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After the Hysteria

Gore Vidal once said that the three saddest words in the English language were Joyce Carol Oates. “President Hillary Clinton” would have dislodged the exophthalmic novelist from that epigram, but as for “President Donald Trump”… the jury is not only still out, the crime hasn’t even been committed yet, despite the drama queens caterwauling on the campuses.

(For 13 years college snots sat on their lazy asses while the U.S. government waged immoral and unconstitutional wars, but now they take to the streets because the candidate of the proles defeated the candidate of the 1 percent? Gimme a break!)

I voted for Jill Stein on foreign-policy grounds. Gary Johnson was unsound on the mandatory cake-baking issue, and as for his running mate, the only good Weld is Tuesday.

I walked to the polling place with someone quite dear to me. She, too, intended to vote for Stein, but about halfway there she halted, as if thunderstruck, grinned, and said, “To hell with it; I’m voting for Trump to stick it to the media.” That’s the spirit!

After getting liquored up at the Republican election-night party—a friend was elected county judge—Lucine and I came home and watched the returns into the wee hours, with a wine-brightened giddiness. As a prepubescent populist I cried when Hubert Humphrey lost in 1968, but this time around I fairly howled with delight at the Tom Dempsey boot in the face my neighbors delivered to the corporate media, Wall Street, Big Education, and the entertainment industry.

I don’t see localists getting much from Trump, beyond the possible appointment of a federalist—small-f, please—Supreme Court justice or two and a calling off of the nationalized restroom dogs.

The hysteria over the triumph of the deplorables has obscured the fact that Donald Trump is and has long been a moderate Republican of the industrial Northeast, the sort you might have found representing Pennsylvania or New Jersey in Congress in the 1980s: protectionist, a booster of public works and internal improvements, and indifferent to social issues. He parts ways with this ho-hum tradition in his immigration restrictionism, assertive nationalism, and occasionally pacific impulses.

I started keeping a file on Trump back in 1987, when he first dipped his toe into presidential waters. His primary political interests then were 1) high tariffs; 2) making NATO allies pay more for their own defense, which was called “burden-sharing”; and 3) reducing tensions with the Soviet Union.

You don’t have to hold with the Emersonian dictum about hobgoblins and a foolish consistency to see that Trump has been remarkably consistent—a lot more so than Hillary, whose earlier incarnations included Goldwater Girl and admirer of the New Left libertarian Carl Oglesby, whose indictments of corporate liberalism adumbrated the monster into which his Wellesley fan-girl would mature.

Around the time of the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq, I told a Republican friend that by the year 2025 the U.S. would bomb or invade a Muslim country with a casus belli of the denial of gay rights. Had Hillary won, I believe that prophecy would have missed by seven or eight years and a couple of thousand miles, as the indispensable nation’s armed forces would have gone to war with Russia on some flimsy pretext—say, Putin dropping from his Spotify playlist the music of those punk poseurs in Pussy Riot. (Who are about as punk as Adam Ant.) Boorishness is a small price to pay for forestalling World War III.

thisarticleappears [1]At the very least, we’re getting our first witty president since Kennedy, though one doubts that Jackie would find Trump all that funny. (JFK, on the other hand, would find Melania … intriguing.) Did Obama, Clinton, or either Bush ever make an intentionally funny crack? Could any of them elicit more than a charity laugh?

Gore Vidal once told me that Hillary Clinton was, to his astonishment, kind of witty in private. Not witty on the level of New York Post headlines about Anthony Weiner, mind you, but, well, funnier than Madeleine Albright. I trust Bill has been enjoying her bons mots since the morning of November 9.

This interregnal moment is pregnant with possibilities, though the parturitive result could be anything from It’s Alive to It’s a Wonderful (or at least Tolerable) Life. As I write, the Cabinet is not yet stocked, though the rumored vials of arsenic outnumber the cups of nectar. If, when you read this, the hawks and lobbyists have eclipsed the Main Streeters and America Firsters, then I’ll just say a word of thanks to Trump for defoliating the Bushes and demitting the Clintons and suffer no more paroxysms of political optimism.

Bill Kauffman is the author of 10 books, among them Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette [2] and Ain’t My America [3].

19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "After the Hysteria"

#1 Comment By Edmund Wolsey On January 4, 2017 @ 11:23 pm

I suppose we see things quite differently; from where I sit, the crime, or the first few dozen, has already been committed prior to ever taking office.

