday on RealClearPolitics. Do read the whole thing if you have time, but at least take in this on how Trump is attacking “Madison’s nightmare”:

Trump does not typically articulate his constitutionalism in the words of the beginning of the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal … life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”), but his concerns certainly reinforce them. He calls to mind the Declaration’s grievances against the King, who “has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance” and who “has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Obama has empowered bureaucrats and is not only hapless in fighting ISIS abroad and at home but indulges their violence.

What then is a demagogue? One who inflames passion over reason surely qualifies. But, as we have shown, Trump actually sides with Madison’s “reason of the public” against demagogues. He is the true moderate in a bipartisan constitutional chaos of wars that strain constitutional credibility and domestic policy that sneers at it. Trump is the spokesman for liberty and consent of the governed against rule by the administrative state of the oligarchs. Even his rash mention of impeachment nonetheless acknowledges that executive power can go too far.

The recovery of government by consent is a long work. It is difficult enough to thrust aside elite opinions of what “conservatism” is in order to appreciate the basic constitutional principles of the Declaration of Independence in action. Trump’s greatest assault on political correctness is to open up discussion of these elements of self-government.

These analyses of the ground of public opinion Trump has tapped are serious and have much to commend them. But does Trump understand this beyond an instinctual level?

If you’re a “Leo-Con” (i.e., a follower of Leo Strauss), the first rule of interpretation is to try to understand thinkers as they understood themselves, before you try to understand them differently or better. I’m wondering if these interpretations of the Trump phenomenon aren’t trying to understand Trump better than he understands it himself.

Trump may be the ideal vehicle for expressing the righteous indignation of a plurality of Americans whom our academic elites might otherwise label as “marginalized” if our elites didn’t have contempt for such Americans, but is he at all prepared with real remedies? Consider what he says about entitlements—that he’ll fix their fiscal abyss by rooting out “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This may be good politics, but it is not serious as a remedy, and it’s really not clear whether Trump understands this. (Maybe President Trump would unveil a serious entitlement reform proposal with the announcement that he discovered that the “fraud” of Medicare is supposing we can forever pay out more than we take in.) Ditto for lots of other issues. It would help if Trump actually showed some familiarity with the Constitution, and talked about liberty in a meaningful way.

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