As Steven Hayward noted at Powerline, there are a few Trump supporters who have made thoughtful contributions to the virtues of a Trump candidacy. He wonders if those who support his candidacy are not reading too much into what his candidacy means and brings, as well as what he actually believes. Hayward states:
If you’re a “Leo-Con” (i.e., a follower of Leo Strauss), the first rule of interpretation is to try to understand thinkers as they understood themselves, before you try to understand them differently or better. I’m wondering if these interpretations of the Trump phenomenon aren’t trying to understand Trump better than he understands it himself.
While it is certainly true that Strauss encouraged his students to proceed in this manner, he meant that about political philosophers, not necessarily political candidates. Further, we should try to understand the aims of the Journal of American Greatness in the same manner. Hayward’s circumspection about understanding those as they understand themselves may be applied here as well. The caution is appropriate. As John Stuart Mill writes in On Liberty, those of a certain opinion ought to be open to the criticism of others, for in the class of ideas, so may we discover error and arrive closer to the truth.
Before we tackle the reason for this post, we should note–for I have not seen it noted anywhere–the non de plume of the Journal of American Greatness. At the website, the writer adopts the name Decius. But as we find at the Unz Review, this is a shortened version of the name Publius Decius Mus.
There is something to be said about a pen name. The Founders used one of the most famous, Publius, to express their republican credentials against the onset of tyranny. Anti-federalists also used pen names, like Brutus–the unsuccessful savior of the Roman Republic against Ceaser and was defeated at the Battle of Phillipi. Publius was a successful defender of Roman republicanism.
The writer(s) at the Journal of American Greatness has chosen well. Publius Decius Mus,* was, as Livy wrote was an appointed official, and served with distinction in the Samnite Wars. His most honorable act was as consul. In the Third Samnite War, at the Battle of Sentinum he received word from an oracle that he and the opposing general would go to their deaths. As the battle proceeded badly for Decius and one of his flanks was faltering, he inquired to the pontifex maximus what should be done. After engaging in a religious ritual called the devotio, is was revealed that he should sacrifice his life to save his army. Heading into the battle, Decius fell, and as the battle proceeded, not even the opposing army would go near his body. This allowed the flank to reform, and it was a pivotal moment in saving the Roman army from certain defeat. Rome lost about 8,700 while the Samnites lost 20,000 this day. It was a decisive battle.
The aftermath of the war cannot go unremarked: It forever extinguished the Latins (see Latin War) and Samnites from being a thorn in the side of the Romans, and it paved the ground for the eventual defeats of Pyrrhus and the Carthaginians. The Roman Republic was saved on this day by the heroic act of a noble actor in Roman history.
The lesson here is this, we think: The Journal of American Greatness (JAG) represents a sacrificial attempt, should it be needed, to save the Republic by its courageous defense of the Tump candidacy and what it brings, which are greater than the man himself.
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It would behoove us to recall what JAG believes comes with a Trump candidacy, whether he is the nominee or not:
Trump has, for now, more than revived his momentarily flagging campaign. And even if he is eventually defeated at the polls, this win boosts the chances that his ideas—if we may use such a lofty term for Trump’s as-yet unformed and instinct-driven platform—will outlive his candidacy. Trump’s run has opened the way, for the first time in more than a generation, toward progress and return—progress beyond ossified ideologies, and return to a superior understanding of man, politics, America and the West itself.
The Straussian juxtaposition of “progress” and “return” ought not go unremarked. We should note that JAG does not write “Progress OR Return.” Here JAG means we get both, or perhaps both in the same way Strauss wrote the Ancient Greeks believed they could have both within reason and within the boundaries set by the most salutary of ends, wisdom (RCPR, 235).
For JAG, the progress is to discredit and break through what has become the political ideology of the day (supported and stalwartly enhanced by both our parties). So this progress is not the progress of progressives. Yet, this progress is in service of something–a return, or homecoming, as Strauss would put it (RCPR, 227). This is, in the American context, a return to a rational America, which is different than the claims put forth by others who make it so based on revelatory claims (as Strauss notes as well).
We have made the argument here, that Trump does not force us to choose between reason and revelation, he actually is a candidate blind to revelation so as to free up religion in the public sphere to do its work. His is a blind justice, not cognizant of religion. In that space, unencumbered by government, revelation can do its work, within the bounds of reason.
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Decius (JAG) goes on to write several aspects of Trump that qualify him as nominee while also taking deserved shots at his critics. Among them are:
- Trump is more conservative than the Republican Establishment (that’s why they don’t like him).Nowhere is this seen more than in National Review, where nearly all the objections to him are personal not based on policy or philosophical themes. He is the first candidate since 1980/1984 that actually wants to do something conservative, unlike those who have made peace with their permanent minority status.
- America First. “Not that the Founders dismissed or opposed these things, but they evidently—and wisely—concluded that unity, justice, tranquility, defense, welfare and liberty are all higher goods. And not merely our goods or good for us (though of course they are) but above all good simply.”Trump’s reason for running is that he loves this country, and he wants to give back something to it because he has benefitted from it in ways no other country is able to offer. America First for Trump means America First because America was founded on something fundamentally good.
