The Stark Truth About Trump

Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark acting in scene from movie All the King's Men.

Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark acting in scene from movie All the King’s Men.

In his Inaugural Address, President Trump intoned that “we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” He praised the “just and reasonable demands of a righteous people and a righteous public.”

The Trump rhetoric evoked a strain in all democratic politics, since such governments are indeed to follow in some sense the will of the people. But the populist conceit is that The People form a single and coherent whole whose mind is discernible, with the populist leader liable to claim clairvoyance as to what that mind holds. In this way can the ostensible servant become the master—and hence the destroyer of democracy. Should Americans fear a latent tyrannical impulse in their populist President? Is he indeed a populist?

Populism might be thought an anachronism in a modern, technological age. This would be a mistake: it is a tendency in all democratic politics, and current communications forms may indeed fuel it. Thoughtful observers have examined populism in our own times. One of them, Robert Penn Warren, wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in 1946 that explored the relationship between leader and led. Warren’s All the King’s Men, a vivid account of a Depression-era Governor in the American South, was modelled on the life and political career of Huey Long, the legendary and notorious Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator.

The novel traces the rise and fall of Warren’s version of Long, Willie Stark, a lowly town auditor (in a state that, while never identified, could well be assumed by the observant reader to be Louisiana). Willie exposes a petty corruption scheme involving the awarding of a school construction contract. A high bidder was selected and used substandard materials to cut costs; it also kicked back some of the proceeds to the town leaders. Willie and his schoolteacher wife Lucy, both fired for opposing the arrangement, are later vindicated when several children die while descending the faulty fire escape during a fire drill. Willie is valorized as “an honest man.” A populist politician is born.

Willie’s crusade begins as a ploddingly sincere exercise in reason and evidence. To his frustration, it attracts few followers. When shrewd and cynical advisers come to Willie’s aid, showing him that the people do not want facts but anger, emotion, and promises to drown “the fat boys,” the crusade picks up momentum. This servant of the people after two tries becomes Governor, and Stark learns with uncanny speed what is required to stay in office and “get things done.” Bribery, blackmail, and “busting” are the necessary tools of rule. And he wields these tools liberally. He pits popular power against institutional forms and legal procedures. When his brazen acts lead to his impeachment, his subordinates mobilize the masses in a demonstration of power outside the state capitol, and the legislators shrink from their plan to rein him in.

For Stark the law is, at best, a partial foundation for government, more a suggestion than a constraint. When Stark’s own auditor is caught in a scandal, the highly regarded state attorney general (whom Stark recruited to add legitimacy to his regime) resigns, citing his devotion to the rule of law. But what is that? Stark believes he knows. He tells the attorney general:

The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind. The best you can do is do something and then make up some law to fit and by the time the law gets on the books you would have done something different. Do you think half the things I’ve done were clear, distinct, and simple in the constitution of this state?

Not only do institutions and the rule of law bow to popular will, but so does logic. “The Boss” has not answered an argument so much as answered the one who makes it. Speaking of the fallacious argumentum ad hominem, Stark says: “It may be a fallacy but it is shore-God useful. If you use the right kind of argumentum you can always scare the hominem into a laundry bill he didn’t expect.”

All of this comports with Stark’s grand theory of life and politics. Thrice in the novel, when he needs to unearth some dirt on someone to be used as blackmail, he remarks that “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.” Willie knows where the bodies are buried. Everything in this crude Calvinism has a history and that history is low, dark, and dirty. The material for the leader is badness. If good is to be produced, it will be produced from badness. Thus the leader must use badness and be bad in order to produce good. Ends do justify means.[1]

Stark’s moral foil is Adam Stanton, an upright, highly regarded surgeon from an old, established family. Stark wants to recruit him to run the new state hospital competently, which will lend legitimacy to the Stark governorship. For Willie the hospital is critical: it is the cathedral of health and betterment of the people in the state, and also the grand act of patronage for the clientele. For Dr. Stanton it is an opportunity to do good; but he weighs this opportunity against the distaste he feels for this patron, and that distaste only increases over time.

