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Trump the Gargoyle

Different theories exist to explain the use of grotesques and chimeras in the design of gargoyles in medieval architecture. One theory says that these twisted, scary beasts were placed on cathedrals to represent demons in order to scare people into church. Relatedly, they portrayed the tormenting creatures in hell.

Yet another theory posits these creatures neither served nor portrayed evil, but served rather to repel evil and harm. Serving a symbolic function akin to guard dogs, it simply wouldn’t do to mount gargoyles in the image of fluffy little Pekingese, simply yip yapping and nipping at evil. Rather, fierce, hideous creatures were needed to face down equally ugly and ferocious evil. The scarier the gargoyle the better with which to repel evil. Recommendations to tone down their twisted ferocity would have been met with blank stares. Their appeal derived from their fierce grotesqueness.

So, too, the relationship between President Trump and his base. Since before the election, and certainly since, Democrats and Never Trumpers gradually recognized that Trump’s grotesquerie won’t repel his core base. Ever. Trump could lose his base for other reasons, but not for this. His appeal, like the gargoyles’, derives from his very grotesquerie. The more twisted and hideous a gargoyle might be only meant it would serve its purpose better; it would provide more comfort and security to those it protected.

Several items to note. First, Trump’s base, even his core base, for the most part, does not share his grotesquerie. Gargoyles comforted people in the Middle Ages not because the people themselves were gargoyles, but because they weren’t and they couldn’t. They needed something fierce and hideous on their side not because they, too, were fierce and hideous, but because they weren’t.

The failure to recognize this distinction leads Trump’s critics, even if they don’t make the mistake of saying it out loud, as Hillary Clinton did, to decry Trump’s base (o.k., half of it) as “deplorables.” This is not to say that there aren’t deplorables who support Trump. But they are only a small fraction, and it’s unclear whether, unlike Trump’s true base, the real deplorables haven’t already abandoned Trump.

Trump’s core base values Trump’s grotesquerie because they feel threatened and do not believe the yapping Pekingese in the Republican or Democratic parties can protect them. (I lay most of the responsibility at the feet of the Republicans. The party had decades in which it could have addressed the root concerns of what became the Tea Party movement and, as it expanded, Trump’s core electoral base.)

But while the vast number of those who compose Trump’s base are not deplorable, they value Trump because he is. Hence, when something grotesque is revealed about Trump, this only confirms the reason for their support rather than detracts from it.

This is not merely a matter of subjectively felt fear, or a response to revelations of Trump’s personal behavior. Trump’s presidential behavior seems to be of one weave with the way he acquits himself in his personal and business dealings. We would be foolish, however, to think that gargoyles do not in fact sometimes achieve their intended purposes. And Trump’s base responds to this possibility because they perceive there is no real alternative.

The best example so far of the fusion of Trump’s personal style, however gargoylish, with real political outcomes might be North Korea. To mix my metaphors, the only way to stop someone who consistently wins at games of chicken is for that person to face someone who can credibly commit to not swerving. That is, to face someone just as crazy as he is, someone just as gargoylish as he is.

It would seem that Kim Jong-un believes he faces that in Donald Trump. This is not to declare victory before it’s won. If Kim Jong-un believes he has nothing to lose by not swerving, there is the real possibility Trump’s commitment to not swerving means there will be a crash. But I am unconvinced a crash now would be more costly than a game of chicken later, when North Korea has workable ICBMs capable of delivering warheads to the west coast of the United States, and the then-President finds it impossible to swerve and maintain critical national interests.

Our gargoyle-in-chief, President Trump, is engaging what appears to be a long-term, and growing, threat in North Korea. It might result in a terrible crash. Or Kim Jong-un might be the one who blinks when face-to-face with our very own gargoyle and not with a cool, responsible politician who, reasonably, swerves every time when face-to face with Kim Jong-un.

Trump seems to be playing the same hand on the trade issue, daring other countries to conclude that his policies won’t be as fierce as his rhetoric. Trump can do likewise on the parts of the immigration issue he can control by executive order. He runs into a little more trouble with initiatives, such as the Wall, that take the approval of a largely un-gargoylish Congress. (Separation-of-power systems don’t really work well for gargoyles.) The point is, however, that Trump’s behavior, whether private or business or political, behavior many Americans reject as outrageous, largely confirms Trump’s role as a protecting gargoyle to his base.

A word about the gargoyles themselves, however, as opposed to the serviceability of the gargoyle. While useful at times, they are sad, twisted creatures. While I disagree with some of Trump’s policies, and applaud others, and feel nothing but repulsion for what seems to be his sad and empty Playboy-circa-1960s conception of manhood, I cannot but feel sincere sorrow for the man himself, a person who seems long ago to have disappeared in his own caricature.

