Today’s Rassmussen tracking poll has Trump holding firm with a 59% approval rating, much higher than the RCP tracking average that was about 7 points off during the election.

Notable in that bump?  The only two variables were the series of executive orders undoing much of the Obama-era decrees, and the so-called “Women’s March” consisting of people not wishing to be objectified by their genitalia  people wearing female genitalia on their head (no, I will not be reduced to using vulgarities even in a time of vulgarities — and you shouldn’t submit to the tyranny of lower expectations either).

David Ernst writes this morning in The Federalist about the rise of a postmodern presidency and its antidote.  One has to say that there are parallels, for while the political left feigns outrage, Trump has the courage to call them out as the contemptible hypocrites they truly are.  Shades of Huey Long, or for those familiar with Robert Penn Warren’s All The Kings Men the protagonist of the book — one Governor Willie Stark — for for a more modern protagonist, Tony Montana:

Tony isn’t a hero or a villain: he’s an antihero. You probably won’t admit to rooting for him, but if you enjoyed watching him stick it to those (presumably) stuck-up hypocrites, then it’s likely that you did. He’s everything his wife said he was, sure, but at least he has the balls to be honest about it.

For those who enjoy fine cinema and coarse language…

You need people like me so you can point your f–ckin’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie.

Given the first week of the Trump administration, two things become very clear.  First, that the political left has no intention of learning but instead is begging to be taught in the manner fools are taught — by experience.  Second, that among the center right there is something different brewing that one can only compare to the fall of the Iron Curtain.

If this strikes one as hyperbole, consider for a moment that Republican orthodoxy has undergone a tremendous shift that began truly in 1994 with the grand alliance between the conservative movement — delirious in their victory over Soviet Communism yet shocked at an ungrateful public electing Arkansas centrist then-Governor Bill Clinton — and the populist movement that found its voice among lights such as Patrick Buchanan and Jim Webb.

While the conservative establishment retained power in Congress and culminated their efforts in the election of Bush in 2000 and 2004, the populist wing of the party understood the calculus quite well — strategists like Karl Rove saw them as useful, but never at the table making decisions.

The populist abandonment of the GOP began in earnest with the nomination of Harriet Meiers in 2005 (which thankfully failed) when Bush’s approval ratings sunk from the low 50s to the mid-30s and stayed there for the duration of his presidency.  Populists abandoned the Republican Party in 2006 (the most notable defection of all coming from former Republican and Reagan-appointee Jim Webb to the Democratic ticket in Virginia, where he won the U.S. Senate race against rumored 2008 GOP presidential nominee George Allen) and delivered the fatal blow in 2008 against John McCain, either by voting for the alternative or by simply sitting the election out.

Thus the Tea Parties were born out of twin poles of disgust, aimed not only at the Republican establishment but also at the federal establishment.  Men like Ron Paul tapped into the universal angst of the “liberty movement” that captured the voice of the populist right and flirted with the idea of a “libertarian populism” for a brief moment… before the horses were traded again.  2010 was a populist uprising.  2014 was a populist uprising…

There’s an undercurrent here that one has to recognize and appreciate in the populist sentiment.  That for the veneer of charges of racism, sexism, uneducated souls, or Russian influence lies a certain discomfort with a status quo that seems perfectly willing to better themselves at the expense of those for whom the American experiment ought to be working for.

One sees this in the Bernie Sanders movement on the left.  One certainly sees this within the liberty movement wedged between the two major parties (and where the future more than likely remains).  On the political right, this trend of Nixonian populism and the Silent Majority still prevails against the powers that be.

So it shouldn’t surprise a soul to see the populist movement so energized and cheered with the rise of Donald Trump.  To them, this is their Velvet Revolution — this is their opportunity to unshackle themselves from the social constructs forced upon them by Clintons, Bushes, and Obama that simply became too much to bear.

In this, the progressives grossly miscalculated.  In an effort to use the coercive power of government to force the issue of gay marriage, transgenderism, homosexuals serving in the military, environmentalism, nationalizing 1/6th of the economy under Obamacare, forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to buy birth control, threatening religious freedom, redefining the First Amendment, threatening the Second Amendment, engaging in “democratic uprisings” in the Arab world and the Ukraine, embarking on a program of creative destruction in the U.S. economy and saddling a generation of college graduates with debt without focusing on workforce re-investment — the pressures of the last eight years simply became worse than onerous — they became oppressive.

The choice of the last presidential election?  Hillary Clinton, who is promising to carry out the threat of the Obama administration and finish off what remains of middle America… or Donald Trump — who may very well be a hypocrite, but he’s our hypocrite.

When the Velvet Revolution happened, it happened quickly — taking both the Czechoslovak regime and international observers by surprise.  No one thought that the power of such powerless men and women would ever surface.  After all, the deck was stacked — the military, police, press, and every institution and apparatus were in the hands of the Communist regime.

Nine days was all it took to burn it down.

Vaclav Havel’s samizdat entitled Power of the Powerless could almost be compared to the bevy of new media outlets that undermines the traditional outlets of today.

Suppressed by the Czechoslovak authorities, its impact was like a shockwave throughout the resistance from the time it was written in 1978 to when it came to fruition 11 years later.  In it, Havel gave a lesson that should have been a warning to the utopians and policy makers of every age who attempt to push mystifications through the tried and true methods of peer pressure and shaming:

Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.

The progressives of the Obama era should have learned this lesson.  Certainly the conservatives (and to some extent, the libertarians) abandoned the effort in order to mold culture to their own ends.

Yet at the end of the day, culture commands.  One need not live the lie of society… and for those who did, Trump comes as quite a shock.

Perhaps I was one of those who “lived the lie” so to speak.  Or perhaps there is still something as-yet-artificial about the rise of national populism that will burn off in due time?  More importantly in the observation, I cannot help but feel sympathy and even empathy for those who are breathing a bit easier knowing their government isn’t forcing them to choose between conscience and health care, or those using the government as a cudgel in the name of social change.

Of course, this is just the honeymoon period.  Trump has every opportunity to prove himself the falangist, and undoubtedly the political left is begging for that contrast, if for no other reason than their movement thrives on oppositional conflict.  The problem at this rate is that the political right is done attempting to negotiate — they are perfectly willing to fight fire with fire… and this is a dangerous thing if political institutions and stability are prized by policy makers and politicians alike.

…but the populists know the institutions aren’t working for them.  So their cheer as they celebrate their own version of the Velvet Revolution cannot be underemphasized.

There’s a reason why this feels different, and why Trump’s approval ratings are at 59% right now.  We just witnessed a political realignment that was 20 years in the making.

What remains for those outside of the nationalist and populist strains is how to present the alternative.  If the political left goes to the 2005 playbook of the Wellstone Initiative, that will signal not a coarsening, but a sharpening of the American political landscape not seen since the American Civil War.

Alternatively, if the conservative movement — which today finds themselves in the rather curious position of being in the political center defending the framework bequeathed by Reagan — can craft a narrative that seeks to preserve liberty in the face of the twin vices of tyranny on one hand and license on the other?

That’s a future worth fighting for.  At least, it was the future Vaclav Havel was fighting for.

  • James Atticus Bowden

    Excellent. And “Culture commands”.