Sullivan gets it right: We took five books on our summer vacation, which lasted all of four days.
We didn't get around to rereading Nietzche's The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, the subjects of a widely recycled freshman-year term paper we wrote a few years ago.
That said, Andrew Sullivan's portrait of the values of Donald J. Trump reminds us why we took it along. We offer the following excerpt, with one key passage highlighted:
SULLIVAN (7/20/18): Everything Trump did in Europe—every horrifying, sick-making, embarrassing expostulation—is, in some way, consistent, and predictable, when you consider how he sees the world. It’s not a plan or a strategy as such. Trump is bereft of the attention span to sustain any of those. It is rather the reflection of a set of core beliefs and instincts that have governed him for much of his life. The lies come and go. But his deeper convictions really are in plain sight.Nietzche thought "morals" were an extremely skillful trick through which the weak had gained control over the strong. This resembles the inner world Sullivan describes in his piece.
And they are, at root, the same as those of the strongmen he associates with and most admires. The post-1945 attempt to organize the world around collective security, free trade, open societies, non-zero-sum diplomacy, and multicultural democracies is therefore close to unintelligible to him. Why on earth, in his mind, would a victorious power after a world war be generous to its defeated foes? When you win, you don’t hold out a hand in enlightened self-interest. You gloat and stomp. In Trump’s zero-sum brain—“we should have kept the oil!”—it makes no sense. It has to be a con. And so today’s international order strikes Trump, and always has, as a massive, historic error on the part of the United States.
There’s nothing in it for him to like. It has empowered global elites over national leaders; it has eroded national sovereignty in favor commerce and peace; it has empowered our rivals; it has spread liberal values contrary to the gut instincts of many ordinary people (including himself); it has led the U.S. to spend trillions on collective security, when we could have used that wealth for our own population or to impose our will by force on others; it has created a legion of free riders; it has enriched the global poor at the expense, as he sees it, of the American middle class; and it has unleashed unprecedented migration of peoples and the creation of the first truly multicultural, heterogeneous national cultures.
Concerning the one brief passage we highlighted:
We live in an extremely complex society. Its checks-and-balances are endlessly complex, bewilderingly ornate. Decades ago, changes in immigration laws served to create a much more complex "racial" mosaic.
We liberals are comfortable with this, if not more so. We aggressively hate those others who manage to linger a few steps behind our own incomparable greatness.
We love to talk about their alleged hate. Our own tribe's corresponding instincts go almost completely unnoticed—though only, of course, Over Here.
Concerning those ordinary people: It's one of the most revealing quotes of all time. It comes from Gene Brabender, quoted in Jim Bouton's classic book, Ball Four:
"Where I come from, we just talk for a little while. After that we start to hit."
That was the end of complex discussion out in the Pilots' bullpen. (Brabender was very large.)
Brabender would have been frustrated by the intricacies of our contemporary culture. His brain may have been wired a bit differently from yours. He might have been inclined to respect the rights and advantages of the strong. On that basis, our modern tribe would have known that we should rush to hate him.
He simply wasn't as good as we are. He wasn't as brilliant or worthy or fine. In such ways of reacting, our highly unimpressive tribe resembles one Donald J. Trump.