Perceptively, Stanton asks the Governor how he knows what is good if badness is its source. Initially, Willie asserts that the good is whatever we say it is; we make it up as we go along. Then he links the good to what is necessary for society to exist: “Society is sure not ever going to commit suicide.” Finally, he fashions an argument against a Weberian ethics of conviction.[2]

As Willie colloquially puts it:

I’m not denying there’s got to be a notion of right to get business done, but by God, any particular notion at any particular time will sooner or later get to be just like a stopper put tight on a bottle of water and thrown in a hot stove the way we kids used to do at school to hear the bang. The steam that blows the bottle and scares the teacher to wet her drawers is just the human business that is going to get done, and it will blow anything you put it in if you seal it tight, but you put it in the right place and let it get out in a certain way and it will run a freight engine.

A firm idea of good, he suggests, is not only a distraction from the power that can be harnessed for human goals, but a positive danger to the functioning of society. Society needs not moral truth but effectual truth.[3] Hence principles and institutions can be impediments to political good. In the spirit of American pragmatism, Stark prides himself on knowing how to make the mare go.

His secret is that people are manipulable and he knows how to manipulate them. This is a deep point in the novel, as is made clear by its narrator, Jack Burden. Burden is a failed doctoral student in history who becomes a journalist and then a general fixer for Willie. An intelligent, nihilistic under-achiever, Burden has long been in love with Dr. Adam Stanton’s sister, Anne. He learns that Anne has become enwrapped in an affair with Stark, but he compartmentalizes and continues to do Stark’s dirty work. The Governor covertly gets Anne to convince her reluctant brother to be director of the new hospital. (And this is his undoing, for in an act of Southern honor, Stanton later assassinates Stark—a parallel with the real-life Huey Long, who was shot to death by a Baton Rouge doctor in 1935.)

Burden at one point wishes to be present when his surgeon friend performs a frontal lobotomy. How would a lobotomy change the patient? Burden asks. Stanton says he will have a different personality. Burden: “Like after you get converted and baptized?” Not quite, Stanton replies. “That doesn’t give you a different personality. When you get converted you still have the same personality. You merely exercise it in terms of a different set of values.” But, Stanton confirms, the patient will have a different personality. After the operation, this sullen person will be “perfectly happy.”

After the operation Burden says to his friend, “Well, you forgot to baptize him.” Baptize him? Stanton inquires. “Yeah,” answers the narrator, “for he is born again and not of woman.” For Burden, technology can work on material to alter what was the province of God. This basic materialism grounds the narrator’s theory of moral neutrality of history, according to which

process as process is neither morally good nor morally bad. We may judge results but not process. The morally bad agent may perform the deed which is good. . . . Maybe a man has to sell his soul to get the power to do good.

If the soul stands between the actor and good results, those results cannot be the improvement of the soul. What’s left is the improvement of the body. It is no accident that Governor Stark’s cardinal mission is the creation of a hospital. The narrator frequently draws the reader’s attention to dirt, the grime and dust under one’s feet and the gravel thrown up from wheels of one’s car. Juxtaposed are the highways made of concrete down which Willie’s Cadillac can speed; and the hospital, the temple of hygiene. Both highway and hospital are the testaments to Willie’s politics of Machiavellian redemption, making good out of bad, cleanliness out of dirt. The point is that populist leadership is not about following the righteous people but using the political arts to lead and manage them.

It is not merely that bad becomes good. It is also that everything becomes Willie’s: Anne, other women, his aides, the cops—all fall under his domination. In the end, the “Willie Stark Hospital” to be built for the poor people of the state is in fact Willie’s possession. Reneging on a hospital construction deal fashioned by one of the novel’s many sneaky politicos, Willie shouts at him, “it’s mine!” This is where the tyrannical impulse has its play. Guided by the will of the people, and knowing that only he is the interpreter of that will, Willie acknowledges no external limit to his power.

And exchange-based alliances are not enough. Stark demands loyalty, not mere interest. He prefers to break people, blackmail them, extort them, rather than buy them. Lovers of money are, after all, eminently buyable. Devotion is best, fear comes next; but mere contractual obligation is too frail a bond, as is shown by Willie’s double-crossing of the sneaky political operator on the building of the hospital.

In the end, the servant of the people becomes their master. But to what end? Is Willie a typical, garden-variety tyrant, a megalomaniac with outsized appetites for food, wealth, women, and political power? The 1949 film adaptation of All the King’s Men with Broderick Crawford playing Willie Stark certainly takes this tack. The good man is corrupted by power.

