Those of us who like to believe that human beings are rational can sometimes have a hard time trying to explain what is going on in politics. It is still a puzzle to me how millions of patriotic Americans could have voted in 2008 for a man who for 20 years — TWENTY YEARS — was a follower of a preacher who poured out his hatred for America in the most gross gutter terms.
Today’s big puzzle is how so many otherwise rational people have become enamored of Donald Trump, projecting onto him virtues and principles that he clearly does not have, and ignoring gross defects that are all too blatant.
There was a time when someone who publicly mocked a handicapped man would have told us all we needed to know about his character, and his political fling would have been over. But that was before we became a society where common decency is optional.
Yet there are even a few people with strong conservative principles who have lined up with this man, whose history has demonstrated no principles at all, other than an ability to make self-serving deals, and who has shown what Thorstein Veblen once called “a versatility of convictions.”
With the Iowa caucuses coming up, it is easy to understand why Iowa governor Terry Branstad is slamming Trump’s chief rival, Senator Ted Cruz, who has opposed massive government subsidies to ethanol, which have dumped tons of taxpayer money on Iowa for growing corn. Iowa’s Senator Charles Grassley has come right out and said that is why he opposes Senator Cruz.
Former Senator Bob Dole, an establishment Republican if ever there was one, has joined the attacks on Ted Cruz, on grounds that Senator Cruz is disliked by other politicians.
When Senator Dole was active, he was liked by both Democrats and Republicans. He joined the long list of likable Republican candidates for president that the Republican establishment chose— and that the voters roundly rejected.
With both establishment Republicans and anti-establishment Republicans now taking sides with Donald Trump, it is hard to see what principle— if any— is behind his support.
Some may see Trump’s success in business as a sign that he can manage the economy. But the great economist David Ricardo, two centuries ago, pointed out that business success did not mean that someone understands economic issues facing a nation.
Trump boasts that he can make deals, among his many other boasts. But is a deal-maker what this country needs at this crucial time? Is not one of the biggest criticisms of today’s Congressional Republicans that they have made all too many deals with Democrats, betraying the principles on which they ran for office?
Bipartisan deals — so beloved by media pundits — have produced some of the great disasters in American history.
Contrary to the widespread view that the Great Depression of the 1930s was caused by the stock market crash of 1929, unemployment never reached double digits in any of the 12 months that followed the stock market crash in October, 1929.
Unemployment was 6.3 percent in June 1930 when a Democratic Congress and a Republican president made a bipartisan deal that produced the Smoot-Hawley tariffs. Within 6 months, unemployment hit double digits — and stayed in double digits throughout the entire decade of the 1930s.
You want deals? There was never a more politically successful deal than that which Neville Chamberlain made in Munich in 1938. He was hailed as a hero, not only by his own party but even by opposition parties, when he returned with a deal that Chamberlain said meant “peace for our time.” But, just one year later, the biggest, bloodiest and most ghastly war in history began.
If deal-making is your standard, didn’t Barack Obama just make a deal with Iran — one that may have bigger and worse consequences than Chamberlain’s deal?
What kind of deals would Donald Trump make? He has already praised the Supreme Court’s decision in “Kelo v. City of New London” which said that the government can seize private property to turn it over to another private party.
That kind of decision is good for an operator like Donald Trump. Doubtless other decisions that he would make as president would also be good for Donald Trump, even if for nobody else.
Former governor Sarah Palin is an intelligent person, contrary to how liberals have tried to portray her. So it seemed to me that, if anybody could explain why they were promoting the candidacy of Donald Trump, it would be Governor Palin.
But I listened in vain for any evidence or logic that would provide a reason to vote for Donald Trump for the office of President of the United States. There were lots of ringing assertions, just as in Trump’s own speeches, but no convincing facts or demonstrable reasons.
After all these months, no coherent plans have emerged from the rhetoric of “The Donald”— just sweeping boasts about all the things he says he will achieve. But boasts about the unknown future are hardly reassuring.
However puzzling the fervent support for Donald Trump may be today, given how little basis there is for it, such blind faith is not unique in history. Other dire or desperate times have produced other charismatic leaders to whom desperate people have turned, with hopes of deliverance.
Trump is certainly different from establishment Republicans, but it that enough?
Things were appalling in 1917 Russia, when people turned to Lenin to try to get them out of a disastrous war abroad and a bitter economic situation at home.
The fact that Lenin was quite different from the czar who had led the country into catastrophe might have seemed promising to some people. He was also different from the ineffective Kerensky government that failed in its brief months in office. But the totalitarian government that Lenin established proved to be even worse than its predecessors.
The idea that someone quite different from those who led a nation into disaster can be expected to produce an improvement is a non sequitur that has seduced many people in many places and times.
Germany’s Weimar Republic was nobody’s idea of an ideal government but Hitler’s reign that followed was far worse in every way. Many Americans denounced the rule of the Shah of Iran, but he was never a worldwide sponsor of terrorism, like those who replaced him.
A pattern that would appear in many other places and times was one in which people’s hopes became focused on someone new, charismatic and with ringing rhetoric— but utterly untested for the job of governing a nation.
That is where we are today.
The Republican field of candidates has had a number of people with experience governing at the state level, so that they have a track record that we could scrutinize. But the media obsession with Trump has left little time for weighing the pros and cons of those governors.
Some of them have already had to withdraw before we learned whether their qualifications were good, bad or indifferent. This may be a misfortune for their political careers but it can turn out to be a disaster for the country, if it leaves the field open only to people whom we must judge solely on the basis of their rhetoric.
There are still some governors left in the running, but they are not among the candidates who have the highest support in the polls, where most have received the support of fewer than 10 percent of the voters polled.
Former governor Jeb Bush looked like the front runner at the outset, especially with his impressive amount of money in his campaign chest. But it is not nearly as easy to buy an election as some commentators seemed to think, so perhaps we can take some solace from the discrediting of that notion.
We might also take some solace from the support received by Dr. Ben Carson, despite the media-fed notion that conservatives are racists. Even after his brief time leading the candidates in the polls has passed, Dr. Carson remains the candidate with the highest favorability rating among Republican voters who were polled.
But there are few other things to feel positive about as the primaries approach. Common sense by the voters may be the best we can hope for. And that can save the day, after all. In fact, they may be all that can save the day.