So it has come to this: Goldman Sachs has instructed its partners not to contribute to the Donald Trump presidential campaign or associated PACs. One presumes a possible consequence of breaking this rule is an involuntary exit from the Goldman partnership.
Goldman has its reasons, no doubt. According to news reports, the investment banking firm’s government compliance department forbids donations to any federal candidate who is a sitting state or local official, such as Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine is a sitting United States Senator, and not a local or state office holder, so the rule does not apply to Hillary Clinton’s campaign or its affiliated PACs. The distinction invites speculation, however.
Goldman, with its proud history of partners serving in administrations on both sides of the aisle (think of Republican Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and his Democratic counterpart Robert Rubin), would not shun a major party candidate casually. Perhaps Goldman worries that the trade policies Trump promises would not serve its interests well. Another possibility, given the integration of the financial world and administrative state under Dodd-Frank, is the firm fears that if Clinton wins in November, any support for her opponent by Goldman partners would invite retaliation by regulators. Do what you want, but update that “living will.” These sorts of fears are today are not just “paranoid style”; they are real.
Elites will not tolerate any opposition that departs from their essential orthodoxies. Elites view the middle and lower classes with contempt, but transgressions from the lower caste are a function of the wickedness of churls and proles, the “basket of deplorables” and “irredeemables” that are ordinary men and women.
But woe to educated elites who transgress and reject globalism, open borders, and the social orthodoxies of the Left. They are not sinners but heretics. To Leftist elites, their wayward fellows are people who hold dangerous ideas in a world where ideas have consequences. And dangerous ideas must have consequences first for the mortal sinners who hold them. Fewer than one in six university faculty members report conservative leanings, not because smart and educated people necessarily embrace progressive dogmas. Rather smart and educated people who incautiously reveal conservative opinions are Weg vom Fenster—”away through the window,” to use a German expression.
Defenestration—from the Latin, fenestra, for window—has a long history in the West. The First Defenestration of Prague in 1419 took place in the context of the Hussite War, a religious conflict over the authority of bishops in the Holy Roman Empire. The Second Defenestration of Prague in 1618 marked the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. Catholic Lords Regent Count Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice and Count Vilem Slavata of Chlum were flung out of a window for “being enemies of the religion.” They survived the 70-foot fall, landing in a heap of manure. The sport of throwing doctrinal enemies from windows has been popular ever since.
Well, not really ever since. Defenestration was popular even before the Reformation led to the rediscovery that windows are for more than letting in the breeze. The earliest frequently cited case involved an usurpation. The former Phoenician princess and widow of King Ahab was thrown through a window into the street at the urging of Jehu, God’s anointed king and successor to Ahab.
And he said, Throw her down. So they threw her down . . .[gory details omitted] (2 Kings 9, King James Version)
This ugly coda to Jezebel’s cruel and grasping (if short) reign, is a function of divine retribution for corruption rather than the enforcement of dogma. The story of Ahab and Jezebel is perhaps the nadir of the steady decline of Israel’s kings after the death of Solomon. America, too, is in decline, although not inexorably. And Trump is, most observers would agree, a manifestation of that decline. Americans have never had to consider a major party candidate quite like Trump before.
An inhibiting aspect of the Trump candidacy for people who feel the status quo, however troubling, is sustainable is the question of whether Trump is too extreme. In these pages we have seen Charles Kesler’s “Moderation in the Pursuit of Trump” and “The Flight 93 Election” by the pseudonymous Publius Decius Mus. This unusual debate is over whether Trump is too extreme to support enthusiastically or whether the crisis is too extreme not to. The #NeverTrump contingent rigidly maintains Trump is too extreme. But they have given up arguing the point with any seriousness. The result will be damaging to their credibility, because they are choosing to sit this one out in favor of heckling for Trump’s defenestration, which is not going to happen. The primary is over. We can be disappointed that the GOP candidate is not the one we would have wanted. We cannot sanely wish for a past that never happened. Now that #NeverTrump people have nothing intelligent left to say, it is up to the rest of us to examine the 2016 election.
