Donald Trump is a fool—not because he is wrong about so many things, but because he is right about a few others. The fool is not only one who speaks nonsense, but one who speaks sense on the topic no one else will touch. He is the court jester pointing out the king’s failings. Were any sane man to make the same statements, he’d be put on a pole. But the fool, amid a general stream of nonsense, is able to touch on the rare uncomfortable truth.
What truths has Trump hit upon? Against a field of candidates offering rotting-flesh Reaganism (Ted Cruz’s flat tax and Marco Rubio’s hyper-interventionism are equally unappetizing), Trump has hammered relentlessly on the single theme of solidarity. “Either we have a country, or we don’t”—one of Trump’s most constant refrains—raises this profound question.
Both conservative and progressive intellectuals look beyond the nation state. They downplay solidarity to insist either on “free trade” or the “global solutions” offered by Davos-dwellers. Some years ago, Princeton changed its informal motto from “in the nation’s service” to “in the nation’s service, and in the service of all nations.” Americans who don’t attend Ivies wonder what such reformulations mean.
Trump has also been singularly forceful on wage stagnation. As with any good jester, a mere transcript doesn’t do him justice:
We’re going to make America great again, folks. We’re going to make it great again. And, you know, I watched Hillary’s speech and she’s talking about wages have been poor and everything’s poor and everything’s doing badly, but we’re going to make it — she’s been there for so long. I mean, if she hasn’t straightened it out by now, she’s not going to straighten it out in the next four years. It’s just going to become worse and worse.
Here’s the video. Marco Rubio had a thoughtful tax proposal, but he could not talk like this. And Americans are ready to hear it. Over the last decade, median income before taxes has fallen by 13 percent while expenditures have risen by 14 percent. What happened to the lower prices promised by free trade?
I am probably now in danger of being considered a Trump sympathizer. Well, I am not. In his contempt for losers, he embodies one of the most unchristian ideals ever advanced in American politics. With a unique consistency and vehemence, he expresses his hatred of weakness. He ridicules the disabled, attacks women, and defends abortionists.
This is the opposite of Christianity, which puts the weak first and exalts every loser. (“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”) Liberalism, much as I hate it, has preserved this Christian inheritance. The GOP before Trump, despite all its contempt for the 47 percent, was leavened by the influence of sincere Christians and so was never so sneering. Trump is an altogether more pagan figure. Though he claims to be a Christian, he has never asked for forgiveness. Repentance would require him to admit he was weak.
Even were Trump not so noxious, one would not put the court jester in place of the king. A wise monarch, though, will listen to the fool and note when the nonsense makes sense. This requires a wisdom that our current leaders manifestly lack. I hope we have a happy April Fool’s, but it will be unhappy if we either ignore our jesters or insist they should be king.
Matthew Schmitz is literary editor of First Things.