Like many couples, Suzanne and I had political differences when we married. While I never thought of Obama as an agent for positive political change, Suzanne determined to vote for him in the hope that our country might soon turn a corner on the matter of race by electing a man with black heritage. Once he was elected, however, I chose to cling alongside her to that one minor hope—only to see it dashed by the divisiveness of the Obama Administration.
As the Obama mask slipped, however, the clarity drove us closer together politically and made us reassess the foundations of the Republican Party that, it seemed, had abandoned us both.
We discovered that we did not have much disagreement over McCain and Romney. Both were statists in many ways and slavish to the Davos status quo. Even if they had been elected, one could expect from them many of the same policies Bush advocated and advanced, and these policies have led to our diminished patriotic spiritedness, and a weakened military.
So while we may have diverged on the importance of Obama—at least initially—we agreed that what we both wanted was a United States still rooted in the American Founding and in the natural equality of all human beings. Further, we wanted a firm acknowledgment that the equal status of all Americans as citizens was the source of their sovereignty.
So as we awakened on Inauguration Day 2017, we were both quite happy—even giddy—to turn the corner on the fecklessness of the last eight years. It was a stark reminder too, that we have much to dig out from underneath after so many years of poor management, poor political choices, oligarchic trends, and the soft despotism of an ever growing administrative state.
Moreover the Trumps looked like adults returning us to a certain kind of manner and style. They seemed to have ushered in a sense of class in demeanor and dress that we have not seen in decades. During the inaugural, Trump looked like he meant business. As he spoke, it became clear he would not say things just to please unnamed elites in government or in the press who would like him to conform to their understanding of how things ought to be. In the battle between them and ordinary Americans, he throws in with the latter, even though there seems to be nothing ordinary (apart, perhaps, from a crude sense of humor) about him.
In that, Trump has more in common with Ulysses S. Grant than any president since the 19th century.
Like Grant, Trump is not an ideologue. He seems to have an innate sense that ideas matter, and that America’s idea is worthy of defense. But he is a doer. He acts. He defends himself, but he is much less self-referential in his speeches than was Obama; a man who seemed to thrive on surpassing all reasonable expectations about the number of “I”s a president could use in any given speech. Grant, like Trump, is a man who is little understood. Most scholars find it difficult to reconcile the various disparities in Grant’s thought and career.
Like Trump, Grant was also at one time a Democrat. But the changes in the country and in the Democratic Party’s failure to offer a platform to save the Union pushed Grant into the arms of the Republican Party and closer to Lincoln, whom Grant admired deeply. He was a fastidious believer in the equality of all human beings. This was the prime motivating factor for Grant in acting to move the country toward the political and social equality of the races.
Grant believed in equal justice for all Americans. In a famous exchange with Otto von Bismark after Grant retired from public service, Bismark observed that Grant had to fight to save the Union. Grant countered: “Not only save the Union, but destroy slavery.” This is the kind of resolve we saw in Trump on January 20: He is the same man as president as he was in his campaign. How refreshing.
In his inaugural speech, Trump flayed over 100 years of progressive thought by remembering the forgotten man. This was the real forgotten man, not the convenient creation served up by FDR to justify his welfare state and paper over his European style progressivism in American fashions. FDR’s forgotten man was degraded not only by the patronizing control of many of FDR’s policies, but even more by the flagrant violation of his consent that those policies assured. The forgotten of the 1930s were expected to pay for the largess of their betters as Amity Shlaes aptly points out. Progressives believe in taking power from the people, but Trump believes in its return: “[T]oday we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another,” said Trump, “or from one party to another—but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.”
Trump reiterated in a few short paragraphs that the business of America is business, meaning, that the government should provide a free space to live and work without faceless unelected bureaucrats imposing s soft despotism on its citizenry. This cold heart of the administrative state has had the effect of driving business from our shores through regulation, and it has allowed crime and the education politburo to infect our cities.
In response, Trump sounded the return to an ancient faith of respect for the enlightened consent of the people: “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.” Trump speaks to all Americans in a language that seeks understanding from citizens rather than accolades from the literati. He does this because he respects public opinion and seeks to address it where it actually is. He does not criticize them or try to elevate himself above them with words they may regard as polished but meaningless. America saw enough of that in the the constant barrage of sermons emanating from the Obama White House and the Democrat Party under him. Trump actually likes Americans as they are, while Obama and the Democrat Party have made it abundantly clear (using words like “deplorable” to describe us) that they do not. Instead, they think Americans are only “potentially” worthy of admiration and respect—worthy only by becoming more like progressives in our habits and opinions. Suzanne and I concluded more than a year ago that we could not vote for someone who despises us or our country, and why should we?
Trump believes in this country, and he spoke to our love of it when he said,
We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
We have always believed there was something special about this country in spite of its blemishes and faults. The difference between this country and others is the standard by which we judge governments and personal action. The natural rights of mankind are unchangeable and no government that does not seek to secure them for its people is legitimate or worthy of its people’s respect. This idea, which Trump wholeheartedly endorses, is the antithesis of despotism. He invoked liberty and equality when he uttered these now famous words: “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” In this sentence, he reflected on the goodness that is the American Idea. It is not patriotism per se that Trump is saying is good, it is the fact that America is rooted in good that makes American patriotism good. Believing in America’s goodness and in its ideas as expressed in our Declaration of Independence, eradicates prejudice. Being a good American makes you a better person.
As we watched the inaugural and marveled at his speech, we were struck by his rejection of the progressive ideals that so infect both parties. Trump claimed that America should pursue its interests. For too long, we have watched America pursue the interests of other nations while forgoing our own. This policy has made a hash of our budgets and our military. Circumspection now is the standard, not a reflexive militarily interventionism along with a one sided sellout of our economy in the name of supposed free markets, which are really not free.
Donald Trump helped us both to rediscover the almost forgotten, but forever worthy and admirable, Republican party after Lincoln and before Hoover. After Lincoln we had Grant, and in between Grant and Reagan, we had McKinley and Coolidge—these men were anti-progressive and adapted the American Idea to their times.
Trump is no different. Trump is a clarifier and a uniter—so much so that he politically united our family.
When we met, Suzanne informed me that her family was related to Ulysses S. Grant. She thought I was joking when I proposed immediately, but I was quite serious. Now she knows why.