Despite his numerable failings, Donald Trump has two virtues, says Sean Walsh: first, his ability to offend those who really ought to be offended, and, second, his ability to consistently differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton at every turn.
“There’s so much at stake here, this has nothing to do with politics…in the moral moment, there is no neutral. In a moral moment there are no bystanders. You are either complicit in the evil – you are either contributing to the evil- or you are fighting against it.”
Churchill on Hitler in 1939? Nope. Barack Obama on Putin’s annexation of Crimea? Hardly. Ken Livingstone on Thatcher’s abolition of the GLC? Close but don’t light the cigar.
No, none of the above but step forward New Jersey Democrat Senator Cory Booker (no I hadn’t either) and his warning of the “end of days” consequences following the nomination of Brent Kavanaugh to fill the imminent vacancy on the US Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is a jurist of impeccable qualifications. For the deranged leftists that now comprise the mainstream Democratic Congressional caucus he has two major failings however. First of all, he’s unlikely to read into the founding documents the usual left wing wish list. His appointment might even -heaven forfend- eventually result in the court looking again its (apparently sacramental) decisions to assert the constitutionality of killing the unborn. Secondly -and more importantly- he’s a Trump nominee, and as with all things Trumpian the usual rhythms of discourse have been replaced by an extravagant and unwarranted stridency. (Lest you’re tempted to allege a double standard “killing the unborn” is about as morally neutral as I’m prepared to go).
You don’t have to be a deranged leftist to hate Trump. It’s more an end state that a precondition. On the day after his “shock” election (not shocking to those of us who were sceptical of the fake news campaign coverage -see what I did there?) I mentioned to a friend of mine – at this point a run of the mill social democrat, a Guardian reader but deep down a good person- that I had been worried that a serial sex pest was heading for the White House, but that luckily his wife had lost. The reaction was not pretty. This previously sensible, educated lady was recently spotted putting up a Sadiq Khan poster. That’s the sort of existential condition that you can be led to by “Trump Derangement Syndrome”.
The only qualifications to be President of the United States are that you are a US citizen, over 40 years of age and that you have been elected according to the mechanisms of the electoral college. The US is not an undiluted democracy, it is a representative republic. Hillary Clinton forgot that last bit. Talk about whether the character of a particular incumbent is “fit for the office” of President is no more than an attempt to blow hot air into the settled constitutional dispensation. In the early Christian church there was a schism which was historically driven but was ideological in content: could a bad priest, one in a state of “mortal sin” administer the sacraments? St Augustine argued that being in such a state was no impediment to being an instrument of grace, that the sacraments came from God. What’s that you say? “Yes, but Trump is not a priest”? Well exactly. The character of a US President, in itself, has no bearing on his ability to put his office to the effect of good works. God occasionally uses bad people to do good things, he has a sense of humour like that. Sen Booker, for all his portentous talk of “evil” has perhaps never heard of St Paul.
Except of course that his character is significant in this sense: that in reacting to him as they do his political opponents have bent themselves out of shape and distorted their policy positions in a way that probably makes them unelectable- certainly unelectable on the issues. This is what happens when anger (which is a good when appropriately calibrated) slips into wrath (a distortion of the soul which is intrinsically sinful). Hatred is always a form of moral disorder, no matter what its object is. So, Democrats will go into elections in November opposing tax cuts, supporting untrammelled immigration, and opposing the cutting of regulation. Simply and only because these are things that Trump has done. How do they think that’s going to work out for them? Such are the dangers of groupthink. And because their hatred has supplanted their reason his opponents have even used the word “treasonous” to describe his absolutely understandable scepticism about the pronouncements of his intelligence agencies – the same agencies that spied on his campaign in an attempt to elect his opponent. Personally, I would have thought that such scepticism was in any case quite a healthy thing. Pity George W. Bush didn’t display some back in 2003, some might argue.
It is his character, too, that has helped to uproot the complacencies of the “international order” according to which there were strict protocols about what could and could not be said. Those “rules of engagement” were in fact fictions, leading to treaties that were never even adhered to even in spirit, and offering -in the case of Iran at least- a codification of an appeasement strategy that would one day have blown up in the face of the world – possibly literally. Trump’s brashness conjoined with his beltway-outsider status have enabled him not simply to rewrite those rules but to extirpate them in entirety. The reaction to all this by the likes of our milquetoast rent-a-quote former Ambassador to the US Christopher Meyer has been exquisite to watch.
It’s not all good: Trump is a strange sort of conservative, with no sense of history and with a disengagement from high culture. I doubt he reads much. But there are two things that can’t be taken away from him: his ability to offend those who really ought to be offended, and his ability always and everywhere not to be Hillary Clinton.
As I say, not all good. But good enough.