#2 Comment By Joseph R. Stromberg On January 5, 2017 @ 9:18 am

“For 13 years college snots sat on their lazy asses while the U.S. government waged immoral and unconstitutional wars, but now they take to the streets because the candidate of the proles defeated the candidate of the 1 percent? Gimme a break!”

Best line of the day and unlikely to be surpassed.

#3 Comment By JessicaR On January 5, 2017 @ 10:03 am

Yes, Mr. Kaufman is right about “college snots” largely ignoring criminal US foreign policy. As someone making a late-life career switch and who is back on a moderately conservative college campus after decades away, I am shocked by how little attention is given to foreign policy and how much attention is given to issues like transgender rights–which I support but also regard as secondary in importance to the killing of children in drone strikes.

#4 Comment By papa On January 5, 2017 @ 10:10 am

“I fairly howled with delight at the Tom Dempsey boot in the face my neighbors delivered to the corporate media, Wall Street, Big Education, and the entertainment industry”

It is hilarious to me that anyone who is ostensibly capable of forming coherent thoughts still believes that Donald Trump’s election was somehow a blow to Wall Street, given all his appointments so far. Warms the soul

#5 Comment By Bob K. On January 5, 2017 @ 11:08 am

It is good to see an article like this every other month in the print issue of “The American Conservative.”

It would really be great if we could see more articles like it in the daily blog!

#6 Comment By Andrew E. On January 5, 2017 @ 11:38 am

If Kauffman thinks Trump is going to end up being the “candidate of the proles”, I have a gold-lined New York penthouse and a very expensive resort in Palm Beach to sell them.

#7 Comment By Zwingli On January 5, 2017 @ 12:37 pm

Trump’s SCOTUS nominee remains to be seen and provides a modicum of hope, but otherwise concur, “no paroxysms of political optimism.”

#8 Comment By Tom On January 5, 2017 @ 12:45 pm

I like your column, but you really missed the mark on GWB and humor. Like him or hate him, he is well known for being a very humorous man, even to his political enemies. Remember the nicknames he gave to everyone, for example?

#9 Comment By Kurt Gayle On January 5, 2017 @ 2:15 pm

I like Bill Kaufman for his dead-serious stuff:

“I started keeping a file on Trump back in 1987, when he first dipped his toe into presidential waters. His primary political interests then were 1) high tariffs; 2) making NATO allies pay more for their own defense, which was called ‘burden-sharing’; and 3) reducing tensions with the Soviet Union. You don’t have to hold with the Emersonian dictum about hobgoblins and a foolish consistency to see that Trump has been remarkably consistent…”

However, for his Vidalesque stuff, I think Bill Kaufman is the best! Two current examples:

(1) “(For 13 years college snots sat on their lazy asses while the U.S. government waged immoral and unconstitutional wars, but now they take to the streets because the candidate of the proles defeated the candidate of the 1 percent? Gimme a break!)” (I second Joseph R. Stromberg.)

(2) “I walked to the polling place with someone quite dear to me. She, too, intended to vote for Stein, but about halfway there she halted, as if thunderstruck, grinned, and said, ‘To hell with it; I’m voting for Trump to stick it to the media.’ That’s the spirit!”

#10 Comment By Dave Dalless On January 5, 2017 @ 3:12 pm

Funny stuff, and on the mark too. I need to start reading Bill Kauffman regularly.

And speaking of funny, Trump frequently has me in stitches, albeit usually when he’s not going for that effect. But with that thought, suddenly it occurs to me: Have I ever seen Trump laugh? Not snicker or chuckle or pffft, I mean, but really, naturally laugh out loud? It’s dawning on me that I can’t remember a single instance. Has anyone here ever seen Trump in a head-back, jolly belly-laugh?

I think this lack is one of the subtle things that always gives me the sense, every time I see him on TV or hear him on the radio, that there’s just something a little off about the man.

#11 Comment By balconesfault On January 5, 2017 @ 3:33 pm

Hillary wasn’t the candidate of the 1% … certainly there were an awful lot of 1%-ers out to vote for the candidate who promised huuuge corporate and top-end personal tax cuts, elimination of estate tax, weakening of union protections, and converting the guaranteed benefit healthcare regime for one of vouchers and personal savings accounts.

What Hillary was was the candidate of the existing political establishment … the establishment that was largely built up over decades since the New Deal to cap some of the worst excesses and predations of the free market economy. This establishment that Hillary represented includes the social safety network of entitlement programs … the environmental protection regulatory structure … labor and voting rights protections for all citizens … not to mention protections of women’s rights to contraception and abortion.

