Remember that scene in the movie “Predator” where Arnold asks the alien “what the hell are you?” and the Predator repeats it back to him? Yeah, that. The world outside President Donald Trump’s immediate family has the same reaction. From Tony Schwartz (co-author of “The Art of the Deal”) to Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher, everybody’s got a take on cracking Trump.
The latest is from Jonathan Chait, who posited “Social Darwinism is what truly guides Trump.” I was intrigued by his twitter post claiming “instinctive social Darwinism,” to which I responded I don’t even know what that is. Social Darwinism is a belief that cultures and social groups are subject to the same “survival of the fittest” natural selection that Darwin observed in plant and animal species.
Social Darwinism is a mostly discredited philosophy in its conclusions, which favor the rich and dismiss the poor as outworkings of inferior moral or character traits. Trump has always attributed his own success as something ineffable, an “it” that one either has or doesn’t have. Chait quotes Trump from a 1990 Playboy interview:
“The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son,” he told an interviewer. “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination — or whatever — to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it’ … You’re either born with it or you’re not.”
I am familiar with that interview, because I used it in my own hot take at cracking Trump, written back in February, 2016, where I too asked “what the hell are you?” and received the question back as an answer.
And this is where Chait’s attempt at the Gordian knot of Trump’s mind fails. Trump said he didn’t want a poor person in an advisory role dealing with the economy. I happen to agree with this logic. A poor person, upon winning the lottery, will most likely spend it all and have nothing. A rich person will be much more likely to invest some, and save most, because the rich are more interested in building and preserving wealth than the poor.
But do I want a rich person to be my military chief? Or my spiritual adviser? Almost certainly not. And Trump hasn’t picked millionaires for every key position. But in White House politics, those with access to the Oval Office do tend to be–well, rich. So what’s Chait’s point here?
Social Darwinism is the tissue connecting this shady conduct with the Republican Party’s highest policy priorities. Conservatives believe programs that tax the rich and benefit the poor illegitimately meddle with the natural and correct distribution of wealth produced by the marketplace. The Republican health-care bill — both what passed in the House and what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has brought to the Senate — confers a nearly trillion-dollar tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy. That appears to be its sponsors’ primary consideration. Secondarily, it strips away an equal amount in Medicaid and middle-class insurance tax credits.
His point is that Social Darwinism isn’t just Trump’s issue, it’s the GOP’s as a whole. In other words, Republicans are bad people because they don’t believe that “the poor” as a class should be given everything social progressives see as a “right.”
Here I call B.S. Because all of Chait’s little jaunt into Trump’s mind is to support this one statement.
The best explanation for this grand act of self-sabotage (beyond his simply not understanding the policies he endorses) is that Trump, like much of the Republican Party, is an instinctive social Darwinist.
Trump is many things, in fact he is a walking contradiction depending on where the light catches him, but he’s not a Social Darwinist. Chait wrote that Social Darwinism “is the intellectual scaffolding, constructed by writers like Ayn Rand and various Austrian economists, behind the vision of conservatives like Paul Ryan and David Koch.” That’s also demonstrably false.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy was “objectivism” where happiness, productivity and objective reason were the measure of a man, mankind, and everything. Therefore, all would simply find their place in life’s Pachinko board, some of it from inherent ability, some from attitude, and some from sheer luck.
I don’t think Trump believes in this way. He believes that great people can inspire, and that the power of positive thinking (the title of his erstwhile pastor, Norman Vincent Peale’s book) can help anyone achieve their dreams. If anything, Trump sees himself as a walking example of this philosophy. He is his own hero, and therefore accountable to no one, especially writers, reporters and bloggers trying to crack his cerebellum.
Most Republicans believe some of Trump’s core philosophy, as do Democrats. Where most differ is in Trump’s unyielding belief in self, his shifting moral relativism, and his mistrust of those not unfailingly loyal to him. Therefore when we ask of Trump “what the hell are you?” we tend to get the same question back.
Chait cheated and begged the question of how Republicans think, using Trump’s mirror ball to support his pretext.
That kind of cheating will leave us all exactly where we started. We don’t know anything new about President Donald J. Trump. We don’t know anything new about Republicans, other than Chait believes they are bad people.
Ultimately, Trump is guided by his own instincts, which are neither some form of “noblesse oblige” nor some innate superiority of the rich over the poor. He is guided by winning, defeating those who oppose him, and getting the upper hand in that struggle by any means possible for which he will suffer the least consequences.
In three words: Don’t get caught. The codicil: Have an excuse.
The ironic part about that philosophy is that both Bill and Hillary Clinton share it. Trump is just better at it than Hillary (but not necessarily better than Bill). How easily do intellectuals like Chait forgive one side’s addiction to self and power but attribute the other side’s use of the same to evil.
I suggest we all stop trying to crack Trump–which leads to headaches–and simply judge him on his actions and results.