The 61st post from the Journal of American Greatness originally published in April, 2016.
We tend to catch hell from both sides. Some of our friends chide us for being so outré as to be able to say anything good about Trump. Others (admittedly fewer) take exception when we point out any of his shortcomings.
We’re not quite so intellectually shallow to fall back on that old chestnut “If left and right both hate me, I must be doing something right!” Rather than seeking the middle for its own sake, we try to call things individually, as we see them.
Trump really blew it with those bathroom comments. To paraphrase Tallyrand and Kinsley: worse than gaffe; a mistake. There’s a much stronger case to be made for kicking Andrew Jackson off the $20—a move we nonetheless, like Trump, oppose—than there is for the lavatory revolution. Yet here we are.
Does Trump really believe what he said? Our guess is that he hasn’t thought it through and that, as with so many of his comments, he said what first popped into his head. And it should not be surprising that what first popped into his head was essentially the stereotypical reaction of a Manhattan billionaire celebrity. We’ve said all along that Trump is a flawed vehicle for Trumpism. We mean it!
The best spin one could put on Trump’s comments is to point to his rationale that “there has been so little trouble.” I.e., this is a ginned up controversy. There was no need for a statewide law (yet). There is not (yet) any obvious abuse of the law (its patent absurdity aside) nor any clamor from the people.
Fair enough. But this view fails to take into account that the underlying issue is itself a ginned up controversy and a deliberately provocative one. All across the country, culture warrior red guards are crusading to overturn centuries of public consensus about public accommodation, immediately, with no evident pressing need or rationale beyond their desire to lord it over ordinary people andepater les bourgeoisie. In that sense, even if you accept this pro-Trump spin, the worst you can say about the governor and legislature of North Carolina is that they are guilty of premature anti-trannyism. For the abuses will come, as they have already begun elsewhere.
The red guards are looking for resistance. Going along just guarantees that the next thing they think up will be more outrageous, illogical and anti-civilizational than the last. And the more loudly they will denounce as Hitler, and attack the livelihoods of, all who don’t get with the program instantly.
Trump does not seem to realize that his core supporters are not down for this. They are largely live-and-let-live and very clearly lack the cultural counterrevolutionary zeal of Ted Cruz and the religious right. (Actually, the religious right has been abysmal on these issues, but that’s for another post.) But they are also fed up with the relentless insistence on transforming everything they hold familiar and beloved about the historic American nation, on denouncing even the (very) recent past as irredeemably racist-sexist-homoislamotransophobic, and above all the insistence that they—ordinary working people who’ve seen their standard of living and prospects in free fall for 30 years—are somehow “privileged” and the root of all problems.
The best explanation for all this appears in, of all places, Vanity Fair, where T.A. Frank writes that:
The combination of super-rich Democrats and poor Democrats would exacerbate internal party tensions, but the party would probably resort to forms of appeasement that are already in use. To their rich constituents, Democrats offer more trade, more immigration, and general globalism. To their non-rich constituents, they offer the promise of social justice, which critics might call identity politics. That’s one reason why Democrats have devoted so much attention to issues such as transgender rights, sexual assault on campus, racial disparities in criminal justice, and immigration reform. The causes may be worthy—and they attract sincere advocates—but politically they’re also useful. They don’t bother rich people.
All of that is exactly right. He leaves out, but implies, who they do bother: the broad American middle, especially in flyover country. That’s also the point: not merely to unite the otherwise fractious Dem-left coalition but also to confuse, humiliate, and demoralize the potential opposition.
One reason Trump has succeeded so far is because he seems to (what’s left of) the core American nation to be the first national political leader, and the first super-elite zillionaire, in a generation not to look down on them or to see his life’s work as selling them out. No, Trump probably won’t lose much support over this flap. But he hurt himself unnecessarily because he undercut that perception—and not for the first time.
Whenever a politician demonstrates his lack of familiarity with issues or otherwise says something his supporters can’t stomach, the standard rationalization is to insist that “he has good instincts.” We still believe that Trump “has good instincts” on immigration, trade, and foreign policy. But overall, our doubts are growing.
That said, to all those who still dream of an America in which their daughters can go to the ladies’ room without fear of encountering penii, we have to ask: What has the Republican Party or the conservative intelligentsia done to stop this? What has it done, effectively, to even retard, much less win, the culture war? The right makes (or used to make) oppositional noises at every fresh leftist provocation. But once the left succeeds in branding all opposition as bigotry (which usually takes about two weeks), the right caves in or slinks away, only to repeat the process the next time.
To stop this (if indeed it can be stopped, and we are not convinced it can, until and after the cycle has run its course), there will need to be a complete political realignment. The right as currently constituted obviously can’t and won’t do anything. The only hope at present for such a realignment is around Trumpism. Trumpism’s core supporters may not be culture counterrevolutionaries for the right, but neither are they enthusiastic culture warriors for left. If, and once, they finally have power and a new majority governing coalition is assembled, with the right leadership, they may stop this. Not, again, out of any moral majority zeal, just out of plain exhaustion and common sense. And from the insistence that it’s finally time to stop spending all the nation’s time and focus in the bathroom but instead to work on serious issues that demand immediate attention.
We’re not going to hold our breath. But we’re quite certain that all the alternatives—including Ted Cruz—promise more of the dismal same, unto the final collapse.