Trump is a neophyte. He is a real estate developer who, like Wendell Willkie, has never held an office. He is also a reality television impresario. He’s no Reagan, star of Oscar nominated “King’s Row.” There’s just one television series about Trump, “The Apprentice.” Trump tends to give simplistic accounts of policy issues, which others maintain are too complex for commonplace public deliberation. Although in 2016, simplicity may be precisely what is needed. As Kesler points out, “You’re fired!” is something that needs to be said to the administrative state. Trump is not without experience here.
In political dust-ups, Trump hits back maybe a little too hard or below the belt. The Republican primary was a bar brawl, and Trump had a tendency to punch the person standing closest to him. He socked Ted Cruz’s wife because Cruz surrogate Liz Mair pushed Melania. Defending your wife is the right instinct. Attacking someone else’s wife is the wrong one. But who should care at this point other than Cruz? Trump is thin-skinned, irascible, and says mean things. Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson was saying mean things the other day to Townhall’s Guy Benson. Hillary says mean things to 25 percent of the electorate, and to a lot of other people (including just about every Secret Service detail she has ever had for 24 years, evidently).
Isn’t there more to Trump than meets the eye? He has left loyal followers in his wake at the Trump Organization. People who know him seem to like him. He described himself in the debates as “too trusting,” and there are plenty of things he has done in this campaign which suggest that is a fair, if partial, self-assessment.
Trump has been blamed for inciting political violence. Still, the large scale violence in this election is not happening in Trump rallies, but just outside, orchestrated by the Left’s remorseless donor class. Trump, it is true, is a little more vulgar than the usual standard for the man at the top of the ticket (normally this is reserved for an undercard fighter, like “big f***ing deal” Biden).
Trump bores easily. Kesler worries that this may be his mortal flaw. He’ll lose interest. Then there is the unwanted interest Trump has generated. Followed enthusiastically by alt-right internet trolls, from time to time he has seemed naïve about this basement-dwelling fringe. The #NeverTrumpers have criticized Trump for not prioritizing the pummeling of alt-right internet goons over the Democratic Party.
All of this has been distilled to the singular criticism that he is not “qualified,” does not have the “temperament” and experience, to be the President of the United States.
But think for a moment. Neither have the American people ever had to consider a candidate quite like Hillary Clinton. What about her history and temperament? As the wife of an ex-president, she is a legacy candidate. We have had father and son legacy candidates, although recent experience suggests this was not a good idea. Is it really a good idea to outdo Argentina in the category of bad ideas in popular politics? Peron did not emerge until mid-century but in 1913 Argentina had the tenth highest per capita income in the world.
Clinton narrowly escaped indictment for mishandling classified information in an “extremely careless” manner. She violated virtually every norm in this regard, and destroyed an incredible volume of electronic documents while she was under investigation. Her aides destroyed some of her personal devices with hammers. This sort of behavior is shocking. If you are looking for moderation in a candidate, ask yourself if it can it be a serious proposition that Clinton is it.
Trump has rightly pointed out that any person who intentionally destroyed documents under a hold order in a civil litigation—something with which he has a great deal of experience—could expect to be held in criminal contempt.
Then there is the money. Clinton has amassed quite a fortune in “public service.” This should be alarming to decent people. Communications recovered from her wiped server reveal what has been described as a “pay to play” relationship between Clinton Foundation donors and the State Department. She bristled on the press plane when asked whether Chelsea would draw a salary at the Clinton Foundation post-election. Don’t dare ask a question that beats a path to “Will the Clintons use the office to pay themselves?” or they will toss you through the emergency exit of Stronger Together.
The media has suggested that Trump encourages political violence, but all objective observation suggests that the extreme Left which supported Bernie Sanders and now supports Clinton is actually quite violent. Trump supporters have been egged, shoved, pushed and punched all summer long. Yet the media shrugs when New Left agitators use violence. Clinton is a vanguard of the New Left, an alt-left, which is a large movement, not a fringe.
