Part 4—Kicking down, without feeling, at Them: Was Donald J. Trump sometimes brilliant during his White House campaign?
We'd be inclined to go with "no." In Wednesday morning's New York Times, Eduardo Porter went with yes at the start of his weekly Economic Scene column:
PORTER (3/29/17): Donald J. Trump can be brilliant. On the campaign trail, his diagnosis of the raw anger and disillusionment among white working-class Americans bested the most sophisticated analyses from the professional political class.According to Porter, Trump was sometimes "brilliant" on the trail. Beyond that, Porter says Trump was brilliant in a significant part of his inaugural address.
His description of “American carnage” in his Inaugural Address—complete with “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape,” impoverished mothers and children, crime, drugs that “robbed our country of so much unrealized potential”—struck a nerve with millions of voters who feel left behind by a country buffeted by demographic, technological and social change.
In fairness to Porter, he seems to be saying that Trump was "brilliant" in the way his presentations appealed to a certain segment of the electorate—to "millions of voters who feel left behind by a country buffeted by demographic, technological and social change."
As he continued, Porter said that "something must have happened between then and now." He noted that the health care bill Trump recently pimped would have served those millions of voters quite poorly. He notes that Trump's large proposed budget cuts would hurt those voters too.
Indeed, by paragraph 6 in his column, Porter is raising "an uncomfortably raw question: Was [Candidate Trump's] appeal to the troubled working class a con?"
We wouldn't recommend starting with "brilliant" on your way to "con." (Porter's reference to Trump as "brilliant" appears on page one of the Times hard-copy Business section. You had to look inside the section to encounter the talk of the "con.")
We wouldn't say that Candidate Trump was brilliant on the trail. To us, his health care proposals always seemed like a transparent con.
His pledge to replace Obamacare with "something terrific" never seemed brilliant at all. It always seemed like a con—or, at best, like the know-nothing pledge of a world-class ignoramus.
Candidate Trump's absurd proposals always struck us as a con. That said, we wouldn't be inclined to slime those people who may have purchased this candidate's various cons.
We wouldn't slime the "millions of voters" who may not have grasped the implausibility of the candidate's claims. In this way, we stand apart from our tribe's contemporary, unattractive, pseudo-liberal elite.
Over Here in our liberal tents, kicking down at the great unwashed has become a dominant part of our pseudo-progressive culture. We simply love kicking down at Those People.
Tribal leaders and tribal followers play this card every day. Don't even try reading comments.
Is empathy dead, as one writer has asked? It frequently seems to be dead in our high liberal tents. This helps explain why we liberals aren't well liked. This helps explain the embarrassing tribal disaster which had ended with Trump in the White House.
We've been thinking about empathy in recent weeks. Let's pick and choose some examples:
In western culture, we have the image of the young woman forced to give birth in a stable. In 1499, a craftsman gave us The Pieta. That's a foreign word for "pity."
In 1939, Steinbeck gave us Rose of Sharon (Joad), a pregnant teenage girl.
According to the leading authority, Rose of Sharon "symbolizes regrowth when she helps the starving stranger [who she agrees to feed] (see also Roman Charity, works of art based on the legend of a daughter as wet nurse to her dying father)."
The Joads were a family of "Okies." They weren't "sophisticated" or "educated," though these terms are widely misused.
In Steinbeck's formulation, we were supposed to feel for the Joads. Despite their extremely funny accents and their embarrassing lack of degrees, we were supposed to imagine that the Joads were fully human.
We were supposed to imagine that the Joads were human. And then, along came Dr. King. Less than three months before his death, he piped up with this:
DR. KING (2/4/68): Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.You don't have to have a college degree? Where do they find these guys?
You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
Back in December, Sarah Kliff profiled another person deserving of empathy, feeling, pity, respect. Her subject was a 59-year-old woman in Corbin, Kentucky—a member of the white working class, an Obamacare enrollee, and (apparently) a Trump voter:
KLIFF (12/13/16): Oller renewed a 59-year-old woman’s coverage (who asked her personal information be left out of this story) just after lunchtime on a Tuesday. She and her husband received a monthly tax credit that would cover most of their premium. But they would still need to contribute $244 each month—and face a $6,000 deductible.She's paying $3000 per year—and she can't go to the doctor. That woman is Rose of Sharon too—except to people like Us, to whom she's another "hillbilly."
The deductible left her exasperated. “I am totally afraid to be sick,” she says. “I don’t have [that money] to pay upfront if I go to the hospital tomorrow.”
Her plan did offer free preventive care, an Obamacare mandate. But she skips mammograms and colonoscopies because she doesn’t think she’d have the money to pay for any follow-up care if the doctors did detect something.
Kliff's piece explained why many Obamacare enrollees in Corbin had decided to vote for Trump. They hadn't necessarily thought that his health care stance was a con. In that assessment, we'll guess that they were wrong.
That said, we don't find it disqualifying that they made that assessment. Assuming it turns out that we were right, we'll guess that we're working with certain tools, formerly known as "advantages," that they maybe perhaps don't have.
They may not know their thermodynamics. They may have put their trust in certain music men, as our own vastly self-impressed tribe constantly does Over Here.
Over Here in our self-impressed tribe, we like to roll our eyes at people like that woman. We think she should have understood the way health care policy works.
As we make their condescending claims, we persist with the constant dumbness which defines our own tribe's behavior in the health care arena. Our tribe has been dumb about health care for decades, but we're too clueless to know that.
In terms of thermodynamics and such, our mother paid our way to Harvard, quite a few years ago. The moral giant Frank Rich also went there. We overlapped by two years.
To us, a woman who can't afford to go to the doctor is Rose of Sharon. By way of contrast, Rich has explicitly dismissed that woman as a "hillbilly."
Rich recently wrote a lengthy essay urging Us to keep loathing that woman, and to keep loathing Those People.
"No Sympathy for the Hillbilly!" Literally, that's what he said!
The lack of feeling in Rich's piece is a familiar marker of our failing, ridiculous tribe—a tribe which has been so lazy and hapless for so long that we have now actually lost an election to a candidate as hopeless as Trump.
Even after losing to Trump, our tribe can't seem to brook the idea that there may be a problem with Us! Keep loathing the hillbillies, Rich advised in his piece.
Everyone knows that our tribe is like this. Everyone knows it but Us.
No people are uninteresting: No people are uninteresting? That was Yevtushenko:
In any man who dies there dies with himAs noted, that was Yevtushenko. That very much isn't Us.
his first snow and kiss and fight
it goes with him.
There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery
Whose fate is to survive.
But what has gone is also not nothing...