Was Plato a Trump-Supporter?
As far back as 360 B.C., thoughtful individuals recognized that career politicians are bad news. In Book VII of the Republic, Plato wrote that ordinary citizens, accomplished in areas other than politics, make the best leaders. These wise individuals are those who "have other honours and another and a better life than that of politics" (The Portable Plato, ed. Scott Buchanan, New York, 1948, p. 555).
Plato was talking about Donald Trump, not Nancy Pelosi (or Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, and the entire gang of lifetime politicians). The quality that President Trump possesses, and that so many in D.C. lack, is real-world experience of practical matters. From this experience, he has derived insight and wisdom.
As Plato recognized, an entrenched ruling class is the greatest danger to the state. This danger is apparent in both parties but more so among Democrats. In the Senate, the longest serving member is Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), "serving" since 1975. There are plenty of GOP dinosaurs as well, in the Senate and the House, but among the House leadership, Nancy Pelosi has served the longest (31 years), while Chuck Schumer has been hanging around the House and Senate for 37 years.
That's pretty remarkable, since Schumer was born in 1950. Schumer went straight from law school to elected office, having now held office at the state and federal levels for a total of 44 years – his entire "working" life.
It's not just that professional politicians have no experience in the private sector – they hate the private sector because it is at odds with their interests. Pelosi's disregard for markets is obvious in her absurd comment about creating "an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance." For most people, reality is all about "keeping their day job," not about the liberal fantasy of a society in which everyone can be an artist on the government dole. Pelosi seems to have no comprehension of the fact that it is the day jobs that fund our economy.
If she is ill informed and dismissive of the private sector, it may be because Pelosi, so far as I can tell, has never worked outside government. Since her graduation from college in 1962, she seems to have been fixated on politics.
Plato's definition of the ideal leader centered on the idea of excellence in areas outside politics, but it went farther. Future rulers should be educated in "useful" arts such as mathematics, he wrote (Portable Plato, p. 557ff) – a subject Donald Trump would certainly have studied at the Wharton School. As Plato went on to explain, "those who have a natural talent for calculation are generally quick at every other kind of knowledge" (Portable Plato, p. 563). The ultimate goal of education is to arrive at the "perfection of knowledge" – a form of abstract reasoning that Plato called "dialectic." The dialectician is "one who attains a conception of the essence of each thing" (574).
One could say President Trump's gift for cutting through the "fake news" and arriving at the essential truth, as he did in his conception of his opponent as "crooked Hillary," is just what Plato meant by dialectics. During the presidential primaries, Trump stood head over heels above the other candidates because he was a dialectician among politicians. He seemed more "real" because he was. His opponents were speaking the false language of politics, while he was speaking the truth straight to the American people, just as he is doing today.
Plato added one more qualification for political office: no one should enter politics until after reaching the age of 50. "Then let those ... who have distinguished themselves in every action of their lives and in every branch of knowledge come at last to their consummation" (583) – a role in ruling the State.
Donald Trump went to the heart of the matter with his slogan "Make America Great Again." It is the swamp-dwellers who have sapped America's greatness over the past hundred years. Without the political corruption of the ruling elite, America would be vastly richer, more powerful, more prosperous, and more secure. That is the president's crucial insight, and it is the insight of what Plato called a "philosopher" and a "dialectician." It is the product of the highest order of knowledge. By comparison, Hillary's slogan of "Forward" was pathetic.
In the 2018 midterms, once again, it's Democrats who are running as professional politicians. Florida's Senate race features the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. Born in 1942, Nelson has served continuously in public office since 1972. Other than two years practicing law (one of them as a legislative assistant), Nelson has spent his entire working life in public office. His likely opponent is Rick Scott, the popular two-term governor.
Unlike Nelson, Scott excelled in the Navy; became a partner at a prominent law firm; and co-founded a major medical company at age 34, which, after merging with Hospital Corporation of America, became the largest private medical company in America. After resigning as CEO of HCA, Scott founded several other health care companies, became co-owner of the Texas Rangers, then ran for political office for the first time in 2010 at age 57. He is, in other words, the epitome of what Plato described as the accomplished man of business who turns his attention to politics out of a sense of duty, and only in his later years.
Gov. Scott is not the only GOP candidate who meets Plato's standard. A leading candidate in the Arizona Senate race is Rep. Martha McSally, who retired in 2010 as a colonel after 26 years in the Air Force. McSally entered public office for the first time in 2014, at age 52. In Missouri, Dem incumbent Claire McCaskill will likely face Josh Hawley, a longtime attorney and professor of law who first gained political office in 2017. In Tennessee, the GOP candidate will probably be Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who first entered political office at age 48 after a long and successful career in business.
The list of accomplished conservative candidates in U.S. House and statewide races would be even more impressive. Meanwhile, the list of liberal political hacks is depressingly long.
The solution is for voters in 2018 is to focus on the election of accomplished GOP anti-politicians. More Donald Trumps, fewer Hillarys. More Rick Scotts, fewer Bill Nelsons. And it would not hurt for voters to rid Congress of its leading GOP benchwarmers as well.
Plato was right in his advice. Our leaders must have broad experience outside government, must seek office out of a sense of duty and not for gain, and must be wise beyond the cunning of mere politicians. Schumer and Pelosi are the personification of everything Plato despised, and nearly every liberal in Congress fits their mold.
President Trump is the epitome of the mature man of business that Plato so admired. A similar standard of service and practical experience can be found in many conservatives running for office in 2018. Were he around today, some 23 centuries after his death, Plato would recognize the value of President Trump – and he would see the liberal hacks in D.C. for what they are. Based on what he wrote in the Republic, he would be an enthusiastic Trump-supporter, delighted to see an American president bring "a better life than that of politics" to Washington.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).