The author was an English professor for over 40 years. What follows is an excerpt from an essay he wrote after his retirement. An essay (to quote a phrase from a longtime reader of Goodheart’s work whose correspondence helped inspire it)“in the spirit of one no longer bound by job or profession or any other tethers (except the inevitable one of mortality), someone sailing under his own wind wherever it might take him.”
Trump knows that his real enemy is the media—less so the weak Democratic Party. We should not underrate his intelligence in this respect. In other words, his war is against fact and truth. If he wins the war (he needs only to win his constituency, a minority in the country and a majority in the swing states), his administration is secure.
In a previous article here, I took on what I called “Trumpism on the Left” with a focus on Stephen Cohen’s defense of the Trump-Putin bromance in The Nation magazine. A friend of mine suggested that the title of the article should have been “The Strange Case of Stephen Cohen,” implying perhaps that “Trumpism on the Left” was an unjustified generalization from a single example. Cohen, as I noted fleetingly, is not alone in his affinity for Putin and by extension Trump. What my piece lacked was the context of other advocates of the two leaders, which I try to provide in what follows.
Let’s begin with the word “legitimate.”
In the wake of the Hillary Clinton’s shocking defeat in the presidential election, two Democratic operatives, Stanley B. Greenberg and Anna Greenberg, turn their attention to President Obama and ask the question “Was Obama Bad for the Democrats” (NY Times, Op Ed, December 23). Their answer is a qualified yes. Before I bear down on the Greenbergs for their insinuation that the Democrats went down to defeat on the presidential and congressional levels because of Obama, let me lay out their argument with editorial interruption.
The role of identity politics in Trump’s victory and Clinton’s defeat: Identity politics, the invention of the multicultural left, has been taken over by Trump and his hard right supporters.
“Let Trump be Trump his aides has always insisted. And let his convention serve as an unapologetic tribute to his singular, erratic, untamed persona. ‘I want,’ the candidate has often said, ‘to be myself.’” (“In Trump’s Voice, It’s a New Nixon,” Michael Barbaro and Alexander Burns NY Times, July 19.) But who is that myself? If one looks to his political identity in the views that he has expressed over the years, one is baffled by their contradictions, incoherence and vacuous expression, unless, that is, one sees them as symptoms of a mental condition.
Sanders entered the Democratic primaries as an outsider presumably with an understanding of the rules. When they worked for him, he didn’t complain; when they didn’t work for him, he cried foul (the system, he claimed was rigged).
Not the happiest lot to choose from, Hillary Clinton is the best of the lot.
Mario Cuomo’s often quoted adage, “you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose,” neglects to say that the poetry more often than not is bad poetry. Campaign speeches are cliché ridden, repetitious, rarely inspired by genuine conviction and filled with promises that the speakers know can’t be kept. It is an insult to poetry to associate it with the banality of campaigning. The election of 2016 so far is singularly devoid of the semblance of poetry.
Instances of police brutality and killing of unarmed Blacks, first revealed by social media, have been a catalyst for widespread expression of grievances about racism in colleges and universities. According to 538, “the most frequently requested data by protestors was for a survey on the atmosphere in classrooms that would collect information as part of end terms evaluations of subtle forms of racism, often called microaggressions, that are committed by specific professors and lecturers.” Microaggression: “everyday verbal, non verbal and environmental slights, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
I have a stake in Zachary Leader’s new huge first volume biography of Saul Bellow that has just appeared. Bellow was a friend and Leader gives a brief account of the exchange I had with him days before he died. When I visited, his assistant told me that Saul had not been speaking for days and would I try to get him to speak. I asked Saul “what do you have to say for yourself?” A pause and he lit up. “I’ve been thinking: am I a man or a jerk?” I said “would you believe my answer?”
David Brooks agrees with the substance of Obama’s executive action on immigration, but believes that he has transgressed the Constitution in the process. The president has usurped the role of the legislature. For Brooks, process transcends substance, so apart from expressing sympathy for the substance of Obama’s action he has little to say about what should be done in addressing the plight of millions of undocumented immigrants, given the gridlock that exists between the branches of government. When it is pointed out that Obama’s action has its precedents in the actions of his predecessors, Republicans as well as Democrats, Brooks responds by noting the scale of the action, 5 million rather than 1.5 million under George H.W. Bush. He does not explain how this makes Obama’s action, but not Bush’s, unconstitutional.
Eugene Goodheart offered two angles on the war in Gaza just before the cease-fire, speaking truth to powers that be on both sides of the conflict.
I have been reading the first volume of Churchill’s history of World War II, The Gathering Storm. How can one not be impressed with his relentless, hawkish criticism of the appeasing Chamberlain and the weak-kneed continental powers that were disarming while German was arming in the 1930s? Is there a lesson for today?
The government shutdown and debt ceiling mess deflected attention from the Syria crisis. But Eugene Goodheart’s careful analysis of that situation is still on time. We begin his latest dispatch on Obama’s “trimming” with a forward-looking “postscript” the author added to his original piece.
As for Obama’s ambivalence about going to war and his openness about it (unusual in a president), I find it admirable in its authenticity. In acting in a crisis, however, one has to overcome ambivalence. Obama has already shown himself on other occasions capable of acting decisively. Our role in the Syrian civil war has not yet played itself out. Final judgments are premature…
Eugene Goodheart’s analysis of the Syrian quandary doesn’t take in the story’s latest twists, but it comprehends the president’s humane, cautious approach to the issue. Goodheart’s piece amounts to an addendum to the case he makes in his new book, Holding the Center: In Defense of Political Trimming, which places Obama’s default stance within a specific Euro-American tradition of liberal thinkers and politicians. A short review of Goodheart’s deeply informed text follows this piece.