I began this piece with these words.
We are responsible for the rise of Trump. Every time we have not made the extra effort, every time we leave something undone that has moral or spiritual and intellectual value, every time we don’t do something honest or good or worthy, we provide the soil for a man like Trump to rise and flourish.
We have allowed ourselves to become slaves to the poking of gadgets or TV news or reality shows –every time we let apathy overcome the force of effort and let us evades the effort required to read and study in order to understanding how the world works and our place in it we have created Trump. He is the mammoth created by our own laziness, ignorance and irresponsibility. Every time we tried to be just like everybody else we provided ground for the rise of Trump.
Our country was formed by aristocrats, men of learning and man of breeding. They knew that society is by nature aristocratic. They said so. The Founders were men of the world: they were lawyers, farmers, planter-business men, speculators, investors. They feared popular uprisings (Is not the rise of Trump a kind of popular uprising?) They were suspicious of democracy because they thought individual self-interest “the most dangerous and unbrookable quality of man,” and it was their aim to control it. They gloried in the feeling that they were doing something new that benefit the bulk of the people. They did not think that the superior person is a petulant individual who thinks he is superior to the rest. In their lives, they made great demands on themselves, piling up duties and displaying the stamina to conquer difficult obstacles; they were driven by their own idea of perfection and warned against excessive self-interest and greed and self-aggrandizement. People who had no ideal of perfection were chaff, and they were the wheat. No society was possible without moral and intellectual standards. It was the effort to develop them that infused pride to people’s efforts.
“There is a degree of animal spirits and showy accomplishment which enables its possessors to get a start in the majestic world, says Hazlitt. He goes on in another essay, to describe people who “strut and swagger and bluff and jostle his way through life, and have the upper hand of those who are his betters in everything but health and strength.”
The Founders, bewildered and speechless, would gaze helplessly at today’s political world.
“I love the poorly educated,” Trump trumpets. In other words, he praised the commonplace mind, as if being complacent is the only goal of life worth praising. The commonplace mind has a right to rule and wield power even if it is commonplace. Talent, taste, wit, learning, culture, courtesy have no value. They buy nothing. Gone are the select, the qualified, and accomplished. The world in Trumps eyes has been mistaken all along. Never mind what civilization has worked so hard to achieve. He is going to make the Earth great again.
(At this point, I stopped and began again. What useless words!)
We Fail the System, the System Doesn’t Fail us.
The current political strife in America is merely a symptom — it’s not the disease itself.
The hard fact is that all political systems, like all civilizations, are successful only for a limited time. For a time they are valid, but after time passes, they succumb to their inborn flaws. “In American politics the development of a retrospective and nostalgic cast of mind has gone hand in hand with the slow decline of traditional faith,” said the historian Richard Hofstadter in 1948. That describes American political attitudes today. No political system is eternal; it is valid for only a limited time. As time passes, the defects of the system come to the surface, and they begin to threaten the operation of the old accepted system. The defects of our natures drag down our political accomplishments.
What are these defects? They are born in us at birth. I like to think that I am a good person. I like to think that I am forthright, direct, and faithful to the facts. I am loyal and generous to my friends and I dislike my enemies but I dislike them on sound grounds. I abhor prejudice because it is a product of ignorance, and I labor hard not to be ignorant. (Of course, I constantly fail.) I am like most of the people on the site. Most of us conceive of ourselves as basically virtuous. In my own case, I detect all sorts of defects in my nature, but I like to think they don’t tip the balance against me. My defects are only subsidiary factors, not the decisive ones. My stubbornness in some areas: my selfishness, my moral blindness, the termination to always have my own way – these do not have the same weight as my good qualities. Every one of us feels like this, and it is that sort of self-excusing attitude that produces catastrophes in the world because I am like everyone else and everyone else, like me, overlooks that they are a mixture of evil and good. All virtuous people are a mixture of evil and good. That is a standing fact of human history.
The political strife that we see is not a melodrama, it is drama. Both sides claim to be righteous and label the other wicked. Both are half right.
