Trump and the Victory Deficit

Donald Trump is an amateur politician. He might be the first to admit it. Surely, he is no amateur businessman; yet he still seems a bit naïve about rhetoric, bombast, and braggadocio in the public square. None of this makes his brutal candor any less of a political asset in 2016.

Trump’s truths are trending like pop tarts. Indeed, his success to date may be a function of rhetoric that would ruin any other contemporary politician. Trump says what he thinks and lights a fire under a generation tired of smoke, mirrors, and politically correct mendacity.  Truth may be a necessary political diagnosis, but civic remedies are a function of action, courage, and cooperative effort.  

Business, life, and governance are team sports. Trump says he will seek out the best people. Let’s hope the best means heart too. A vitae might necessary, but only courage is sufficient.

Job two, after any election, is team building; creating the critical mass of competence that might change business as usual inside the Beltway. Getting elected is the easy part.

The tone is set at the top in any institution.  Cabinet and department heads are the forlorn hope of any administration, the vanguard of success or failure. Unfortunately, in the millennial era; patronage, public relations, and frequent flyer miles have replaced achievement as the metrics for federal performance. In turn, victory and success have disappeared from the national vocabulary.

The victory deficit is the vacuum that Trump seeks to fill.

By all measures, national security success is job one. Absent security, nothing else much matters. Alas, in the past 50 years, the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, and the State Department have been ravished by serial failures. Any real change in the American national security establishment will require strong hands, sharp knives, and strong stomachs.

The conversation about reform cannot begin too soon. Pundits are now fond of comparing the Republican Party unpleasantness of 2016 to the dissolution of the Whig Party (1833-1854). There’s more than a little truth in that analogy.

Before the Civil War, progressive Whigs in the North split from slave holders and formed the Republican Party as a bulwark against the expansion of slavery beyond the South.  The anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party  (1845-1860) suffered a similar fate and their pro-slavery adherents were absorbed by the Democratic Party, as were the regressive Whigs.

Residual racist sentiment consistently accrued to the Democratic Party thereafter, where it flourished through Reconstruction and survived to nourish Dixiecrats, Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and legal segregation up through the Kennedy/Johnson administrations. However, despite civil rights reform in the mid-20th century, political control of dependent minorities survived, now in urban Democrat sinecures. Nearly every urban fiscal basket case, culture of civic dependency, or crime nexus in America is a now a Democratic Party monopoly. True to form, the thug politics of the 2016 primaries, to date, are now also a creature from the urban American lagoon.

Indeed, the urban plantation now cultivates social dependency and punk culture instead of cotton. The party of slavery is now the party of big city dependency. Colin Powell put it best: “That’s where the votes are.”

Military procurement and combat operations today are two examples where the Lincoln era values might be instructive, a time where rewards were tailored to desired results. Or as management theorists put it today: “It’s the reward system, stupid.” Lincoln wanted victories and when he didn’t get them he fired generals until he had a winning team. Today, that metric is turned on its head. Failed weapons get better funding and combat commanders still get promoted after 50 years of serial failure in an indefinite series of inconclusive Muslim wars.  

If Republicans are to recapture their enlightened heritage and poach some true “progressive” souls from urban America, they need to emphasize the legacy of Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, and Reagan while condemning the pathologies of failure, appeasement, debt, deficit, and generational dependency -- the modern bondage of institutions like the Democratic Party. Lincoln was a social progressive, Teddy Roosevelt busted the cartelization of the economy, and Reagan was the author of global ideological revolution. Not a bad legacy to run on.

The medium is the message. Trump needs to pick a team that sends an inclusive message. A woman, or a role model like Ben Carson, at the top of the ticket as vice president would be a good start. Carson is ice to Trump’s fire. At the moment, Doctor Carson doesn’t seem to be interested in the job, but that doesn’t change the imperative to avoid the usual suspects and exhibit some imagination.

Given the realpolitik of modern emotional appeals, Republicans still need to consider a gender or ethnic ace to neutralize that “first women” Jolly Roger sure to be run up by Democrats. If a professional political wrangler is necessary to ride herd on Congress, a politician like Newt Gingrich might make the team, a potential Chief of Staff anon.

Relative unknowns like General Mike Flynn and Dr. Walid Phares in the security arena might be considered too for their unusual threat candor. Flynn and Phares are two of the few national security analysts to recognize the primacy and magnitude of the Islamist threat. If America continues to allow a thousand Muslim cuts, or another generation of jihad, the US may bleed to death before any dubious, if not manufactured, threats from Russia or China materialize. During the Obama era, the existential Islamist threat is largely ignored or minimized while the Russian and Chinese books are cooked as DOD Cold War budget stimulus.

Withal, the party of Lincoln’s uncommon sense, Roosevelt’s trust busters, and Reagan’s anti-communists does not need to rebrand itself so much as run on a proud legacy. A true revolution, if it is forthcoming, would be to break habits of foreign policy failure abroad and free the slaves at home once again, free the nation from those toxic cynics on the left who sow the seeds of appeasement, failure, and dependency only to harvest terror, arson, street crime - and votes.

Hillary Clinton should be celebrated for her associates, the worst at the top and bottom of big city constituencies. She called urban gangs “super-predators” during her husband’s reign, a characterization she now disavows. Alas, truth is a bell that cannot be unhung.

“If you want to understand today, you must search yesterday.” – Pearl S. Buck

G. Murphy Donovan writes about the politics of national security.