I read about politics and I read about politicians. Three fascinating books I’ve read recently have been about politicians from New York. I read Shattered, which is the gruesome account of Hillary Clinton’s misbegotten campaign in 2016. In case you’ve tried to forget, Clinton was a senator from New York from 2001 to 2009.
More recently I read Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House. President Trump is a politician with some of the most remarkable political instincts ever. He puts Bill Clinton to shame. In many ways. But I digress. There wasn’t much new in Woodward’s book other than a lot of insider details. We know very well the general outline of the last two years.
I did have two takeaways. Think about the most pig-headed person you know, multiply by ten, and give him or her almost unimaginable power. That person is Donald Trump. Look up the word “obstinate” in the dictionary and there his picture. I think it is his pig-headedness more than anything else that so exasperates people who work with him.
The other takeaway is how universal Trump’s concept of bankruptcy is. While in the real estate business he used bankruptcy strategically: fail, start over, too bad for the people left holding the bag. This is not a constructive approach to foreign and military affairs.
And I just finished Godfrey Hodgson’s The Gentleman from New York, a biography of Daniel Patrick Moynahan, the New York senator who was succeeded by Hillary Clinton. He served four terms and before that worked in the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon White Houses.
Moynahan, a true gentleman and a scholar – he had a Ph.D. in international relations, wrote many books and taught at Harvard – was legendary for his deep insights into social problems and his creative policy proposals. In the 1960s he had the temerity to say that the problems of black America were much more complex than the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws and should be treated with “benign neglect” for a period of time. The Left never forgave him.
He also understood that there was a finite amount of social pathology and criminality a community could tolerate and when these problems exceeded its capacity to cope, it, in his words, “exempted much conduct previously stigmatized.”
In other words, the community “defined deviancy down.” This was going on well before Moynahan coined this famous and evocative phrase in 1992. It was launched during the cultural revolution of the late 1960s. Conservative culture warriors tried in vain to resist and ended up fighting guerilla warfare on the narrow fronts of abortion and gay rights. The rest of the battlefield was surrendered to the Left.
And along comes Donald Trump, whose personal life is a well-documented one-man downward definition of deviance. You know that American society is probing the bottom when President Trump is the darling of evangelicals, who are simultaneously the main foot soldiers in the Culture Wars.