Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Context: Trump and William Loeb

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

I spoke with a somewhat younger friend who has some familiarity with my opinions about controversial topics, but wanted to know more exactly what I thought.  It is a great compliment, and I started answering him over the phone. I was pressed for time and cut it off, but even more than the temporary crunch, I decided I wanted to give answers of some precision.

As soon as one goes down that road, one comes up against "Well, in order for you to understand this, I really have to explain that." Almost immediately, another that comes along requiring another this. It gets out of control quickly.  But there's nothing for it. I step back once, I step back further, I step back into the next county. He was asking for some summary, or at least ideas, concerning my evaluation of Trump. That is not possible without context, and I eventually found I had to go back to the 1960's. I am not fond of Mr. Trump in many ways, but I think there is something necessary about him. If he had not come along now, some equally radical* figure would have had to come instead.  Not the same, but equally disruptive.

My usual style has been an exhaustive, point-by-point argument. While I have sometimes broken such things up into posts I, II, and III, I have more often tried to cram the whole thing into one sustained essay, like a sermon that has gone on too long. I would try to make it more visually comfortable with ********* breaks, photos, headings, and short paragraphs. Let me break this into smaller chunks, and we'll see what develops. As I head for vacation Saturday afternoon, I may have to leave you hanging.

My hometown newspaper growing up was the Manchester Union Leader, published by the notorious William Loeb. It is hard to describe to someone under the age of 60 what that meant, but for those in NH older than that, Loeb was simply a continuous presence, influencing everyone in the state either to agree or oppose.  He was well-known around the country as well to those who followed politics. All of us who traveled or went to college outside New England had the experience of identifying where we were from and having some guy in the group turn and say William Loeb! as a reflexive response to hearing "Manchester, NH." His audience grew enormously every first-in-the-nation-primary. (Yes, "melting snowflakes." "McCarthy is a Skunks's Skunk." That guy.)

He was mean and dishonest. He claimed he was hated because he was conservative, but he had screwed over even his own family enough to merit hatred entirely independent of his views. Politically, he thought Eisenhower was soft on communism and expressed some support for the John Birch Society. He might have been equally hated had he been a decent fellow who was conservative, but we are never going to know the answer to that.

On the other hand...

He published far more Letters to the Editor than other papers. People who hated him and disagreed, saying vile things about him got their letters published as well, three or four full pages every day, so long as they kept it clean and didn't advocate violence. A very New Hampshire free-speech value.  The Union Leader also carried excellent conservative columnists who were not so seamy.  That is where I first read Thomas Sowell - who was a thirtysomething with a slight Afro at that point - and William F Buckley's On The Right. As I quickly became very liberal around 1966, definitely socialist and pacifist, even dipping into SDS radicalism, I tried to avoid them.  Yet I read everything that passed in front of me in those days, cereal boxes, matchbooks, liner notes, and caught some of it.

So when your Pop Warner team won the championship or your church had an ethnic festival, the Union Leader was where the photo and story went. Crazy-ass and mean conservatism was part of the furniture. This is barely remembered now, even around here.  My senior year, my physics teacher informed us that the Concord Monitor, the second-most important paper in the state, was just as slanted to the left. I neither believed nor disbelieved, only stored it away. It became interesting in 1978 when I went to work in Concord and my cousin became editor of that paper, just as I was retreating from most political thinking, in favor of specifically Christian writers, especially CS Lewis.

That's a start.

*First off, I don't think Trump is that radical. I think that's mostly a reaction to his style.


Donna B. said...

"Yet I read everything that passed in front of me in those days, cereal boxes, matchbooks, liner notes, and caught some of it."

We certainly have that in common. Cereal boxes are disappointing these days. Another symptom of the decline of civilization?

One of the reasons I love my Kindle so much is that I'm now never ever without something to read (though I'm tethered to a charger and therefore fossil fuels).

And then I wonder if that has narrowed the subject matter of what I read. I no longer have the "it's my book... no you stole it from me!" competition with my brother (a 60s liberal 7 years older than me). OK, I did steal books from him. And hid them from my parents just like he did. I miss him, though we never agreed politically. From my point of view, he was an idealist and I was pragmatic. Though he sincerely wanted to "help people", he never quite understood that his ideas of help rather undermined their ability to help themselves. In reality, disempowerment. And now, I'm learning that my ideas aren't much (if any) better.

Donna B. said...

For what it's worth, my introduction to politics was in 1960. My Dad was for Nixon, my Mom was for Kennedy. As I look back now, it's ironic that my Dad's support for Nixon eventually got my older brother into Columbia and on to a position in RFK's campaign.

But the strangest thing to me is that both my parents turned into diehard Southern democrats by way of populism... or something. When they moved from the West back to Arkansas and Texas, my Dad completely forgot that he'd ever supported a Republican. I don't think he ever forgot why as he was a capitalist through and through. My mother was a capitalist too.

When did Democrats stop being capitalists? Why?

Christopher B said...

First off, I don't think Trump is that radical. I think that's mostly a reaction to his style.

I cast my first Presidential vote for Ronald Reagan, and one of the things that has solidified my support for Trump, after first disliking him, is the way the Democrats have recycled their campaign themes for going on half a century. Every Republican is either an evil genius warmonger, or a functionally illiterate dunce, or both in turns. The anti-Trump themes are no different than their objections to Reagan, GHWB, W, McCain, or Romney with the exception of their born-again objections to Putin and attempts to tie him to Trump. What has really sealed the deal is watching the "Trump shouldn't be respected like those good Republicans Reagan, W, and Romney" show after they were savaged with the same themes while they were seeking or holding office. Absent the bombast and Twitter, Trump is probably the most conservative President we've had since Reagan.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Donna B - there is a book When Helping Hurts, which I have not read but has been recommended. It may be one of the offerings at Sweet Tuesdays, the women's morning study group at our church, this fall.

@ Christopher B - you are not the first to notice how much Responsible Democrats praise the Responsible Republicans of 20 years ago. Skipping Nixon (and not always!), the phenomenon goes back to how much they liked Eisenhower when Reagan was running. It is actually a giveaway of how much their views are socially conditioned. As soon as the coolness factor, the "I can't imagine why you would support the fascist..." trope eases, they recognise what a reasonable guy the Old Republican was. Who moved?

Think Bob Dole. Gerald Ford. Hitler? Really?

Donna B. said...

AVI, thank you for the book recommendation. It sounds interesting.

HMS Defiant said...

Can any of you imagine a Sam Nunn in the Senate today?