And here I think even Trump misunderstands the nature of his own core constituency. While I would not (yet) rank Trump among Hegel’s pantheon of world-historical figures, I suspect his fate will nonetheless be the same. As Hegel wrote of the breed, “When their object is attained they fall off like empty hulls from the kernel.” When no longer needed, the same fierce grotesquerie in which gargoyles located their usefulness becomes only grist for laughter and mockery. And we look at them and wonder why such a fantastic creature was ever created in the first place.

Reader Discussion

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on April 09, 2018 at 09:29:52 am

Oh my! Trump Derangement Syndrome has now induced Gargoyle-in-Chief analogies, grotesqueries of logic and bad metaphors mixed.

How intellectually dismal in content.
How aesthetically depressing in style.

For me to have laid eyes on this article first thing in the morning is to know how Bill Clinton felt back in the day when he and Hillary shared a bed.

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timothy
on April 09, 2018 at 10:15:09 am

If this was intended as an audition for National Review, David French already has the job. Only one insufferable virtue-signaling moral preener at a time. “While I disagree with some of Trump’s policies, and applaud others, and feel nothing but repulsion for what seems to be his sad and empty Playboy-circa-1960s conception of manhood, I cannot but feel sincere sorrow for the man himself, a person who seems long ago to have disappeared in his own caricature.”

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Mark Pulliam
on April 09, 2018 at 11:03:20 am

Re your comment: "If this was intended as an audition for National Review, David French already has the job. Only one insufferable virtue-signaling moral preener at a time."

I would say that if David French leaves NR to work, say, with Bill Kristol or George Will, one of NR's "virtue-signaling" under studies, say Jonah Goldberg, stands off stage, panting at the ready, moral-preening lines memorized, while from above the lights Buckley's ghost looks down in agony that though of "so potent art" before he did "drowne (his) booke" he failed to cast his final players, leaving instead a band of supernumeraries.

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timothy
on April 09, 2018 at 11:03:48 am

The Trump Begleit Brigade instantly springs into action. James R. Rogers must be purged! The Trump Tower Gargoyle is our only hope and salvation. He's so manly!!

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JOHN FRARY
on April 09, 2018 at 11:36:00 am

Nasty Nero had 12 cohorts (480 Praetorian Guards in each) protecting him from virtually everybody but himself. He died of suicide. The Begleit Brigade, I believe, ultimately became an entire army division devoted to Horrible Hitler's protection, which was of no avail in protecting Hitler against Hitler, who killed himself.

Poor, Trump, now slimed as a "gargoyle" by L&L and with only Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell as his political defenders!

With friends like that and "manly" as he may be, one might agree that Trump needs the likes of me, the Washington Times and Victor Davis Hanson to "instantly spring into action" and defend him.

Just call us Trump's "brothers by a different mother." The Bushes like that:)

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timothy
on April 09, 2018 at 12:09:10 pm

Yeah!, and we had Obama as an example ! It does appear that under the gargoyle Trump the nation is humming along, of course we almost had Madame Hillary and if so methinks some would be singing a different tune. But then some can't avoid displaying a pseudo-sophistication.

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john trainor
on April 09, 2018 at 12:59:38 pm

Trump has been judged almost entirely on the basis of aesthetics. This is habitual with the Left but the enthusiastic joinder of the Establishment Right really caught me off-guard. Trump is beholden to no one; this is his original sin. He has no "political capital" to protect; he has not spent his life begging the endorsement and good opinion of various sectors of the political-industrial complex. His refusal to be humble enrages bien pensants all across the spectrum, who willfully falsify history to themselves so that they may maintain their umbrage buzz. What has become clear is that the Right's own clerisy will defend its own orthodoxies against all heretics, which Trump most certainly is. Not all that long ago, some of his policies were mainstream (anyone remember Dick Gephardt?). That doesn't mean they are right (either then or now), but the outrage they are credited with generating cannot plausibly be explained by anything other than the deeply emotional loathing that the academic and media castes feel for him. They are dimly aware that they cannot simply emote, however, and must use all of their powers and all of their skills, just as the undertaker in The Godfather, so that their own mothers will not see their bullet-ridden psyches pouring out their spleen.

Trump was not my own first choice. But the reaction he has unleashed, the tearing off all across the entire political-academic-media spectrum of masks, the representation of aesthetic repugnance as national security endangerment, the demands that he be removed from office--all of this has taught me more about my fellow countrymen, their intelligence, their honesty, their trustworthiness, their wills to power, than any other event or study in the past half-century.

