Belmont Club

The Short Lease

The Short Lease
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

One of the most puzzling things about the Trump presidency is the inability of the liberal establishment to make public opinion headway against him despite his attack on everything they held sacred.  Though several explanations can be advanced, perhaps the most plausible is that the establishment’s revealed behavior shattered the trust once reposed in them.

“Love,” John le Carre once observed, “is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love.”  And because the public loved the establishment, even worshiped it, the sense of betrayal caused by revealed behavior was profound.   Every time a celebrity, media figure or editorial writer was shown to be secretly mocking the public, smugly secure in the cocoon of his own kind, it cut more deeply than if he had never been admired at all.

Trust is fragile. Secrets and lies jeopardize trust and can damage us and our relationships — sometimes irreparably. … Honesty is more than simply not lying. Deception includes making ambiguous or vague statements, telling half-truths, manipulating information through emphasis, exaggeration, or minimization, and withholding feelings or information that is important to someone who has a right to know,

Fewer disillusions hit harder than discovering that an article of faith was a lie.  Recently “an Ontario man suffering from an incurable neurological disease has provided CTV News with audio recordings that he says are proof that hospital staff offered him medically assisted death, despite his repeated requests to live at home.”

The man is then heard telling Foley that he can “just apply to get an assisted, if you want to end your life, like you know what I mean?”

When Foley says that he is being forced to end his life, the man protests and says that’s not the case.

“Oh, no, no, no,” the man is heard saying. “I’m saying if you feel that way…You know what I mean? Don’t get me wrong. I’m saying I don’t want you to be in here and wanting to take your life.”

In a statement to CTV News, Foley says he decided to release the recordings “to all Canadians as my situation got very bad recently where I almost died.”

He says he’s “not in a position to elaborate on that currently,” but he wants the public to know “the real truth before it is too late for my voice to be heard.”

A masked assassin does not shake our belief system because that is what they do.  But you will never look at a hospital that offers to kill you the same way again, especially after all the avuncular denials about the existence of “death panels” are thrown into doubt by conversations which suggest the rumors were true.  It’s enough to make one think the popular progressive manifesto titled “How to Serve Man” is really a cookbook.  By contrast, Donald Trump’s great psychological advantage was he was never bore the burden of trust to begin with, at least not enough to generate any feelings of disappointment.  The media pitched him so low that his every achievement, however modest, arrives as a shock.

In the tit for tat race to the bottom of the last two years, Trump had nothing to lose.

With trust in brands at a low ebb, the only sort of political lease many voters are willing to grant is on the basis of direct experience.  Trump’s legitimacy so far has been leased with the ready money of a booming economy.  Call it shallow, call it naive — but there it is. Direct experience is harder to manipulate than the Narrative.  Greg Sargent, writing in the Washington Post, described the how Democrats planned to persuade the electorate that the current low unemployment numbers are evidence of really hard times.

The monthly jobs report showed the unemployment rate ticking down to 3.9 percent … But Democrats have reached a very different conclusion. They believe they can actually win the argument over the economy in a way that advantages them in the midterms. Indeed, they think it’s imperative they break through to the voters with an economic argument if they are going to win at all. … A recent Post-Schar School poll found that 57 percent of voters rate the economy as good or excellent, including 58 percent in battleground districts.

While formerly direct experience could easily be overcome by the voice of authority, with Narrative discredited there is the distinct danger people might fall prey to taking the counsel of their own senses.  Leon Trotsky warned of this. “Our class enemies are empiricists, that is, they operate from one occasion to the next, guided not by the analysis of historical development, but by practical experience, routinism, rule of thumb, and instinct.”  Without an arc of history to justify the vanguard of progress, their failures might be regarded as exactly that.

Trotsky understood that the erosion of ideology by “practical experience” would make it difficult for any -ists to embark on multi-decade social engineering if no results were forthcoming.  The Narrative was as vital to long-term progressivism as drilling mud was to deep well oilmen. After years of steady availability they couldn’t imagine it was all gone.  Jim Acosta’s touching belief  that Donald Trump can reverse the tide of doubt by declaring the media no longer “enemies of the people” is in part a hankering after the good old days, but it assumes an authority that neither Trump nor anyone else has any more.  But Trump can’t supply trust to the media any more than he can supply it to himself.  It’s everywhere out of stock.  We live in an age of show-me.

However, the eclipse of the longterm Narrative is not necessarily bad.  For one thing it means that not even Trumpism is likely to survive for any longer than it is needed or can justify its lease.  For another, it suggests that 21st century politics will be far more flexible than the glacial agendas of the past era, with vast bureaucratic inertia and interlocking interest groups replaced by rapidly shifting developments and new coalitions.  We are frighteningly free nowm and who knows where that will lead.  But the one thing that won’t happen, to Jim Acosta’s disappointment, is going back to Washington the way it used to be.

Perhaps the reason why Trump has not brought on the predicted apocalypse, and not been the disaster pundits have forecast, is that his chaos proved strangely in tune with the disruptive forces of the era.   Despite the conventional wisdom that the West erred in choosing Brexit and failing to elect Hillary, the West may by blind luck have changed course at the very moment when it needed to.

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Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T.J. Stiles. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in History, this book paints a portrait of Custer that demolishes historical caricature, revealing a volatile, contradictory, intense person — capable yet insecure, intelligent yet bigoted, passionate yet self-destructive, a romantic individualist at odds with the institution of the military (he was court-martialed twice in six years). The key to understanding Custer, Stiles writes, is keeping in mind that he lived on a frontier in time. In the Civil War, the West, and many other areas, Custer helped to create modern America, but could never adapt to it. Stiles casts surprising new light on a near-mythic American figure, a man both widely known and little understood.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger. We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding or “tribes,” a connection now largely lost. But its pull on us remains and is exemplified by combat veterans who find themselves missing the intimate bonds of platoon life at the end of deployment and the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today. Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, Junger explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. He explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today’s divided world.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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