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Rudyard Kipling vs. Donald Trump

Many people dislike Rudyard Kipling.

They concede that he was a gifted writer who really knew how to tell a tale. But the thing is, he wrote from the point of view of the oppressor, rather than that of the oppressed. He sided with the Bad Guys.

But as Irving Kristol notes, there is one advantage to that perspective that makes him worth reading even by those who dislike his point of view. People in power have to deal with reality. They live, not in the world of theory or ideology, but of actual decisions with real and often far-reaching consequences that affect genuine human lives. Rebels and outsiders don't have to do that. They can afford to go off on tangents about the world as they wish it was. Those in power, on the other hand, are forced to deal with the world as it is, for better or for worse.

Kristol recalls John Kennedy's question as to whether his generation of Democrats was sufficiently in touch with the real world to govern. Kristol asks the same question about this generation of Democrats. Certainly the present occupant of the Oval Office does not fill one with confidence. Nor does the fact that the next Democrat to be nominated for the presidency will almost certainly be of the geriatric generation.

But I also wonder about the Republicans. The GOP has, as has often been observed, the most talented stable of potential presidents either party has fielded in a generation. So what does the Republican rank-and-file do? The go lusting after an egotistical demagogue with no discernable acquaintance with the actual facts of policy who avoids the question whenever he's asked for specifics and seems to appeal to people largely on the basis that he is not, in fact, one of those with any background in government.

And then there's the Cruz/Paul wing of the Republican party, the ones who got rid of John Boehner and would very much like to do the same with Mitch McConnell. They are big on ideology and have little tolerance with compromise. And they vastly overestimate their own strength in the electorate as a whole.

We're in an age when serious questions can be raised about whether either party is capable of governing. It's not necessarily that the available leaders are lacking; Hillary Clinton has baggage of all descriptions, Joe Biden is likely to say anything in any given situation, and Bernie Sanders probably has the least grip on economic reality of any major presidential candidate in my lifetime. But Clinton and Biden, at least, are grownups. Whatever reservations one may have about either as a potential president, they have nothing to do with whether they can actually function- however unsatisfactory they may be in some ways- in the real world. Similarly, most of the Republican candidates can be easily imagined in the Oval Office, and the prospect would cost few of us much sleep.

The problem is the electorate. We're divided as we haven't been at least since the 'Sixties, and possibly since the Civil War. We are likely to argue about almost anything, from what we should do in Syria to the merits of increasing the minimum wage to whether it was Bush or Gore who tried to steal the 2000 election. But we seem better at choosing up sides than we are at intelligently discussing or even considering policy.

We yell at each other a lot. But we're not particularly good at conversing with each other about real decisions that have to be made in the real world. And that, I think, is the reason why Donald Trump appeals to us. He's a safety valve for our frustrations who, by his stubborn refusal (or inability) to deal with the policy complications of the real world validates and enables our own unwillingness to do so.

I'm not so much concerned about whether the political leaders of this country are ready to govern. But I'm scared as hell when I think about the electorate that's going to have to choose from among them next year.

Perhaps we need to read a little less Saul Alinsky and Ayn Rand, and a little more Rudyard Kipling.


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