A TRUMAN BIOGRAPHY PROMPTS
REFLECTIONS ON THE DONALD
In my brief stint as a newspaper reporter, the one story of mine that got picked up by the wires was a short piece about the “‘Give ’em Hell, Harry’ Spring Dance” held in one of the townships I covered.
What made the event newsworthy was the fact that this affair honoring former-President Harry S. Truman on his birthday (May 8) was being staged by the local Republican club. Truman, of course, was a Democrat. But as the club chairman explained, Harry was much admired for his firm convictions and forthright manner.
That incident comes to mind because I’ve just finished reading David McCullough’s Truman, a sprawling, 1,000-page biography of our 33rd President.
Harry Truman declined the invitation to attend that spring dance (he was 86 at the time and in poor health). But judging from the portrait sketched by McCullough’s book, I’m sure he appreciated the Republican gesture.
In our current hyper-partisan atmosphere, it’s hard to imagine such cross-party respectfulness. Indeed, we’ve become so divided ideologically that even within parties, different factions pretty much loath each other.
It strikes me that this year Republicans and Democrats are grappling with mirror images of the same dilemma. GOP leaders feel their turf has been invaded by an outsider (Trump) who’s beyond their control and owes them nothing, but is wildly popular among the Republican rank and file. Democrat leaders, on the other hand, are committed to a candidate (Clinton) who’s deeply vested in the labor unions, in lefty corporate circles, and in other key segments of the party’s financial base, but in whom most of the electorate has very little interest.
The media “chattering classes” on both the left and the right have reacted to Trump’s crusade with a level of hysteria normally reserved for things like Hollywood sex scandals, Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn, the final winner on “American Idol,” and other truly important matters. One can hardly count all the articles, blog posts, and tweets that charge Trump with being a latter-day Mussolini.
Now, I’ll admit that the online graphic comparing The Donald’s facial expression with Il Duce’s does show an eerie similarity. But I think this whole Trump-as-fascist theme has been pushed way over the top.
If anyone evokes the ghost of Mussolini, it’s Hillary. I’m not slinging totalitarian charges here. The resemblance comes down to this…
Everything I’ve ever read about Benito Mussolini, all the photos and movie footage I’ve seen, suggest that he was far less focused on his professed grand designs for a new Italian empire than he was on being an emperor figure. Contrast that with Adolph Hitler, whose every waking minute was consumed with plotting and planning for world domination — a true believer in every sense.
While Hitler certainly knew how to put on a show to fire up the masses, for Mussolini the show always seemed to be the end in itself: the strutting, the posing, the image projection.
That’s what I see in Hillary. To be sure, she’s an ideologue, a longtime acolyte of radical leftist theoretician Saul Alinsky.
But compare her with Bernie Sanders, a genuinely committed, loudly avowed collectivist partisan. Hillary’s principles seem always to be in the service of self-aggrandizement, all her energy dedicated to advancing a lifelong dream of being the first woman President.
She comes off as Il Duce in pantsuits.
In contrast, if The Donald has anything to recommend him, it’s that he seems to have no ideology at all. He’s pursuing his self-aggrandizement without Hillary’s Alinsky baggage.
Which, I’ll grant you, isn’t much of a recommendation — and which has caused no end of consternation among the leadership of the Republican Party.
Peggy Noonan, a pedigreed establishment conservative who strives admirably for a broader, more detached perspective, sums up the establishment’s fears in The Wall Street Journal…
“From those Republicans who are Never Trump, I hear an unchanged refrain: I can’t back a man who’s essentially an improv act, who has no qualifications for the office, who’s in it from some mad sense of personal destiny. He knows what will play with the crowd but has no idea what he believes, because he believes in nothing and calculates everything …. He is at least potentially fascist and probably racist.”
But she sees the possibility that Trump is the herald of a new GOP…
“Mr. Trump is bringing Democrats in. They don’t want to be Democrats anymore, or continue their role as members of always-Democratic families, and they don’t want to vote for Hillary. They’re considering coming fully into the GOP tent.”
That ought to be good news to party bigwigs — except for the thoroughgoing changes Republican stalwarts would have to accept as the price of all that invigorating new blood. This they find terrifying.
Not so, a big chunk of Republican (and Democrat) voters. Noonan notes the widely held view that everything has so thoroughly broken down, there’s nothing to loose in playing a wild card. She quotes an Uber driver in Providence, Rhode Island…
“Every four years we’re serious, we try to get it right, we do our best to choose the right guy. And nothing we do works! Bush, no, Romney, no, Obama’s a disaster. But we did our best! And now we’re thinking ‘Nothing worked. Take a chance.’ And if he’s no good we’ll fire him in four years.”
As for myself, I remain on the fence about Donald Trump. His undisciplined tongue, which has been the key to his popularity, may also be the portent of a troubled Presidency should he make it to the White House.
His lack of political experience? Well, that is a concern, of course, but a less troubling one. Has there ever been a President who was adequately prepared for the office?
I’ve observed before that, from a certain point of view Donald Trump is…
“a modern embodiment of the ‘citizen statesman’ with which American government began (Washington, Jefferson, etc. — although he’s an entrepreneur rather than a Virginia planter).”
It’s a truism that someone’s background isn’t necessarily a predictor of their effectiveness as a leader. That’s amply demonstrated by the life of Harry Truman.
