Trump and the American People
In all of the endless reactionary criticism and condemnation directed against Donald Trump that has swamped the media since his nomination and election, something that caught my attention was an article fairly early on in a major newspaper in which the writer discussed what he identified as the greatest deception underlying Trump’s political campaign. What he focused on is how Trump managed to present himself as being quite different from many of his political opponents and from many members of the political class, not just in terms of where he stood on issues, but also in terms of what he brought to the table. He also zeroed in on how he presented himself as someone who somehow had more in common with “the people” and was more in touch with “middle America.”
The deception in this, according to the author of the article (as best as I can recall the details), lay in a number of factors. It lay in Trump’s having had a very privileged upbringing, as well as a lot of help from his father to get his business empire started. It lay in his having taken advantage of all sorts of shady connections, tax and regulatory loopholes, bankruptcy laws, and a sort of personality cult to build that empire up and sustain it. It lay in his having always been fabulously wealthy and having long moved in the same sorts of circles as others of the elite he disparaged. And it lay in his having always enjoyed a position and lifestyle that were, if anything, more removed from that of the average American than almost anyone else running for office. The truth of the matter (which the author of the article and many of its readers by all accounts quite genuinely failed to see), is that there was indeed a significant difference between Trump and many of his opponents and other major figures in Washington.
For all of his worldliness and faults, he quite stood out as a candidate and as a politician for his ability to chart an independent course from many of the downward-trending ways of the world and from many of those who most forcefully espoused those ways. And he furthermore demonstrated quite a remarkable ability to weather the sort of backlash that would inevitably follow upon doing so. In fact, the keynote of Trump’s whole candidacy, presidency and ongoing role in American politics could well be said to be independence. And this should quite explicitly be understood as encompassing a high degree of relative independence from the collectivist groupthink behind much of what was trending downwards in politics and society.
For a politician to have and exercise this sort of an ability and background puts him closer to the people, even if his level of ability and background in that regard might make him stand out as fairly unique. This is because neither their uniqueness nor their variable aptitudes naturally set people apart, just like their variable wealth, variable outer circumstances, variable levels of success in life, and variable levels of ambition and initiative do not naturally do so. Rather, what naturally sets people apart is a difference in orientation and a difference in how they broadly relate to others and come to perceive and assess things. Now, there are some individuals in government who have significantly less in common with the majority of the people in in large part because they are far from well-meaning. And there are many well-meaning but pusillanimous individuals who go into high office who quite quickly end up having less in common with the people as well, in virtue of being swept up in and conditioned by a system, a program and a bureaucratic machinery that is very differently oriented than the natural inclinations of the majority of the populace.(1)
The truth is that it is very difficult to go into government these days and not begin to relate to the populace, to the role and place of the state, and to a variety of pressing issues and how to address them in considerably different ways than you otherwise would. There is an aloofness, a collective self-righteousness, an out-of-touchness, and a debilitation that has gripped our governing institutions very tightly. And the truth is also that this cannot but be indicative of a relative failure on the part of the people and their representatives to effectively challenge complacency and iniquity either within or without. If we lived in an enlightened society the situation in this regard might be quite different, but with the world as it currently is, it appears fair to say that a high degree of independence (and the inner resources to back up such independence) is altogether requisite to entering into high office without estranging yourself to some significant extent from those you represent. It is also altogether requisite to operating as a force for good rather than as part of a problem. And the connection between the two is important to stress.
This is a crucial point to make, because there is such a concerted effort these days to present things in an almost diametrically opposite light. There is a powerful narrative along the lines that the most entrenched and habitual government is in fact a government that is closest to the people, and that politicians who exhibit little or no independence are in fact the least authoritarian, regardless of how radical, elitist, dismissive of precedent, contemptuous of opposition, or submissive to government overreach they might prove themselves to be. This is a narrative that is both reflective of and conducive to a society edging dangerously towards socialism and tyranny. Understanding this is quite useful for the sake of understanding much about the dynamics between good and evil on the political stage today. It is hardly the absence of a despot that keeps American government from being like China’s. It is rather the presence of meaningfully independent politicians who bring sufficient conviction, resolve and inner resources to maintain said independence in the face of all that will invariably assail it and seek to undermine it.(2) This has become clearer in the last few years than ever before.
