Changing the Cast But Not the Script
Though Trump lost the November election, there is plenty of reason for conservatives to keep up hope in the coming Biden years.
Editor’s note: This column originally ran in The American Conservative‘s January/February print issue, before the Georgia Senate runoff elections.
During the endless hours leading up to November 3, I found myself turning for solace to the wisdom of the ancients. The words of one particular ancient seemed especially prophetic as the flatulent rhetoric escalated on both sides.
The ancient in question? William Claude Dukenfield, better known by his stage name, W.C. Fields. The wisdom? A line he delivered in an early talkie in which he played a crooked gambler posing as a missionary:
“There comes a tide in the affairs of men, my dear Blubber,” Fields intoned through his vast, purple echo chamber of a nose, “when it becomes necessary to take the bull by the tail and face the situation.”
Given a forced choice between two severely flawed candidates, a reluctant electorate took the bull by the tail. Now it is time to step back, scrape the muck off our shoes, and face the situation.
Things could be a lot worse. This was not a winner-takes-all election. The top of the ticket, as I suggested many months ago in these pages, was not so much a matter of Battling Titans as of Dueling Dorks. Many voters struggled to decide which of the two presidential candidates was the least unacceptable. Since Joe Biden spent most of the campaign hiding in his basement, most eyes focused on Donald Trump. His self-indulgent, erratic performance early in the campaign meant that even many who voted for him lived in constant fear of his next tweet.
Meanwhile, back in the basement, Joe Biden could count on the mainstream media to ignore the scandals surrounding his family and his own rather shabby record as a plagiarizing politician from a small, corrupt, one-party state, while subjecting Trump to a constant barrage of hostile, often inaccurate coverage. By the time Trump finally got his act together, outperforming Biden in the second debate and hammering home his core message, too many citizens, including some dead ones, had already cast early ballots.
Still, Trump came very close to doing what Harry Truman did in 1948: winning an upset despite the opposition of the big money and the coastal elites, by successfully appealing to ordinary citizens.
As with so many controversial leaders, Donald Trump’s strengths and weaknesses were hopelessly tangled. He reminded me of an overconfident “natural” athlete, quick, agile, with plenty of strength, energy, and moxie, but who neglects his training, ignores his coaches, seldom learns from his mistakes, and often alienates his own teammates and fans. Trump never seemed to fully grasp the difference between being the undisputed boss of a private business empire and being elected “First Magistrate” under a complex system of checks and balances involving three separate branches of government.
If we didn’t know The Donald isn’t much of a bookworm, we might be tempted to credit his governing style to Sultan Selim I, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1512 to 1520.
Sir George Young described how “Selim ‘the Grim’ was a parricide and fratricide; but his cruelty was characteristic of his age. A picturesque ‘poetic justice’ in his punishments appealed to public opinion. He was not unpopular, and he is known in Turkish history as ‘the Just.’ Corrupt judges, for example, were required to condemn themselves to death. During the eight years of his reign he decapitated seven Grand Viziers. . . ”
Since tweets hadn’t been invented yet, Selim occasionally vented his frustration in poetry. Merciless as he was to others, his self-pity was bottomless:
Still alone, a lonely stranger, in strange lands I roam afar,
While around me march the sullen guards of grief and pain and care.
Till I’ve read life’s riddle, emptied its nine pitchers to the end
Never shall I, Sultan Selim, find on earth a faithful friend.
If, like Joe Biden, Donald Trump was in the habit of stealing other people’s lines, he might be tempted to “adapt” that verse.
Ironically, the same election that has ended the Trump presidency may have left the conservative movement and the Republican Party better positioned for the future under a Biden presidency. Across the country, even in deep blue states, the voters rejected radical referendums and policy initiatives favored by many Democratic politicians and the liberal media. Meanwhile, despite Mike Bloomberg and other left-wing billionaires pouring millions in out-of-state contributions into Senate, congressional, and state legislative races, the GOP is the odds-on favorite to hold its majority in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi has suffered unexpected losses in the House, and Bloomberg and company failed to flip a single state legislature.
Donald Trump may have lost his bid for a second term, but his truth goes marching on. A bumper crop of sound constitutional judges, opportunity-based prosperity, and pragmatic military, diplomatic, trade, and immigration policies that protect American interests and America’s borders all should rally support to conservative candidates in the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential sweepstakes. The Trump message may continue to gain traction even as the messenger leaves the stage.
Aram Bakshian Jr. is a former aide to presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. His writings on politics, history, gastronomy, and the arts have been widely published in the United States and abroad.