Could Donald Trump Do Anything to Win the NeverTrumpers?
In Federalist 10, James Madison observes:
As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.
Indeed. The ordinary business of life provides a good illustration of what Madison was talking about. And when we come to politics, it’s not just human fallibility that is at issue. There is also the operation of what Madison calls “self-love,” and “the diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate.” It may be that “[t]he protection of these faculties is the first object of government,” as Madison argued, but the diversity of interests means that there will always be a diversity of opinions -- i.e., conflict.
These are truisms, I know, and I utter them as a preliminary to mentioning something that puzzles me. Granted, people disagree about many things. Granted, too, that in the realm of politics our own interests propel us to applaud certain courses of action and deprecate others. Still, I have been amazed by the discrepancy of opinions about Donald Trump’s presidency.
It’s not, I hasten to add, the fact of the discrepancy that puzzles me, but its global, all-encompassing quality.
I think I first became fully conscious of this phenomenon in the aftermath of Trump’s inauguration speech. The speech that I heard seemed to be toto genere different from the speech that NeverTrumpers, on the Right as well as on the Left, heard. Writing for the Financial Times, I described the speech as “gracious but plain-speaking.” That did not go down well among the readers of FT.
Writing here at PJM, I listed some of the negative reactions to the speech. Typical was a column in the Chicago Tribune, which described it as “raw, angry and aggrieved,” “pugnacious in tone, pitch black in its color.”
Had we been listening to the same speech? Possibly, but the speech that we heard was different. I quoted a famous bit from The Tempest to illustrate the phenomenon. A few of the shipwrecked men are taking stock of their situation on Prospero’s enchanted island, and it soon becomes clear that the island appears very different to different characters:
ADRIAN: The air breathes upon us here most sweetly.
SEBASTIAN: As if it had lungs and rotten ones.
ANTONIO: Or as 'twere perfumed by a fen.
GONZALO: Here is everything advantageous to life.
ANTONIO: True; save means to live.
SEBASTIAN: Of that there's none, or little.
GONZALO: How lush and lusty the grass looks! how green!
ANTONIO: The ground indeed is tawny.
SEBASTIAN: With an eye of green in't.
ANTONIO: He misses not much.
SEBASTIAN: No; he doth but mistake the truth totally.
The question is, of course, who is right, the cheery Gonzalo or his shipmates?