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donald trumpWell, the two parts of this title have nothing to do with each other. Except: If you read a couple of great books, you will be immunized from being seduced by demagogues like Trump. And: You wouldn’t think Ayn Rand wrote any books worth reading. I could go on, as I’ve said before: You would use edu-speak phrases like “disruptive innovation,” “critical thinking,” and “competency-based education” only ironically. Well, one more thing: You’d stop hoping that the Singularity is coming. Or believing that History or science have shown that God does not exist.

One more still: You wouldn’t believe Damon Linker and others, who say that Trump’s ramblings reveal the ugly soul of the Republican party, which is all about conspiracy theorizing, nativism, manliness run amok, and such. Obviously, I can’t stand Trump. But: When the guys at Panera talk him up, they admire his toughness, his capacity to stand up to Putin, ISIS, and the Chinese, his willingness to speak his mind, his can-do record of success as a business leader (displayed by his wealth and his reality show). It’s (well, misguided) praise of his character and competence, and it is pretty content-free, although they do believe the president gave the Iranians way too much just to get a deal. A tough negotiator like Trump wouldn’t have done that!

Immigration is almost always not a major concern. Here’s that concern: Trump appeals to people who are ticked off by the disconnect between immigration and citizenship (driven by the interests of our oligarchs combing the world for low-cost labor).

Trump roughly corresponds to Gingrich last time: Two smart guys who know how to tap into some legitimate discontents, but are obviously unfit for high office. You can start taking bets on who takes Trump out—a debater who knows stuff or the media that eventually tires of using him to trash Republicans in general. So saying Trump is the ugly soul of the Republican party is highly partisan.

Great_BooksOn Great Books: I found a very nonideological and admirably accurate (I’ll talk about a couple of sins of omission later) list of America’s twenty-five best Great Books colleges. My takeaway moment: Notice the diversity of institutions! And: The only school from Georgia on this is Mercer (which deserves its ranking); I hope my Berry (better than Mercer in every other respect [well, except sports]) will soon surge!

UPDATE: It’s been called to my attention (and not in a nice way) that there are a huge number of anti-Trump posts on NRO, and I’ve been reduced to joining the NR herd. Well, let me assure you I haven’t read any of those posts, because I don’t see the need to wage war against Trump as if he were a real danger to the party or the republic. I’ve also gotten a few touching pro-Trump messages from smart and decent people. The point of my post is that such people exist and have their reasons for thinking Trump is the ticket.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. © July 2015 by National Review, Inc. Reprinted by permission.

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15 replies to this post
  1. Funny. The Great Books, at least the ones writ in Greek and Latin, and read in the Greek and the Latin, were once the very substance of “education”. After Mortimer Adler made the texts, in English translation, available to everyone, the Good Thinkers decided knowledge of the former Great Books was “middlebrow”. (While they went on deeper into the dark woods of obscurity and incomprehensibility.)

    Or, so I used to think.

    Recently, an old friend asked me (via digital electronic communication) if I had actually read any of the (great) books I referenced in our discussions. Apparently the Left nowadays no longer depends on looking smart. And, the American Right never did care for all of that pointy-headed “interlectchul” crap.

    I am not sure if the Great Books are of the form of inoculation or of filter. Do they really immunize against lousy thinking (didn’t work too well in Weimar), or do they constitute a litmus test for intelligence and imagination, or are they simply something with which I while away my time, like fishing or building ships in bottles?

    Nor should I care to dismiss Trump as never having read a Great Book. He might have, however littlie may have affected his rhetoric. As far as the execrable Ayn Rand, who ever pumped Aristotle, or rather, used Aristotle as a name to be dropped in the midst of her droppings, enough has been said.

  2. During an election, the front runners, the candidates – even the people – are a given. There is little we can do beyond support , oppose or ignore.

    Public opinion can be influenced over time, perhaps even elevated. But election time is a reflection of public opinion at election time and you either work with it or you don’t .

    Rhetoric is one element of an election, Mr. Trump’s is bombastic . Another element is the personal history of a candidate . It is hard to imagine that Mr. Trump made his billions my addressing his business partners as if they were Mexico.

    I see in Mr. Trump the same minor hope I saw in Mr. Romney: businessmen are prone to be instinctive realists because in business there is little room for fancy.

    That Mr. Trump is bombastic is a reflection of the public face of his business: entertainment. Mr. Romney was of the demure mold because his business , corporate business , demands this sort of calm professionalism.

    In the public eye, Mr. Romney was not passionate , Mr. Trump is too passionate . Yet I hope both of these traits are preferable to the calculating cunning of the political class.

    Finally , I have made it a habit to follow both primaries in both parties , particularly since neither party represents coherent principles any more, and no candidate seems to either. We live in an age of incoherence , a sort of post-ideological age in which preconceived answers to human problems are no longer feasible and do not capture public imagination as much as the simple fact of honesty in a candidate .

    Ergo I find myself in the rather odd position of enjoying and cheering on the Billionare and the man who opposes the Billionare class. We shall see what lies ahead.

    • “We live in an age of incoherence , a sort of post-ideological age in which preconceived answers to human problems are no longer feasible and do not capture public imagination as much as the simple fact of honesty in a candidate .”

      But, do they not merely reflect the populace which has thrown them up to prominence? As much as people yearn for Carlyle’s “Great Man” to arrive and fix everything, have we not learned the Great Man is also a product of his society? That the Great Man is a reflection of the best or worst in his society?

      One is minded to recall Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” but that would be untrue.

      Our present age is indeed chaotic, as a glance at the popular entertainments will testify. Morally incoherence has its own form, to paraphrase Stalin. (Or was it Napoleon?)

