“We like to win. Do we like to win?” President Trump asked a cheering crowd when he visited U.S. troops in Iraq in December of 2018. “We're no longer the suckers” of the world, he said on the same trip.
Donald Trump has frequently been portrayed as a shallow and unhinged opportunist with no worldview at all, driven merely by a mercurial self-interest. One of the more recent in the litany of examples of this is Eugene Robinson’s March 4, 2019 column in the Washington Post. He there described President Trump’s recent speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference as “a rambling and incoherent two-hour speech in which he raved like a lunatic and told crazy, self-serving lies from start to finish.” In fact, however, President Trump is authentically grounded in a particular worldview.
During the 2016 primaries, Senator Ted Cruz made reference to “New York values.” Senator Cruz was on to something with his reference, although the Texan shot himself in the foot with New York Republicans when he expressed his lack of enthusiasm for those values.
Distinguishing between New York State and New York City, there are in fact some beliefs held in common by the fine citizens of NYC. Let’s start on a clean sheet of paper, and give these beliefs a new name. Let’s call them a “Five Boroughs Philosophy.”
In addition to winning and not being suckers, other values in this “5BP” clearly include a deeply ingrained welcoming of legal immigrants, ambition, materialism, and toughness in the face of opposition.
This version of the Five Boroughs Philosophy has contributed to President Trump’s successes to date in dealings with China, Korea, Iran, Canada/Mexico, and Venezuela.
The “ordinary Joe” aspects of the 5BP has resonated across the country, enabling the American economy’s resurgence. Economist John Maynard Keynes said that one of the most important requirements for a successful market economy is that its “animal spirits” be awakened. Who would have thought that a real estate billionaire in a suit and a black limousine, who hailed from Queens, would in fact be a shaman who could awaken animal spirits?
Since another belief of the 5BP is that it is therapeutic to argue, we can expect disagreement about the content of a Five Boroughs Philosophy. Democrats Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and Bill de Blasio would undoubtedly claim that bringing government involvement in people's lives to orgiastic levels is the true 5BP of the 21st century. Former Mayor Bloomberg would no doubt insist that it must also include regulation of the size of sugary drinks.
President Trump would probably describe those proposed tenets as cancer. We don’t need to go down the dark alley of that debate, however, to examine other limitations of the 5BP. In its positive aspects, the 5BP is fairly understood as including 20th century Manhattan minister Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking, which influenced Donald Trump. So far, however, President Trump’s version of the 5BP is of limited use for defining legitimate roles for government. Even a principle that seems to have been as consequential as the “broken windows” theory of policing that was embraced by Mayor Rudy Giuliani is of limited value for defining proper roles across government.
If President Trump’s version of the 5BP doesn’t define functions that government should undertake, should we just thank him for his service and not re-elect him in 2020?
Many people who are merely of the Never Trump persuasion would reach that conclusion, and in good faith. To be blunt in a 5BP kinda way, their good faith would mask their stupidity.
President Trump’s successes in little more than two years are breathtaking in light of the opposition that he has faced from powerful Anti-Trump elites. His toughness is astounding. A lot of Anti-Trump people are fairly described as bigots who have disdain to the point of contempt for Trump voters. Viewers of Fox News who would like to watch future Democratic presidential candidates’ debates know this.
Trump’s version of the 5BP is thus like chemotherapy administered by an unlikely shaman, that is needed now, but it is not something that the body politic should want as a permanent feature of life. We will need to look beyond it in 2024, to other sources of healing the body politic. Why 2024 rather than 2020? Because there is no chance that by 2020 the cancer noted above will be cured, or that the elites referenced above will confront (or be confronted with) their own bigotries and change their ways.
How will we know that we have moved past the phase of needing the chemotherapy? When it is genuinely and fully socially acceptable to wear a MAGA hat in any setting where bon vivant baseball caps are worn, and to say in any setting that has political discussion, “while of course there are disadvantages to any policy choice, President Trump’s policies are often brilliant, and have lots of advantages for the country as a whole.”
Until then, let us be thankful for a Five Boroughs Philosophy and its practitioner par excellence.