American politics 2016: Turning fine wine into sewage

Add a cup of wine to the sewage, and it is still sewage. But add a cup of sewage to the wine, and it is no longer wine. - Martha Bayles in the Claremont Review of Books

Hillary and Donald: Dumb and dumberer on trade / Image by Donkey Hotey
Hillary and Donald: Dumb and dumberer on trade / Image by Donkey Hotey

WASHINGTON,  June 24, 2016 – This is an unprecedented political year. The Republican Party is about to nominate a candidate, Donald Trump, who has never been a Republican and who many in the party find unacceptable.

They find him unacceptable for many reasons, not least his name-calling, his religious bias, his efforts to divide the country on the basis of race and ethnicity, his ignorance of foreign affairs, and his thin-skinned boastfulness, what some have called the “character” issue.

The fact that 70% of potential voters have a negative view of him adds to the concern.

No one can remember an election in which the former Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney, and the two living former Republican presidents, Gorge H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, refuse to support the man who is likely to be the party’s nominee.

The Republican governors of Massachusetts and Maryland say they will not support him.

Trump pivots campaign, not worried about money

Two former high-ranking foreign policy officials in Republican administrations, Brent Scowcroft and Richard Armitage, have announced that they will vote for Hillary Clinton. Pillars of conservatism such as National Review and The Weekly Standard reject Donald Trump, as do conservative commentators such as George Will, Michael Gerson, Kathleen Parker and a host of others.

Donald Trump does not resemble any candidate either party has put forward. He has spent many years promoting a variety of “conspiracy” theories, chief among them that President Obama was not born in the United States and is, therefore, an illegitimate president.

He has accused Sen. Ted Cruz’s father of being involved in the conspiracy to kill President John F. Kennedy. He has promoted the idea that Clinton aide Vince Foster’s suicide was actually a murder in which Hillary Clinton was involved.

Is there anything Trump won’t say?

He said Sen. John McCain was no hero in Vietnam because he was captured and tortured by the enemy. Trump, who never served in the military, said he preferred those who “weren’t captured.” He made fun of a disabled reporter, then denied he had done so. The list of reasons many Republicans cannot support him is a long one.

Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the last three Republican administrations, argues that Donald Trump has been “waging an open attack on the party’s core views.” He notes that,

“Modern conservatism has three elements: a commitment to limited government and economic liberty that enables prosperity; moral traditionalism that conserves our capacity for liberty by producing responsible citizens; and a belief that America, confidently and carefully engaged in international affairs, can be a force for good in the world. Mr. Trump rejects all three. He has shown no desire to limit the size, cost or reach of federal government. He has no interest in economic liberty as it has been understood since Adam Smith. He wants an economy in which trade and immigration are tightly restricted and the government makes mercantilist deals on behalf of large domestic producers. Mr. Trump is the embodiment of narcissism and decadence that moral traditionalism exists to counteract. Republicans used to argue that character mattered. But apparently that applied only to Democrats like Bill Clinton. Today we’re told that such considerations are quaint.”

Some Republicans, in the name of “party loyalty,” for them apparently the highest value, will find a way to support Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan has declared that Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants is “un-American” and has called Trump’s attack on the Mexican background of the judge hearing the case against Trump University a classic example of “racism.” Still, he will vote for Trump. And consider the so-called “religious right,” seeking to promote its version of morality in the American society. Trump, a serial adulterer who has long boasted of his sexual conquests, has been given a pass.

If a House Democrat sits on the floor, does anyone care?

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr. has endorsed him. And Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, has found a way to find Trump morally acceptable. He argues that because Abraham lied, Moses disobeyed God and David committed adultery, Trump should not be judged too harshly. Graham, Falwell and other evangelical supporters  of Trump are making a mockery of their confusion of religion and politics.

Needless to say, Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, also has a record of corruption and lies. The majority of Americans don’t trust her, and for good reason. But if Hillary is a “crook,” as Trump tells us repeatedly, some still find her preferable to Trump. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer sets forth the case this way:

 “Her line of argument is quite straight-forward: I’m the devil you know —experienced, if flawed; safe, if devious; reliable, if totally uninspired. I give you steady incrementalism. Meanwhile, the other guy is absurdly risky. his policies on trade, immigration and national security threaten trade wars, social unrest and alienation from friends and allies abroad.”

Can we afford a president who cannot be believed?

Donald Trump’s statements in this campaign have been shown to be far from the truth, such as his false claim that on 9/11, in Jersey City, he saw “thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

Even in his recent speech attacking Hillary Clinton, whose record is ethically questionable on many levels, Trump misstated the facts. When he discussed Benghazi, he said, “That’s right. When the phone rang, as per the commercial, at three o’clock in the morning, Hillary Clinton was sleeping.” In fact, the attack in Beghazi took place in the late afternoon, Washington time.

Hillary’s response may be criticized, but she was not asleep (

This speech is filled with factual misstatements. It was said by some to be “presidential,” because it was read from a teleprompter, but reading a series of fabrications is hardly what those urging Trump to change his behavior had in mind.

Trump said the U.S. Is “the highest taxed nation in the world,” which it is not. He said “we could rebuild every inner city in America” with “the amount of money Hillary would like to spend on refugees.”

In fact, the amount she would spend would be only a portion of one large city’s budget.

He said Hillary “accepted $58,000 in jewelry from the government of Brunei.” In fact, the U.S. Government, not Hillary, kept the gift. He said that he was “among the earliest to criticize the rush to war” in Iraq. In fact, in Sept. 2002, he supported the Iraq invasion.

Trump called Hillary “a world class liar.” This may be true.

But Trump himself cannot seem to avoid excess in almost everything he says. He advocates that the U.S. use illegal torture techniques, even killing the innocent relatives of terrorists. He says NATO is now largely irrelevant and would not oppose nuclear proliferation, particularly having Japan and South Korea obtain an arsenal of such weapons. He welcomes the decline of the European Union. He says that the internment of Japanese Americans was good policy and a possible example for the future.

Republicans are a party deeply divided between those who believe in the party’s traditional role and that integrity and character are important in any man or woman put forward for the presidency and those who believe “party loyalty” is the ultimate value. “My party, right or wrong,” is hardly a campaign battle cry to inspire confidence.

Columnist George Will recently cited this statement from Martha Bayles in the Claremont Review of Books:

 “There’s an old adage about a vat of wine standing next to a vat of sewage. Add a cup of wine to the sewage, and it is still sewage. But add a cup of sewage to the wine, and it is no longer wine but sewage. Is this what Donald Trump has done to our politics?”


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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.