"Manlius Capitolinus writing in JAG
* * *
Like the GOP contenders before her, Hillary Clinton presents a mirror image to that of Donald Trump on the relationship between consistency and flexibility on political matters.
On the core elements of the Agenda of American Greatness, Trump has been remarkably consistent over the last thirty years, but he is often flippant, rude and "unpresidential" outside that zone of firmness. He has insulted politicians honorable and dishonorable and then shifted back toward friendliness, yet he won't back down on building a wall with Mexico or approaching trade negotiations with American interests in mind.
* GO, TRUMP!
Hillary by contrast conforms much more closely to the image of the modern president. Stiff in her ambassadorial politesse, she has no qualms at all about shifting her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Obama Administration has no qualms in running cover for her. Serious on box-ticking and shifty on policy, she meets common expectations about the unprincipled character of modern politicians.
* AND INSTEAD OF BEING DISGUSTED BY THIS... MANY AMERICANS APPLAUD. FRANKLY... IT'S SICKENING. WE'VE BECOME "EUROPEANIZED."
Trump — serious on his core policy positions and shifty on box-ticking — reverses the common expectation.
* BY "SHIFTY ON BOX-TICKING" THE AUTHOR IS ACTUALLY NOTING THAT TRUMP HAS FIRM BELIEFS BUT NUANCED POSITIONS. IN OTHER WORDS, THERE'S QUITE A BIT OF PRAGMATISM MIXED IN WITH PRINCIPLE. NOW... IN A SANE WORLD ONE WOULD THINK SUCH AN APPROACH LAUDABLE... BUT AMERIKA 2016 (THE AGE OF OBAMA) ISN'T EXACTLY A SANE WORLD.
If the unexpectedly positive reaction to Trump in this election cycle means anything, it means that our understanding of the relationship between policy and rhetoric has been out of joint for a long time.
* LET'S HOPE SO! LET'S HOPE THAT THERE ARE AMERICANS OUT THERE WHO UNDERSTAND THAT STRAIGHT TALK IS A VIRTUE - NOT A SIN!
Trump's often jarring rhetoric, painful to Beltway ears and pleasant to the heartland, isn't or isn't simply the result of his fifth-grade rhetorical level. It's the result of at least two generations of a misconfiguration of politics and politesse. That is the configuration Trump has disrupted.
But every age has the Rousseau it deserves. This time, the American people are the Academy of Dijon to Trump's First Discourse. They get what is serious, what to overlook. "We" — we analysts, JAG excepted — do not.
* IT'S BEYOND THE MSM NOT "GETTING" WHAT TRUMP IS SAYING; NOPE; IT'S THAT THEY DON'T WANNA "GET" IT! THEY'RE GLOBALISTS. HE'S A NATIONALIST. HE'S AMERICA FIRST. THEY'RE... NOT.
Because Trump is serious about American greatness and iffy on box-ticking, he presents the mirror image to our usual expectations of policy "flexibility" in the context of Standard Discourse.
* EXACTLY! BECAUSE... MODERN "STANDARD DISCOURSE" HAS BEEN REDUCED TO PABLUM - STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE. (AND FRANKLY... I FIND THE "STYLE" ITSELF TO BE OFF-PUTTING. THE ESTABLISHMENT'S STYLE IS "EUROPEAN." TRUMP'S STYLE... ALL-AMERICAN!)
Like the Republicans six months after Trump's debut last summer, Hillary Clinton has just begun her direct dialectic with Trump. Along with her, the media will repeat all their doubts and misidentifications just as they did at the beginning of the Republican primaries. It's the general election: everything old is new again! The pattern is fast becoming routine: the political responses to Trump have followed the development of childhood psychology outlined by Jacques Lacan, who drew inspiration from the JAG-beloved Alexandre Kojève.
About six months after the introduction of Trump to the Republican electoral cycle, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz entered the mirror stage in Trump criticism. Being conventional modern politicians near the beginning of the eighteen-month journey to the American presidential election, they exercised little control over their political motor functions. They had everything they needed — the eyes, ears, fingers and toes of a modern presidential campaign — while Trump had only a Twitter account and a telephone.
They presented themselves as men of Principled Conservatism™, men of the Eternal Fifties of market liberalism and quaint, male-female-child-child-back-yard-next-home-please suburbs. But it turned out that that too was a jumble. The parts were never meant to stay unified forever. To have a party, though, don't you need to have parts?
* BY THE WAY... JUST A SIDE COMMENT: I CERTAINLY DON'T PUT CRUZ AND RUBIO IN THE SAME CAMP. CRUZ - FOR ALL HIS MANY FAULTS - IS THE REAL DEAL. RUBIO ON THE OTHER HAND IS A SLICK SELF-INTERESTED POSEUR WHO CAN'T BE TRUSTED ON PRINCIPLES. CRUZ AT LEAST CAN BE TRUSTED IN TERMS OF BASIC POLICY AND CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLE.