Not saying Rogers' piece fits this description, but it does seem like it could fit in with the general trend.

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QET
on April 09, 2018 at 13:20:04 pm

Of course, some of his base belongs to the Klan and other white supremacist groups, while other supporters now feel free to be just as racist outwardly as they were inwardly. They will never lose their support of Trump (especially since he nearly swooned with delight after the love letters such groups sent him after Charlottesville).

But we're supposed to ignore their existence, right?

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excessivelyperky
on April 09, 2018 at 15:22:34 pm

I agree completely. I was a regular reader of this forum, but I had to stop because it was taken over by the disease. Every once in a while I pop in to see if things have improved, but they haven't. I don't expect they will while Trump holds office, so where once I had Law and Liberty bookmarked as the best place for intelligent enlightened conversion on the Internet, I now have an empty place on my lunch time reading list.

So sad. So sad.

I hold no doubt that the editors imagine their flames source Liberty's light, when in truth they reflect hatred, snobbishness and naiveté.

So sad. So sad. Good bye.

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Scott Amorian
on April 09, 2018 at 15:36:43 pm

Under Trump, the Statue of Liberty has become a gargoyle of apartheid racism, xenophobia and sacred worship of wealth.

Trump: the Pied Piper of anti-establishmentarianism.

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DLS
on April 09, 2018 at 16:08:36 pm

"excessivelyperky" seems "excessive," indeed, although "perky" is unlikely to be his salient attribute.

If death by defamation avalanche is to be the fate of defiant Trump and of his truculent supporters as punishment for adamantine loyalty to the rule of law, the fairness of equity, the common sense of moderation, the love of country and the decency of moral principle, at least let us not die buried beneath a verbal mountain of deadly stone that is the handiwork of mere verbally-challenged Lilliputians (e.g., but not limited to, "excessivelyperky") serving as midget surrogates for the really big and very bad crypto-Commies, cultural Marxists and similar mental ungulates who threaten our country by masquerading as honest journalists and knowledgeable political pundits and by crafting ubiquitous racial slurs and disseminating incomparable political lies and displaying vulgar misconduct that incessantly trivialize, twist, distort and disfigure reality, degrade beauty and demean truth but which ultimately and invariably collapse when tested in history's crucible.

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timothy
on April 09, 2018 at 16:11:32 pm

I believe that one limitation of Professor Rogers's metaphor is its focus on the appeal of Trump as a matter of style rather than of substance. This is not to deny that Mr, Trump does in fact have a distinctive style, that is in turns off-putting, detestable, refreshing and fascinating. Trump is boorish, crass, cagy and boastful. These considerations however are matters of style regarding his method, and form only a part of his electoral appeal. Though it seems to work for him, his successes are unlikely to be attributed to unsullied personal virtue.

In other words, the decisive factor in Trump's electoral appeal was not his crass behavior or perhaps needlessly antagonistic style, but rather his rather straightforward claim that he was interested in the welfare of the country. His campaign motto was simply "Make America Great Again," not "Make Americans Employed Again," or "Children are our Future," or "Let's Get Even with the Bastards!" Trump's campaign was able to convince just enough Americans that the electoral decision in 2016 was between "Vote the National Interest" and "Vote your personal Resentment."

Trump was able to convince people that his interest was what was good for the country, without paying tribute to the amorphous, conflicting and protean concerns of "fairness," "diversity," "social justice," and the like. This may not, in itself have been a winning formula, but when deployed against an opponent with the limitations, baggage and cynicism of Hillary Clinton, it was enough. Trump knew instinctively that people would rather build something they could be proud to belong to rather than deplore someone they know only by reputation.

There is much to criticize in Trumps's style; there is a fair amount to disagree with in his substance, but he was shrewd enough to realize that there is a lot of appeal in living in a country that is perceived as great. Millions of immigrants seem to agree with him.

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z9z99
on April 09, 2018 at 16:28:15 pm

Read my reply to ''excessivelyperky" and know I'm also thinking of "DLS."

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timothy
on April 09, 2018 at 17:03:10 pm

And where was Mr Rogers when the Great Obama claimed that he was going to lower the level of the oceans - How is that for boastful. And ego _ Was not The Big Zero, 0-bama, a better speechwriter than his speechwriters. all this from a man who had a (failed) love affair with his teleprompter.

And where was Mr Rogers when the Big Zero put into play his "brilliant" "Lead (with his ) Behind" diplomatic strategy, a policy conceived in the inner recesses of his political and personal arrogance.
And yet, Rogers concedes that it may be precisely The Trumpsters ability / willingness to appear resolute, determined and prepared to "counter" the TRUE gargoyles that present;y adorn the seats of government in North Korea and Iran.