The character of the two candidates is important. Yet even if the vices of Clinton are public vices which run deep, and would likely permanently damage the republic, the most important distinction between the candidates is policy. Clinton’s policies are a continuation of the growth of the administrative state, globalism and the advancement of an outlandish marriage of the social mores of Planned Parenthood and the seraglio, which has the sense of humor to call itself feminism. Trump’s policies are anti-immigration and anti-globalist. Trump’s platform is pro-life, low-tax, pro-manufacturing, and eschews unproductive foreign entanglement. Taken as a whole, it addresses income inequality without expropriation by seeking to increase the value (or rent to use the technical term) of labor the poor and middle class. It addresses the national misery created by system of trade deals that pays no regard to the pain of idleness of people who are sidelined by unlimited access to the global cheap and unregulated labor.
The alternative on the ballot is marketed as “free trade.” But what is free about trade deals that feed elites alone? For everyone else there is underemployment anesthetized by cheap smartphones, flat screen TVs, and increasingly, cheap heroin and methamphetamine, mitigated by expanded disability and subsidized health care from the exploded administrative state.
When the Cold War ended following the Reagan build-up, the work of defeating a global Marxist-communism abroad was complete. But the work of rolling back the administrative state at home was not. The administrative state remained the impediment to the liberty of the middle class and poor. Government continued to be the problem. Reagan addressed this in his Farewell Address: “I’ve been asked if I have any regrets. Well, I do. The deficit is one. I’ve been talking a great deal about that lately, but tonight isn’t for arguments, and I’m going to hold my tongue.”
The Reagan deficits, of course, were a function of the defense buildup without a reduction in the size of the domestic administrative state. (Yes, the Left blames the Reagan tax cuts.) They were a product of horse-trading done with a Democratic Congress led by political street-fighter Tip O’Neill.
But an observation: I’ve had my share of victories in the Congress, but what few people noticed is that I never won anything you didn’t win for me. They never saw my troops, they never saw Reagan’s regiments, the American people. You won every battle with every call you made and letter you wrote demanding action. Well, action is still needed. If we’re to finish the job, Reagan’s regiments will have to become the Bush brigades. Soon he’ll be the chief, and he’ll need you every bit as much as I did.
Reagan’s regiments needed to become the Bush brigades because a continuation of these same efforts by the American people to retake control of government—to govern themselves—required continued statesmanship on their behalf by George H.W. Bush. It’s not a straight line from there to here, but that never really happened. Bush 41 immediately pronounced his interest in a “kinder and gentler” America. Nancy Reagan doubted Bush 41’s commitment to the revolution her husband had started and aptly asked “Kinder and gentler than what?”
To the extent Bush 41 did intend continuity, it would not matter. Confronted with the savings and loan crisis, Bush 41 embraced a massive federal intervention through the creation of the Resolution Trust Corporation (Financial Institutions Reform Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA)) and a tax increase (Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990). Bush 41 laid the ground for the growth in immigration (Immigration Act of 1990), for NAFTA (then opposed by Democrats) and for the offshoring of American manufacturing to China, recognizing an enormous trade opportunity.
Though the execution of the Persian Gulf War was near perfect, the war turned the soil in which our current foreign policy in the Middle East would be planted, elevating the UN resolution in the public mind at the expense of the constitutional mechanism of an Article I declaration of war (already nearly dead letter). The Persian Gulf War was about perpetual and inviolable national borders in the post Cold War era. But the crop then sown is now reaped as unbridled Presidential war power and perpetual war with both Islamic fundamentalism AND secular dictatorship.
Bill Clinton’s rise in 1992 led to the establishment of a reinvigorated tax regime (Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993) to support a larger administrative state. The Democratic controlled House was defenestrated for the tax increase, but the incoming Republicans together with the Clinton White House planted a cash crop of globalism (NAFTA and increased China trade). Clinton further suppressed the protection American interests (feebleness in Somalia and Afghanistan) in favor of a transnational idea of foreign policy dictated by the United Nations (Bosnia) or NATO (Kosovo). Bill Clinton’s incorrigible lying and appalling private morality and its publication by political enemies coarsened the culture, and was widely suspected as being a casus belli of the Kosovo air campaign.
