ALL HIGH ROADS TO VICTORY ARE CLOSED FOR REPAIRS
Boy with Ball, Oil on Panel, 15.75" x 19.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, 1974, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
Maybe there are no high roads to victory in presidential politics and never were. But now seems different from before. Members of the party of Trump have become creative in their efforts to euphemize what every self-respecting observer sees as shameless, indefensible cheating. The grand old party of mostly white men is shrinking in size and influence. Maybe they fear that majority rule will result in decisions being made on the merits. Rather than honor and be willing to live by majority rule in a Democratic Republic that has stood the test of time and endorse fully free and fair elections—the ones where all citizens’ votes are encouraged and not suppressed, and U.S. citizens are the ones who decide—they cheat, they must, as their only way to keep and maintain control. I am not suggesting the walls of heaven will be lined with Democratic strategists. But now seems different from before.
I recently ran out of words to describe the defenses of Trump from the GOP and his apologists. I considered plagiarizing Rick Wilson for a reload. Even though Wilson, a conservative and recently departed Republican, opposes Trump from the right, a vector many degrees from my own, I became a near-instant Wilson fan after seeing him on cable news: scruffy face, thick glasses, condescending smirk, rye sarcasm and sardonic wit. My first impression, of course, was he should consider limiting his appearances to radio. That thought was short-lived. One gains a fuller appreciation of his wit and sarcasm, and his creative and clever linguistic prowess, by watching his live Twitter feed, listening to his podcast appearances and reading some of his prolific commentary. One also soon discovers he is part of a growing group of people on the right who see Mr. Trump for what he is—a clear and present danger to the Republic, among less flattering qualities—and are strategizing to move the country back to a working equilibrium as a Democratic Republic, even (or especially) if it means electing non-Republicans.
His Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever (“ETTD”), became a New York Times Best Seller and is turning into a national treasure. ETTD is a vividly descriptive chronical of the events and characteristics that make Trump not just the worst president in U.S. history but the worst person in the entire Americas—and the most dangerous. Wilson likewise explains and characterizes the Trump clan, Trump’s base including evangelicals whose true religious undertones slithered out and are now on full display, and the zealotry and cultism into which the party of Trump contorted. It also serves as reminder and prescient notice for anyone stupid enough to willingly come within Trump’s shallow orbit. Everyone crashes and burns.
Most importantly, however, Wilson was optimistic that this phenomenon, led by someone whose “approval ratings are somewhere above genital warts and below every other president in modern history,” “will be viewed as an aberration, a deviation from an arc of history that has produced leaders who, however flawed, were eventually constrained by a basic, deeply wired respect for the nation, the Constitution, and the rule of law.” ETTD. Wilson goes on to say: “Being such an acid-tongued bastard, it sometimes gets lost that it’s not simply that I loathe his status as a shit-tier human in every measurable axis and think he’s a stain on the presidency. It’s that I love this big, messy, chaotic experiment we call America. It’s because deep in my heart, I know that the country I love is tougher and vastly better than he is and, when called to its higher purpose, always answers.”
Wilson’s next book, Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump—and Democrats from Themselves, is scheduled for release January 14, 2020, just in time, hopefully, for meaningful paradigm shifts in Democratic strategy to meet and overcome dark money and money ministries that are able to convince voters that voting against one’s overall best interest is in one’s overall best interest. http://www.therickwilson.com/
In a recent interview, which may be a teaser for his next book, Wilson said:
“Democrats are holistically bad at politics. They don’t know how to fight in the way Republicans do. And part of it was they were a majority for so many decades. They had all this power and Republicans, we had to come up hard. We had to fight and scrap for everything. Democrats are still in that [power] position, and I don’t understand it. They have a majority of the House, but they’re up against people who are fucking killers. For the most part, this is a business where you lie, cheat, steal, and go all the way up to the legal limit on all these things. If the Democratic side thinks that anybody in Trump World will hesitate to pull a punch on anything, they’re out of their minds. . . .
“If [Biden is the nominee and] he doesn’t [hire data science and digital people who are ready to fight on those terms], it will be the worst political malpractice in history, because all those tools are out there. There is no reason why the Democrats can’t pick this up. And every person in Silicon Valley would beat down their doors and send their best data scientists, their best engineers, and they would be on deck in a hot minute. They just have to ask. And unfortunately, there are people who still believe that yard signs win campaigns. It’s an ugly reality, but it’s an existential threat to them if they don’t have an A-tier data science operation. . . .