No, we should demonize The Trumpster because - well because of *STYLE*. Clearly, my former neighbor in Queens, New York does not present himself in a manner that would be deemed acceptable by the Bill Buckley / George Will wannabees that currently populate the National Review masthead. For them, the IDEAL (Platonically speaking, of course) is the *snooty, nasal, cultured intonations and vocabulary of New Yorks Park Avenue milieu in which Mr Buckley thrived. Bill Buckley, to his credit, ACTUALLY was brilliant; add to this, his keenly developed senses of humor and irony and an ability to remain a fair and insightful observer of both politics and personnel and one may posit the REAL standard that these NRO / Never Trump types *SHOULD* be modelling themselves upon.

Being of limited imagination, they manage only to mimic that standard established and effected with such aplomb by Mr Buckley. YET, in reluctant recognition of their own failed pursuit of that hoped for mantle of "cultured commentary" they are successful only to the extent that they are able to point to "non-conforming" communication / personal styles that are deemed to be akin to a medieval gargoyle.

Regrettably, they are 2nd rate minds, in pursuit of, what is for them, a chimerical standard attained only by Bill Buckley; their inability to achieve that Buckley-like standard is evident in their demonstrated inability to FAIRLY observe / comment on the performance of The Trumpster. And what does the typical Never Trumper have in their quiver? He talks and acts like some outer-borough (some of you know the import of that charge) working class type.
It is his style - and that is ALL. And for the NeverTrumpers, that truly is ALL. Let us cast him back to his outer borough haunts, slander him as a 1960's Playboy loving leech in a leisure suit ( a slightly more rotund John Travolta, perhaps).

As one who is quite familiar and fluent in the particular "outer borough" vernacular:

"Take a hike, buddy. Snooty noses usually find refuge in someone else's "four corner contact"" Unfortunately, such placement of one's nose typically has a rather significant impact upon one's vision.

Odd isn't it? - that those who claim adherence to such a high standard are themselves unable to

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gabe
on April 09, 2018 at 17:10:13 pm

Really?

I guess this must have occurred AFTER the Lefties of the country disemboweled her and assigned a different culture / ethnicity to each of the Old Gals limbs, loins, thorax and skull.
I don;t see how there could be ANYTHING left upon which to create a gargoyle.

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gabe
on April 09, 2018 at 17:19:39 pm

I bet Fred Rogers was a Christian. They're in hiding these days, here in America and in Red China. I also bet that Fred was nicer and more architecturally- knowledgeable than James Rogers. Fred's neighborhood, like a lot of Catholic cathedrals, had gargoyles, I'm sure, and if his TV show is to be believed (Fred did not lie, I am certain of that) Fred loved "all of the kids in the neighborhood" including the kids of those irritating Samaritans, Bible clingers and self-defending deplorables.

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timothy
on April 09, 2018 at 17:52:26 pm

"... Fred loved “all of the kids in the neighborhood” including the kids of those irritating Samaritans, Bible clingers and self-defending deplorables."
And i would add all of those outer borough kids with their peculiar vernacular and intonations!!!!

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gabe
on April 09, 2018 at 17:57:26 pm

In an earlier comment expressing disappointment with L&L's predictable, periodic anti-Trump paroxysms Scott Amorian says simply:

"So sad. So sad.
I hold no doubt that the editors imagine their flames source Liberty’s light, when in truth they reflect hatred, snobbishness and naiveté.
So sad. So sad. Good bye."

Now that's one important difference between the Left and the Right.

The Left says, "Agree with us or we'll destroy you." (or boycott you or defame you or call you a racist or a Nazi or attack your family or threaten you or shout you down and deny your freedom to speak or riot and smash store windows and shoot cops et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam ad infinitum.)

The Right says, "So sad. So sad. Good bye."

That's nice. And American, too. The way the late Mr. Rogers would have behaved. And the way President Trump has repeatedly asked us to behave.

I think Laura Ingraham would agree with me.

True, n'est-ce pas, David Hogg?

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timothy
on April 09, 2018 at 20:05:59 pm

This commentary takes on significance in light of today's events involving Mueller and Trump. Today marks the day when the Mueller investigation will be publically viewed as a rogue, unlawful politically-driven operation. Rogers in his commentary is guilty of reckless language such as "grotesquerie" to describe his personal dislike of Trump. Rogers is guilty of sloppy logic and grossly simplistic analysis (and extraordinarily bad writing) in his evaluation of Trump's style and of the complex relationship between Trump and the tens of millions of voters who put him into office.

