How to fix our Trump problem

I will try to not repeat what has already been established about the candidacy of Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States. In Sunday’s Washington Post, Henry M. Paulson Jr. a former U.S. treasury secretary and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, speaking as an American more than as a Republican, lists the challenges and evaluates Trump’s skills and concludes, “Simply put, a Trump presidency is unthinkable.”

Some of us still hope that the 2016 election will not be remembered in history as a scandal—evidence that democracy has failed.

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Ten years from now, whom will the historians hold responsible for the failure of this generation of politicians to nurture men and women with vision to recognize the wounds in our society and offer the wisdom to heal them?

Perhaps both the Brexit referendum separating England from its European neighbors and the Trump “revolt” stem from the same no-longer clamped down emotion: populist anger. Georgetown University professor Jason Brennan proposes in The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 24, subscriber only) that democracy should be replaced with epistocracy, in which voters, who are for the most part “ignorant, misinformed, and irrational,” would be required to pass a test on basic political knowledge. The parties normally nominate establishment candidates, but when the parties break down “the worst of We the People get what we want.”

In the same issue of the Chronicle, Katherine Cramer, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, after talking with voters since 2007, has concluded that the overwhelming feeling among the public has been resentment, particularly toward cities and people who live there. This is because small towns are not getting their fair share of power; public funds were not distributed fairly and they do not get their fair share of respect. This may be the key to understanding Trump, who has exploited this feeling by pointing to those “offending” people—immigrants, Muslims and out-of-touch elites—rather than address the complex problems, like urbanization, globalization and changing demographics, which challenge our future well-being.

But the Chronicle editors have jumped the gun on the top historians of 2026 by offering a detailed syllabus for a 12-week course, TRUMP 101. They spell out the theme, subject and assignments for each week. In Week 1, Plato, Thucydides and Aristotle say that the demagogue is endemic to democracy and the people who elect him are to blame. Week 2 studies a German Nazi law professor who contends that authoritarian rulers are necessary to defend the people from their enemies. In Week 3, American Fascism, students read Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, which demonstrates how discontents find a focus in one individual. Week 6, The Angry American, includes Dan T. Carter’s The Politics of Rage, the story of George Wallace, a rabid segregationist who became the hero of the American working class in 1968, and Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) on the public’s resistance to complexity in American culture. Other topics include The Businessman as Hero, White Flight, and Whither Conservatism, which explains what happened to the moderate wing of the Republican Party.

Pretty grim. I suggest there is still a way out. There is a theory that Trump, when he started campaigning, never foresaw that he would go this far. It was a stunt, a reality TV show  suddenly became an uncontrollable reality. How to escape? He must look in the mirror and remember the classic story of Narcissus, who reached out in love to the image of himself in the water, fell in and drowned.

In 2026, the historians will evaluate the campaign, the election and the presidency over the next 4 to 8 years. Historians will focus on how our next elected president has dealt with a variety of issues, including the following: the spread of nuclear weapons, the disintegration of the Middle East, the reorganization of Europe, the resurgence of Russia, urban unrest, the growing gap between the rich and poor and the rising tide of immigration. There is no evidence that Donald Trump is equipped to show leadership in these and other issues.