The political scientist Waller Newell may guide us to a better interpretation. Newell’s nuanced and unsettling Tyrants: A History of Power, Injustice, and Terror (2016) describes the classical tyrant characterized by boundless appetites, but in addition, describes the “reforming tyrant.” Many rulers, especially those of the modern era, are animated by a reforming impulse, accreting political power in order to pursue programs of modernization for the betterment of the people. Modern reforming tyrants deploy the powers of science and technology for the relief of man’s estate and build highly centralized states, penetrate civil society, and realize state goals. The reformer stands atop it all, directing and controlling the flow of events and power.

From the Tudors to the Ataturks and from the Castros to the Chavezes, the same spectacle is evident: extraordinary political ambition and cunning combined with reformist objects. In the case of Huey Long, biographer T. Harry Williams recounts Long’s exploitation of one of the central features of the modern welfare state: the number of state employees required provides a boon for patronage and thus political control of the whole apparatus.

Newell’s disturbing insight is that such rulers remind us of “the uncomfortable truth that the psychological traits of good rulers and tyrants often have a lot in common.”[4] Reforming tyrants are thus at once repellant and admirable. They do seem to have the interests of others at heart, but it is a heart big enough also to accommodate their own substantial needs. At some point the interests of The People and the ruler’s personal interest become indistinguishable. It becomes unclear whose predominate.

Willie Stark, like his real-life counterpart, stirs ambivalence. He is a modernizer who wants to lift the people from their ignorance and poverty; he wants to humble the old, smug elite. He enjoys the adulation of society’s outcasts. Yet his methods are crude, low, often unlawful, brazen, divisive, both corrupt and corrupting.

Modern democracies do contain elites—intellectual, scientific, media, corporate, and governmental—who hold power over the people. They are always vulnerable to the populist tirade. The have-nots are primed for that rare personality who can combine, on the one hand, a devotion to the people and systematic reformist critique of the establishment; and on the other, a shrewd and consuming ambition. Democracies may be strong enough to deal with the garden-variety tyrants. They are far more vulnerable to the tyrants overturning lawful order in the name of reform.

Republican government is constitutional government, and the constitution represents the people’s permanent will, informed by reason and interest, not momentary passion. Populism’s dedication to will—the people’s righteous will as interpreted by the clairvoyant leader—over and above liberty and law puts it in an awkward relationship to constitutionalism. Populism also relates awkwardly to liberalism and conservatism. This is why so much confusion reigns regarding the Trump presidency. He, too, stirs ambivalence. We fundamentally do not know what kind of leader he is, or what his effect on the American regime will be. But there is reason to think his presidency will fall short of the populist tyranny his most vehement critics fear.

Mr. Trump bears several of the hallmarks of the populist. His simple, vivid way of talking disregards political correctness, as has been widely noted. One suspects this is as much the product of inclination as calculation. He prefers big rallies to debates. Indeed, he is really more a campaigner than a governor.

A portrait of Andrew Jackson hangs on a wall in the Oval Office. His penchant for executive orders bespeaks a leader impatient with the forms and processes of legislative sausage-making.  He attacks the ethnicity or competence of judges who rule against him. In his criticisms of wide-open immigration, he articulates a nativism that is the hallmark of populists everywhere. On trade, his “America First” rhetoric speaks directly to the victims of globalization in flyover country, his electoral heartland.

Huey Long disdained Standard Oil of Louisiana and the Old Regulars, the Democratic Party machine in New Orleans, and let everybody know it. Willie Stark pilloried the “fat boys.” Never mind that Trump and those who voted for him are soaked in entertainment media culture, and that Trump himself came to politics by way of reality TV stardom. For there is nothing like seeing the tall shafts of wheat—the media and the Beltway know-it-alls—being chopped down.

Normally, shamelessness is a vice, but Trump’s insouciant disregard for the good opinion of the CNN and MSNBC guests is precisely the demeanor so many find appealing. And to give him his due, there is courage in his unwillingness to defer to the proper views of the opinion elites. He ably exploited the fact that they were discredited by their ignorance of and indifference to people in lower tax brackets than theirs. His clipped speech is the stuff of jokes but it is readily absorbed by the roughly 35 percent of Americans who constitute his base. To use the language of Charles Murray, Belmont laughs; Fishtown understands.

