Something For Nothing

James Howard Kunstler’s latest article on the Trump phenomenon is entitled “Worse Than Hitler.” It’s hard to read that headline and not conclude that Kunstler has become a parody of the uptight, shrill, self-righteous, delusional liberal intellectual . . . or alternatively, a conservative.

But, in fact, the title is a head-fake. Kunstler (who’s neither Left nor Right) is one of the few who actually gets immigration.

Immigration is a practical problem, with visible effects on-the-ground, easy to understand. I’m enjoying the Trump-provoked debate mostly because it is a pushback against the disgusting dishonesty of political correctness that has bogged down the educated classes in a swamp of sentimentality. For instance, Times Sunday Magazine staffer Emily Bazelon wrote a polemic last week inveighing against the use of the word “illegal” applied to people who cross the border without permission on the grounds that it “justifies their mistreatment.” One infers she means that sending them back where they came from equals mistreatment.

It’s refreshing that Trump is able to cut through this kind of tendentious crap. If that were his only role, it would be a good one, because political correctness is an intellectual disease that is making it impossible for even educated people to think — especially people who affect to be political leaders. Trump’s fellow Republicans are entertainingly trapped in their own cowardliness and it’s fun to watch them squirm.

From there, Kunstler goes on to the “magical thinking” of the Trump phenomenon.

But for me, everything else about Trump is frankly sickening, from his sneering manner of speech, to the worldview he reveals day by day, to the incoherence of his rhetoric, to the wolverine that lives on top of his head. The thought of Trump actually getting elected makes me wonder where Arthur Bremer is when we really need him.

Did any of you actually catch Trump’s performance last week at the so-called “town meeting” event in New Hampshire (really just a trumped-up pep rally)? I don’t think I miscounted that Trump told the audience he was “very smart” 23 times in the course of his remarks. If he really was smart, he would know that such tedious assertions only suggest he is deeply insecure about his own intelligence. After all, this is a man whose lifework has been putting up giant buildings that resemble bowling trophies, some of them in the service of one of the worst activities of our time, legalized gambling, which is based on the socially pernicious idea that it’s possible to get something for nothing.

I daresay that legalized gambling has had a possibly worse effect on American life the past three decades than illegal immigration. Gambling is a marginal activity for marginal people that belongs on the margins — the back rooms and back alleys. It was consigned there for decades because it was understood that it’s not healthy for the public to believe that it’s possible to get something for nothing, that it undermines perhaps the most fundamental principle of human life.

In July, Jeb Bush said that, in order to reach his arbitrary GDP growth goals, Americans would have to “work longer hours.” His statement was so rhetorically stupid that I almost appreciated his honesty.

Trump, on the other hand, promises “new management.” With Trump, along with the “amazing” “superstars” he’ll hire, Americans will get better “deals” with Mexico and China. In other words, something (in this case, national greatness) for nothing.

Rhetorically, it’s brilliant. That said, the usual GOP bullshit about “opportunity” and America being a place where “anyone can do anything” has a built in fail-safe. If your life doesn’t turn out as planned in a Republican utopia, you weren’t working hard enough or you didn’t dream big enough. Trump promises that your life will be better because Trump will make it better.

I agree that many more things are politically possible than politicians imagine. (Jeb Bush believes that building a wall on the Mexican border is “impossible,” yet converting Muslims to liberal democracy by means of aerial bombing is sound public policy.) That said, America’s late-stage Caesarism seems destined to disappoint its supporters, least of all those on the alternative Right.