      Certainly, a people will get the government they deserve. Not what they necessarily want, and usually not what they need, but clearly what they deserve. When our choices seem to revolve around JEB or Hillary or Donald or Bernie, one can but say, we did it to ourselves.

  3. The problem isn’t Trump, it’s the rest of the GOP. Trump is a Sylvester Stallone in a room full of Woody Allens. I was watching Marco Rubio last night, and as I saw him quacking out his usual Talking Points, all I could think of was the phrase “Doubleplusgoodduckspeaker” from George Orwell’s 1984. The GOP has been running spineless wimps election after election. They’re more afraid of being attacked by the press than in taking actual positions. Trump, whatever his other faults, is the only one in American politics (on either side) showing real leadership.

  4. Sir, I don’t think you display humility, but are exercising a degree of pride similar to liberals who think they are smarter than backwards conservatives. There is no republican candidate better than Trump at this time.

  5. With a field which included some promising Republican candidates, I decided that any of them who attacked who spoke the truth should be scrubbed immediately, Right off the bat, Rubiio, Bush, and Romney eliminated themselves. Others soon followed like sheep, along with the media, and people who are more afraid of those they perceive to be demagogues than they are of proven tyrants, but who define plain speaking as demagoguery., without offering specifics. I am no admirer of Ayn Rand; so i delight in speculating that she might have read some of the “Great Books.”

  6. “… I don’t see any real evidence that Trump has a soul…” Geez Peter, that’s harsh and quite unlike the kind and gentle soul we all know.

  7. Mr. Trump has made his campaign about two important political issues that a President can affect, immigration and trade. Mr. Piatak is very good on this:
    They are the policy aspect of broader concerns such as the rule of law, citizenship and the nation. i have read many of the Great Books in the original tongues and I respect Mr. Trump’s ability to focus on the important issues of the day. The one measure we know Pericles personally presented to the Athenian assembly was the Citizenship Law that limited Athenian citizenship to the children of parents who were both Athenian citizens. Reading Aristotle’s Politics and Ath. Pol. and Plutarch’s life of Pericles might foster some appreciation the issues Mr. Trump has raised.

  8. Trump has tapped into a segment of non-Democrat voters who are tired of the bait-and-switch game that the GOP has been playing for quite some time now. It is an open secret that the GOP Establishment is at war with conservatives, yet still count on them to vote for their politicians while pursuing that voting block that belong either on the stage or within the audience of a typical Jerry Springer Show. What’s the thing they tell us after the primaries? “If you don’t vote for (insert Moderate DuJour here), the Democrat will win, and then all Hell will break loose, and you’ll be responsible.”

    This is voter rage, pure and simple. There are alternatives to Trump (Paul, Cruz, Jindal, and possibly Walker) who don’t kowtow to the GOP Establishment, yet they won’t consider the alternatives.

    Without Trump, I would have expected the GOP to put up a mushy moderate against Clinton. With Trump, that’s even more of a certainty. In either case, I expect Clinton or the Democrat nominee to win. I expect that the US will continue on towards fulfilling its morbid fascination to set up an “American” form of Marxism, only to experience effects that are true for the rest of the world. In the meantime, I’m going to teach my kids how to grow their own food, and to hope that this will blow over in a few generations.

  9. I recently commented on another website that I find Donald Trump to be electrifying, provocative, daring and smart. In those respects, and others, he reminds one so much of Augustus Melmotte. I’m sure anyone familiar with Great Books will know who I mean, but if not, there’s always Google.

    Matthew 7:24-27 will be the text to think of if he actually gets to the White House.

    Still, the rest of the rather large Republican field is no more appealing than Mr Trump. I don’t have a vote and so will be spared choosing between the devil I know and the other one.

  10. Well put, Eric. I have written elsewhere that a candidate wishing to defuse Trump could do so by appropriating his signature issue: building a border wall. That none has done so makes me wonder why (even McCain conceded in 2008 that he’d “build the d@mn wall” if that’s what it took to gain support). The answer, of course, is that the majority of GOP candidates are beholden to the policy preferences of the donors backing them, among which is cheap labor through porous borders. Most of the GOP candidates are in this sense un-free, and it shows. By clarifying contrast, Trump is clearly free to speak his mind. He may be an unedifying emblem of freedom, but the difference between his freedom and the others’ thralldom is, and should be, attractive.

  11. The two major candidates who are still free are Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, who agreed (without fanfare) with Trump on the immigration issue, and are, thus, like horses being held back early by their jockeys, in order to save their energy (in their case, avoid early overexposure) for the finish. If any candidate beats Trump, he’ll have to do it on other issues, and Cruz (to change the simile) made a start by defending the jailed Kentucky lady, while Trump blotted his copybook. I haven’t read Cruz’s brief (so to speak), but the candidates have a splendid chance to blast their way to the nomination and the White House via, among other things) the Tenth Amendment. So far, Trump is the only one, doing any sort of detonating, granted that some, like the Kentucky case, is suicidal.

  12. Bobby (sic) Jindal has inadvertently played straight man for Trump, with the claim that proof of Trump’s not having read the Bible is that Trump isn’t in it. Trump should smile, credit Jindal (and his gag writer) with a good joke, then, with as much sincerity as possible, offer to put him on contract as a comedian and send him on tour. So far, Trump has shown that he won’t play to the political correctness crowd. Now he should adopt the slogan “Enough ad hominem Stick to the issues, and let’s try to save the country before it’s too late. That means you, Republicans!” “He might even have “STICK TO THE ISSUES” painted on his airplane. An alternate airplane message might be “GET REAL, REPUBLICANS.” It’s too bad to have to go THAT colloquial, but the cause is worthwhile. if he makes it to the White House, he can resort to dignity.

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