Then, too, his being a political amateur is often part of the populist’s CV. Trump the political outsider is used to being the boss. He likes to own things. His concern is for money—the things of the body over the soul. His acquaintance with the Christian tradition is slight at best. Temperamentally, one could argue, he is vulnerable to garden-variety tyrannical temptation.

But the tyrant confronts the constitution and must overcome it if he is to succeed.

So far, the U.S. Constitution has proven a durable brake on populist excess. The courts have stood up to several of Trump’s executive orders. (Whether they ought to have is another question: lots of legal-victory-by-forum-shopping here, but that is how the game of judicial politics is played in America.) Congress, that complicated herd of cats, has dispelled any easy assumption by the Trump administration that domestic policy change will come by presidential directive.

The contrast with the Starks and the Longs is clear. In Warren’s novel, Stark is systematic in his attention to his enemies. In real life, Huey Long read prodigiously, never forgot a face, and mastered the details of legislative procedure. He micromanaged appointments, the passage of bills, and the conduct of campaigns and rallies. Long was as good at government as he was at campaigning. He overcame institutions by knowing them and their weaknesses intimately. Trump has shown no such acuity or interest.

As Harvey Mansfield has observed, perhaps most damaging to the President’s self-image is that his victory came not in the popular vote but in the Electoral College, a quintessential constitutional instrument to dull the influence of popular democratic will. He must rely on a competent cabinet of secretaries who know something about Washington and their policy briefs. He must work with congressional leaders if he hopes to pass legislation and a budget. Here the fragmented GOP has hurt him, not helped him.

Whatever his impulses, Trump is hemmed in. And the recent crescendo of political crises over possible intelligence disclosures to Russian officials, and his firing of the head of the FBI, who now alleges that the President acted to obstruct justice in the bureau’s Russia probe, has left him even more so.

Populists care about their people, not about the world. On the other hand, the natural move Presidents make when they become embattled domestically is to pivot to foreign affairs. Aside from protectionism, a populist reflex, Trump’s campaign barely hinted at a foreign policy doctrine. Yet we have seen the pivot to Syria and North Korea, and more of this is likely to come. Trumpian populism is highly impure.

There’s a possibility, indeed, that it is not populism at all but conservatism of a flexible, non-ideological kind. As Charles Kesler wrote recently in the New York Times (April 26, 2017), there are ways in which Trump’s approach looks most like pre-New Deal Republican positioning:

In those days the party stood for protective tariffs, immigration tied to assimilation (or what Theodore Roosevelt called Americanization), judges prepared to strike down state and sometimes federal laws encroaching on constitutional limitations, tax cuts, internal improvements (infrastructure spending, in today’s parlance) and a firm but restrained foreign policy tailored to the defense of the national interest. Are these not the main elements of Trump administration policies?

What has looked like nativist populism might in fact be a loose set of policy positions articulated by an inexperienced leader bearing both a short attention span and a casual acquaintance with the principle of non-contradiction. The President has so far manifested none of the sharpness of mind, mastery of procedural detail, or dogged determination that made someone like Huey Long so effective and so dangerous. As the issue of the Mexican border wall indicates, Trump is easily persuaded to back off a policy initiative when convenient. Not too much of a reforming tyrant in that regard, so far.

Populists are allergic to checks and balances. President Trump faces them at almost every turn. The constitutional center, now coming under increased stress, continues to hold—again, so far.

 

[1] T. Harry Williams, in his highly regarded biography of Huey Long, emphasizes Long’s approach to political power. One can do nothing good without power; so the capture and retention and consolidation of power is the first commandment. One must be prepared to be ruthless to one’s opponents, Long insisted. Long may not have read Machiavelli but he instinctively understood the Florentine’s teaching. See T. Harry Williams, Huey Long (New York: Vintage, orig. 1969, 1981 edition), pp. 409-416,748-749, 755, and 829.

[2] Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation” [1919], in The Vocation Lectures, edited by Rodney Livingstone (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004), p. 88.

[3] Reflecting on Donald Trump’s many swipes at the media, Time writer Michael Scherer sums up the attitude thus: “The truth may be real, but falsehood often works better.”

