Prominent conservative scholar Charles Murray has caused quite a bit of consternation on social media with his seemingly highly personal Facebook and Twitter crusade against Donald Trump. I suspect many people are not taking Murray’s opposition to Trump well because they don’t view Murray, who got in PC hot water for his book The Bell Curve, as your typical PC signaling think tank denizen and therefore, expect different from him.
Angry people make angry accusations, so many were quick to accuse Murray of signaling to his fellow AEI scholars and the rest of the respectable set, that, while capable of wrongthink, he is not far enough off the ranch to support Trump. I don’t know for certain that Murray is not signaling this, but I think his opposition to Trump can be understood based on another dimension. I believe this because I have observed the same tendency in others who policy wise seemingly have reasons to be sympathetic to the Trump campaign.
Certain political commentators, of which Murray is an example, undertake their commentary in a very high minded and serious manner, and they likewise take the political process very seriously. For these folks, Trump, who does not play by the normal rules of decorum, is an affront to the process and should be opposed on those grounds alone. Opposition to Trump seems to be to them a defense of the very system, and if it signals anything it is this seriousness and respect for the process aspect as much as anything else.
This sort of visceral opposition to Trump could come from the left, the right or the center. I believe it reflects to some extent the old money vs. new money distinction, both actually and metaphorically. While Trump did not come from a poor family, his family wasn’t that rich, so Trump behaves like new money – the brashness, the ostentatiousness, the conspicuous consumption, etc. As I mentioned in another article, I think a lot of Trump’s presentation and appeal is that he is in essence just a guy from Queens who made good for himself, and who may still have a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Trump’s Flyover Country supporters see a kindred spirit who happens to be a billionaire, but for those significantly concerned with propriety, they see an intolerably boorish lout.
While this opposition could come from all points on the political spectrum, it presents a particular dilemma for high minded sorts of a traditionalist and conservative bent. Traditionalists and conservatives have always placed great emphasis on manners and codes of behavior, for good reason. Such things foster good order and are inherently conservative in the most basic sense of the word.
From this view, comments about your female opponent’s appearance or alleged references to your female antagonist’s bodily functions are ungentlemanly. Repeatedly calling people stupid or engaging in back and forth with your critics on Twitter is pedestrian and below the dignity of the process and the office he seeks.
Charles Murray’s opposition to Trump strikes me as primarily coming from this perspective. John Derbyshire attributed it to Murray’s “Midwestern niceness,” but herein lies the disconnect between Murray and many of his usual fans.
Many of Trump’s supporters support him precisely because they no longer respect the process. They see the process as rigged and inherently hostile to them and their interests. For this reason, Trump’s brashness and willingness to say things the typical politician would not is not a liability, but an asset. While they don’t necessarily value rudeness, they’ll tolerate it or even consider it a necessary evil, in light of the current state of affairs, and they positively value his combativeness and willingness to engage the enemy. When Trump supporters are questioned, they consistently cite this aspect of his presentation as a major reason for their support. Trump’s previous celebrity and sheer force of personality allow him to get away with saying things that ordinary political candidates cannot.
Contained in this disconnect, is another related dimension. Trump’s supporters tend to view the current situation as dire and near the point of no return. For them, opposing a candidate because he engages in Twitter battles is akin to fretting about the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. For many Trump supporters, our dire situation requires extraordinary measures, not appeals to the sanctity of the system that got us here in the first place.
While I appreciate Murray’s and others’ support for traditional norms of behavior, as a Trump supporter, albeit a somewhat nuanced one, I agree with my cohorts that it is much too late in the game to allow his at times less than decorous behavior to disqualify him. I would suggest that the process Murray et al are attempting to protect is no longer the sacrosanct process they suppose, but is in fact a largely rigged game of political theater. Perhaps what we need at this time is not a statesman but a performance artist who can engage the system on its own terms and maybe just beat the Powers That Be at their own game.