Trump is turning and turning in a widening gyre.
With eyes wide open, Mike Pence eagerly auditioned for the role as Donald Trump’s poodle. Now comfortably leashed, he deserves the degradations that he seems too sycophantic to recognize as such. He did Trump’s adolescent bidding with last Sunday’s pre-planned virtue pageant of scripted indignation — his flight from the predictable sight of players kneeling during the national anthem at a football game. No unblinkered observer can still cling to the hope that Pence has the inclination, never mind the capacity, to restrain, never mind educate, the man who elevated him to his current glory. Pence is a reminder that no one can have sustained transactions with Trump without becoming too soiled for subsequent scrubbing.
A man who interviewed for the position that Pence captured, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, is making amends for saying supportive things about Trump. In 2016, for example, he said he was “repulsed” by people trying to transform the Republican National Convention from a merely ratifying body into a deliberative body for the purpose of preventing what has come to pass. Until recently, Corker, an admirable man and talented legislator, has been, like many other people, prevented by his normality from fathoming Trump’s abnormality. Now Corker says what could have been said two years ago about Trump’s unfitness.
The axiom that “Hell is truth seen too late” is mistaken; damnation deservedly comes to those who tardily speak truth that has long been patent. Perhaps there shall be a bedraggled parade of repentant Republicans resembling those supine American Communists who, after Stalin imposed totalitarianism, spawned the gulag, engineered the Ukraine famine, launched the Great Terror, and orchestrated the show trials, were theatrically disillusioned by his collaboration with Hitler: You, sir, have gone too far.
Trump’s energy, unleavened by intellect and untethered to principle, serves only his sovereign instinct to pander to those who adore him as much as he does. Unshakably smitten, they are impervious to the Everest of evidence that he disdains them as a basket of gullibles. He understands that his unremitting coarseness satisfies their unpolitical agenda of smashing crockery, even though his self-indulgent floundering precludes fulfillment of the promises he flippantly made to assuage their sense of being disdained. He gives his gullibles not governance by tantrum, but tantrum as governance.
With Trump turning and turning in a widening gyre, his crusade to make America great again is increasingly dominated by people who explicitly repudiate America’s premises. The faux nationalists of the “alt-right” and their fellow travelers like Stephen Bannon, although fixated on protecting America from imported goods, have imported the blood-and-soil ethno-tribalism that stains the continental European Right. In “Answering the Alt-Right” in National Affairs quarterly, Ramon Lopez, a University of Chicago Ph.D. candidate in political philosophy, demonstrates how Trump’s election has brought back to the public stage ideas that a post-Lincoln America had slowly but determinedly expunged. They were rejected because they are incompatible with an open society that takes its bearing from the Declaration of Independence’s doctrine of natural rights.
The alt-right insists that real nationhood requires cultural homogeneity rooted in durable ethnic identities.
With their version of the identity politics practiced by progressives, alt-right theorists hold that the tribalism to which people are prone should not be transcended but celebrated. As Lopez explains, the alt-right sees society as inevitably “a zero-sum contest among fundamentally competing identity groups.” Hence the alt-right is explicitly an alternative to Lincoln’s affirmation of the Founders’ vision. They saw America as cohesive because of a shared creed. The alt-right must regard Lincoln as not merely mistaken but absurd in describing America as a creedal nation dedicated to a “proposition.” The alt-right insists that real nationhood requires cultural homogeneity rooted in durable ethnic identities. This is the alt-right’s alternative foundation for the nation Lincoln said was founded on the principle that all people are, by nature, equal.
Trump is, of course, innocent of this (or any other) systemic thinking. However, within the ambit of his vast, brutish carelessness are some people with sinister agendas and anti-constitutional impulses. Stephen Miller, Bannon’s White House residue and Trump’s enfant terrible, recently said that “in sending our [tax reform] proposal to the tax-writing committees, we will include instructions to ensure all low- and middle-income households are protected.” So, Congress will be instructed by Trump’s 32-year-old acolyte who also says the president’s national-security powers “will not be questioned.” We await the response of congressional Republicans, who did so little to stop Trump’s ascent and then so much to normalize him.