On Trump

Richard Wurmbrand, the Lutheran Pastor of Jewish extraction who had the unfortunate experience of being imprisoned by both the Nazis and the Communists in successive administrations in his native Romania once told me that the torturous treatment he received, first for being Jewish and then for being a Christian was remarkably similar: the prison guards were the same individuals, the tactics were the same, only the uniforms were different.

I thought of Wurmbrand's experience recently as I watched partisans of President Obama deploy some of the very tactics they claimed to be so offended by when they were employed against their man, against Donald Trump.

First there was the attempt to question Trump’s Christian faith, this after nearly a decade of the President’s supporters demanding that any questioning of his faith was inappropriate and probably racist. Then there were those who began to use Trump’s original ancestral name, “Drumpf” to mock him as being “other” or “foreign” in much the same way that Obama’s name was mocked and his middle name Hussein used to tap into that same feeling of foreign-ness.

As I've written previously, it's clear to me that the support for Donald Trump is mostly not for him but rather for his act. Trump is incidental, what many Americans want is the act and the Trump phenomenon is best understood as millions of Americans who are fed up with a half a century of a political and social culture that has betrayed their values. Far from being their immaculate savior, Trump is merely their imperfect vessel that they believe will allow them to be heard and they are sensing that this is the last moment to make things right electorally before the nation legalizes tens of million of foreigners who don't have the shared American experience and their country becomes one they don't recognize.

That doesn't mean they like his Gordon Gekko-style pronouncements about greed or his braggadocio and it certainly doesn't mean they like his four-letter words and generally uncouth behavior, but what they are responding to is his complete fearlessness and refusal to back down in the face of the kinds of withering attacks that have silenced so many in public life and his determined desire to take us back to a time when people spoke plainly to one another.

At one time in American politics for instance, the term "liar" was thrown around with impunity. But as Congressman Joe Wilson found out when he yelled it out at President Obama during a State of the Union speech, the rules had changed long ago and it had become a taboo beginning in 1988 when Bob Dole was widely panned for saying about his opponent George H.W. Bush that he wished he'd stop lying about his record. That had given way to a quarter century of passive/aggressive weasel words like "misrepresenting my record" that Americans had grown tired of and to them, Trump is a chance to get rid of the politically correct culture that has left Americans unable to speak plainly to one another, terrified of offending one group or another.

In 1980 even Ronald Reagan discovered the limits of free speech and the suffocating power of the burgeoning PC culture when he was rapped for telling a joke that had Poles and Italians in the punchline, eliciting this response from the chairman of New York County: "Gov. Reagan's ethnic slurs on the Polish and Italians were not funny to anyone. I suggest that Gov. Reagan apologize and urge his supports to join in my request."

Reagan learned his lesson and as president later remarked: "I can't tell ethnic jokes except if they're Irish now."

Trump's labeling of his opponents with terms like "Low-Energy" "Lying Ted" and "Little Marco" are actually rather tame by historical standards and harken back to a time in American history in which words, having replaced bullets and bayonets as the way to settle our differences, were more often than not, tough and nasty.

In 1800 our first, First Lady Martha Washington said of Thomas Jefferson that he was "one of the most detestable of mankind."

Jefferson in turn hired a surrogate to say of John Quincy Adams that he was a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."

Adams' camp then called Jefferson, the sitting Vice President, "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."

During the Lincoln-Douglas debates Lincoln called Douglas "an obstinate animal."

Donald Trump is indeed a throwback to an earlier era, not to a Hitler or Mussolini I would argue, but rather to a pre-1960's style of American leadership-the kind of robust take-no-prisoners attitude that characterized powerful American leaders like Generals Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, the latter who slapped and labeled "cowards" two of his own soldiers who had been hospitalized for what was then called "nerves," which we would today call PTSD.

There is of course a case to be made against Donald Trump being president of the United States and it will be waged by Cruz, Kasich and possibly Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. But that case won't be effective if fought on the grounds that Trump closely resembles murderous foreign dictators, is a racist or is somehow ahistorically unique in his rhetoric. And those who wish to beat him must understand the historical forces and frustrations that are causing Americans to harken back to a type of leader and a style of leadership which guided America for most of its existence.