Trump should refute the writers who have made narcissism the center of his personality and step down. A committee of Republican leaders should study the list of Republican governors and select the candidate on the basis of three qualities: integrity, intelligence and compassion. And the Republican Party will replace its image of spoilers with one of public servants. They might also win the election.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., is America’s literary editor.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jonathan James
1 year 4 months ago
Not surprising that a progressive liberal would want to bring back the Poll Test which was so successful in keeping black Americans from voting; after all, they are more interested in control than liberty, in power for themselves than liberty for everyone. Yes, everyone who votes differently from what this progressive liberal "knows" to be true must be, in his own words, “ignorant, misinformed, and irrational,”. What a pompous maroon. As for the solution: "A committee of Republican leaders should study the list of Republican governors and select the candidate on the basis of three qualities: integrity, intelligence and compassion. " Yep, that is democracy in action, having a bunch of elitists know it alls select the nominee. Might work,since that is how the Democratic Party operates. Except that they chose Secretary Clinton, not known for her integrity, intelligence or compassion. She is distrusted by the majority of those who would still vote for her, is not smart enough to pass the DC bar exam but apparently did well enough in Arkansas, and has not shown any compassion for the women assaulted or raped by her husband.
William Rydberg
1 year 4 months ago
What about Mr Senator Bernie Saunders of Vermont... You guys at America never gave support a moments consideration in my opinion. Sometimes one has to resist the power to do right. I frankly find the approach at America to be tired and ready to compromise. IMHO, America is just another party to that large group of Catholic "Vendus" that sold out beginning in the 1950's. Federal funding controls all aspects of Catholic Institutions. And unfortunately, the vast American Catholic Intelligencia are way too comfortable with compromise. Leaving Christ in the rear view mirror of their BMWs... So Sad...
Sandi Sinor
1 year 4 months ago
People could write in Mr. Sander's name, but that simply could work towards making the unthinkable happen. Trump would not only be a disaster for the US, but for the rest of the world. Even Canada might feel the tremors. Many have pointed out too, since you believe Sanders is the best candidate for Catholics, that he is not pro-life. Sanders competed quite ably during the primaries, but he did not get enough votes. Polls are already showing the danger - Hillary is well ahead in a two party race, but her lead diminishes when you add the Libertarians and the Greens. If you add a write-in campaign for Bernie, it would be even worse. If anyone had told me a year ago, or even six months ago, that I would be voting for Hillary I would have laughed. Tragically, it's no longer a laughing matter. I will vote for her because voting for Trump is beyond unthinkable.
Ryder Charles
1 year 4 months ago
OK. Now tell us how to fix our Hillary problem because, for many decent people, her presidency is "unthinkable".
Joshua DeCuir
1 year 4 months ago
I can imagine the response by Fr. Schroth if it were National Review suggesting a literacy test for voting. But I guess since the suggestion is in the Chronicle & is aimed ostensibly at poor whites, it's just fine.
Lisa Weber
1 year 4 months ago
The 2016 election is already a scandal. Hillary Clinton was anointed as presidential candidate last year, essentially without a primary election. Donald Trump is dangerous. His candidacy was made possible by the Republican party refusing to participate in governing for 8 years. Hillary is likely to win and she is likely to make a capable president. Donald Trump is unthinkable as a president of the USA.
Charles Erlinger
1 year 4 months ago
If, as you say, Trump should step down, there is a high probability that we would simply be left with two facts: (1) that narcissism is the center of his personality and (2) that he stepped down. (2) does not necessarily refute (1).
Robert Martino
1 year 4 months ago
I consider myself a loyal Catholic who has remained fully incorporated in the society of the Church. I accept—without exception, everything that God’s Church proposes regarding faith and morals. That said, I voted for Donald Trump in the primary election, and I will vote for him in the general election. With Mr. Trump as president we have a chance for improvement; with Mrs. Clinton as president, it is certain that we will suffer calamity. Hillary Clinton is a Liberal. Modern day Liberalism is the most pernicious and wickedly pervasive threat that the world has ever seen since the fall of Adam and Eve, and the vileness of it far exceeds any evil that the world has ever gone through—without exception. Liberalism must be stopped before it advances any further. By the way, I believe that there has been an infestation of Liberalism within the physical confines the Catholic Church. Many laypersons, deacons, priests, religious, bishops and cardinals are Liberals and thus cohorts of the devil in word, deed, and omission, albeit, unknowingly. For practical purposes they have made the Catholic Church into nothing more than a social services, advocacy group and save-the-earth alliance and feel good-about-yourself support group. They have ceased to accept her for what she is—the Universal Sacrament of Salvation. Above I said that I am a loyal Catholic. From what I have written, I’m sure that there will be Liberal “Catholics” who would attempt to counter that claim with pseudo-logic. Most likely it would start with “If you were a loyal Catholic….” All I will say at this point is that I know what Almighty God has revealed to mankind through Devine Revelation and that any reply I would give would be based on that, as well as reality in general. Reality? Reality, truth, reason and logic are not tools that Liberals work with. “Make America Great Again.”
J Cosgrove
1 year 4 months ago
Georgetown University professor Jason Brennan proposes in The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 24, subscriber only) that democracy should be replaced with epistocracy, in which voters, who are for the most part “ignorant, misinformed, and irrational,” would be required to pass a test on basic political knowledge. The parties normally nominate establishment candidates, but when the parties break down “the worst of We the People get what we want.”
If this criteria were applied, then the Democrats might not be able to elect more than a few odd people to any higher office. And our college students and graduates supporting Bernie Sanders would fail the test due to ignorance of economic and political policies. My guess is that Professor Brennan would fail a valid test and not be allowed to vote.
L J
1 year 4 months ago
Today is the feast day of St Oliver Plunkett, former Archbishop of Dublin. "Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. After deliberating for 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in July 1681." http://hub.franciscanmedia.org/Home/pfSaint?sid=1934 The "voice of the people" often commit abominations. Hillary and Trump are abominations thanks to the "voice of the people". Fr Schroth writes that the RNC Delegates should propose a better alternative for a RNC Nominee. Trump is a reflection of the failure of Catholic and Christian leaders to catechize Americans. Many have suggested likewise for the DNC Delegates to remove the abortion that Hillary is and give us a viable life in the DNC Nominee. Clearly the Bishops stand in judgment when Catholics think she is fit to be City Dog Catcher never mind President "The voice of the people" often commit abominations. They always will, e.g. Roe v Wade, Death penalties, abortifacients, xenophobia, anti-immigrants, etc. It is a wonder God still puts up with the idiots that the voice of the people are.
Elmer Stoup
1 year 4 months ago
The glaring weakness of this analysis is that, as bad as Trump is, Clinton is many times worse. She's pro-choice pathological liar who has broken every national security law with her unsecure email server which the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians must have hacked. And she has presided over a series of foreign policy disasters, e .g., the Iranian protests in 2009, failure to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Iraq to preserve the stability the Surge helped create, the phony Iranian nuclear negotiations, the Libya debacle, the Benghazi disaster and her susequent handling of the fallout. We have a binary choice in November between one flawed candidate, Trump, and a deeply flawed candidate, Clinton, who has been totally compromised by her email server escapade. Fr. Schroth be examining both sides of the binary choice we have in November.
ed gleason
1 year 4 months ago
When Trump supporters find out he has paid little or no income tax will they still buy his "make America great again' ? He had to file two years of tax returns to NJ casino commission in 1978 and 79. No tax then and his claim that he has been audited for 10 years tells us the 'rest of the story'. And he wants to build the greatest military ever....with whose money? Not his,, .. ,just like his self funding of campaign and promise of tax return revelations.. blatant lies. .

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