The incessant avalanche of such reckless verbal abuse characterizes the general irresponsibility of Trump Derangement Syndrome which has now grown into a constitutional crisis and which has arisen because of the Left's (and Never Trumpers like Rogers') intense personal contempt for Donald Trump.

Because of this Never Trump vendetta and its motivating personal animosity so clearly articulated by Rogers: 1) Trump will eventually be forced to fire Mueller and Rosenstein which will cause a political firestorm; 2)There will be no vote on impeachment in the House unless the Dem's win the House in November. If they do, they will vote to impeach Trump, but the Senate will not come close to convicting him. 3)Trump will direct the Attorney General to appoint a Special Counsel a) to reopen the Clinton email investigation, and b) to investigate the FBI and DOJ investigations of the Trump Russia collusion matter, the Obama Administrations activities in collusion with the Russians aimed at harming the Trump Administration; c) to investigate the Clinton foundation and its role in the Uranium One deal and the transfer to the Russians of hypersonic missile technology and d) to proceed with the prosecution of Congressional contempt citations that are likely against DOJ and the FBI for refusing to comply with Congressional document subpoenas.

Now we must see what wreckage these Never Trumpers have wrought.

L&L will display poor constitutional and political judgment and worse conservatism in siding with the unprincipled Democrats in the upcoming political fight.

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timothy
on April 09, 2018 at 23:10:10 pm

Simply stated so that you can understand with clarity: Trump is involved with the Russian crime oligarchs, and a traitor to the American Constitution, abhors the rule of law, and a mirror to the evil that lurks in the heart of privileged white rich people. Not only is Trump the Gargoyle in Chief, he is the Prevaricator in Chief of faux news.

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DLS
on April 10, 2018 at 09:13:06 am

DLS wishes his message to be "simply stated so that (we) can understand with clarity."

Oh, but of course! DLS is simple, indeed. And his simple-mindedness is unmistakable.

And, it's important to keep in mind 1) that DLS in his simplicity and clarity is simply and clearly regurgitating Democrat Party talking points, 2) that Democrat Party talking points ARE ALWAYS crafted simply and with clarity so the mob will get it and 3) that is how propaganda works.

Just read Saul Alinsky's "Rules For Radicals." Lenin also makes the point. (Clearly and simply, of course. The man knew his audience.)

But the Democrat Party's talking point format is also tiresome, predictable and boring, utterly lacking in creativity and imagination, devoid of intellectual content. It's the way third-graders might be encouraged to talk if a pedophile, lurking on the playground, put dirty words into their mouths, nasty words based on thoughts filled with vile and lacking any positive or inspiring moral content.

Think Maxine Waters! Does one not always knows what she means? Is her comment not invariably nasty, vile and devoid of intellectual and moral content?

DLS sounds like Maxine Waters. Indeed, I bet DLS's comment was taken from a file of Maxine Waters talking points.

That's another thing about Democrats: they're never original. They have 7 or 8 talking points ( focused on the words like"racist" and "Nazi") and that's all they can come up with. So they use them over and over and over and over again and again and again and again. That's because Democrats like DLS can't think or write; they can only speak and write what was written for them at their Ministry of Truth, the DNC.

And my final thought about DLS: he is a troll, a Democrat Party hack assigned to this site to assault it periodically with Democrat Party talking points which are the AR-15's of fake news.

Keep in mind that, to the Democrat Party, DHS and his fellow-traveller trolls are mere mini-attack hacks, verbally-challenged Lilliputians who serve as midget surrogates for the really big and very bad Democrat Party elites, those major crypto-Commies, cultural Marxists and similar mental ungulates who really do threaten our country.

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timothy
on April 10, 2018 at 12:35:15 pm

Spoken like a real Gargoyle - not just a right-wind troll, but a new identity for right-wing fascists.

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DLS
on April 10, 2018 at 13:06:28 pm

I suppose I've been vaguely Trump-conscious for over 30 years and I have no clear memory of people condemning his extraordinary homophobia, misogyny, anti-semitism, xenophobia, etc.etc. until he emerged as an authentic RINO. Nor do I remember celebrations of his extravagant virtues. Did he every say anything interesting about the Constitution? Has he said anything interesting since---oh wait, he's currently in favor of the Glorious Second.

Of course he's a nationalist and nobody ever heard of an ambitious politician exploiting nationalism to excite the populace.

I admit to loathing boastful blowhards, constant unrelieved hyperbole, witless clowning, endless babble in one and two syllable words. Above (or below?) all I hate and loathe people who adore gold-plated bidets. So, yes I loathe the gargoyle on aesthetic grounds. I can't say despise his worshipers since they include close personal friends, but I do despise the personification of political hopes. It confirms my belief that servility and dependence are the default positions of the human race.

