Peggy Noonan's Trump Tears

In her recent column, "That Moment When 2016 Hits You," Peggy Noonan issues something of a lament for the nation.  The current presidential election represents a unique, a seminal episode in our political history, and in no good sense as far as Miss Noonan is concerned.  She has had her "2016 Moment," in which she sensed that "something epochal is happening in politics" and that "there has never been a presidential year like 2016."  She has experienced "a poignant sense of dislocation, a knowledge that our politics have changed and won't be going back."  Her column is an account of her sentiments and those of her friends, all generated in one way or another by the present political campaign.

One friend took his child to Cruz and Sanders events in New Hampshire and found them to be "'great and wonderful.'"  Then they went to a Trump rally and heard the "P-word" directed at Senator Cruz.  The descent of our civilization thereupon became apparent.  The friend's disillusionment was deepened by a viewing of the musical, