Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and first term have been a weird mashup of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The difference is we won’t know until November 3 how this show will end.
Like the naïve appointed senator Jefferson Smith, Trump is a complete outsider to the bipartisan political guild that has run the country since 1945, lacking as he does the Ivy League credentials and/or government “service” required of our postwar presidents. And just as the populist Smith ended up exposing the corruption festering in DC, the populist Trump has kept his promise to “drain” the bipartisan “swamp” of incestuous government agencies and political offices that have exploited their power to enrich themselves and dominate their political rivals, rather than serve the interests of ordinary citizens.
Also like Mr. Smith, Trump is an idealist in his own way. His campaign slogan, Make America Great Again, is an unabashed endorsement of American exceptionalism and goodness, one dismissed as fascist kitsch by his critics. In his speeches, most recently at the Mt. Rushmore monument, he’s not afraid to express this affection for and pride in our country’s greatness, its basic goodness, and its unprecedented political freedom and unalienable rights. Throughout the recent fury of rioting and iconoclasm directed at civic statues and American history itself, he has defended that history and its heroes, and backed up his words by directing the DOJ to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the mindless destruction wrought by the “woke” mob.
And unlike Barack Obama, who never missed an opportunity abroad to apologize for America’s crimes and “imperfections,” Trump will fearlessly sing his country’s praises in other countries. The defense of the West he made in Poland in 2017, a country that knows something about real tyranny and oppression, of course disturbed the haughty EU elite who think all nations are potential Third Reichs. While so-called academic experts have imbibed the poison of “deconstructing” the West and its greatest nation, the United States, as a fiction masking an oppressive regime of racism, xenophobia, oppression, and ruthless capitalism, Trump speaks the simple truth that whatever the universal human flaws that have marred the West and the U.S., its unique goods––political freedom, individual unalienable rights, consensual government, equality before the law, and a free economy that offers opportunities to talent, virtue, and hard work––have created freedom and prosperity for the whole world.
But unlike Mr. Smith, who is a bit of a bumpkin and a boyish idealist, a literal “Boy Ranger,” as the film disguises the Boy Scouts, Donald Trump was forged in the Darwinian jungle of Manhattan construction and the unforgiving klieg-lit celebrity status. His personality and rhetoric reflect that milieu of bare-knuckled competition, vulgar invective, and brash plain-talking more evocative of Cuckoo’s Nest’s Randall “Mac” McMurphy, who wrangles his way out of prison into a lunatic asylum run by Nurse Ratched. This grim despot, with her arbitrary rules, regulations, and certainty of her own righteousness, tyrannizes her hapless charges into cringing submission to her power. McMurphy’s manic, zany commitment to individual freedom, his disruptive japes and pranks, and his willingness to “speak truth to power” and “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”––the alleged principles of our media until they sold their souls to the progressives and became their press agents––set him on a collision course with Nurse Ratched.
Similarly, Trump’s flurry of tweets and braggadocios hyperbole; his utter disdain for the pieties of political correctness and identity politics; his exposure of terms like “presidential” and “democratic norms” as the defensive gate-keeping of a self-enclosed technocratic guild; and his discarding of the focus-group-tested weasel-phrases, soothing clichés, and bland nostrums of the professional political class–– all have enraged to the point of lunacy the Dems and their NeverTrump Republican collaborators. This Trump Derangement Syndrome consumes his enemies, driving them to ever greater excesses of stupidity and mendacity. Their hyperbolic charges of his incipient fascism, his inclinations to autocracy, his xenophobia and racism, and any number of other crimes and flaws are so transparently false and labored that his enemies have become chumps for the president, who can set them off at will to ever greater heights of preposterous claims and specious criticisms.
Indeed, so bizarre, even surreal, are the manifestations of TDS that one could argue that the controlling metaphor for Washington is no longer the “swamp,” but the “cuckoo’s nest,” the asylum tyrannized by the political Nurse Ratcheds who are hysterical over their power and privilege being challenged and diminished by a disruptive outsider. Perhaps more enraging is Trump’s success at creating, among other accomplishments, a booming economy that increased wages, lowered unemployment, and raised growth to rates Obama’s economic wise men said were impossible. It took a pandemic worsened by China’s callous mendacity to bring the Trump economy to a halt.
So no wonder that the managerial elite stooped to rank political corruption in order to punish Trump and cripple his campaign for reelection. Jefferson Smith exposes senatorial corruption for personal profit, a bane on our republic since its beginning. In contrast, the TDS-afflicted politicos, agency functionaries, and media corrupted our institutions of justice and law enforcement endowed with investigatory powers that can ruin lives and deprive people of their freedom––perhaps the worst case of political corruption in our history. Starting during Obama’s last days in office and with his encouragement, the investigations into “collusion” with Russia––a charge resting on a sordid “dossier” already proven to be not just preposterous, but tainted by the fact that the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid for it––cut legal and procedural corners and violated rules and protocols in order to damage Trump’s campaign and then his administration. And this skullduggery, light-years beyond the petty burglary of Watergate, was enabled, fostered, and legitimized by most of the media and allegedly “principled” NeverTrump Petainists.
Russian “collusion” and fake predicates for impeachment having failed, now nature and China have gifted Trump’s enemies with a pandemic. NeverTrump lunacy has tried to blame Trump for the virus and its fallout, of course. But the conflicting statements and recommendations of various experts, the deadly blunders of governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo, the obvious relish of other governors and mayors in arbitrarily imposing lockdowns and other restrictions, and the transparent hypocrisy of these blue-state officials in violating all their own restrictions and rules by letting thousands of rioters, looters, and protestors congregate at will––all destroy the credibility of the Trump accusers. Especially damaging is their early criticisms of Trump’s ban on all flights from China, which they called “racist” and “xenophobic.” It quickly became obvious that this decision saved thousands of lives.
Finally, the orgy of destruction by various “peaceful protestors,” the preposterous demands they have made such as “defunding” the police, the increase in violence against ordinary citizens encouraged by orders for police to stand down, and the assault not just on Confederate statues, but those of abolitionists like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, are symptoms of political lunacy. Worse yet, the supposed adults in these blue-state urban fiefs, the mayors, governors, city council members, and even some police chiefs, have supported and approved this craziness even as the disorder and violence escalate––600 dead in six weeks just in six cities. And we should note that the Democrat’s great white hope, the oldster of pallor Joe Biden, is exhibiting symptoms of cognitive decline that are, in a way, consistent with this outbreak of irrational disorder, and so he has been locked away in his basement asylum.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ends with Jefferson Smith exposing the corrupt senators. Cuckoo’s Nest ends with a lobotomized McMurphy mercy-killed by his fellow inmate Chief. We the people will get to decide the ending of the Trump show in November––with real-world consequences our children will either suffer or enjoy.
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