Truman ascended to the presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, mere weeks after taking the oath as V.P. At that time there were great apprehensions about a man whom many dismissed as a Kansas-City-ward-heeler-political-machine-hack who had never even been to college. After a rough start and a few serious political missteps, Truman emerged as the President who would make some of the most momentous decisions of the 20th Century — among them dropping the atomic bomb, the Berlin Air Lift, the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, firing Douglas McArthur, and other daring moves.
At the end of his book, McCullough quotes Senator Adlai E. Stevenson (two-time Democratic presidential nominee) on how Harry Truman was…
“an object lesson in the vitality of popular government; an example of the ability of this society to yield up, from the most unremarkable [or unexpected] of origins, the most remarkable men.”
Will someone someday be able to say that about Donald Trump? Your guess is as good as mine.
I’m hoping this primary slug fest goes on all the way to the convention. If Trump washes out in Cleveland, he will have had his shot — provided everybody plays fair, that is. And if he wins, he’ll be the legitimate nominee, able to set the direction of the Republican Party — provided we don’t see a major bug-out like the abandonment of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Then too, there’s always the possibility of the dark horse emerging in either party’s race. Several interesting names are being whispered.
Thomas Lifson, editor and publisher of the online journal, American Thinker, is floating FBI Director James Comey, who’s hot on Hillary’s trail right now. If the Justice Department fails to prosecute her over those email malpractices (and possibly much greater ethical lapses), Comey would be seen as the last honest man, respected across the political spectrum and frustrated in his lone pursuit of justice.
Another name has been put forward by defense writer John Noonan, who sees the possibility of a “new Eisenhower” — a military man who, like Truman’s successor, could be drafted at a time when strong defense credentials are sorely needed (ISIS rampaging, a new Cold War revving up). His suggestion? Retired Marine General James Mattis.
Well, both of those are only names. Neither comes anywhere near eclipsing the biggest name right now: Donald Trump. And incidents like the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels no doubt increase the appeal of Trump’s border-defense/immigrant-restriction message — if not his personal attractiveness as a candidate.
So, he may as well take his cue from Harry Truman.
Give ’em hell, Donald!
We’ll see what happens in Cleveland..
Here’s a link to Peggy Noonan’s thoughts on the Trump phenomenon in The Wall Street Journal…
Best-selling author and former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino reminds us why The Donald’s message has resonated so powerfully…
“The reason people are in open rebellion, and make no mistake they are, is not that we lost the battles. It’s that we never fought them,” he says. Even with all the evidence mounting, Republican leaders and the establishment continue to be deaf to their part in causing this revolt.”
And then, of course there’s that undisciplined tongue. Perhaps it’s not so undisciplined as it appears. Catholic commentator Deal Hudson points out how Trump has lanced a boil…
“on the face of America. The boil has a name, ‘political correctness….’
“The fact that Donald Trump is getting more airtime on TV and radio, and coverage in the print and digital media, than any other human being in the world, all the while unapologetically speaking his mind, is bound to create a cultural firefight.”
And people are lovin’ him for it…
The New York Post’s Michael Goodwin sums up the pained decision to which many voters, in both parties are coming. A registered Democrat who bought Barack Obama’s “unity” message in 2008 (then quickly recognized how disingenuous it was), Goodwin aches with a sense of having been abandoned by the political class. He captures the current zeitgeist perfectly…
“I would be delighted to support a more conventional candidate who has Trump’s courage and appeal, but we don’t always get to pick our revolutionaries. And make no mistake, Donald Trump is leading a political revolution that is long overdue.”…
Camille Paglia has emerged as America’s most thoughtful liberal — sort of the Peggy Noonan of the Left. Writing for Salon, she offers a brilliant summation of: WHY Donald Trump…
“Trump may be raw, crude and uninformed, but he’s also smart, intuitive and a quick study who will presumably get up to passable speed as he assembles a brain trust over the coming months. Whether Trump can temper his shoot-from-the-hip impetuosity is another matter. There is a huge gap between the teeth-gnashing fulminations of the anti-Trump mainstream media and the perfectly reasonable Trump supporters whom I hear calling into radio talk shows.”
As for Hillary, I’ve been reading that she’ll “finish off” the country if she’s elected. That’s a theme sounded in conservative author Dinesh D’Souza’ 2014 book and movie, “America.” These days it echoes regularly in my Facebook news feed.
D’Souza’s take on Hillary is a little different from mine. As quoted in the Washington Examiner, he maintains that, like Barack Obama, she…
“adopted [radical Left theorist Saul] Alinsky’s strategic counsel to sound mainstream, even when you aren’t. These are the ways in which our two Alinskyites make themselves palatable to the American middle class, which to this day has no idea how hostile Hillary and Obama are to middle-class values.”
Is that why she and Bill live so high on the hog? If so, it gives a whole new appeal to being a Marxist revolutionary. D’Souza continues…
“If Hillary Clinton is elected in 2016, the baton will have passed from one Alinskyite to another. In this case, Alinsky’s influence will have taken on a massive, almost unimaginable, importance. Obama will have had eight years to remake America, and Hillary will have another four or perhaps eight to complete the job.”
…and to John Noonan’s musings about General James Mattis as the “new Eisenhower” on the Daily Beast (I don’t know if he’s related to Peggy)…