That is the establishment that America is going to get to see smashed over the next few years. Unfortunately, America is nowhere near the conditions that would foster a true “peoples/
workers revolution” that will replace the current establishment with more social and economic equality. Instead … we’re going to replace the current establishment with one that is much more favorable to the 1%-ers, at least economically.

The Jill Stein voter who wanted free college tuition, less corporate welfare, free healthcare, and stronger climate change regulation, is about to be sorely disappointed. And if they think that smashing the current establishment is somehow going to usher in a new era of progressive politics … they are, quite frankly, idiots of the highest order.

#12 Comment By Redeemed-Deplorable On January 5, 2017 @ 8:29 pm

I still don’t understand how, in a publication declaring itself Conservative, both the posts and the comments can be from people who voted for Jill Stein.

#13 Comment By Kurt Gayle On January 6, 2017 @ 12:40 am

@ Redeemed-Deplorable, who says: “I still don’t understand how, in a publication declaring itself Conservative, both the posts and the comments can be from people who voted for Jill Stein.”

What comments are from people who voted for Jill Stein?

#14 Comment By Johannes Climacus On January 6, 2017 @ 5:06 am

In all the commentary I’ve seen seeking to describe the mindset of Trump voters as they pulled the lever, this has been the most accurate. It had little to do with declining wages, lower levels of quality of life, immigration policies, political corruption, proxy wars, or even so much outright racism. The biggest reason seems to be a vote for ‘authenticity’, or in other words, ressentiment. The evil, untruthful media vs the ‘real talk’ of Trump. Why could Trump get away with talking about the size of his unit on national television? Because he wasn’t a politician, and this is a concern that most Americans have. Size matters just like crude authenticity matters. Hillary may have brushed a lot of this unsavory talk behind her (she certainly never said Bernie resembled a child molester before looking for his support) and that in a way made her seem untrustworthy. She still imagined politics to be something other than a dumb farce! Eldridge Cleaver often he said he liked KKK members better than liberals because at least they were honest about where they stood. Trump likes dupes because he knows they are on his level and they appear to know this as well. Some 30% thought he was incompetent but thank goodness they stuck it to the media! There’s no pretensions here like there is with CNN and friends calling their audience deplorables behind closed doors. Nor is there an aspiration towards anything higher in life than entertainment. Weakness is the moral virtue of the day and it won the electoral college.

#15 Comment By connecticut farmer On January 6, 2017 @ 12:05 pm

So Vidal described Madame as “kind of witty in private” eh? Wonder at what point in his life he observed this phenomenon, given that he was falling off the deep end as he approached his demise. Be that as it may, if she had demonstrated this “wit” in public it might have softened her image somewhat.

#16 Comment By Baldy On January 6, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

“I still don’t understand how, in a publication declaring itself Conservative, both the posts and the comments can be from people who voted for Jill Stein.”

Not everyone lives in a world of Manichean us v. them, black v white. In this past election I wouldn’t cast aspersions on anyone’s conservative credentials based solely on who they voted for. There were good conservative reasons for voting against any of the candidates and deciding that any one of them was the least of the evils.

#17 Comment By cka2nd On January 7, 2017 @ 5:59 pm

“(For 13 years college snots sat on their lazy asses while the U.S. government waged immoral and unconstitutional wars,”

Actually, this is not fair to the many tens or hundreds of thousands of college students who protested before and after the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq. It was remarked at the time – though not in the mainstream media, of course – that there had never been protests so large before or so early in a U.S. military conflict, and college students of course played a big part in that.

The falloff in anti-war protests came with the installation of the new Democratic and supposedly liberal and anti-war President Obama, and even there, the older generations of liberals and progressives deserve more criticism than the youth who bought into their “lesser evil” arguments.

#18 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 7, 2017 @ 7:45 pm

“In all the commentary I’ve seen seeking to describe the mindset of Trump voters as they pulled the lever, this has been the most accurate. It had little to do with declining wages, lower levels of quality of life, immigration policies, political corruption, proxy wars”

Now you’re being Hillarious.

#19 Comment By Julie Vassilatos On January 13, 2017 @ 12:29 am

This is quite ridiculous. Trump’s Betsy De Vos is a boot in the face of Big Education? There is almost no one who embodies Big Education more.