While delivering remarks in New Hampshire this week critical of Ted Cruz’s thoughtful position on the use of waterboarding, one of Donald Trump’s supporters yelled out to him that this made Cruz a word not fit for pages of this site. Not wanting such a crude, but biting, criticism of his opponent to be left hanging in the air, Trump did what we all could have guessed he would do -- stop his speech, chuckle, and then repeat it into the microphone to make sure every person and media representative present heard.
It was classic Trump.
To say that Trump’s entry into the 2016 presidential race has “changed the face”of the nomination process would be a gross understatement, with“gross”being the operative word. While outsider voices, such as Rand Paul’s, intelligently articulated topics often ignored among today’s Republicans, Trump has done nothing to elevate the level of discourse in this year’s nomination fight. Instead, Trump’s use of vulgar language, crass insults, personal attacks, and snide comments has turned what should have been an ongoing conversation about how to restore conservative values to American public policy, into little more than a chest-thumping circus about “who is the greatest.”
The effect on voters is perceptible as well. When Trump repeated the profane insult about Cruz, gleefully shouted by one of his female supporters, the room exploded in applause and cheers; as if by debasing himself, Trump proved once again he was a “commoner”just like the rest of them, and not part of the uptight "Establishment" ruling class his billions indicate. This type of reaction to Trump’s shameful (and shameless) conduct speaks not only to the coarsening of American culture generally (seen now in the use of profanity on network television, gratuitous gross language in movies, use of the “f”-word among young people including teenage girls, etc.), but perhaps even more disturbingly, to a trend begun under Bill Clinton -- that of lowering the standards for, and expectations about, the office of the President of the United States.
It is the vulgarization of American politics.
The GOP’s open embrace of Trump, much like the Left’s continued infatuation with Bill Clinton, is clear evidence that many, if not perhaps most, Americans no longer hold the Office of President as above the lowest common denominator. These men do not represent the very best of American ideals, but closer to the very worst; that it is okay to engage in perverted sex acts in the Oval Office, it’s okay to lie, it’s okay to insult people individually and as a group, it’s okay to brag about buying-off politicians for personal gain, it’s okay to use vulgar language in public because -- to these people and to their enablers among the voting population and the media -- such conduct sells and, after all, simply reflects the “people’s culture.”
Vulgarity and baseness has become the New Normal.
In our desire to shed any semblance of Establishment elitism from the ranks of the GOP, we have forgotten that it is okay to look up to our leaders, rather than to our sides, or worse, beneath us. We should be inspired by leaders who we regard as the elite among us –those who reflect the very best of our nation in intelligence, bravery, decency, leadership, and strength.
Today, we have begun to measure our future leaders not by traditional standards, such as conservative voting records, a genuine knowledge and respect for the Constitution, and skills to diplomatically bring all parties to the table to find solutions to America’s problems; but, instead, simply by whom we could share a beer and a dirty joke with. Yet, how would this standard apply to America’s greatest historical leaders? Imagine the rebuke by George Washington were one of his officers or cabinet officials to utter a vulgar joke over dinner with the nation's Commander in Chief. Ronald Reagan refused to take off his suit jacket in the Oval Office as a sign of genuine respect for the Office he held. We know what Bill Clinton did in that same office; imagine the baseness with which "President" Trump would treat it.
Being against the Establishment means opposing political leaders who are motivated only by furthering their personal interests, and not those of their constituents. It does not mean opposing any one and anything that appears to be “above”the common man. America does not need a peasant as king to become great again, but rather a leader who understands the traditions and philosophic underpinnings of our great nation, and who has the courage to restore them in public policy. Instead of looking to who can lower themselves the most to the “people’s level,”we should look for those who can elevate the people the highest. But, to do that, they must first hold themselves to that level of excellence.
Otherwise, as political satirist H.L. Mencken once noted, “the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” Unfortunately, we seem to be well on our way to that “great and glorious day" foreseen by one of the 20th Century's great political sages.