Best Liberal Analysis of Trump Still Falls Short
Liberals aren’t always wrong; sometimes they are half-right.
A case in point is a column by Charles Blow of the New York Times that noted, “The president’s devoted supporters have turned him into a legend of sorts.”
The column is from April, but it just recently came to my attention courtesy of a reader who called it “the best left-wing piece I’ve seen on the Trump phenomenon.”
The argument of “Trumpism Extols Its Hero” is that the president, like a few other leaders, has “transcended the political, and on some level even the rules of the workaday world, and entered the astral league of folk heroes.”
Blow begins his column by sharing that his austere mother, who was “unshakable in her sense of moral rectitude,” nonetheless enthusiastically supported Edwin Edwards as Louisiana’s governor even though he was “a cocksure, gambling womanizer who would end up in federal prison in 2002 for bribery and extortion.”
Having put his mother forth as an exemplar, I think we can be sure that Blow is sincere in his estimation that “[t]he rules don’t apply to the folk hero [such as Trump]. People don’t measure them by the same tape. Behavior that people would never condone in their personal lives, they relish in the folk hero.”
I made a similar comparison in my essay “Trump: Emerson’s ‘Man of the World,’” which is collected in Volume 3 of “Why We Needed Trump.” Emerson says of Napoleon that he was “the idol of common men because he had in transcendent degree the qualities and powers of common men.” Likewise, the vital power of Trump to inspire his followers is based on the nagging suspicion that he is exactly like us, only writ large. Does he have flaws? Absolutely, and yet we all do. Does he have wisdom? He has the wisdom we all wish to impart to our leaders — try something new because the old way isn’t working.
But of course, columnist Blow doesn’t really think that President Trump is a folk hero in the mold of Napoleon. Instead, the names he associates with the popular imagination are all criminals: the aforementioned Gov. Edwards, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, the Sundance Kid, Mayor Marion Barry, even El Chapo. The closest he comes to a complimentary analogue for the president is the Monkey King of Chinese lore, which he describes in a quotation as “greedy, selfish, and prone to sudden changes of mood and outbursts of exceptional violence.”
It apparently never occurred to Blow that folk heroes are often of better character than the ones he acknowledges. You could start with a criminal of nobler mien such as Robin of Locksley, better known as Robin Hood. But why stop there when so many other folk heroes exist who do not have any rap sheet at all. What about Dan’l Boone and Davy Crockett? What about Johnny Appleseed, John Henry and John the Baptist?
Even in the limited confines of the U.S. presidency, we have seen at least three folk heroes arise. Let’s leave George Washington out of it since he may be even greater in real life than in imagination, but there are still several to choose from including Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and, perhaps most similar to Trump, the larger-than-life Teddy Roosevelt.
This is, of course, where Blow’s analysis falls short and feels somewhat disingenuous if not entirely dishonest. It seems he just wants to focus on the naughty side of folk heroes and doesn’t try to grasp why they are so important to regular people. The idea from Emerson that “great men exist that there may be greater men” seems to have entirely escaped him.
It is that casual disdain with which Blow looks upon not just Trump, but his admirers, that makes him capable of being only half-right. As my correspondent wrote to me, “The folk hero concept, as Blow articulates it, is of course an arrogant ‘dis’ on Trump supporters.” To the cultural elites that inhabit Liberal Land, “Folk hero, folk art, folk medicine ... are a half step from ignorance and superstition.”
You no doubt remember the characterization of Trump voters by FBI agent Peter Strzok in one of his infamous text messages to Lisa Page: “Just went to a Southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support.”
My anonymous reader shared a similar dismissal of Trump supporters that was voiced in a Midwest workplace:
“In an amicable conversation with a co-worker (who was lamenting Trump’s lack of policy chops, and his reckless foray into the Trade War). I asked, inquisitively, if Trump will do anything, to get RE-elected, I wonder why he picked the China fight now? Why not wait until after the election, because today’s uncertainty and upheaval decreases his chances? I said, prices are going up at Walmart, which will hurt his base. She said, in a calm tone, ‘They will never make the connection.’”
So there you have it. Like Blow, the co-worker has concluded that Trump voters are incapable of reason or logic. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, the person she is talking to is himself a Trump supporter and making a completely reasonable argument that Trump is doing what is right, not what is convenient. I would hold that the evidence overwhelmingly proves that it is liberals who are incapable of reason or logic when discussing this president and his many accomplishments. That’s why we even have a name for it — Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Let me return one last time to Emerson’s description of Napoleon, and just ask you to imagine that the Sage of Concord were talking instead about the remarkable Mr. Trump:
“I call Napoleon the agent or attorney of the middle class of modern society; of the throng who fill the markets, shops, counting-houses, manufactories, ships, of the modern world, aiming to be rich. He was the agitator, the destroyer of prescription, the internal improver, the liberal, the radical, the inventor of means, the opener of doors and markets, the subverter of monopoly and abuse. Of course, the rich and aristocratic did not like him.”
And of course the people at the bottom of society did.
Likewise, Trump “the agitator” may be a folk hero to “the throng who fill the markets” — or the masses at Walmart — but despite what Charles Blow implies, that is not a bad thing. “Trumpism” did not extol Trump; the people did.