[4] Newell’s analysis evokes Abraham Lincoln’s observation, in the Lyceum Address of 1838, that the moderate offices of the Constitution may not be enough to satisfy men of “the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle.”

 

Thomas M.J. Bateman

Thomas M.J. Bateman teaches political science at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

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  1. R Richard Schweitzer says

    With this piece and Greg Weiner’s:

    http://www.libertylawsite.org/2017/05/17/burning-down-his-house1/

    It appears we are to have a ” Trump Cycle.”

    If so, slipping from a preference to avoid first person assertions, I, yes I, would like each and every contributor of pieces “On Trump” (particularly those that are comparative to “norms” or past conditions or processes) to articulate how the “Trump Actions,” “Trump Posturing,” “Trump Articulations,” or any (other?) deficiencies have affected, OR, are affecting INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY>

    Has what has been transpiring since October 2016 through the present reflected a variety of reactions against long continuing, increasing demeaning, constraints on individuality of the make-up of the populace and their intrinsic worth? How has the “Trump Advent” impacted all that; and, has it relieved or increased the pressures on individual liberty?

    Speak to us of these events, these actions, these “violations of ‘norms’, in terms of how they are affecting the prospects of individual liberty.

    The past 16 years or so should present an adequate canvas for a comparative landscape.

    • gabe says

      Absotively!

      Although this particular piece was somewhat more temperate in tone (and conclusions), still it would appear that we are being transitioned to a version of “George will conservatism” replete with bow-tie and the usual aspersions predicated upon a “lack of class” – to be read nowadays as “populism” – the elites’ (yes, conservatives DO have their own *effetes*) preferred pejorative for the uninitiated.

      As Richard asks: “Show me the money” or was that some sports agent? where have we suffered? How have my liberties been diminished? Better still, what has The Trumpster done to impose undue AND unwanted / unwarranted newly divined OBLIGATIONS upon me?

      Is LLB to become NRO?

      BTW: At least the essayist had the good sense to write of the Broderick Crawford character and not the whining caricature depicted by Sean Penn.

  2. ahem says

    “Populists are allergic to checks and balances.”

    So are Communists, like Obama and Hillary and the rest of the radical Left. Obama did more to disempower Congress than any president in the history of the country. If he wanted to castrate Congress, what would Obama have done differently? Nothing. Where was your attention and concern when he was destroying our country? We’re now living in the cmoking ruins of post-Constitutional America.

    Trump is attempting to use the process as originally designed; he is trying to go theough Congress. All of his Executive Orders are designed to roll back Obama’s dictatorial excesses. Unfortunately, President Trump is probably too late. The bloodsuckers in Washington are now accustomed to receive their paychecks without having to do any actual _work_—they just hang out and peddle influence all day until they can retire as millionaires.

    This article is not the’stark truth about Trump'; it is cow manure. Shame.

  3. nobody.really says

    ” The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind. The best you can do is do something and then make up some law to fit and by the time the law gets on the books you would have done something different. Do you think half the things I’ve done were clear, distinct, and simple in the constitution of this state?”

    The aide [in the George W. Bush administration] said that guys like me [i.e., reporters and commentators] were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    Ron Suskind, “Without a Doubt,” The New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004.

  4. R Richard Schweitzer says

    POPULISM

    Since that term continues to be raised in the context of “political” events, staying in the first person, I suggest we slow down (not pause) and consider what we are actually **observing** as to what is being chattered about without any explanations (let alone definitions) of what is intended by “Populism” or “Populists.”

    Is the “Populace” of this now oft-cited “Populism” being shown to us or referred to as Oakeshott’s “Mass Man” (see, “Rationalism in Politics” Liberty Fund 1991 pp. 363-383), fomented by, and subject to demagoguery ?
    Is it made up of the “anti-individuals” or “individuals manques?” OR – if we look closely, can we observe that this “Populace” has been created from categories of persons who have been led and convinced by those with particular social and political objectives (the self-anointed who know best) that they do not need this or that bit of their individuality (which may require effort and responsibilities to retain) and hence do not need the liberties that sustain it.