“But look, my position on Trump is abundantly clear. I do not have to agree with the Democratic candidates, philosophies, policies, or anything else to recognize that all the probable nominees in that field are progressive and liberal. But they are also fundamentally from the same basic American strain of politics where we have a back and forth, where we have a homeostasis in our political tensions, where both sides deal with each other.
“I do not believe that is the case with Trump. I believe he is an existential threat to the country. And I believe in the Republic before I believe in the Republican Party. So I wouldn’t walk away from the challenge [to work with the right Democratic candidate] if the time came. I’m not looking for a job right now. I’m not pitching my services. And I think there would be a lot of pushback anyway. Because you know, one of the reasons I have some credibility in this whole discussion is that I was a central figure in the demonology of the Republican Party for a long time. I was a bad guy. I mean, I was the devil. I was the guy bringing in these horrible ads.”
Never Trumpers Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, George Conway, Reed Galen, Jennifer Horn, Mike Madrid, Ron Steslow and John Weaver recently organized The Lincoln Project: Dedicated Americans Protecting Democracy a political action committee. https://,lincolnproject.us/ “The Lincoln Project is holding accountable those who would violate their oaths to the Constitution and would put others before Americans.” The web page explains:
“We do not undertake this task lightly nor from ideological preference. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain. However, the priority for all patriotic Americans must be a shared fidelity to the Constitution and a commitment to defeat those candidates who have abandoned their constitutional oaths, regardless of party. Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort. . . .
“President Abraham Lincoln . . . implored us not to forget those that had given ‘their last full measure of devotion’ to preserving the American experiment. As it became clear that the Union would be victorious, Lincoln’s thoughts turned to how the nation would ‘bind up its wounds’ and move forward together.
“Today, we find ourselves divided again–sectionalism in the country and factionalism in government has led to ever uglier examples of how our political system is failing. President Donald Trump and those who sign onto Trumpism are a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic. Only defeating so polarizing a character as Trump will allow the country to heal its political and psychological wounds and allow for a new, better path forward for all Americans.”
If I were at war to save the Republic from internal fascist takeover, how would I fight? I am no political strategist, but I suspect The Lincoln Project is, in part, tacit recognition, or at least concern, that Democrats generally don’t campaign (fight?) with the same fervor as the GOP and may not be as strategically organized (adept?). While the PAC’s founders claim to have no ideological preference, it does give Never Trumpers a greater platform and shows that on the stuff that really matters, political ideology pales.
I would do my best to tell the truth and place it in a true light which, of course, would focus on and weaponize Trump’s and his defenders’ countless lies and constitutional breaches. Not like there’s a lack of material. I’d mass-produce campaign ads along the lines of what Biden broadcast in the immediate wake of the G-7 and Trump’s having been laughed off a continent. No need to lie, even if I were inclined, where indisputable facts, properly broadcast, are better advertisement against Trump and his cult than anything I can prevaricate. I would stand at the ready to mobilize in states where GOP Senate and House seats are at risk in 2020, where any Democratic seats might be vulnerable, and in those key states where the Electoral College will be decisive. I would try not to let a moment pass between Trump’s and his disciple’s material inanity and embarrassments and the full-on media assaults. I’d hire the best I could from Silicon Valley. Oh, and I’d try to hire certain former Republican strategists and the creators of Pod Save America.
Importantly, I would also try to understand how my opponent thinks and from what universe his decisions are made. In a December 18, 2019 tweet about the impeachment inquiry in the House among other things, Jennifer Rubin said: “The gap in character and intellect between the two parties is stunning.” If Democrats are less adept at political strategy, and I’m not necessarily conceding the point, is it because the GOPers fight dirtier? According to Wilson, that’s how Republicans made up the difference when Democrats were in control.
I am no social scientist so I do not have a strong view whether intellect has much to do with moral development. But when a person who touts and runs on his own moral integrity enters a contract, an oath, a promise to god and country, how does he reconcile his flagrant breach? Once again, now seems different from before. In trying to understand how full-on Trumpers, the ones who have drunk the Kool-Aide, think and prioritize and what motivates their decisions, I consulted Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. In a blog post a couple years ago, I queried what, if anything, Kohlberg's three Levels and six Stages of moral development and malignant narcissism have in common? As it turns out, either Level 1 Stage 2, or nothing at all—they don’t even register on the scale.
