Schall on surviving the election and facing the future

“We have here no lasting city.” We will be judged in the one we live in, including the one in which Mr. Trump, however competent or incompetent, is now president-elect.

My gut feeling on this election all along was that we simply could not have Mrs. Clinton as president. She was incompetent, fudged the truth, thought religion must conform to the rules of the state in all things, accepted and promoted all aspects of the abortion and the gay agendas, personally profited from public office, knew little about business and almost nothing about the middle classes and the military. And the list goes on. As someone at National Review said, the main cause of her defeat was herself. But she was gracious in defeat.

Practically no one I knew from academia or media supported Mr. Trump. Mostly adamantly opposed him. It was my view all along that the Clinton Democrats wanted and worked for their adversary in the election to be Mr. Trump as the easiest to defeat. He was the center of attention in both favorable and unfavorable circles all along. He learned quickly that a bad press was better than no press—perhaps better even than a good press. And he received almost universally bad press and media coverage. He seemed to thrive on it.

An former student, now at Stanford, sent me a note the day after the election. The headline in the Stanford Daily was: “TRUMP STUNS IN VICTORY”. A sub-headline read: “Psychological Services Available”. A Brazilian friend at the University of Texas said all the students she knew were “sad”—a graphic indication of the isolation of academia, which was in various states of shock, sadness, and anger.  Another friend teaches at American University on Tuesday evenings. He was asked to move classrooms that evening as an election party—for Clinton—was scheduled for his room. He moved to another room that also had an election party next door. As the evening went on, the party faded. It may have been the soberest evening on most university campuses in history. No Trump victory parties were recorded.

Many writers have treated the “egghead” factor, the distance that intellectuals of various sorts are from normal people. I think it was Bill Donahue at the Catholic League who once advised an academic to go down to a local pub in his home town in the evening and talk to men coming off work. He had a single piece of advice for him, one that I will never forget: “But for God’s sake do not order a glass of white wine!” With the exception of a few odd spots such as Colorado and Illinois, this was a middle of the country election, no doubt of it. I have never forgiven my birth-state, Iowa, for its early role in imposing Mr. Obama on us, but Iowans redeemed themselves.

I always thought that it was a two person election—either Trump or Clinton. The intellectuals who could not stand either candidate either did not vote or voted for a third party. I assumed that a third party vote would follow the Ross Perot disaster and siphon off enough Trump votes to  elect Mrs. Clinton. But the fact seems to be that Mr. Trump garnered much help in winning because of those who voted third party. It was also assumed that the Latino vote would be near one hundred percent for Mrs. Clinton, but it seems that many Latinos, once they settle into the States, see the wisdom of controlled borders.

The “Bernadin” proportional option—following Kaine, Pelosi, Biden, the Kennedys, and the Cuomos—did seem to provide cover for many to vote for Mrs. Clinton. By some wild stretch of the imagination, she could be seen for standing for what has come to be called “social justice”. That approach apparently meant you could overlook her views on abortion and religious freedom and vote for her “social” agenda, which was basically “do what Mr. Obama did”—only more so. I was never able to get by Mrs. Clinton’s incompetency as Secretary of State. Her Benghazi performance was one of the lowest points in American diplomatic and military history, not to mention the later lies she used to justify it.

In the San Francisco Chronicle sports page for November 10, there was a piece by Scott Ostler commenting on Detroit Pistons coach Stan van Gundy. Evidently, van Gundy went on a “tirade” about Trump’s election. The Golden State Warriors’ Coach, Steve Kerr, was asked to comment on it. Sports figures generally (and wisely) stay away from politics. But this time Kerr praised van Gundy for “speaking out,” saying, “It takes a lot of guts for Stan to say what he did.” Now, I would say that it took absolutely no guts at all to speak against Trump. It would have taken a lot more for him to say even the slightest good thing about Mr. Trump. I think this principle can be universalized in many media, sports, academic, and coastal cultural circles.