Independence, resilience and a preparedness to treat in clear-cut terms of black and white that which deserves to be so treated are crucial keys to behaving in a manner that is true to your own innate inclinations. And they are crucial keys as well to occupying a position of leadership in a manner that is adequately representative of and in touch with the people. The fact that this has come to be as widely ignored or rejected as it has is reflective of a broader tendency to widely ignore or reject some of the key facts about what the struggle between good and evil looks like on either a personal or a societal level. It is also reflective of a tendency to view almost all polarization as negative and threatening, as opposed to recognizing just how requisite the right kind of polarization can be to highlighting and isolating much that is insidious and destructive.
And so, there was indeed a major and consequential difference when it came to candidate Trump and what he brought to the table in the 2016 election. And this was especially significant given the magnitude of where things had gotten to on the political scene, the sort of times and cycles the nation and planet were going through, and where things were at in terms of all sorts of other developments that were playing themselves out. To have an individual in the highest office of the land fulfilling the duties of that office relatively independently from the influence of the downward-trending ways of the world and those who most forcefully espouse those trends stands in rather sharp contrast to much of what we have seen coming from that office in recent times. It also stands in rather sharp contrast to much of what we have seen in the leadership of many other countries. Although this difference has been missed, ignored or denied by many, things have been developing in America and beyond in very interesting ways in no small part in consequence of what Trump’s election and presidency represented in these sorts of terms.
Now, I do not at all mean to paint Trump as some sort of a Christ-like savior figure. Something I do mean to bring attention to, however, is how easily space can be found for God-directed developments and shifts to occur (whether in the field of politics or in any other field) when the chokehold of the downward-trending ways of the world and those who most forcefully espouse those ways is challenged in an effective and sustained manner. And I would also like to draw attention to how readily any individual can come to play a powerful role as a force for good and an instrument of the divine, when he is prepared and equipped to assert meaningful independence in the relevant sense of the word.
There are all sorts of broad shifts that have been occurring in the last few years, and it is important not to pin too much of all that has taken place on any single person. And yet, it does take key individuals occupying key positions who are able to hold some sort of a line, however imperfectly. Now, holding such a line is something which Trump has proven himself to be capable of doing remarkably well.(3) This should not lead us to look at him and all that he does through rose-colored glasses, nor to paint in a positive light aspects of his personality and policies which do not deserve to be so painted. But, at the same time, being inclined to assess individuals in light of the role they may play in the furthering of God’s purposes is often integral to seeing things in perspective. And given how concerted an effort has been made to bring us all not to see Trump in perspective, making an honest and well-grounded effort to do so is likely to play all the more powerfully into gaining greater perspective on a wide range of other things.
I do not mean to ignore or underplay the fact that certain of Trump’s shortcomings and certain of his initiatives and approaches have been troubling. There is a fair bit that was troubling in aspects of his rhetoric, his foreign policy, and numerous other areas, as well as in how erratic he can be. Some of his behaviour following the 2020 election has also been both appalling and troublingly detrimental in its repercussions. Furthermore, the fact that there was a lot less space for meaningful and nuanced opposition during his presidency given the vitriolic, deranged and polarizing form which so much of the opposition against him came to assume should probably be seen as a significant problem. It might, in fact, prove to be among the most harmful legacies to emerge from all of the railing against him. And that may well have been part of the strategy of at least certain among his opponents from the beginning.
Power does tend to corrupt, and it is always going to be problematic when significant numbers of people start looking increasingly to a particular individual as a political savior. Something that should, in any case, be abundantly clear is that the general situation in the country and the world would be a lot less open to breaking away from the stranglehold of the downward-trending ways of the world, if it were not for people like Trump who are capable of charting a powerfully independent course—and who bring surprising enterprise and staying power to the task—holding key positions in government. The fact that we are seeing a lot more of this in America today than we did a few years ago is deeply encouraging. And having powerfully contributed to this trend is perhaps Trump’s greatest legacy.
(1)It may be worth pointing out in this regard just how insidious a thing political correctness generally is, and how indicative it can be of an overbearing government that has gotten seriously out of control. Citizens are generally right to conclude that an ability to continue to speak, express thoughts and answer questions like a normal person is a very important and positive trait for a politician to demonstrate, although they would also be right to look for a high degree of diplomacy and tact to acompany such an ability.
(2)This is not to say that such politicians do not have a major concurrent responsibility to eschew despotic and authoritarian tendencies, nor that Trump was anywhere near a great example in that regard.
(3)He is also very good at holding a line against a corrupt political establishment. This is at most part of what I mean to refer to.