The Magnificent Mr. Trump


On the eve of the election I want to express my gratitude to Donald Trump. The election of 2012 cast me into deepest gloom about the fate of what used to be my country. Never again did I expect a “conservative” majority to be able to win a presidential election. I recovered from it, over a long while, with the help of my daughter, by acknowledging that it was now “after America,” and that the only way to look was to what lay “after” it, to what was ahead. Neither of us expected Donald Trump. Who of us did?

Trump’s surprising emergence cast that after-future in a new light. From the beginning Trump framed the issue of the election in terms of the very possibility of our remaining a political regime, to say nothing of a country under the rule of law. Will we remain a place with borders, a defined location? Will we govern with the good of the governed in mind? Will there be a common good? Is there ground any more for common affection amongst ourselves, among those who are here? How might that be brought about?

Seeing the election in this way explains why this could be the last American election, and Donald Trump the last American. Of course, should he win, the last shall be first.

Much has been said about Trump’s character. Only Theophilus has approached the substantive truth of the matter. Aristotle in The Politics says that those who are going to rule in the authoritative offices of state ought to have three qualities. The first is “affection for the regime,” the second is “a very great capacity for the work involved,” while the third is “virtue and justice.” And then he adds with respect to the latter, “in each regime the sort that is relative to the regime.” It is astonishing how Trump qualifies on all three counts. His love for America and her political tradition, and his tremendous capacity for the work involved in executive leadership are his most evident characteristics. With respect to virtue, Theophilus made a persuasive case for Trump’s courage and prudence.  I’d like to add another virtue to the list: the very Aristotelean virtue of magnificence.

Magnificence is the virtue regarding great expenditures of a private person, so it presumes great wealth. It is the virtue of great but fitting expenditures for great public goods. Aristotle mentions in particular the building of temples or the endowing of public feasts. In the case of Trump, not enough has been said of his spending of his own substance on his campaign, especially in the nomination phase. This did enable him to run independently of the donor class. He was able to campaign on matters he had thought about for years precisely because he had spent those years acquiring wealth. Trump’s spending of his own substance in the context of a last gasp attempt to keep America from dissolution, and to do so in the face of universal condemnation and contempt, qualifies in my eyes as the sort of noble expenditure Aristotle contemplated.

Perhaps one might raise the objection that Trump was inclined too much to make himself rather than the work the object of wonder, but that goes with the territory, the risk, of the sort of self-assertion Trump’s campaign involved. Yet I would say, as one who has listened to Trump’s speeches throughout the campaign, when I look at it in these final days, the campaign, the work, is what is wondrous, even to the now old campaigner himself.

Aristotle also indicates that magnificence particularly involves spending on things concerning the gods of the city, and that leads me to a final point. Political philosophers make much of “political religion.” Political religion is the use of poetry or rhetoric to bind the sentiments of the citizens to the regime. Far from demagogic, Trump’s rhetoric of political religion is well suited to the national conservatism he professes. A sentiment of affection for the country, for each other, for our history as Americans, is the condition for national progress. Only through this sentiment can a perception of what it means to be a citizen again emerge. There may be only a bare majority of us who can still feel that sentiment, but we will all be mobilized to the furthest extent on Tuesday, thanks to Donald Trump.

A very special wonder of the Trump candidacy has been the political thinking it inspired in many of us. That will remain, and continue, no matter which one of two completely different worlds opens up upon us with Wednesday’s morning light. So no matter what, thank you Donald Trump. Magnificent!

About Robert C. Jeffrey

Robert Jeffrey is Professor of Government at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Dallas in Politics and Literature back in the old days. He was raised a liberal Democrat, but converted to Catholicism and conservatism at Stanford University in 1970. He worked for the Reagan Administration with Claremont colleagues in the late 80's, where he met his wife, Christina, and afterwards moved South where he has lived happily ever after. His greatest deed was helping to raise and teach his daughter, Marjorie.

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5 responses to “The Magnificent Mr. Trump”

  1. I have found Trump’s campaign and the multitudes he inspired simultaneously uplifting and poignant. People really want to save America as a sovereign polity. We will know how many Wednesday morning, and regardless of whether we go the route of restoration or dissolution, those who thought the United States worth keeping will owe Trump a huge debt of gratitude. Yes, our debt includes the political thought he inspired as well as the vast sums he spent.

  2. Watching the Trump campaign has been the best of times, and the worst of times. The best because it’s been inspiring to see the true American spirit is not dead after all. The Monolith completely control the media, the entertainment industry, both political parties, and the conservative as well as progressive movements. And in spite of all their crooked rigging and dishonesty, at the very, very least they’re going to know they were in a hell of a fight. If the Monolith did not have complete control of the movie making business, the tale of Trump and the American people in 2016 would be an incredible story.

    And the worst because Trump has also done us the painful but necessary service of exposing just how deeply the rot goes in this country. .Many people we once thought were on “our side” have thrown their support behind Clinton and her vision of a globalist, multicultural, elite run world. But it’s been a privilege to have been involved in such an important struggle in my own small way.

  3. I agree we owe a debt of gratitude to Trump. Beyond the money and effort he put into the race, he will continue to pay for it long after the election. There is the damage to his TV career, the Miss Universe pageant, his sponsorship of PGA tournaments, his resort business, etc. All have been materially harmed by his candidacy, and are unlikely to recover. He is and is likely to remain a pariah among his prior social circle. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that no presidential candidate in history has sacrificed more to run for president.

    • But, but, “He didn’t sacrifice anything….”

  4. Trump has run a classic and disciplined campaign.

    Classic: stated positions unequivocally and unapologetically, established the issues affecting the electorate, and attacked the corrupt establishment. No wishy-washy NEWSPEAK. He left all others in the dust. Right out of Campaigning 101


    While many thought he was stepping on his message, whatever. He was actually hammering and owning his negatives which cements the base. He was never going to get any lower than he did. Nowhere to go but up, at the right time however. Hillary has no message/platform other than #NeverTrump. Losing message. As you’ve seen, Trump got on message (which he’s been talking about for over a year), attacked Obamacare and has the wind at his back. Since Hillary never owned her negatives, she has nowhere to go but down.

    This is one for school books. Or another “Art of the Campaign?”