    If that latter IS what we can observe has been transpiring, then there will be opposition [you can read it here and everywhere} to anything that arouses a resurgence of the sense of individuality in that “Populace.” It is not in the interest of the objectives of the “self-anointed” that people should be stirred up to consider the values of their own individuality. But then, the “self-anointed” HAVE come to a pause – not caused BY the recent political events, but contributing to those events.

    It does seem that it is when the frustrations of aspiring “cat herders” begin to surface we hear increasingly of “Populism;” not so much when the herd disciplines (and myths) are sufficient to the desires of those who would direct and shape “Mass Man.”

  5. D. Robert Ellisen says

    While I greatly appreciate the analysis, it is not Donald Trump, but the state hospital builder Barack Obama , who is Willie Stark. Insert Obama’s name and the analysis come into sharpe focus.

  6. Titan 28 says

    While your critique of All the King’s Men passes muster, more or less–you don’t mention the postlapsarian idea Warren was using, which condemns Willie to being a pragmatist, your analysis of Trump and his appeal is vapid. You don’t get it at all (nor does Kesler).

    I’m not going to wildly toot a horn for Trump. Lord knows, he has his flaws, and if he isn’t careful, he is going to be destroyed by them.

    But when I look at the Clintons (the three of them). Pelosi, Blumenthal, Holder, Obama (that insufferable bore) etc., and the empty, silly preening jackals in the media, guess what? Trump doesn’t look so bad. And when I see what they are trying to do, subvert an election, organize a coup, I think, careful, careful.

    The very idea that they, people, in a sense, who spit on our troops returning from Viet Nam, think they’re going to play the patriot card to get rid of Trump, well. My, my.

    Your analysis here is as simple-minded as it is long-winded.

    • nobody.really says

      …people, in a sense, who spit on our troops returning from Viet Nam….

      I sense you mean this in a metaphorical way.

      But just like the metaphors of an ostrich with its head in the sand, or the frog in boiling pot of water, this metaphor appears to refer to an event that has never been documented. There has been widespread (and ongoing) efforts to find a documented case of someone spitting on a soldier returning from Viet Nam, with no success. Entire books have been dedicated to this effort.

      It appears to be one more example of the phenomenon known as “the Mandela Effect,” whereby entire communities claim to have a memory of an event that is demonstrably untrue, such as the idea the Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s, or that Sinbad played a genie in a 1990s movie Shazaam.

  7. Cloudbuster says

    Do you suppose Bateman realizes Stark is fictional and, therefore, almost literally a strawman, a paper tiger?

    Characters in novels act as the author intends them to act. No more, no less. Willie Stark is no more useful in a discussion of populism than Mickey Mouse is in a discussion of rodent behavior.

  8. libertarian jerry says

    What never ceases to amaze me is the way that the Political Class strives to obtain and keep power. Much of government today,in America,is like a gigantic Mafia. Everyone trying to push everyone out of the way or to form temporary alliances to climb to the top of the greasy political power pole. This phenomenon ,of course,goes back for centuries. In many ways the Founders realized this and tried to write a Constitution that had some kind of built in brakes for keeping megalomaniacs in check. But the checks and balances written into the American Constitution have been so modified,amended and or ignored over the years that it really doesn’t matter any more. We don’t live in a nation of objective laws,as if we really ever did,but instead live in a nation of powerful men both in public and behind the scenes whose quest for and lust for power knows no real bounds. Unfortunately,for Mr. Trump,he has run into this buzz saw. And what about the future? The American Empire much like the old Roman Empire,with its welfare/warfare State, is headed down the road to fiscal bankruptcy. Sad to say,Mr.Trump was just a speed bump on this road.

    • R Richard Schweitzer says

      L J

      Perhaps it would not be so “amazing” if one were to observe the efforts of broad segments of society to “have significance” or “to be significant;” not just some presumed “Political Class,” but an Academic Class, a Managerial Class – and on through the various segments of social and economic relationships.

      Often the least damaging or depressing responses to those efforts are mollification through “pretending” to be influenced – “We are so glad we have you to guide and advise us.” Otherwise we remain “the rabble..”

  9. Paul Binotto says

    Whatever may be said of Trump, admittedly most of rightly unfavorable, it can’t be said that he is incapable of expressing his outlandish claims about his perceived enemies within the allotted number of words limits of Twitter.

    Sadly, that same concise brevity cannot be claimed of this essay.

