Radio Free NH: Why I like Ike, Not Trump

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Michael Davidow

By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire

The outlaw is celebrated when the law is corrupt. Robin Hood made his depredations against the usurper Prince John, not against his monarch, Richard the Lion-Hearted. Pretty Boy Floyd robbed the same banks that were taking the homes of poor farmers. The thugs celebrated in rap music face entrenched racism and consider themselves freedom fighters.

Each one of these cultural types, the archer, the robber, the dealer, yearns for a world in which they don’t have to follow their scripted roles; in fact, that’s what they fight for. Robin was the loyal subject of his king. In story after story, he ends his criminal career by defending the realm.

Donald Trump trades heavily on this folklore. He constantly rails against the fairness of his accusers, assuring his fan base that the cops and the courts are rigged against him, so he has no choice but to fight them all. He himself will bring fairness back to the system; his goal is thus the most noble of all, to make the world a better place, not just for him, but for everyone.

His claims don’t bear scrutiny, of course. They fracture at the slightest touch. Believing them is therefore an act of pure faith. That so many have that faith is astonishing, because the man in the big red tie is not subtle. His self-interest is not just obvious, but advertised.  That his support is based on faith rather than reason, though, shows that he can’t be beaten with reason, either. He can only be beaten with a counter-faith instead.

I would never wish that need on any political system. Politics works best – in fact, politics only works at all—when informed by equal measures of reason and good will. To play with faith is to play with fire. But our country needs a fully functioning Republican party, to act as a counter-weight against the Democrats, to propose original solutions to difficult problems, to give voice to its different constituent parts. So the Republicans need a counter-faith, and they need it soon. That Trump’s lead grows with every new indictment is an indication of serious sickness within the body politic. His followers are hungry, and you can’t argue someone out of being hungry. All you can do is feed them.

The Democrats can’t help them much. My party has long since lost the language of faith. Modern, liberal, progressive, call it what you want: we prize the rational, the individual, the scientific, and we have done this for so long that we have lost the ability to conceive of any other way. That our policies tend to help us get richer and more powerful every year is simply the by-product of our belief in meritocracy… not evidence of any spiritual corruption of our own… and if others are left behind, that means they are deplorable… No, the Republicans will have to figure this out themselves.

 I suggest that they visit their own history for inspiration.

In the middle of the Cold War, one of my favorite politicians expressed some very subtle thoughts on faith. In discussing why he wanted the phrase “under God” included in the Pledge of Allegiance, Dwight Eisenhower stated, “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”  Or, as he put it less gracefully on a separate occasion, and in his own words (rather than a speechwriter’s), “Our government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

 This was comical, but also sensible. He was not endorsing Christianity; he was not slighting any other faith; nor was he spouting sanctimonious mush. Rather he was trying to provide an actual moral underpinning for the politics of his day, a basis for action with spiritual resonance across both culture and time.

In Ike’s day, of course, the enemy was Communism, a belief system that openly erased the divine from its concept of right and wrong. The enemy today is different. It’s nihilism; it’s cynicism; it’s one man placing his own sick individual needs over and above the needs of his country, and selling his followers a bill of goods.

 But with Trumpism being just as godless as Communism ever was, Ike’s spiritual sense deserves a second life too. Reviving it might be our country’s best hope.

Davidow writes Radio Free New Hampshire for He is also the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project,  The Book of Order, and The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Davidow’s Chanukah Land can be found here.

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