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JOHN FRARY
on April 10, 2018 at 14:39:45 pm

I humbly suggest that comments are more fun when we attempt to address the substance of the argument presented.

I sense Rogers is trying to get at a larger point. I hate to be a neudge by pointing out that his language in expressing his point is hopelessly vague.

First, is it true that Trump’s core supporters will never abandon him? Yes—if we define the “core supporters” as those who never abandon him. Thus, this is a No True Scotsman argument: It appears to make a substantive claim, but upon examination, merely states a self-referential tautology. The larger context for this remarks is that Trump has a historically low approval rating; he has already lost a lot of support. Again, to dismiss this fact by saying that he has merely lost the support of those who were not his “core supporters” merely states a tautology.

Second, what does it mean to say that Trump supporters are or are not “deplorables”? Rogers does not deny that some people fall into this category, or that some of these people supported Trump; he merely denies the quantity of such people—all without offering any definition of what he’s talking about. But one thing is clear: Rogers concludes that people do not fall into the “deplorable” category simply because they give tacit approval for government engaging in wrongful behavior on their behalf—often, behavior that involves extreme acts of prejudice based on suspect categories or other foundations that would not stand up to judicial scrutiny. This thesis warrants further exploration at a minimum.

Finally, Rogers makes a valiant effort to suggest that Trump is crazy like a fox, merely acting nuts as part of a rational strategy to scare others into appeasing us. Many leaders have arguably behaved this way. But I don’t know how well the strategy works internationally; mostly it seems to work domestically.

Alas, a simpler explanation seems more consistent with the evidence: Trump is just an impulsive blowhard, and lots of Americans who have no more understanding of public policy than Trump find his dominant posture attractive. If Trump were actually following some rationale strategy focused on isolating N. Korea, he wouldn’t be antagonizing China at the same time. If Trump were really interested in reining in China, he wouldn’t have abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Trump were really interested in reining in Assad, he wouldn’t announce that he’s pulling US troops out of Syria. Etc. The only thesis that explains all of these policy decisions is that Trump is an impulsive blowhard. The content of Fox & Friends is the best predictor of Trump’s policy at any given moment.

Finally, here’s the bottom line regarding playing chicken: It’s rarely a good long-term strategy. From the dawn of time, dominant individuals have been able to accomplish a lot, and became heroes—but generally within the context of a community of near-peers. Because in a conflict between the dominant hero and a community, the community tends to prevail; indeed, this may be why communities formed in the first place. Humans dominate Earth not because we’re the strongest animal on the planet, but because we have a peculiar combination of intelligence and sociability that lets us coordinate our actions with others. And that coordination permits humans to fell any other animal—including lone humans.

Already the other developed nations are concluding that the US is no longer a reliable partner, and has proceeded to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership on their own. We’ll see whether Trump’s unilateralism produces better results than the developed world’s multilateralism.

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nobody.really
on April 10, 2018 at 14:46:00 pm

In 1830, Mr. Robert Southey, a popular poet, wrote a two-volume book imagining if the spirit of Sir Thomas More were to pop up in his kitchen and join him in bemoaning how society has eroded since More’s day. Thomas Babington Macaulay reviewed this book and concluded that Southey is an excellent poet – and an ignoramus regarding social change and public policy. The resulting book review reminds us that certain kinds of minds have always been with us, and we must simply endure them.

Here’s an excerpt:

We have, for some time past, observed with great regret the strange infatuation which leads [Southey] to abandon those departments … in which he might excel, and to lecture the public on sciences which he has still the very alphabet to learn. He has now, we think, done his worst. The subject which he has at last undertaken to treat is one which demands all the highest intellectual and moral qualities of a philosophical statesman, an understanding at once comprehensive and acute, a heart at once upright and charitable. Mr. Southey brings to the task two faculties which were never, we believe, vouchsafed in measure so copious to any human being – the faculty of believing without a reason, and the faculty of hating without a provocation.

* * *

Government is to Mr. Southey one of the fine arts. He judges of a theory, of a public measure, of a religious or a political party, of a peace or a war, as men judge of a picture or a statue, by the effect produced on his imagination. A chain of associations is to him what a chain of reasoning is to other men; and what he calls his opinions are in fact merely his tastes.

