Tags: Donald Trump | populism

Donald Trump's Continuing Fascination

president trump giving a speech in front of a painting of president teddy roosevelt
President Donald Trump has much in common, personality-wise, with President Teddy Roosevelt. (aP)

By Friday, 04 December 2020 09:19 AM Current | Bio | Archive

A dozen years ago, when the Web still was young and social media but a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg's eye, The Washington Post tapped me for a real time online Q&A with its readers. They recruited me as one of the leaders of, and an ad hoc spokesman for, the Tea Party.

Based on the hostile and clueless tenor of the questions directed at me from my audience I felt, I imagined, like Klaatu (played by Michael Renee) confronting a frightened mob upon landing his flying saucer on the national mall in The Day The Earth Stood Still. The heroine (played by Patricia Neal), at the climax, told the robot Gort not to destroy the Earth.

"Klaatu barada nikto!"

Close call ...

Sometimes I still feel that way.

The Washington Post's editor Fred Hiatt recently flagged a column by their esteemed Eugene Robinson. Hyatt observed that it stood on its head what Gene calls the "numbingly comprehensive sociological and anthropological examination" of the Trump voter that followed the 2016 election. ... Who are they and what drove them to vote in such huge numbers, even during a pandemic?"

Robinson's column begins. "What makes them tick? Is it culture? Tribalism? Race? How did they come to their worldview, and why do they cling to it so passionately? What do they mean for the future of American democracy? I'm talking about the opaque and inscrutable Joe Biden voter, of course."

Pshaw! The voters, both of the Democratic Party and the general electorate, are just looking for a mildish form of social democracy, such as we find in the world's happiest countries like Sweden and Denmark.

Social democracy (antithetical to democratic socialism) means pure free market capitalism coupled with universal social insurance for things like health care and education. Vermont Capitalist League director Betsy Dorminey recently wrote it up as Vermont style 'crunchy conservatism' is what the country craves. She called it "capitalism with a heart."

Dorminey extolled Vermont's Republican governor, Phil Scott, as a great example of how to get it right. And for those who have been misled by those who libel the Nordics as socialist, that's just not so! As public intellectual Marian Tupy wrote in the Atlantic several years ago, those social democracies are more capitalist than us.

That analysis does not however throw much light on the amazing, sustained, popularity of Donald J. Trump. Trump drew the most votes ever received by a Republican presidential candidate and has, per AP as of the 25th of November, 74,113,538 votes. Many from passionate admirers.

I contend that Donald Trump is widely admired for, rather than despite, his brutal qualities. Before my Trump-devoted readers rise up against me, tar and feathers at the ready, this is not a slur. And we've seen it before.

TR, too, was a populist, a nationalist and a renegade. (Also, a Progressive.) President Donald Trump in some ways resembles President Teddy Roosevelt, last spotted on Mount Rushmore. After his tenure as president Teddy split with the GOP to create the Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party. Teddy thereby stole the election from William Howard Taft, his successor and estranged former protégé. Teddy unrepentantly fomented the election of America's worst president ever, before or since, Woodrow Wilson. "Stop the steal," anyone?

One of the whitewashed facts about Teddy Roosevelt was his brutality. He forged his political persona (if not, in reality, identity) as a "Rough Rider," emerging from obscurity as the American commander of the Battle of San Juan Hill and went on to brutally conquer and occupy the Philippines.

And Teddy vaunted his prowess as a big game hunter who, together with his son Kermit, shot and killed over 500 elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinos and other animals on a single African safari. Teddy told his psychologist, G. Stanley Hall, in a private 1899 chat, that "Over-sentimentality, over-softness, in fact washiness and mushiness are the great dangers of this age and of this people. Unless we keep the barbarian virtues, gaining the civilized ones will be of little avail."

Our era has abandoned heroes. Rather than embracing villains we have embraced the antihero. As Dr. H. Eric Bender wrote in Psychology Today, "Antiheroes liberate us. They reject societal constraints and expectations imposed upon us. Antiheroes give our grievances a voice. They make us feel like something right is being done, even if it is legally wrong. Antiheroes do things we're afraid to do. They are who they are and they do as they want — without apology."

So, let's look at the 2020 election as a fight between America's superego, Joe Biden, and America's id, Donald Trump. America's superego narrowly prevailed. Still, in our prevailing culture of anti-heroism, Donald J. Trump, political anti-hero, lives on, fascinating the teeming masses.

To which I can but say:

Klaatu barada nikto.

Ralph Benko, co-author of "The Capitalist Manifesto" and chairman and co-founder of "The Capitalist League," is the founder of The Prosperity Caucus and is an original Kemp-era member of the Supply Side revolution that propelled the Dow from 814 to its current heights and world GDP from $11T to $88T. He served as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House, has worked closely with the Congress and two cabinet agencies, and has published over a million words on politics and policy in the mainstream media, as a distinguished professional blogger, and as the author of the internationally award-winning cult classic book "The Websters' Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World." He has served as senior adviser, economics, to APIA as an advocate of the gold standard, senior counselor to the Chamber of Digital Commerce and serves as co-founder of and senior counselor to Frax.finance, a stablecoin venture. Read Ralph Benko's reports — More Here.

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President Donald Trump in some ways resembles President Teddy Roosevelt, last spotted on Mount Rushmore.
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2020-19-04
Friday, 04 December 2020 09:19 AM
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