Before the election, I usually followed the “lesser of two evils” principle in deciding which candidate to consider. I recall reading the so-called “Mae West Principle”, to wit, “Given a choice between two evils, choose the one you don’t know.” On these grounds, Mrs. Clinton had nothing going for her, as far as I could see. Trump seemed to be of another approach to the same problem. His early attention to the Supreme Court, however, was significant and seemed to persuade many voters that, in the crucial area of human life, Mr. Trump was the much better choice. Not forgetting that many of the worst judges in pro-life issues were appointed by Republican presidents, we have to wait, but the air seems clearer.

Of course, it comes down to whether a case can be made that Mr. Trump was really on to something basic, that something fundamental was wrong with the elites in our society that needed attention. One of the amusing things about many people in East or West Coast enclaves, is their Stanford-type shock at the Trump victory, even after the English vote to leave the European Union for substantially the same reason. But if all one does is listen to CNN, MSNBC, read most local papers, especially the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, he will have little awareness that any other view of the world is either possible or prevalent. So we fall back on calls of fascism, or irrationality, or derangement, or uncouthness as explanations for the Trump victory. Mr. Trump is no saint, but, in watching his children, it looks like he may have learned a lot about reality from his family, however complicated it is.

After the election, I recall the TV scenes of shock in such places as Singapore, most foreign capitals, or any big East or West Coast city. On October 31, I had a short piece in the Detroit News suggesting that if there were going to be any civil riots after the election, they would more likely come from a defeat of Mrs. Clinton than from a defeat of Mr. Trump. We have only seen big city turmoil so far, but I suspect that some might see Ferguson or Baltimore type riots.

I saw one lady in New York carrying a sign “Trump is not my president.” I have carried such a sign in my soul during these last eight years with the same sentiment. But the fact is that Mr. Trump is the president who the people elected. And our elections reveal something about our souls; this much seems clear. Those ordinary citizens who have been deplored and thought racist or prejudiced or idiotic have forcefully spoken. One suspects that what we are hearing, at long last, is something from the common man, and not from the ideologies that have governed us and imposed on us for all too long.

During the election, I was struck by the confidence that, from the beginning, Mr. Trump often expressed that he would win the election. He was laughed at, ridiculed, and made fun of for such an outlandish position. Look at the polls! He had no chance. No university supports him. But if, as I said, what one knows about America comes from a steady diet of ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post—or even often Fox News and the elite conservative media—you would not really know anyone who voted for Mr. Trump. There really is an America that has some pretty sane instincts. You can learn a bit about them if you listen to Rush Limbaugh, read Victor Davis Hanson, Pat Buchanan, and a few others. I found David Warren, Heather Higgins, Joshua Mitchell, Heather MacDonald, and Andrew McCarthy to be especially insightful in a more thoughtful way that saw the broader issues at stake.

Will Mr. Trump succeed? Every force that strove to defeat him is still in place. He will be watched like a hawk. He will make mistakes, maybe even bad ones. Like Pope Francis, he will probably have some pretty unsettling quips which will go all over the world immediately.

Mr. Trump at seventy is the same age as Socrates when he was killed by the city of Athens in 399 B.C. In fact, unlike Socrates, Mr. Trump survived the attempt to dispatch him bloodlessly by electoral means. He has so much to do that no one, not even Mr. Trump in his most vain moments, can hope to wrap his mind around them. But he is no fool. This estimation was one of the mistakes many made in taking him lightly. He has shown himself thus far to be capable of learning quickly.

Schall’s conclusion about the elections? “We dodged the bullet?” “Things ‘ain’t’ as bad as they seem?” “Wait till next year?” “Happy days are here again?” “Wake me when it’s over?” “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley?” “It isn’t over till it’s over?” Probably the best aphorism is this one: “We have here no lasting city.” We will be judged in the one we live in, including the one in which Mr. Trump, however competent or incompetent, is now president-elect.

[Editor’s note: The views expressed here about candidates are Fr. Schall’s alone. CWR does not endorse particular candidates or parties.]

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About James V. Schall, S.J. 180 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019) taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until retiring in 2012. He was the author of over thirty books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His of his last books included On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018) and The Politics of Heaven and Hell: Christian Themes from Classical, Medieval, and Modern Political Philosophy (Ignatius, 2020).