The Political is not Sacred
Put not your trust in princes: In the children of men, in whom there is no salvation. — Ps. 145:3-4 (in the Catholic Douay-Rheims)
It’s been a while since I had time to write, and weekends may be the only time I can realistically do so given my two jobs. However I do think it is time for a new comment on the Trump campaign.
Some might be thinking that the Psalm I quoted above is directed against Trump and his supporters. In a way it is (I’ll get to that at the end), but it is actually more directed towards his detractors. Does this seem puzzling to you? Let me explain.
Trump’s detractors speak about his campaign as if it is the harbinger of America’s destruction. They bemoan the desecration of what appears to be for them a semi-sacred arena. Trump has defiled the holy temple of politics! He’s an act, a sideshow, a clown! He’s rude and crude and vulgar! He has no policies, he isn’t serious! And so on.
These sort of comments would seem to imply the opposite as well: that what is needed, and perhaps what exists in another preferred candidate, is a more reverent and respectful approach to politics. Whomever that may be, well, that’s the guy we want to support. Someone who has not only composed but also memorized detailed policy proposals, an encyclopedic knowledge of current global affairs, a wonk’s wonk, and a perfect gentleman too.
America has had a mild-mannered professorial president for seven years. I say this as a small-time professor myself: I don’t want another one running this nation. I am not a crude “anti-intellectualist”, but the place of the intellectual is not in the seat of power or the vanguard of the army. It is in the role of adviser, confidant, consigliere, etc. When intellectuals try to rule, one of three things happens. This. This. Or this. Impractical foolishness, wimpyness, or genocidal megalomania respectively. As William F. Buckley put it, “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.” Here here.
More importantly, I look to no politician as a savior. The inverse of this is that I look to no politician as the ultimate doom of the nation or of humanity. Jimmy Carter came and went. Obama came and is on his way out. Hillary may still become president. We lived, we live now, we will live even then. Of course some leaders are worse than others. Some leaders may even seek to deprive us of our most basic liberties. But no leader is going to make everything better. At this point in our history, the best politician we could elect could only offer a slower rate of social and moral decay than his rivals. Regeneration is not something I see in the works, anymore than I see the possibility for an 80 year-old man nearing the end of his life to suddenly revert to the age of 18.
So I am not saying the coming election is unimportant, nor do I wish to be totally fatalistic here. But all things come to an end. I am not inclined to support Trump because I believe that he is really going to “make America great again.” What he might do, though, is see to it that America is no longer despised throughout the world. I don’t know if I was the first to notice his Machiavellian qualities, but others have taken note as well. Trump is the bold man of virtu, who seizes fortuna, treats her roughly and is rewarded for his effort. Trump also understands that the most contemptible vice of all, at least in politics, is to be despised. Of course many people hate him, but this hate comes from a place of fear or contempt for what he represents – he is not despised as a coward or a weakling in the way that Obama or the typical American politician is. Those politicians still think that apologizing to the speech Nazis will make the speech Nazis like them. Nor is he despised in the way that America is on the world stage, as a provocateur and a hypocrite.
Trump’s nomination seems inevitable, and he is clearly superior to his nearest rivals: Bush, Carson, Cruz and Fiorina (looking at the latest polls). He would also be preferable to any Democratic candidate. He will not be the messiah that many of his supporters seem to laud him as, nor will he blow up the United States as many of his opponents think he might. He will not be a virtuous Christian ruler as many social conservatives would like, but I also do not believe he will do anything to impede the rights of Christians in private or in public (as all the Democrats most assuredly would). He understands the value of at least appearing to be religious (another Machiavellian lesson), and while some see this possible “pretending” as wicked, I choose to take a more optimistic view. Trump’s religiosity may well be an act, but by choosing that particular act, he binds his political mandate to his public support for persecuted Christians. Whether he cares in his heart about us or not is secondary to what he does, or what he doesn’t do.
Win or lose, it doesn’t matter much to me. If Hillary gets elected, we will all suffer. Best we adopt a worldview and a way of life that brings meaning to suffering, then. If Trump gets elected, the country won’t suffer quite as much, but there will still be plenty of suffering to go around. Best we adopt a worldview and a way of life that brings meaning to suffering in either case. There is no political messiah, we will not bring heaven down to Earth, we will not “make America great again”, none of it. So maybe I am a fatalist after all. In the meantime, Trump has made politics entertaining at least. And I am entertained.