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Pro-Trump, or anti-Democrat?

August 28, 2023  |  762 words  |  Politics, Philosophy, Economics

There are now four big legal cases pending against former President Donald Trump. He is facing dozens of criminal charges and will go on trial several times in the next 18 months, as he campaigns to become president again in the 2024 election.

None of these embarrassing entanglements has made a dent in Mr. Trump’s popularity among the Republican faithful, a fact that baffles many interested observers, including me.

What is the source of this man’s enduring appeal? Those who are experiencing hard times have looked past his days as a ruthless, publicity-hungry real estate speculator, and bought into his newly-minted man-of-the-people schtick. They are inexplicably filled with hope as he riffs off-handedly about reviving manufacturing, bringing back jobs, limiting immigration, etc. They are sympathetic when he rails against “media elites” who persecute him at every turn.

Others of a religious bent are captivated by his role in the repeal of Roe v. Wade, and consider him as nothing less than having been ordained by God to restore the moral fiber of the nation. They will readily quote Bible passages in support of their far-fetched assertion. All this love and devotion, despite a documented history of fleecing the people in his employ and taking license with women of his acquaintance.

But lately it has occurred to me the real reason Mr. Trump sits atop the polls is a silent majority of sensible, often quite successful voters who are not so much smitten with him, as they are virulently anti-Democrat. The people I have in mind are frequently put off by Trump’s antics. But they stick with him because they really aren’t that fussy about who heads the Republican ticket. They just don’t want another four years of Joe Biden – or any other Democrat – in the White House.

This contingent will back Trump despite everything, until another legitimate contender emerges from the Republican field. Since he has captured the disgruntled white working class, along with white evangelicals and other conservative Christians, that might be a tough nut for a challenger to crack.

This calculus may not bother Democrats, who relish having Donald Trump as a foil. But it’s very bad news for the country as a whole.

Reflexively voting for your party’s presidential nominee while being less than thrilled with the actual candidate is nothing new. But in Mr. Trump’s case we have now reached a new low. Republican loyalists are being confronted with a meritless, emotionally-driven carnival barker in the mold of Lonesome Rhoads, the fictional character from that wonderful 1957 film, A Face in the Crowd.

Trump’s egregious behavior makes him patently unfit for high office, let alone re-election to the highest office in the land. Given his dubious track record, such hardcore Republican partisanship by otherwise level-headed voters can only be attributed to an unmitigated belief in the American Experiment, as spelled out in our founding documents.

According to those documents, freedom of opportunity – an “absence of obstacles,” as James Madison put it – is the most important ingredient in the pursuit of happiness.

This fancy talk translates into a maniacal insistence on lower taxes and smaller government. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez may epitomize what many of us would like to see in an elected official: yesterday’s humble waitress is today’s confident U.S. representative. But when she touts the Democrat party line on free healthcare, free college tuition, etc., many Americans write her off as just another purveyor of unwieldy and un-workable policies.

If I were a high-priced political consultant I might see this as an open-and-shut case of the Democrats needing much better “messaging” around their core issues. But I’m not, so I find myself inclined instead to view this as a thorny problem for the other major party. It is Republicans who must admit their laissez-faire approach to economic life has left too many of their fellow citizens outside the “circle of exchange,” as a famous papal encyclical described the situation in 1991, after a decade of Reaganomics.

It is Republicans who need to show concern over our finding a political and economic system that organically breeds fairness. Since we already know how to deliver outsized prosperity to the clever and advantaged like clockwork.

These “freedom first” voters should really stop complaining about what they ominously describe as encroaching socialism, because such complaints are downright unseemly when issued by the well-off. Better they step back and take stock, and own up to the obvious excesses and blatant oversights of the political/economic system we have now. And maybe ask themselves: Can Donald Trump help me with that discernment?

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.

www.robertjcavanaughjr.com

bobcavjr@gmail.com

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