Menckens Ghost

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Trump Normal or Abnormal?

Democrats, establishment Republicans, the media, and the intelligentsia think that Trump is a crude-and-rude nut-job who doesn't have what it takes to be president or even a Chicago alderman.

Libertarians think that Trump is similar to most politicians:  egotistical, amoral, and a control freak addicted to power and adulation.  He just doesn't mask his pathologies as experienced politicians do.

Based on hundreds of biographies of politicians and other powerful people, as well as on my own experience, libertarians are right.

I've had the misfortune of knowing a lot of powerful people in politics, government, business and the media.  In almost all cases, they were people whose public persona had little relationship to their true nature.

   

One of the few exceptions was Bill Bradley.  The former professional basketball player and Rhodes scholar somehow maintained his integrity and class as a U.S. senator from corrupt New Jersey.  I still have a yellowed Sunday front page from the state's highest-circulation daily, The Star Ledger, showing a photo of Bradley standing with me decades ago on Capitol Hill, where he and ten other members of the New Jersey congressional delegation had testified with me before a congressional transportation committee.

I had earlier met with the chairman of the committee in his office at the House of Representative's Rayburn building.  The congressman from Minnesota was noticeably inebriated and almost incoherent.  He oozed of not only alcohol but also of sleaze.

New Jersey's other senator, Frank Lautenberg, didn't reek of alcohol but did reek of the sleaze of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  Before running for the senate, Lautenberg had been one of the Authority's governors, a position that he had "bought" with his wealth from founding the payroll processing company, ADP.  The Port Authority was as dirty politically as its airports and mid-town bus terminal were dirty from poor maintenance.  It's probably the same today.  After all, New York is a classy, sophisticated city of highbrow citizens who have high standards.  Ha-ha-ha!

At about the same time, I was an executive for a company on the East Coast that was owned by one of the richest men in the world.  Contrary to his glowing public image, the guy was a serial abuser of his subordinates, who in turn were quivering sycophants.  To wit:  Early on with the company, I attended a dinner with fellow executives in a private dining room of an expensive French restaurant.  After dinner, the owner walked to a lectern to make some remarks.  As soon as he began speaking, his longtime right-hand man, who was sitting next to me, curled up in a fetal position and began sucking his thumb.  Then, when the owner finished his remarks, Mr. Right-Hand removed his thumb from his mouth, sat upright, and clapped enthusiastically.  I knew then and there that I could never be a thumb-sucker, no matter how much I was paid, and would resign before it came to that.

  

After moving back to unsophisticated Arizona from the sophisticated East Coast, I began working on an expose of John McCain with a co-author.  This was when McCain had first considered running for the presidency.  We sent sample chapters and a book proposal to Regnery publishing in D.C., outlining how McCain's honorable behavior as a prisoner of war was the opposite of his shady behavior in running for office and in his early years of holding office.  It was as if Jimmy Stewart in the classic movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" had turned out to be a scoundrel.

In any event, Regnery was interested enough to ask that we fly to Washington to meet with them, which we did.  After that, everything was proceeding nicely to a contract, until McCain announced he had skin cancer, which gave Regnery cold feet because it would probably mean that McCain wouldn't pursue the presidency—which in turn would have negatively affected the salability of the book.

Biographies and history books have exponentially more examples of politicians who behaved as badly as Trump does today but kept their bad behavior hidden from the public.    Lyndon Baines Johnson immediately comes to mind.

In private, LBJ was an uncouth, foulmouthed bully.  The Kennedy administration saw him as a buffoon, just as the political establishment today sees Trump as a buffoon.  Ironically, LBJ was particularly disliked by Bobby Kennedy, who, contrary to the whitewashed image of the Kennedys, was also a foulmouthed bully.  Moreover, Bobby was his brother's attorney general, in one of the most blatant conflict of interests in the history of the republic.  Imagine the media's hysteria if Trump's attorney general were a sibling.

In turn, sibling Ted Kennedy was a drunk and womanizer.  He and his fellow drinker and womanizer in the senate, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, would make a ham sandwich out of young women they picked up.  They'd be the slices of bread and a woman would be the ham in the middle, a nauseating image if there ever was one.  The monstrous legislation known as Dodd-Frank was named after Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, the Massachusetts congressman who had his own libido problems.  For example, it came out that Frank had bedded a young male page.