A brief refresher on Kohlberg’s 1958 Theory: Kohlberg posits that when morality develops, it does so in recognizable stages. Moral development, the theory goes, is driven by the individual’s ability to recognize his own limitations and thereby sense some measure of dissatisfaction in one’s current stage of thinking when faced with conflicts or dilemmas. Moral development would, it seems, require some capacity for self-awareness and -evaluation. Kohlberg’s Theory, which is by no means universally accepted, consists of three Levels of two Stages each: pre-conventional morality, conventional morality, and post-conventional morality. For those whose morality progresses and matures, each Stage comprises indispensable qualities for integration into the next. In an oversimplification, the following identifies the Levels and Stages of moral development under Kohlberg’s Theory.
Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)
State 1: Obedience and punishment orientation (How can I avoid punishment?)
Stage 2: Self-interest orientation (What's in it for me?) (Paying for a benefit)
Level 2 (Conventional)
Stage 3: Interpersonal accord and conformity (Social norms) (The good boy/girl attitude)
Stage 4: Authority and social-order maintaining orientation (Law and order morality)
Level 3 (Post-Conventional)
Stage 5: Social contract orientation
Stage 6: Universal ethical principles (Principled conscience)
Some achieve Stage 5. A relatively few achieve Stage 6 which, unfortunately, ought to be the level practiced by elected officials who swear oaths outside themselves.
The prevailing answer to my question about malignant narcissism and moral decision making under Kohlberg’s Theory was Level 1 Stage 2, pre-conventional “what’s in it for me.” One response suggested Level 1 Stage 1, obedience and punishment orientation, that is, “how can I avoid punishment.” One thoughtful comment suggested, if I understood it correctly, that malignant narcissism was incompatible with moral development of any Level or Stage, and that the only way a malignant narcissist can be motivated to do or not do something is to pay him/her. Sounds close to Level 1 Stage 2.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/neurosagacity/201702/malignant-narcissism-collision-two-personality-disorders (The Intentional Destruction of Others while Pathologically Loving Self)
Where within Kohlberg’s Theory of moral development does someone register who takes the oath to god and country, enters the contract, and flagrantly breaches it, anticipatorily or otherwise? What does this say about the level of moral development of those who defend the indefensible through verifiably false narratives? What about those who willingly surrender morality and the good of the Republic to personal fear that he might be mocked or shamed and forced to return to the private sector? Again, I am not suggesting Democrats will be lining the walls of heaven.
What about those who actually make principled decisions, outside themselves and their immediate personal interests, decisions that risk or are anathema to their own political ambitions? Somewhere in Level 3, I presume. Maybe even Stage 6.
Maybe many politicians are morally unfit to serve in an elected office that requires them to take oaths of office they have no ability to understand or intention to keep. Yeah, I’ll protect and defend the Constitution so long as doing so is consistent with my personal or political interests. Not everyone is fit to recognize a duty of fidelity and keep it. Maybe some are simply not smart enough to understand or care about the differences between and among party, policy and foundational constitutional principles.
The marketplace presents a simple analogy to politics and political infighting versus keeping one’s oath to protect and defend the constitution, which seems a higher duty. Along those lines, Judge Cardozo, then of the Court of Appeals for New York, beautifully characterized differences between work-a-day duties and higher duties. His 1928 decision said:
"Many forms of conduct permissible in a workaday world for those acting at arm's length [politics?], are forbidden to those bound by fiduciary ties [oaths of office?]. A trustee is held to something stricter than the morals of the market place. Not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive, is then the standard of behavior. As to this there has developed a tradition that is unbending and inveterate. Uncompromising rigidity has been the attitude of courts of equity when petitioned to undermine the rule of undivided loyalty by the ‘disintegrating erosion’ of particular exceptions . . . . Only thus has the level of conduct for fiduciaries been kept at a level higher than that trodden by the crowd. It will not consciously be lowered by any judgment of this court."
That punctilio of an honor the most sensitive—oath to protect and defend the Constitution—has been consciously lowered by those who selfishly fear, justify, rationalize, excuse, explain, enable, assist, endorse or otherwise support the most incompetent, incoherent, corrupt and mentally ill executive during my lifetime and possibly United States history. The “disintegrating erosion” is damaging and destroying United States leadership, credibility, competence, diplomacy and alliances throughout the world. And, in his self-interest, Trump has set out to compromise the sovereignty of United States elections. Trump is a national and international disgrace and embarrassment. The Senate is proving itself to be in lockstep.
Now seems different from before.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers