Sunday, August 9, 2015

Donald Trump's Candidacy and America's Intellectual Decline

How did Donald Trump, a bloviating billionaire, become a viable candidate for the US presidency in a country that boasts of the American Philosophical Society and The Metaphysical Club? The candidacy of Donald Trump was born on the day Bill Clinton decided to court the youth vote by appearing on MTV and answering whether he preferred boxers or briefs. Democrats are chortling that Trump resembles the GOP and preening intellectuals are tittering that Trump will lead GOP to an electoral rout not seen since the days of FDR. Trump is not the product of GOP and nor is he a problem for the GOP. Trump is a creation of America's intellectual decline and resembles America, not just one or the other party. All that remains is for a 21st century Richard Hofstadter to reprise a retelling of 'Anti-Intellectualism in America'.

Benjamin Franklin established the American Philosophical Society in 1743 and the Metaphysical Club was first established by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1872. Both were supposed to foster vigorous intellectual debate and provide the nascent country with intellectual inputs. Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in establishing the Library of Congress and felt that legislators should've access to a library to read and enlighten themselves before legislating. Donald Trump is incapable of any intellectual thought or vision and yet he is a serious candidate for a national party. How did this happen?

Donald Trump
The coarsening of debate and an all pervading shallowness in conversation are both the contributions of a social media fueled 24 hour news cycle. There was a time when Milton Friedman, no less, ran a series of shows dedicated to very serious discussion on economics with guests like Thomas Sowell. Friedman's show 'Free to choose' was legendary in dethroning liberal economics with feisty, lively and deeply intellectual debate on how 'progressive policies' where anything but progressive. And then there was William F. Buckley Jr's 'Firing Line' with wit, verve and intellectualism. Buckley's on-air vitriolic feud with Gore Vidal had all the fireworks that one would expect when ideological apostles of clashing world views joust intellectually. It is a sad decline that in today's America what makes for controversy is a woman moderator being berated vulgarly by an air-headed billionaire.

Newt Gingrich acidly told financial journalist Mario Bartiromo, during a debate where she moderated, in 2011 that nobody in the news media asked "one single intelligent question to the 'Occupy Wall Street' crowd". The 'Occupy' movement was a rag tag motley crowd with a collective IQ on economics that was almost zero. Yet, the media lionized them without any serious intellectual scrutiny of their addled ideas or idiotic policy prescriptions. Is the connection between media leaving 'Occupy' crowd unchallenged and the rise of Trump as a candidate, a tenuous or far fetched one? No. Not at all. When one kind of vacuous demagoguery is accepted in the name of challenging 'the establishment' it is impossible to prevent another demagogue doing the same.

When highly respected and very professional anchor John King, CNN, opens a presidential debate with a question on the private life of a candidate and get's singed on live-TV by the sharp tongued candidate we can understand why the media is the favorite punching bag for the extremes in both left and right. Newt Gingrich went on to win the South Carolina primary solely because of that on-air explosion. This is the same media that gave Barack Obama an unprecedented latitude because of his historic candidacy. At one debate Hillary Clinton mocked the media for its softball questions to Barack Obama. She asked "why don't you give him a pillow".

A sickening feature of the rise of the Trump candidacy is the role of the media. On the one hand anchors breathlessly comment on how the man adds nothing to the debate, how he is a problem for a party that's trying to reach out to minorities and then goes to the same man for interviews because, as he rightly brags, he's a 'ratings machine'. Trump has been invited by CNN's Wolf Blitzer to comment on serious issues so many times in the past as if he had anything to contribute. The media created Trump and is now acting like the GOP created him. Only Huffington Post had the guts to say it'll stop covering Trump as a candidate for the presidency but will feature him in the entertainment section.

The rise of Huffington Post as a news portal is the best summary of America's intellectual decline. The Huffington Post is nothing but a web aggregator and does no original journalism, lives off the journalistic efforts of other news organizations, and makes more money than them. How does one intelligently talk of the roots of the 2008 financial crisis in a country where Huffington Post exists?

The media circus during the 2008 heated primaries featuring Obama and Clinton showed the shallowness of the debate. Supporters and partisans from each camp were invited on primary nights and other times to pow-wow on-air by networks. Pray, since when did mud fights by partisan hacks become worthy of being labeled political debate? Yet, no anchor challenged Barack Obama on serious issues like campaign finance. As a long shot candidate Obama had signed a pledge that if elected as nominee he'd take public financing for the general election. Then, nominee Obama, rolling in cash, refused to do just that despite being reminded of the pledge by a far underfunded opponent. Nobody in the media sought to pin him on the hypocrisy. And Obama gleefully dished out policies that everyone loved to hear but nobody thought he'd seriously implement. Obama talked tough on appointing lobbyists until he appointed one. He pontificated loftily on how he'd bring about health care reform with discussions on live TV until he discovered the virtues of backroom deals. He railed and ranted against NAFTA and then slyly sent his economic adviser to the Canadian embassy to assuage fears that he might tear up NAFTA. Now, the same guy is trying to sign the largest trade deal.  Is it any wonder then that the people have little or no faith in the media? Faced with double speaking politicians it is no wonder that a guy who speaks his mind, however offensively, catches the imagination of the people and is rewarded for being gutsy.

If Mitt Romney had had half the guts of Donald Trump he'd be sitting in the Oval office today. Romney was repeatedly cornered in debates by his opponents and moderators for how his firm 'Bain Capital' conducted business. He was repeatedly asked to explain job losses at firms his company bought over and he was tarnished as 'vulture capitalist'. What many conceded in private and what was true was that the nature of his business was exactly that. Private Equity firms are called in as a last resort by a hemorrhaging firm to restructure and become viable. This naturally involves layoffs. Asked about lenders losing money when his companies declared bankruptcy Trump cheerfully told the moderator "look, these lenders are not small time investors". He essentially said "they know what game they are playing". That was ballsy. The audience  loved it. Romney, a far more honorable business man than Trump, never embraced a muscular argument in favor of capitalism and thus yielded the ground to Obama, a demagogue, who understood nothing of economics. On this one score I wish Romney had been like Trump.

It is sickening to a see a parade of self-righteousness by the Democratic party against Trump's misogyny. Apparently its not ok to be offensive about women and minorities only when its the GOP doing it. Washington DC mayor, African-American, railed against how Asian shops are dirty and there was no furore of disapproval. A South Carolina union had a pinata beating contest where the piñata was the GOP governor Nikki Haley's face. Nikki Haley, a woman of Indian origin, is the governor of SC. Liberal comedian Bill Maher happily heaped patently offensive comments about vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin without attracting even a finger wagging let alone a tsunami of condemnation. Then there was Barack Obama telling Hillary Clinton, without looking at her, "you are likable enough Hillary" and then called a lady reporter "sweetie". And then there is Bill Clinton, he of the "I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky" fame.

When the Democratic party candidates pontificate on Trump's demagoguery its rich with hypocrisy. The basic rule of politics is anything goes. Throwing the kitchen sink at the opponent is par for the course. When GOP congressman Paul Ryan presented proposals to overhaul entitlement programs the Democrats released an ad showing him pushing an old woman off a mountain cliff.

Yes, Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants being rapists, is not just false but patently offends any decent person. But, again, Trump's demagoguery strikes a chord in a sympathetic audience, but, at its root is the Democratic demagoguery that nobody becomes rich except by defrauding somebody else. Democrats made it fashionable to tell a majority of America that a minority is responsible for all their troubles and lack of progress in life. To the democrats the culprits were the so called rich people. To the Trump voter it is the illegal immigrant. Across the world, in every country, immigration always raises concern about destabilizing local labor market. This is economic reality. There are sound economic arguments in favor of immigration but sound economic arguments are not only shunned by the Democrats but actively discredited so when they are indignant at Trump feeding into a frenzy they are being facetious and hypocritical. Also the cynicism of the GOP voter on immigration is not entirely without basis. Democrats always gleefully point out that it was Reagan who actually allowed an Amnesty program for illegal immigrants. True. Reagan signed on to an amnesty program when the number of illegal immigrants were 3 million. The other part of the bargain was to secure the border and that never happened and the result is today there are 14 million illegal immigrants. Also, let's face it, the Democratic party loves this problem only because they see a vote bank in that demographics.

For those offended by the vulgar remarks of Donald Trump here's another unpleasant fact of why such rhetoric could appeal to a voter. The illegal immigrant lobby has become a political force that is brazen in its demands and the brazenness is not just in 'demanding' citizenship but has reached such ludicrous levels where it is considered politically incorrect to even call them "illegal immigrant". The political correctness brigade informs us that we should refer to them as "undocumented immigrant". Is it any wonder that when Trump rails against political correctness there are people willing to applaud him. And by the way Bernie Sanders, a proud socialist and another Democratic candidate, practically echoes Trump's desire to seal the borders and put a stop to immigration. So much for the GOP being the party opposed to immigration. Actually GOP loves immigration, albeit, the legal kind, the kind that is not a hostage to the Democratic party.

There was a time when Leonard Bernstein conducted classes on classical music for children in New York City and that was broadcast. Then there was Jacob Bronowski lecturing the world on the intellectual "Ascent of man". Today we are left with following Kim Kardashian's nude posterior breaking the internet. And then we blame Trump for having audacity to consider himself a candidate for the highest office in the land.

Donald Trump is a product of the intellectual swamp that is America today. Trump is a reflection of the decline of intellectualism in all walks of life in America. Trump is not GOP's problem he is America's problem. Trump does not embody GOP, he embodies America and for that every American should be ashamed.


anilkurup59 said...

"Donald Trump is a product of the intellectual swamp that is America today. Trump is a reflection of the decline of intellectualism in all walks of life in America. Trump is not GOP's problem he is America's problem. Trump does not embody GOP, he embodies America and for that every American should be ashamed."

You have the answer and comment to your post.There cannot be anything more to comment that is pertinent to the subject.

Unknown said...

For a view from the other side....
Invite to readers to keep in mind that the left calls the right stupid and vice versa.
He does not fit the popular frame of 'intelligent' man.
But there are presidents like that in America even before and the country had done fine.
His management style is 'chaotic' and not 'consent' based. But look a the list Dilbert write Scott Adams gives.
Hope to widen the views of this forum.