* * *

Now in the mind of Mr. Southey reason has no place at all, as either leader or follower, as either sovereign or slave. He does not seem to know what an argument is. He never uses arguments himself. He never troubles himself to answer the arguments of his opponents. It has never occurred to him, that a man ought to be able to give some better account of the way in which he has arrived at his opinions than merely that it is his will and pleasure to hold them. It has never occurred to him that there is a difference between assertion and demonstration, that a rumour does not always prove a fact, that a single fact, when proved, is hardly foundation enough for a theory, that two contradictory propositions cannot be undeniable truths, that to beg the question is not the way to settle it, or that when an objection is raised, it ought to be met with something more convincing than ‘scoundrel’ and ‘blockhead.’

It would be absurd to read the works of such a writer for political instruction.

* * *

What theologians call the spiritual sins are his cardinal virtues, hatred, pride, and the insatiable thirst of vengeance. These passions he disguises under the name of duties….

* * *

The only opponents to whom the Laureate gives quarter are those in whom he finds something of his own character reflected. He seems to have an instinctive antipathy for calm, moderate men, for men who shun extremes, and who render reasons. He has treated Mr. Owen of Lanark, for example, with infinitely more respect than he has shown to Mr. Hallam or to Dr. Lingard; and this for no reason that we can discover, except that Mr. Owen is more unreasonably and hopelessly in the wrong than any speculator of our time.

* * *

Exclusion, persecution, severe punishments for libellers and demagogues, proscriptions, massacres, civil war, if necessary rather than any concession to a discontented people; these are the measures which he seems inclined to recommend. A severe and gloomy tyranny, crushing opposition, silencing remonstrance, drilling the minds of the people into unreasoning obedience, has in it something of grandeur which delights his imagination. But there is nothing fine in the shabby tricks and jobs of office; and Mr. Southey, accordingly, has no toleration for them. When a Jacobin, he did not perceive that his system led logically, and would have led practically, to the removal of religious distinctions. He now commits a similar error. He renounces the abject and paltry part of the creed of his party, without perceiving that it is also an essential part of that creed. He would have tyranny and purity together; though the most superficial observation might have shown him that there can be no tyranny without corruption.

* * *

We do not, however, believe that Mr. Southey would recommend such a course, though his language would, according to all the rules of logic, justify us in supposing this to be his meaning. His opinions form no system at all. He never sees, at one glance, more of a question than will furnish matter for one flowing and well-turned sentence; so that it would be the height of unfairness to charge him personally with holding a doctrine, merely because that doctrine is deducible … from the premises which he has laid down. We are, therefore, left completely in the dark as to Mr. Southey’s opinions….

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nobody.really
on April 10, 2018 at 17:56:49 pm

I love the excerpts from a grand historian/essayist's review of a middling poet's attempts to write like a statesman or an historian or a cultural critic. Artists, including poets, novelists, painters, musicians, architects and actors are notoriously judgmental, unjustifiably opinionated and invariably inept on public and cultural matters. Poets and novelists, in my experience, are uninteresting, uninspired essayists outside the worlds of poetry and fiction (This is perhaps a failing endemic to artists, the cost of their gift of the vision to see the world anew with unprecedented perspectives.)

So, never big on the poet Southey and even without reading Southey on politics I can believe Macaulay on Southey.

And what a lover of language, its power, its subtlety, its beauty, was Macaulay. Hardly the kindest man of his day but certainly, with Acton, among the most interesting in an era of collossi and, with George Eliot, the Brontes and Dickens, the finest writer of his era.

Thanks for excerpting that review, even if it was intended to be instructive for me and/or Gabe:)

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timothy
on April 10, 2018 at 18:45:19 pm

Ain't Macaulay awesome?

For what it's worth, the largest part of Macaulay's essay is basically libertarian--a celebration of laissez-faire policies rather than protectionist/change-inhibiting regulations. Macaulay cites data showing that Southey's accounts of the good ol' days were nostalgic nonsense. So read his whole essay--and the next time I'm seeking regulation to thwart some change, you might get the chance to rub my nose in Macaulay's words.

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nobody.really
on April 11, 2018 at 09:50:23 am

As another commentator noted "language of essay" in making its point (Trump supporters generally are immune to his grotesqueries) is not most clear but the argument (the meaning) via metaphor strikes at the symbolic nature of DJT's core appeal.

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Anthony
on April 11, 2018 at 19:00:28 pm

nobody:

again, you simply DROP IN your own (perhaps?) misinformed or as you assert, UNinformed policy prescriptions / analysis as if they are to be taken as Gospel.

It is arguable whether *antagonizing china* will significantly impact the N. Korean situation. Indeed, it appears that China has BLINKED and is offering to lower tariffs on US automobiles. Hmmm! Perhaps, The Trumpster had a better sense of the situation than did those *better* informed policy experts.