  10. Kyle Flaig says

    More hand wringing dressed up as academic thought. Control your hysteria and save it for your gullible students.

  11. Mark Pulliam says

    Do I detect a whiff of anti-Trump hysteria on this site recently? And why is Law and Liberty featuring tedious, verbose reviews of movies released in 1949? I second Kyle Flaig, Paul Binotto, Cloudbuster, Titan 28, Gabe, ahem, and my friend R. Richard Schweitzer.

  12. jbsay says

    So the gist of the article is that Trump is not a Robert Penn Warren/Willie Stark/Huey Long populist.

    We do have a character in the 2016 election who fits the Willie Stark mantle quite well – down to the corruption of a charity for political ends.

    • nobody.really says

      Did Stark corrupt a charity for political ends? My recollection is that he sought to create a charitable (public) hospital in an area wracked with poverty and illness. I don’t recall that Stark expected to derive any special benefit from this project other than the support of approving voters–which doesn’t strike me as especially corrupt.

          • nobody.really says

            THE MONEY IS NOT GOING TO A TRUMP CHARITY but rather to THE WORLD BANK!!!!!!

            Ok. The World Bank does charitable work, seeking to reduce poverty in the developing world. As does the Clinton Foundation.

            The objection, as far as I knew, was that foreign agents would curry favor with the Clintons by making conspicuous donations that the Clintons favor–in effect, letting the Clintons direct their charitable giving in the same manner as if the dollars were the Clintons’ own assets. But if Trump thought that the Clintons were somehow misappropriating the funds, he had a funny way of showing it; he was a donor himself. And now we observe foreign agents making conspicuous charitable donations that the Trumps favor.

            The only difference, as far as I can see, is if you’d like to allege that the Clinton Foundation had misappropriated funds. Doubtless, in an organization as large as the Clinton Foundation, someone could find fault with some spending here or there. But if that were your concern, it would be hard to regard Trump as your champion.

            First, Trump’s charity is almost entirely financed by wealthy benefactors other than Trump. In other words, rich people were giving him money to use as he saw fit.

            And how did Trump see fit to use these funds?

            • He made political contributions to the Florida attorney general who was deciding whether to sue him over the fraudulent Trump University operations

            • He settled a lawsuit with a golfer who was going to sue for Trump’s failure to pay a prize the golfer had won
            • He settled a lawsuit with the town of Palm Beach, FL.

            • He bought items at charity auctions—such as portraits of himself, or a $12K football helmet signed by Tim Tebow.

            Indeed, Trump admitted to the IRS that his charity had violated the law against “self-dealing.”

            So I’m happy to take editorial notice of the newspaper accounts of politicians and their charities. Are you?

          • gabe says

            Gee, I’ll add just ONE to the clintons happy trail of corruption and abuse:

            Monies from the Peoples Liberation Army AFTER overriding DOD recommendations to not permit the technology transfer of highly sensitive guidance technology (Lockeed?)

            How’s that for expecting something in return.

            So let The Trumpster buy his Tim Tebow thingy – at least Tim Tebow is not expected to launch ACCURATE long range *bombs* at US.

  13. Wayne Lusvardi says

    An an antidote to Bateman, readers should read Erica Benner’s new book “Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli and His World” rather than try to reduce Trump into Huey Long or any of the characters in Robert Penn Warren’s book or populist movies as Bateman does. Like most intellectuals, Bateman is a reductionist, wanting to make Trump look small (and if he looked large then he would be a tyrant?). First of all, the populist and academic versions of Machiavellianism is not what Machiavelli was about. As Erica Benner’s book points out, Machiavelli put on the “mask of an advisor” to write crassly stupid maxims that would lead tyrants to failure. Machiavelli touted a fraudulent realism that led tyrannical leaders into a trap. Hence the title to her book “Be Like the Fox”. Benner writes that Machiavelli’s motto would have been “Never Give Up!” in being free agents that can influence the course of events. Ironically, that is also Trump’s motto: “Never Give Up: How I Turned my Biggest Challenges into Success”. Bateman can’t conceive that Trump can do anything that ends up good because Trump isn’t like Bateman who conceitedly believes he knows best. Bateman’s article tells me more about Bateman than about Trump. Just whose “wishful thinking” is Bateman writing about?

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