As shown by their elected representatives, New Englanders are just as classy and sophisticated as New Yorkers.

To his credit, the other brother, President Kennedy, understood that the Vietnamese had legitimate gripes against the West, particularly French colonialism.  To his discredit, he went against his better judgment for political reasons and sent military advisors to Vietnam, thus taking a side in what would become a full-scale civil war and setting the stage for LBJ to step into it big time, resulting in the deaths of 50,000 Americans and a fracture in American society that has never healed.  Any harm inflicted on the body politic by Trump pales in comparison.

Then there was JFK's poorly planned and executed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.  So far, Trump's disorganization and bravado have not resulted in anything as disastrous.  Nor have they resulted in anything comparable to the strategic disaster of George W. Bush's Iraq war.  Yet Trump is vilified for his foreign policy.

As I type this, reporters and political commentators have descended into histrionics over Trump meeting with Putin in Helsinki and letting the Russian strongman get by with hacking the Democrat National Committee and making territorial claims in the Ukraine.   Granted, Trump's statements at the subsequent press conference were inchoate and embarrassing.

On the other hand, has the press forgotten Franklin Delano Roosevelt's meeting with mass murderer Stalin at Yalta in the Crimea during the waning days of the Second World War?  That would be the meeting where FDR, in failing health, gave "likeable" Uncle Joe what he wanted—namely, all of Eastern Europe, including, in an irony of ironies, Poland, which is where the great conflict started when the country was invaded by Hitler and Great Britain declared war.  Poland was saved from one brutal dictator, only to be handed over to another brutal dictator.  

Of course, the media gave FDR one pass after another.  They looked the other way, for example, when FDR had an expensive train tunnel built from Grand Central Station to a New York hotel where he stayed while in the city, so he could get to the hotel in private and not be seen in his wheelchair.  No doubt, he made the trip with his private secretary, who did double-duty as his mistress.   Today's media would have more froth on the mouth than a Starbucks customer if Trump were to have a tunnel built to Trump Tower.

Oh, and how about FDR's hatching of harebrained economic ideas, which resulted in the government micromanaging the economy and protracting the Great Depression?  Or how about his embargo of Japan and tariffs on Japanese goods, which led to Pearl Harbor?  Trump's foolish tariffs look benign by comparison.

Elvis Presley could've been singing about another politician when he sang, "You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog."   You got it:  that would be serial sexual assaulter Bill Clinton.  Despite attending Georgetown and Oxford, he was nothing but a hound dog.  He found a soulmate in unethical behavior with Hillary, who aided and abetted the windfall they mysteriously made in cattle futures while in Arkansas, the dirty political kickbacks from the Whitewater development, and the convenient loss of records when government investigators began snooping around, just as decades later, Hillary's emails and server would go missing.

Dishonorable mention also goes to Nixon and his paranoia, Carter and his evangelical moral lecturing, Reagan's preaching about family values while seemingly not valuing his own family, Truman's "everyman" schtick that was contradicted by being in bed early in his career with the Prendergast political machine, Wilson's prosecution of his critics for sedition, and Teddy Roosevelt's Trump-like populism and nationalism.

Calvin Coolidge was one of the few presidents of the twentieth century whose public persona was little different from his true nature.  He lived frugally and ethically and expected the government to do the same.  As such, he is not seen as a great president by opinion makers.

Judging by their ranking of presidents, opinion makers seem to believe that the best presidents throughout history have been those who pretended to be someone they weren't, in order to hide their character flaws, their lust for power, and their poor management skills.  In other words, they exceled at playing the political game and snookering the media and public. 

Trump is a normal politician in terms of being a flawed person, a control freak, and a lousy manager.   But he's abnormal in not having finely honed political skills.  The nation's sophisticates could forgive him for the former if it were not for the latter. 

Libertarians wish that every politician were like Trump.   That way, their thinking goes, voters would see the true character of politicians and thus be reluctant to give them much political power.

This thinking shows that libertarians have mental problems of their own.  In that regard, I'm Exhibit No. 1.

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