Many of the Republicans are being told that the world has failed them, and taken advantage of them. It has ignored or persecuted them. They turn to Trump in order to see their lives transformed from a losing struggle to a triumphant one, ignoring the warning that all glory is fleeting. Of course, a political party that seethes with a sense of injustice, will uses all means to obtain victory over its rivals. In a political contest, members of one side often view the other as not fit to live. Each side convinces itself that the other side can do what it likes with impunity because when a system is unresponsive their needs and fears there is no other course left excepting aggression and overbearing brute force. The great British historian, Sir. Herbert Butterfield, points out that when it comes to competing forces, changes in a rival’s predominance, its growing strength, will tend to bring a new type of leader to the surface. Thus, we witness the rise of Trump.
Unfortunately, as soon as victory is gained, his group will soon exhibiting the same hateful traits that before they despised. Success poisons. Success unbridles a group’s worst traits. Their very success will stimulate rapid jealousy in their vanquished opponents. Plus the defeated will become more defiant and restive, and each party will be locked into its own system of self-righteousness. Neither of them retains any possibility of knowing the authentic fears of the other. Both sides will return to being anxious about the designs of the other. In such a contest, the defects of both sides will come to rule and dominate, and a victory of one of them over the other will make things worse. The problem of the defects of human nature is always lurking in every situation. They just wait for their chance to deform any triumph and vitiate its effectiveness.
Victory is not permanent. Each side plumes itself on its good intentions and believes that the defects are all the other side. Hence the bitter conflict, yet in some sense, bitter conflict is embedded in the situation from the outset. The great British historian Herbert Butterfield observed that “…even though side is aware of its own fears and apprehensions, it always fails to enter properly into the counter-fear of the other party” Neither is capable of realizing that a complete victory over the other is impossible. No political group can achieve absolute security, free from risk, exempt from threats or fears except on terms that will act to alarm its rival.
It is easy to make judgments if you see only one thing at a time, if you aware of only one side of the issue. What is required is that we must try to see the all the sides of a conflict, which demands having a stereoscopic outlook. There is a bright side. What is ignored is that each rival party acts to moderate in the end and improve the other.
But the chief point is that all political systems are under judgment because of the moral defects of their leaders and their followers.
Every civilization caters to the greed and cupidity of its members. Cupidity is one of the glues that hold a society together. There is a greed for glory, a greed for money, a greed for fame, and a greed to be noticed, a greed for unlimited power over others. Organizations are set up to satisfy the cupidity of a group, but again, the inner defects of a group tend, over time, to rot the system and impair or pervert its effectiveness We forget that our moral defects are always acting to undermine our ideals. If not curbed, those rival greeds act, in the end to destroy the will to do things in common for the good of all.
Butterfield issues this warning, “History gives us glimpses sometimes of appalling things that can happen when the whole order of things breaks down,” mainly because good and evil are so closely intertwined in the personalities of all of us. When anarchy breaks out after a shooting or a police strike, people who view themselves as respectable citizens suddenly loot or burn or steal or beat other people because the social order has broken down and the restraints of conscience have been broken as well. The rule of law keeps very fallible people behaving much better than they really are.
Edmund Burke once said that any society is better than having no system at all, the worst course resulting in a society’s inability to defend the weak against the strong. In such a case, we all would be reduced to Thomas Hobbes’ view, in which no human being is able to trust another human being because all human beings are in a state of war. But this is true – even if a society produces a new, more virile order, the defects of human nature are always there, always a work, always energetic in neglecting or weakening the good, and all of are responsible for the quiet, gradual undoing of our ideals. We endure society because it curbs weakens and limits rapacious self-aggrandizement and boundless egotism. But in history, we have all seen how political power behaves once it believes it enjoys impunity. The unspoken goal for every political group is to establish its own tyranny over others. Trump may promise all he likes, but in the end he confronts the same obstacles in human nature as the rest, even in victory.
Whenever I think of Trump or Hillary, I remember the ominous lines of Yeats:
Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand; A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
And be warned. As Butterfield said, “Providence may even have given you what you want, only in order to destroy you with it.”