Also - pulling out of TPP may not result in either the dire outcomes, nor a further estrangement from the Peoples Republic AND it will release the US from certain other obligations imposed under the treaty, i.e., labor / human rights and the host of other baggage that the *better informed Obama accolytes in the State and commerce Departments deemed wise to include in the agreement.

I am not arguing that The Trumpster is the present equivalent of either FDR or Ronnie Reagan when it comes to the art of diplomacy; only that Trump Derangement Syndrome does cause many of his critics (and they are Legion (in the Biblical sense of evil) to reflexively criticize him for actions / intentions not at all dissimilar to those of the Great and Wise (aka "better informed") Obama.

Problems may very well arise as a result of "tweeting diplomacy" This remains to be observed. If Obama was (justly) criticized for inaction in Syria, then The Trumpster should also face criticism for a possible premature withdrawal from Assads hellhole. Then again, I do not recall hearing of The Trumpster expressly inviting Putin and the Russkies in to Syria to effect peace and stability, as did Trumps predecessor. We DO know how well that worked out for the region. On the contrary, The Trumpster appears prepared to take action. Notice, that there has been no talk of Red Lines. Apparently, it was difficult for the previous Administration to determine if those lines had been crossed. After all, sand is quite mobile and the movement of that material may very well have obscured the (better) vision of the Obamaites.

Let us see what develops.

Now, as for the International community (such as that is) concluding that the US is no longer a reliable partner, I suggest you consult a calendar. That shipped sailed when Obama reneged on numerous agreements in Europe, the Ukraine, Poland, and as noted earlier Syria. Funny, when The Trumpster was earlier accused of being unreliable during discussions of The EU shirking its duty to contribute to NATO, and all the punditry and State Department (better informed) elitists uniformly charged Trump with abandoning our allies and were HOPING for conflict / angst within NATO and directed at the US, members of NATO suddenly stepped up and committed to funding levels for NATO more appropriate to their capacity to pay. Yep, an unreliable ally, I suppose, is someone who tells you when you are shirking your treaty obligations and NOT the shirkers.

Interesting world you inhabit.

Hey, BTW, DID YOU MODEL THIS OUTCOME? I think you must have given the rather high predictive validity of your econometric models.

BTW 2:
Do keep the literary quotes coming. I rather enjoy them.

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gabe
on April 13, 2018 at 09:56:44 am

Not only Macaulay disliked poor Southey:

1) Southey may have spread the rumor that Byron and Shelley (who had accused Southey of selling out his politics) were in a "League of Incest" ( bringing to mind your excerpt on Southey: "...the spiritual sins are his cardinal virtues, hatred, pride, and the insatiable thirst of vengeance.") and Byron struck back mocking Southey as a sycophant to the king and characterizing him as insolent, narrow and shabby.

2) Perhaps Southey's most memorable achievement, "The Story of the Three Bears," precursor to "Goldilocks and the Three Bears,'' was trashed by noted child psychologist Bruno Bettleheim as bad for children because it was escapist, impeded a child's emotional maturation, lacked encouragement for children to address the problems of growing up and does not end happily. (Other than that it was terrific.)

3) And now you use poor Southey as your whipping boy-stand in for Gabe and me on L&L.

BTW re Macaulay:
In the 2d most moving scene of The Darkest Hour (the 1st being the Great Man's "We shall fight on the beaches/We shall never surrender" speech to Parliament) Churchill softly recites these few lines from "Lays of Ancient Rome:"

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?"

The choice of two great historians: death from the unyielding rather than surrender of the invaluable.

The "right stuff," that of Macaulay and Churchill.

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timothy
on April 15, 2018 at 00:24:34 am

So, how was that rally in Charlottesville, anyway? Nice thesaurus you swallowed, I must admit. "Nattering nabobs of negativity" ring a bell?

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excessivelyperky
on April 15, 2018 at 09:44:03 am

Perky the Troll is so "excessively" HaHa.
And trolling at 1 AM on Sunday!
Now there's a real bai mu for you.

Tell me, "excessively," do you bai mu's get paid for both flaming and trolling, because you seem to do both?

I bet old Georgie Porgy Soros pays "excessivelyperky" double time for flaming and trolling after midnight.

Flames and and trolls are called 'internet clowns," and psychologists think they suffer from "deindividuation" which is the loss of identity and personal responsibility from excessive (haha) participation as part of a large group.

Hmmm, what group might that be, "perky?"

And that your "deindividuation" may make you more likely to engage in mob violence.

Come clean, perkster, you're Antifa, right? and I bet you were at Charlottesville, Berkley and Middlebury College.

.

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timothy

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