Claremont Institute Senior Fellow John Marini is one of the few experts on American Government who understood the rise of Trump from the beginning of the 2016 election cycle. Now he looks to the fundamental question that Trump's presidency raises: is the legitimacy of our political system based on the authority of the American people and the American nation-state, or the authority of experts and their technical knowledge in the service of "progress"?
We are still in need of the qualities of great leadership.
Many leading Republicans and conservatives want someone other than Donald Trump to run for President in 2024. But this judgment requires an assessment of Trump’s vices and virtues in the context of our current political and cultural circumstances, as well as an assessment of other prospective Republican presidential candidates. Among the talked-about alternatives to Trump, I have not yet seen anyone who possesses either his virtues or his backbone. I am not suggesting that everyone make way for Trump; rather that it is too early to throw him overboard.
I regularly ask Republican politicians what they think of Donald Trump. The most frequent response is some version of, “I like his policies but don’t like the rest of him.” But this formulation gets it almost backwards. Although Trump advanced many important policies, it is the “rest of him” that contains the virtues that inspired a movement.
Trump was born for the current American crisis: the life and death struggle against the totalitarian enemy I call “woke communism.” The “woke comms” have seized every political, cultural, and economic center of power in the country from where they ruthlessly push their agenda. That agenda rests on the conviction that America is thoroughly bad (systemically racist) and must be destroyed.
If there is one thing that patriotic Americans know about Trump it is that he, like them, is unequivocally pro-American and willing to fight to defend the American way of life. When Collin Kaepernick and his ilk knelt before the American flag, Trump called them “sons of bitches.” As always, he was being forceful, authentic, and unmistakably clear.
Trump stood up for America every time he violated the strictures of political correctness. Trump has said over and over exactly what political correctness prohibits one from saying: “We have our culture, it’s exceptional, and that’s the way we want to keep it.” Trump’s contempt for political correctness showed patriotic Americans that its ever-tightening grip could be loosened. As Trump and his supporters know, political correctness cripples our ability to think clearly and act decisively.
Trump said Haiti is a “shithole” and that Representative Maxine Waters has a low IQ. These were not racist lies but uncouth, politically incorrect observations that most people would agree with but not dare say. Most of us, conservatives no less than liberals, are reluctant to criticize black Americans for fear of being called a racist. Trump, on the other hand, is an equal opportunity criticizer. This is what we used to call “colorblindness.”
Trump treated the woke media with the same contempt he treated political correctness, provoking their outrage and revealing their utter corruption.
Trump made no apologies for America’s past. His unlimited confidence in America is, in this time of national doubt and self-loathing, just what the doctor ordered. Trump thinks America can vanquish all comers if we just put our mind to it and he is right.
Trump is a man of action, guided by facts and common sense. He has no use for theories. He knows that slavish devotion to theory can lead to nonsensical beliefs; for instance, that children should be able to undergo “gender conformation”; that police forces should be defunded; or that biological boys should be able to compete against girls in athletics.
Trump knows it is time to make a stand, and for that we need strong men. Weak men do anything to avoid admitting the hardest truths because they lack the resolve to do what truth demands from them. Trump is a manly man. In present times, when manhood is being stripped of its masculinity, traditional manhood, even when flawed, has much appeal.
Trump is also comfortable in his own skin, a prerequisite for independence and courage. Trump ripped apart people he thought were weak. Sometimes he went overboard, but his supporters forgave his excesses because strength is in such short supply. Trump plays to win. And he knows that in war reaching across the aisle is usually a sucker’s game
A large part of Trump’s appeal was that he is a bona fide outsider who distrusted the expert class, which comprises so much of the “swamp.” Although his own administration sometimes made it difficult for him to get done everything he promised, his supporters knew he was on their side and was trying his damnedest not to let them down. Culturally, Trump, fueled by Big Macs, understands, as does the outsourced American worker, that a cheap smartphone is not a replacement for a meaningful job and the life it supports. Trump also understands that what Americans of all races and creeds desire are stable communities, and the opportunity to raise their families in a culture that values industriousness, self-reliance, patriotism, and freedom.
Trump revealed—not “caused”—the divide in this country. He awakened the public to the dangers of woke communism and, as good leaders do, gave his supporters the breathing room to voice their discontents. This may have been his most important achievement, made possible by qualities independent of policy. You cannot win a war unless you know you are in one.
This enumeration of Trump’s virtues does not fully capture his uncommon courage and firmness of purpose. Trump is the most towering political figure in living memory. He has, like it or not, defined the politics of our age. In 2016 and 2020 he was the political leader most fit for war-like circumstances. Yes, he has vices; even so, we should pause before we move on to someone else.
If Republicans do choose another candidate, they must do so in full confidence that he will embody Trump’s virtues. If not Trump himself, his positive qualities must be the standard by which we judge other candidates.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.