Is Trump Done, and Does It Matter?

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Philip Bump of the Washington Post half-gloatingly and half-hopefully jumps aboard a recent meme to the effect that Donald Trump, having perhaps had a Jeb Bush-like Please clap moment, is beginning a fade into personal irrelevancy. Having said that, Bump is quick to note that the GOP is "saturated with Trumpism -- his preferences, his tactics, his style."

Those are both intriguing statements, but today's news consumer has to evaluate each with the biases of the source in mind. As a pro-capitalist, I can sympathize with a lefty media type's desire to see Trump disappear from the political scene, but for very different reasons. Is he really, finally, going to go away?

And I can also see good reason to wonder if it will matter much. How badly off-track has Trump really taken the GOP? That's a hard question for a different reason: Lefties oppose anything that deprives the Democrats of power, especially capitalism. I'm concerned that the GOP is no longer a friend to capitalism; Bump doesn't care about that so much as whether it can cause Democrats to lose elections.

Depriving the Democrats of power and making America freer are not necessarily corollaries, unfortunately, and the Democrats are cruisin' for a bruisin'.

Put another way: Can a lefty actually see the difference between capitalism (which the GOP would ideally support) and Trump's positions (which are much more like those of a Democrat from a little after FDR)? And even if so, would a leftist be above smearing the one by means of the other, or at least by association with Trump's abrasive, anti-intellectual persona?

For a leftist to claim, as Bump does, that "Trumpism" is alive and well in the GOP could mean almost anything including that the GOP is more capitalist -- which Bump doesn't seem to believe and which isn't true at all.

Trump's appeal to a certain kind of voter reminds me a lot of my younger days, when I had trouble getting a date, and wondered why plenty of grade-A jerks had zero problems in that department. A friend helped me understand by explaining that lots of women want a secure, independent man, and confuse certain aspects of jerky behavior with those good qualities. Some women outgrow that problem, and some don't.

The GOP has been spineless since before the time of Ayn Rand, who tried mightily to help it realize that morality -- actual, reason-based morality -- was on the side of capitalism, and that the moral high ground was there for the taking. The downside of this -- at least to someone not accustomed to going against the grain -- is that to claim said moral high ground requires standing up for reason, self-interest, and freedom.

Specifically, it means contesting the unfounded claims of religionists to be America's moral voice, and to challenge the notion that we are our brothers' keepers, that we are obligated to serve others.

This is emphatically not the same thing as being a mindless jerk. America is at a crossroads, and most Americans know on some level that our freedom and continued prosperity are in serious trouble. There is a desire for change that sometimes borders on blind rebellion, and there is a desire for someone to champion the cause of freedom. I think that many (but certainly not all) Trump voters were looking for such a champion.

To the degree that Trump is done in the eyes of these voters, it will be from time helping them see that Trump is not and never was such a champion. At best, Trump's "style" permeating the GOP might mean that more of its politicians, including its better ones, have learned that standing up to the left is hardly political suicide. At worst, it can mean that too many GOP voters are, like inexperienced teen-aged girls, unable to tell the difference between a jerk and someone with a spine.

As for some of Trump's preferences -- e.g., xenophobia, protectionism, and nationalism -- those will be a litmus test: if Trump's successor is the jerk we don't need, he will pander to those. If not, he will at least attempt to begin pushing back -- or better, promoting liberty as the moral and practical alternative.

-- CAV

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