Why I Have Given Up on Trumpism Revisited

Why I Have Given Up on Trumpism Revisited
A Trump supporter shows his MAGA hat during a Trump campaign-style rally in Wellington, Ohio, on June 26, 2021. (Stephen Zenner/AFP via Getty Images)
Roger Kimball

Presumably, the man in the White House can afford the very best publicists and political strategists.

Or maybe it’s just that he can afford the most expensive lieutenants, who aren’t necessarily the best.

I wonder about that because the Biden conglomerate has made “MAGA,” former President Donald Trump’s signature acronym and battle cry, the center of its campaign to remain in the rest home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Just a week or two back, at a Democratic National Committee reception, President Joe Biden told the assembled multitude that the “real problem” facing the country is “MAGA Republicans.”

Someone must have told him that anti-Trump expostulations play well to his base.

Time and again, he has lambasted “Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans” as representing an “extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
Sometimes, when he really wants to scare people, he wheels out the focus-group coinage “ultra-MAGA.”

This metamorphosis of a political acronym into a dark alchemical talisman of evil seems to me to be dangerously short-sighted in at least two ways.

For one thing, by harping endlessly on “MAGA this” and “Ultra-MAGA that,” Biden impresses the term even more firmly on the public consciousness.

“Repetitio,” the Latin grammars advise, “mater memoriae”: “repetition is the mother of memory.”

Even without Biden’s constant repetition, MAGA was the most well-known political mantra of our age.

His seeming obsession with it has kept it, and its author, Trump, front and center in the minds of many people who would be happy to forget the entire Trump phenomenon.

Biden won’t let them.

I understand why the media loves to hate Trump.

He’s good for ratings.

People who watch television apparently enjoy seeing Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, Keith Olbermann, and other “progressive” commentators climb into their Jeremiah costumes and wail against all things MAGA.

But all that criticism is absorbed as so much publicity for the Bad Orange Man.

They seem to have forgotten Cecily Cardew’s canny observation, in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” that “a man who is much talked about is always very attractive.”

But if the media’s lust for ratings overcomes or subordinates their revulsion at Trump, what about Biden’s general staff?

Don’t they understand the dangers of giving their primary opponent so much mental real estate in the electorate’s consciousness?

I don’t think they do.

Or, rather, maybe they do but they believe they can exploit the publicity by tainting it, making the celebrity it confers wholly negative.

They face two problems.

The first is the Cecily Cardew Conundrum. “Earnest Worthing” may have been painted as the most terrible reprobate by his brother Jack.

But that didn’t matter to Cecily or Gwendolen.

They thought him romantic.

Something like that is operating in Biden’s constant excoriation of all things MAGA.

Maybe MAGA is evil, but it sounds sort of exciting, doesn’t it?

And that question bring us to the second problem with Biden’s elevation of MAGA to the center of his campaign.

Biden says it’s the incarnation of all that’s wicked and retrograde, and “extremism” that threatens “the very foundations of the republic.”

The problem is that by making MAGA so prominent, Biden has piqued people’s curiosity.

“What is this unparalleled threat to life, liberty, and the American way?” people ask themselves.

It takes only a few clicks of a mouse to learn that, far from being an existential threat to the republic, MAGA is really just an unsystematic effort to bring about what its letters portend: Make America Great Again.

Their curiosity stirred, people begin to look back to the years of Trump’s administration.

They look at his judicial nominations and appointments: one and all, jurists of the stamp of Antonin Scalia, just as Trump promised.

They remember that MAGA meant we still had a Southern border and that, because of Trump’s policies, illegal immigration slowed to a trickle.

Compare the situation on the Southern border now, when millions upon millions of unsavory characters are pouring into the country.

Soon people begin playing the game of then and now.

Then, when Trump was trying to implement MAGA policies, the United States was energy independent. Indeed, we were a net exporter of energy.

Now, we have to beg Saudi Arabia and even Venezuela to pump more oil. When Trump left office, the average price of gasoline was $2.39 per gallon. Now, it’s approaching $4 and is poised to go higher.

Then, the economy was booming, wages were rising, especially at the lower end of the scale, and unemployment was the lowest it had been in decades. Minority unemployment was the lowest on record.

On the cultural front, MAGA meant federal buildings that would be beautiful, learning about the accomplishments and philosophy of the Founders of this country, and an attack on political correctness and the imperatives of “wokeness” in schools and colleges.

Now, it’s a round-the-clock celebration of sexual exoticism and the intimidation of traditional Christian perspectives by the FBI.

Then, the world’s dictators were quiescent. Putin didn’t invade Ukraine. Iran’s mullahs were muzzled. Rocket man in North Korea was chastened. Even China was less obviously belligerent.

Then, Trump’s Abraham Accords brought peace to the Middle East. There were tentative gestures of friendship between Israel and several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. Amazing.

In “The Nicomachean Ethics,” Aristotle points out that happiness isn’t a possible goal of our activity.

By nature, it is rather the natural result of “energeia,” the active exercise of our faculties in accordance with virtue.

So it is with MAGA.

It isn’t so much the result of an abstract policy as it is the natural coefficient of various pragmatic initiatives.

Fairly early in the Trump administration, I noted that I had given up on Trumpism.

What is popularly understood by “Trumpism,” I suggested, doesn’t really exist.

Or, rather, it does exist, “but only in the way a unicorn exists: in the dashing narratives of fabulists.”

“Trumpism,” I noted, is “an imaginary, a mythical beast.”

“Like the unicorn, it may be recognized from descriptions of its peculiar characteristics—for example, any self-respecting unicorn, as its name implies, has but one horn—and its exploits. But, again, like the unicorn, it has only notional existence.”

There are leaders who promulgate -isms or “doctrines.”

The so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, for example, articulated a Soviet policy of tenacity when it came to conquered territory: No territory once brought under the Soviet sphere was to be allowed to leave the Soviet sphere.

But when it comes to Trump, pragmatism overwhelms ideology.

Which is why I believe that there’s no such thing as “Trumpism.”

Its putative author is constitutionally averse to the spirit that would give substance to the -ism.

Trump eventually parted ways with his steely chief of staff John Kelly. But during some fraught months in late 2017, Kelly did yeoman’s service for his boss.

Kelly was onto something essential about Trump when, in a powerful news conference in October 2017, he observed that Trump’s agenda was “what’s good for America.”

That is to say, Trump had no “agenda” as that term is most often used, i.e., no set of hidden or ulterior motives for his policies.

He simply, Kelly stressed, wanted to pursue initiatives that are good for the country: policies that will “make America great again.”

That’s the problem with Biden’s strategy of demonizing MAGA.

People look around at the mess Biden has made of the economy, foreign affairs, the border, race relations, and basic social comity.

Then they recall how things were during Trump’s tenure.

I suspect that New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is correct.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like 2016 again.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “Where Next? Western Civilization at the Crossroads.”
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