George W. Bush would get a tax cut (Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001), though not tax reform. Included in the Bush 43 tax cut it was a sunset provision which restored the extreme Clinton marginal rates at a later date without a vote of Congress. Bush 43’s Compassionate Conservatism confused compassion with a bloated administrative state. No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D were signature Bush 43 achievements, along with the mega-bureaucracy Homeland Security. Bush 43’s other achievement was perpetual war, and TARP, the harbinger of perpetual intervention in the domestic economy. Much of this was a reaction to circumstances, but when your compass needle is not firmly pointed in the direction of shrinking the administrative state, it grows.
Thus it happened that Barack Obama could not have arrived at a time more suited for the growth of an administrative state. With war and a stumbling economy always providing an emergency, and an iron will to push the expansion of the administrative state at the expense of the short term success of the Democratic Party, Obama built a remarkable apparatus of state and executive power which now intervenes to solve emergencies of its own creation. The tax increase came, however haltingly, as pre-programmed in the Bush 43 tax cuts. The Affordable Care Act and Dodd Frank, true masterpieces of the administrative mindset, are pieces of legislation that defy the rules of sensible lawmaking. They cannot truly be promulgated because they are incomprehensible to the inexpert. Even the experts find them incomprehensible, other than in one respect: they require a broadly empowered and unaccountable administrative state to implement.
At the same time, socialism has mainstreamed. Millennials and academics are besotted with cultural Marxism, critical race theory, identity politics, and an ideology of gender that is incompatible with the two-parent family in an inviolable marriage. The Reagan Revolution is out the window, and with it, common sense.
Those who find Trump too extreme owe it to themselves and to the rest of us to reflect for a moment on where we are and whither we are tending. Readers of these pages will recognize a Lincolnian thread running through the number of the essays here. American greatness has very much to do with the principles of human equality that laid out more perfectly than anywhere else in the Declaration of Independence.
Critics will say that it is impossible to make a link between Lincoln, the foremost interpreter of the Declaration of Independence, who has been described as a “philosopher king,” and Trump. Lincoln would never condone the rise of a statesman who seems like an extreme and uncertain remedy as Trump. Right?
Not exactly. Lincoln embraced Ulysses S. Grant, after all. Grant was a notorious abuser of alcohol. When this defect of Grant’s character was brought to Lincoln’s attention, Lincoln reportedly said if he knew what brand of whiskey Grant drank, he would send a barrel of it to his other generals. Lincoln understood the unevenness of human nature, and the priority of the practical over the ideal. Grant was willing to fight, and fighting was the chief thing the Union needed given the war’s “awful arithmetic” of attrition. Doubtless Lincoln would have chosen a sober general with a similar record of fighting over Grant, but no such general was available.
Lincoln was no stranger to extreme action if the circumstances warranted. Returning to the thread on which this narrative is strung, Lincoln in 1840 jumped out of a window of the Illinois capitol to prevent the formation of a quorum of the Illinois legislature. Democrats proposed a vote on an early adjournment to bring an end to the Illinois State Bank. The change would steer the border state from commercial interests to agrarian, and if to agrarian interests, more closely aligned with slave interests. The Whigs tried to leave the building to prevent a quorum but the Democrats—then as now willing to resort to rough play—physically barred the door. Lincoln headed to a second story window and self-defenestrated to break the quorum.
One gets the sense that the #NeverTrump people would consider that Lincoln—a man who leapt from a high floor for the sake of the liberty of people he didn’t know (we don’t need to even get to the funny hat or his own created image as a rail-splitting frontier rube)—would be unqualified to be president by temperament and character. They expect decorum for this most serious of offices. But it is a popularly (if indirectly) elected office, and increasingly it seems they are looking for something like ermine and purple before they will bring out the magic chrism and anoint a new candidate for king.
Call the glazier: the thought of this regal vision is enough to make an American Enlightenment liberal like myself want to exit through a window.