A Man for This Season

Disclosure requires at the outset that I mention Victor Davis Hanson wrote a very generous foreword to my book on President Trump, though from a somewhat different angle. I would have declined this assignment if it required, in all honesty, to write a less than favorable review. That is not a problem. This is, and as any Hanson reader would expect, an excellent book. The title is in some respects misleading, as the author does not make the case for Trump as an advocate; he neutrally presents the reasons why an adequate number of Americans, conveniently distributed electorally, chose him as president.

Trump pulled off an extraordinarily perceptive analysis of the areas of discontent—identified both intuitively and by polling carefully. Trump recognized that the post-Reagan presidency and Congress had alienated a large and ever-growing section of public opinion stretching, with rare dissident patches, from upstate New York and Pennsylvania to the Rocky Mountains, and apart from Minnesota and Illinois, from Canada to the border and Gulf of Mexico. This has become the great Republican torso of America, and Hanson limns in always interesting insights about the steadily increasing disaffection of traditional, white, working and middle-class Americans at what they consider the desertion of their interests by the Democratic Party and the disparagement of them and of their opinions by the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Tens of millions of Americans, not necessarily immensely politically sophisticated, but well aware of what they liked and disliked, were steadily more offended by President George H.W. Bush’s frivolous renunciation of his infamous Clint Eastwood-imitative promise: “Read my lips—no new taxes,” and by his, as they perceived it, post-Gulf War foreign policy that was overly deferential to America’s enemies and to free-loading allies. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been removed from Kuwait yet crowed that he had survived, was developing nuclear weapons and was the tip of the spear of militant, secular Islam. Bush’s support for continued Ukrainian and other ethnic republics’ adherence to the Soviet Union, and praise for the “confederation” of Yugoslavia, vaguely annoyed many Americans, especially when his son led us back into Iraq a decade later. The senior President Bush’s answer to a recession at home was just to spend more, even if it was borrowed, and even if doing so did nothing for the dwindling manufacturing sector of America.

In time, the people that Bill Clinton assured “I feel your pain,” evolved, in considerable measure, into the people that Barack Obama would asperse as “clinging to guns and religion.” They too were irritated. This was hard to take from a man who sat contentedly for twenty years in the pews of racist and anti-American pastor Jeremiah Wright, who dispensed his violent religion in fiery terms to the Obama family. The same loyal Democrats going back to the Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy and Johnson years were singularly unimpressed by 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton’s consignment of them to the “basket of deplorables,” racists male chauvinists, rednecks, reactionaries, and bigots.All politically informed people generally knew about this, but Hanson meticulously cites the Democratic leaders and describes Donald Trump’s cunning and well-thought-out pitch to what Richard Nixon called in a different context: “The silent majority.” Despite unprecedented media derision, Trump—once he got going as a candidate—exploited the rather muted proposals for tinkering with the decaying status quo of his talented group of Republican opponents, successful governors and former governors (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee John Kasich, Rick Perry, Scott Walker), and prominent senators (Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz). They were a capable and previously respected group.
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