The Banality of Trump

Regular readers might remember that over the past few weeks, I’ve promised to live-tweet about reading Trump—didn’t happen.  I’ve also promised to keep up with weekly installments on reading Trump—nothing yet.  Yeah.  I’m cringing.

I made a mistake here, and the mistake was to commit to saying something before I knew whether there would be anything to say.  Relative to the volume of coverage elsewhere and the utter banality of Trump’s book, I don’t think there is very much worth saying.  This blog is a side project, mostly for my own entertainment, but I’m really proud of the work I’ve done here and it is still my goal to only write things that I think are worth reading.

So, without further ado, here are some thoughts on Trump’s book, and after today, I will treat Crippled America and Mr. Drumpf just like I would any other campaign book and candidate.  Rubio is next on my list.

trumpTrump’s book isn’t crazy.  Actually, it’s boring.  Crippled America is a pastiche of a conventional GOP candidate’s book, marbled with fatty Trump rhetoric.  It’s an issues book, in the vein of Paul or Huckabee or to a lesser extent Carson and Bush.  His chapter topics include immigration, foreign policy, education, health care, the economy, the 2nd amendment, infrastructure, taxes, two chapters on the media, and a fuzzy chapter on religious values and how to “achieve happiness” (127).  Since I’ve already talked about education and GOP books, let’s look at his education chapter and see how he compares to Bush, Carson, and Paul.

Chapter 5, “Education: a Failing Grade” (49), begins with Trump waxing about the values of an education, starting with “My father did not graduate from college” (49).  Education reform is easy for politicians to support, he says, but they don’t propose anything actually of use.  Part of the problem is a “one-size-fits-all approach,” and “Common core doesn’t work,” (50) he says.  He weasels out of a commitment with the weak phrase “A lot of people believe the Department of Education should be eliminated” (51).  But he should know this stuff because of his time in military school, which was a “tough, tough place” (51), segueing into the problems with political correctness.  “You know what makes a kid feel good?” he asks, and then the following words each get their own line: “Winning.  Succeeding” (52).  Then comes the policy, which boils down to competition, school choice, including charter and magnet schools.  These will help urban schools especially, since kids in wealthy districts are doing fine (53-55).  “One huge obstacle” (55) is teacher unions.  Another is a lack of classroom discipline (57).  Finally, the skyrocketing costs of college education and the federal student loans program are keeping kids from higher education (58-9).  If we look at “the Asian countries” (59), we’ll figure this out.

Not one of these policies is new.  Eliminating the department of education belonged to Rick Perry in 2012.  Political correctness is everyone’s favorite empty ‘tell it like it is’ stand.  Competition and school choice is Jeb Bush’s favorite thing.  Arguing that school choice will alleviate urban poverty is a peg for Rand Paul’s hat.  Teacher unions are Scott Walker’s supervillain.  Reforming student loans and college costs are Bernie Sanders’ centerpieces—go figure.  So the politicians propose nothing of use, he says, and then parrots standard GOP talking points.

Sometimes, the irony of Trump’s rhetoric is just too much.  In his discussion of foreign policy, he sneers that

“The career diplomats who got us into many foreign policy messes say I have no experience in foreign policy.  They think that successful diplomacy requires years of experience and an understanding of all the nuances that have to be carefully considered before reaching a conclusion.  Only then do these pinstriped bureaucrats consider taking action” (31, emphasis original).

Yes.  Yes, this is what I want from a diplomat.  This is what I want the chief of American foreign policy to value in his or her advisers.  But Trump doesn’t really rule this out, either.  On the next page, he declares that:

“My approach to foreign policy is built on a strong foundation: Operate from strength.  That means we have to maintain the strongest military in the world, by far.  We have to demonstrate a willingness to use our economic strength to reward those countries that work with us and punish those countries that don’t.  That means going after the banks and financial institutions that launder money for our enemies, then move it around to facilitate terrorism.  And we have to create alliances with our allies that reveal mutual benefits” (32).

In short and in paradox: the career diplomats are wrong, but what we really need is center-right foreign policy.  You can take this formula and apply it to almost every one of Trump’s positions: the establishment are liars, traitors, idiots, whatever—but what we really need is the same policy the GOP has been advocating for years, with a little more racism, isolationism, and protectionism thrown in. 

Maybe this is our strongest weapon against Trump—not that he’s ridiculous, or a hypocrite, or even a con man, but that the consummate entertainer is actually boring.

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