When they finally rubbed their eyes and looked into the mirror of presidential politics, they saw something like themselves. Trump was obviously a unity of some sort, though a gross one by any standard. When they winked with their left eye, Trump was winking with his right, and when they looked serious with their right eye, Trump was serious on the left. The mirror image seemed more able than they expected to control his movements, in spite of being a baby just like them — and so they reacted with hostility.
* AGAIN... TO BE ACCURATE... WHILE RUBIO (AND THAT PUTZ RAND PAUL) WENT AFTER TRUMP AS AN OPPONENT FROM DAY ONE, CRUZ HAD THE BRAINS TO SHOW APPROVAL FOR TRUMP'S POLICIES RELATING TO IMMIGRATION. IT WAS ONLY AFTER IT BECAME A PERCEIVED THREE MAN RACE (RUBIO-CRUZ-TRUMP) THAT CRUZ STARTED GOING AFTER TRUMP. (IT'S THE SLEAZY WAY HE WENT AFTER TRUMP THAT SUNK HIS CANDIDACY IN THE END, THOUGH.)
In their hostility, however, they integrated their candidacies all wrong — so wrong that it's no longer even necessary to belabor their mistakes.
Now that the six-month ordeal of Hillary's march to the nomination has been essentially decided, she too will enter the mirror stage. But in terms of her presentation of principle and politesse, the problem she faces is like that faced by Trump's opponents in the Republican primary.
Consider the catalogue of Hillary's shifting provided by the Wall Street Journal:
"On a swath of domestic issues," the Journal reports, "dragged along by a rapidly changing party and a surprisingly tough primary opponent in Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mrs. Clinton has moved to the left, sometimes reversing her positions and in other cases changing her tone in significant ways." She shifted to supporting gay marriage, to opposing the Iraq War retroactively, to doubting charter schools, to opposing '90s-era Clinton policies on crime, to opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, to opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Accurate analysis of the Trump campaign cannot begin without noting this difference in Trump's candidacy. He reconfigures the usual relationship between seriousness and flippancy as the Beltway class expect those qualities to be configured.
Last summer's "exposés" of Trump's flip-flopping show how badly political analysis can go astray when such simple elements of a candidate's approach are missed. In an article last July on "The many ways in which Donald Trump was once a liberal's liberal," the Washington Post dutifully chronicled Trump's changing positions on abortion, guns, health care, Hillary Clinton, party affiliation, Jeb Bush — and, what the media really care about, press availability.
CBS News published a similar list, noting also Trump's shifts on drug policy.
Politico did the same.
Max Boot did it.
Everyone did. Attacks on Trump's inconsistency on establishment-preferred issues was the name of the game all last summer.
Nowhere in the Post's report or CBS's was any discussion of Trump's positions on the Agenda of American Greatness which ultimately propelled his candidacy: an American interests–based foreign policy, an American interests–based international commercial policy and a reworking of American policy toward China. That agenda was already the core of Trump's political position in 1988 and 1990.
* GO, TRUMP, GO!
Trump has been consistently "boorish" on the secondary matters of personal interaction and campaign style — using insult widely, indulging the temptations of vanity, and eschewing usual requirements of media politesse. This Journal holds no brief for those aspects of the Trump campaign, nor for anything other than the Agenda of American Greatness as we have outlined it. The point is not that Trump was consistent on some issues and inconsistent on others. Rather, the jarred reaction to Trump and the desire to identify his minor policy shifts as major problems stems from the different affect created by his seriousness about American greatness and his pragmatic attitude toward everything else.
* YEP! BINGO! THEY JUST COULDN'T KEEP THEIR EYE ON THE BALL; COULDN'T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES.
That particular seriousness is something the managerial elite cannot understand. Changing positions on political issues does not bother them, and so they have chronicled Hillary's shifting positions unconcernedly, while only the right-wing talk show circuit gets upset by those changes.
They tolerate Hillary's policy shifts because she is "serious" in her career - long deference to the minimal requirements of official public life. She would never have refused to give the usual speeches before the usual corporations seeking to curry the usual (off-the-books) favor. Hillary Rodham Clinton is unconventional only in the transparency of her conventionality. Being serious about an actual polity with citizens who really want jobs and some sense of American pride — that makes no sense at all.
* NOT TO HER. NOT TO THE MSM. NOT TO MODERN DAY AMERICA'S BIPARTISAN ESTABLISHMENT "MOVERS AND SHAKERS."
Nothing else can explain why a vain billionaire from New York enthralled crowds across the forgotten parts of post-industrial America.
Yet here we are.
Trump may be vain, but he is not supercilious. The hour is not too late for Republican pundits and intellectuals to short-circuit the mirror stage and escape the Lacanian dialectic. All they have to do is step out of it. They are adults, after all.