- Truth at Last! “The other, related source of Trump’s appeal is his willingness—eagerness—gleefulness!—to mock the ridiculous lies we’ve been incessantly force-fed for the past 15 years (at least) and tell the truth. “Diversity” is not “our strength”; it’s a source of weakness, tension and disunion. America is not a “nation of immigrants”; we are originally a nation of settlers, who later chose to admit immigrants, and later still not to, and who may justly open or close our doors solely at our own discretion, without deference to forced pieties. Immigration today is not “good for the economy”; it undercuts American wages, costs Americans jobs, and reduces Americans’ standard of living. Islam is not a “religion of peace”; it’s a militant faith that exalts conversion by the sword and inspires thousands to acts of terror—and millions more to support and sympathize with terror. “American exceptionalism” does not require, or even encourage, us to democratize the world—a task of which we are in any case incapable. The Iraq War was a strategic and tactical blunder that destroyed a country (however badly governed), destabilized a region, and harmed American interests. The benefits of free trade concentrate at the top (outsize profits) and bottom (cheap panem et circenses); the middle, and especially the working, classes have been hurt by globalization.”This is really all that needs to be said. Trump’s critiques are not irrational, in fact, they appeal to our reason. Our political class has failed, failed to protect us, and has lied to us. Why should we trust any one of them?
- Nationhood, Sovereignty, and Immigration: “The first task is a simple reassertion of American nationhood and sovereignty. Which begins, yes, with regaining control over our borders and dismantling our insane immigration policies, both formal (e.g., the idiotic visa lottery) and informal (the bipartisan consensus not to enforce any law that results in less immigration—at least from non-European sources).” and “Yes, it is true that “all men are created equal.” But Lincoln adds the crucial caveat: all men are not “equal in all respects” (emphasis in the original). They are not “equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments or social capacity.” People from different nations with different circumstances, histories, beliefs and traditions will—by definition—hold very different conceptions of good government, some irreconcilably opposed to our own. It has been said that a principal cause of Rome’s fall was that “many men who never knew republican life and did not care for it … became Roman citizens.” Why then do we Americans continue to import millions upon millions who have never known republican life and do not care for it? In doing so, we do not uphold our Founding creed; we hasten and enable its oblivion.”Exactly. For all the allegation against Trump, this is one we have not noted here: want to know how Rome declined? See history and how they allowed those who had no connection to Rome dictate Rome’s policies, and then staff its military. The rich in the Roman senate were complicit and encouraged this development. Trump wants to reserve, NOT abandon the meaning of America in this respect. The political class, wants to wave the white flag, and we suspect wants to do so because they don’t believe in the idea of America in the first place.
- Limited Government: “Limited government is not a need but an aspiration that in rare cases becomes an achievement which is experienced as a blessing. It is but one form—a modern form—of republicanism, which is the superior form of government for a people fit for liberty, which not all peoples in all times and places are. Limited government is therefore, in practice, of limited application. The ceaseless importation of people unaccustomed to liberty, coupled with the continued hollowing out of the American middle class, makes the American people less fit for liberty every day.”A limited government is there to secure the rights of ALL, not the few, and should be connected to nature. Most who want limited government forget what the limitation means and the ends that limited government is supposed to attain.
- It’s not the Economy: “Regarding the former, orthodox conservatism holds there is but one correct doctrine: the free market über alles! If that means offshoring the last job from the last factory on America soil so that productivity can tick up, and the CPI down, one-tenth of one basis point, then so be it. The numbers never lie and their movement in the “right” direction proves that outsourcing is the right thing to do and all the laid off workers back home are just losers or whiners. Winners go back to school and upgrade their skills.Plato and Aristotle teach that in a healthy political community, the richest citizen ought to have no more than five times the property of the poorest. Perhaps that formula is inapt to a modern commercial republic. And without question, the Aristotelian virtue of magnificence—through which accumulated wealth has created so much beauty and splendor in the world—depends on great fortunes. But is it necessary—or healthy—for our richest citizen to hold literally one million times the wealth, not of our poorest citizen, but of the median income?”
- Both Tariffs and Trade: “It’s ironic that it took a dissident billionaire to wake us up to the fact that America has decayed into an oligarchy. It’s probably also not incidental that Trump’s wealth is tied to the soil—American soil—rather than derived from the eminently exploitable vagaries of international finance. Yet Trump’s actual program is, to put it mildly, scattershot. He simultaneously calls for massive tax cuts and massive tariffs (and then denies both in the next breath). Personally, I concede up front that I don’t know the answer. But I know that the debate will have to change, fundamentally, and that old taboos will need to be transgressed. What, for instance, is so sacred about free trade? And what so evil about tariffs? Tariffs were the central pillar of Lincoln’s economic policy, and of the Republican dynasty that industrialized the nation in the generation after the Civil War.”Know what tariffs were in support of? The Declaration. Why can’t we have tariffs that support good practices and provide economic incentive for those engaged in bad practices to abandon those bad practices for something better? Even free market promoters believe in incentives.
There’s more, but suffice to say, this is a rational exposition of Trump’s thoughts and what they mean. In several respects, Trump is the most pro-American Founding candidate since 1980. He, unlike Reagan, has the ability and the will to do more and make far more sweeping changes than any conservative since 1920.
It is true that Trump does not offer specifics in the way many want specifics these days. That is because he is not modern in the way Republicans have become modernists. It is also because his is a candidacy that is appealing to broader themes, wherein the specifics may be filled in later. his broad outlines are more important than specifics, which are never really followed by any candidate anyway.
The Romans were famous for coming back from defeat–goodness read about the battle at Caudine Forks, or worse, The Battle of Cannae, sometime!–and yet they never sued for peace…ever. They raised another army, and came back, usually to defeat and extinguish. This muscular political greatness is what Trump represents.
Trump’s candidacy is one that epitomizes a recovery, or a return, to country and the greatness it once held based on the idea that Founded it.
*It should be noted that there is more than one Publius Decius Mus in the 300s-200s BC. All of them were related as father/son. The traditional tale is that it was the destiny of the family to die in battle to save the Republic under similar circumstances and in similar ways. The family name goes all the way back to the Secession of the Plebs (495 BC), whereby the plebeians were defended by the family.
Thank you to Powerline for the link. It is very much appreciated.