Embrace the Chaos, Excuse the Dust
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Today, the surest way to establish your respectability bona fides is to denounce this season’s Republican primary process. Better still, if you have children, claim you will not even let them watch the debates.
The respective campaigns are vulgar, crass, sleazy, and dishonest, not to mention, of course, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic.
“Every meeting I have, everywhere, people are asking what is happening with the United States, ‘What are you doing to yourselves?’” Secretary of State John Kerry told MSNBC on Tuesday.
“I'm getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made,” echoed President Barack Obama. “I have to emphasize that it's not just Trump's proposals. You are also hearing concerns about Cruz's proposals.”
The operative word about the primaries among the naysayers is one that Kerry uses frequently, “embarrassing.” The Republicans are embarrassing themselves before the nation and embarrassing the nation before the world.
This year, the Republicans have defied their own party mandarins, the high priests of political correctness, and a complicit and corrupt media to stage the most exciting and energetic primary process since they nominated underdog Abraham Lincoln on the third ballot during a tumultuous Chicago convention.
This insurgency caught Washington fully off guard. “Mitt Romney’s decision to forgo a third try at the White House has settled the question of whether the 2016 GOP presidential field has a front-runner,” opined the Washington Post in January, 2015, “bestowing a coveted status on former Florida governor Jeb Bush.”
“Republicans have a tradition of picking an anointed one early, the Post continued. “That establishment candidate almost always ends up with the nomination.” The Post had a point. The establishment had managed to nominate its chosen candidate in the seven soporific elections previous to this one.
In fly-over country, however, all you had to do was talk to any ordinary group of Republicans or Tea Party people to know Jeb Bush did not have a prayer. Neither did Chris Christie, John Kasich, or any other candidate with the blessing of the “establishment.”
As was becoming clear to anyone paying real attention, the Republican establishment may have access to money and to the media, but it had nothing resembling a constituency. When Reince—who names their kid that?—Priebus talked, no one listened.
In a June 10, 2015, column, I wrote, “The Republican nominee for president will be that candidate who best learns that there is no future in apologizing.” This was a week before Trump declared. I did not even know he was running.
Bush campaign manager Mike Murphy pretty well captures the establishment take on Donald Trump. "I'd rather cut my arm off than vote for that jerk,” said Murphy, who is no keener on Ted Cruz. "It's a choice between Trump, who is terrible for the country, and Cruz, who is terrible for the party. He's too smart for his act,” said Murphy of Cruz, “and he's probably pissed that a bigger con man showed up."
Embarrassed by their respective failures, the political establishment and the media refuse to credit the outcome to this point for what it is: an unprecedented triumph of the Democratic process.
Distracted by all the internecine sniping, not even the supporters of Trump or Cruz appreciate what they have accomplished. They have winnowed an extremely strong Republican field to its two least apologetic candidates: one a hugely successful entrepreneur willing to risk his fortune and reputation to advance critical ideas; the second, the most coherent and consistent constitutional conservative since Ronald Reagan and perhaps the smartest Republican candidate since Teddy Roosevelt.
Are both candidates flawed? Of course, they are. If either succeeds in keeping the hopelessly corrupt and relentlessly dishonest Democratic frontrunner out of the White House, however, he deserves a spot on Rushmore just for doing that. No major party has ever knowingly nominated a candidate as profoundly flawed as Ms. Clinton.
Speaking of Rushmore, Murphy, like most other pundits, makes an elemental historical misjudgment. “I think if you got the Founding Fathers,” says Murphy, “brought them back to life, and said, 'What do you think of all this?' [they'd say], 'What a bunch of whiners.’”
In fact, the real Founding Fathers would be more inclined to say, “Hey, just like old times.” A useful corrective to Murphy’s historical myopia is Ron Chernow’s masterful book, Alexander Hamilton.
In an encouraging cultural turn, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda read Chernow’s thousand-page tome on vacation and turned it into a smart, engaging musical that is now the hottest ticket on Broadway. Who knows? With enough class trips, young New Yorkers may even learn who fought in the Revolutionary War.
The first treasury secretary and the chief author of the Federalist Papers, Hamilton made his share of enemies. John Adams called him “the bastard brat of a Scottish pedlar.” As a sign of things to come, Adams and Hamilton belonged to the same party.
The media of the day smoked out an affair in which the married Hamilton had been engaged. Adams did not approve, claiming Hamilton “had a suberabundance of secretions which he could not find whores enough to draw off.”
Indeed, Adams could make Donald Trump blush. He called the revolutionary Tom Paine, for instance, “a mongrel between a pig and a puppy, begotten by a wild boar on a bitch wolf.”
With the exception of George Washington, all the major Founding Fathers engaged in “wicked mockery” of their political rivals, either directly or through proxies like the notorious James Callender, who, writes Chernow, “made a career of spewing venom.” Thomas Jefferson and James Madison hammered relentlessly on Hamilton. Hamilton, “a bare-knuckled polemicist,” hammered right back.
In 1804, Aaron Burr, had been denounced publicly by his political opponents for “deflowering virgins, breaking up marriages through adultery, forcing women into prostitution, accepting bribes, fornicating with slaves, [and] looting the estates of legal clients.” Most of these charges, if not all, were true.
Hamilton made the mistake of accusing Burr of something even more “despicable,” quite possibly of committing incest with his daughter. That was too much even for Burr. Although then the vice-president of the United States, he shot and killed Hamilton in a duel.
“What’s happening in this primary is just a distillation of what’s been happening in their party for more than a decade,” said Obama of the Republican’s “uncivil” tone. No, “uncivil” is when you shoot your opponents, not when you tweet about them.
In citing the fierce language used by the founders, Chernow was not demeaning them. As he notes, “The intellectual caliber of the leading figures surpassed that of any future leadership in American history.” What Hamilton alone accomplished in setting up the nation’s financial infrastructure makes one’s head spin.
As to why the founders’ “animosity towards one another has seldom been exceeded,” Chernow offers what should be a self-evident explanation: “Both sides believed the future of the country was at stake.”
Today, after eight years of Obama, only one side believes the future of the country is at stake. And Republicans don’t just believe it. They know it is. So as they say at construction sites, “Please excuse our dust.”
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