I would find it more convincing that Trump is “shaking up his administration,” as the press reports every day or two, if they’d first report the deep complacency that needs roiling. (I just haven’t noticed that on my own.)
Peggy Noonan thinks Bush I should have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize, and she, ever the speech writer, wished for more articulation of what he was doing:
[The collapse of Communism] was a crucial event in the history of the West, and its meaning needed stating by the American president. There was much to be lauded, from the hard-won unity of the West to Russia’s decision to move bravely toward new ways. Much could be said without triumphalism.
It is a delicate question, in statecraft as in life, when to speak and when not to. George Bush thought it was enough to do it, not say it, as the eulogists asserted. He trusted the people to infer his reasoning from his actions. (This was his approach on his tax increase, also.) But in the end, to me, leadership is persuasion and honest argument: This is my thinking. I ask you to see it my way.
Something deeply admirable, though: No modern president now considers silence to be an option, ever. It is moving to remember one who did, who trusted the people to perceive and understand his actions. Who respected them that much.
Peggy Noonan (emphasis added)
[L]ook at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.
Sullivan lays out the religious fervor of both the Trumpistas and the Social Justice warriors. Of the latter, he notes, “A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke.
But I never expected much from secular progressives, so I’m going to focus on his indictment of Evangelical Trumpistas:
- Their leaders have turned Christianity into a political and social identity, not a lived faith.
- They have tribalized a religion explicitly built by Jesus as anti-tribal.
- They have turned to idols — including their blasphemous belief in America as God’s chosen country.
- They have embraced wealth and nationalism as core goods, two ideas utterly anathema to Christ.
- They are indifferent to the destruction of the creation they say they believe God made.
- Because their faith is unmoored but their religious impulse is strong, they seek a replacement for religion.
His conclusion: “The terrible truth of the last three years is that the fresh appeal of a leader-cult has overwhelmed the fading truths of Christianity.”
If that is true, we who still hold those fading truths can thank God that Trump is always shaking up his crypto-complacent administration rather than brewing up some Kool-Aid.
(I think it was Ross Douthat who said “If you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait ’till you see the irreligious right.” On Sullivan’s reading, it might be “post-Christian Right” or even “post-Christian politics” generally. But I like Douthat’s version better, nevertheless granting Sullivan’s point about our incorrigible religiosity.)
As much as Trump’s defenders may want to minimize “process crimes,” it remains a fact that the last two articles of impeachment drafted against American presidents featured clear evidence of, yes, process crimes. Process crimes are still crimes. It is an enduring feature of political corruption that politicians will lie about things that aren’t illegal but are politically or personally embarrassing — and when they lie under oath or cause others to lie under oath they violate the law.
- Objectively, Trump is in a heap’o’trouble.
- Somehow, though, he brazens his way through so far. (See item 3.)
Trump, I suspect, isn’t unfunny. He’s anti-funny. Humor humanizes. It uncorks, unstuffs, informalizes. Used well, it puts people at ease. Trump’s method is the opposite: He wants people ill at ease. Doing so preserves his capacity to wound, his sense of superiority, his distance. Good jokes highlight the ridiculous. Trump’s jokes merely ridicule. They are caustics, not emollients.
… This is an angry age, in which Trump’s critics also simmer in rage, ridicule, self-importance, self-pity — and hatred, too. They think they’re reproaching the president. Increasingly they reflect him. [Alan] Simpson’s message contains a warning to us all.
Bret Stephens, A Presidency Without Humor.
That’s an important warning, but our humor should not leave history wondering if we were complacent. No, we’re still pretty shaken up.
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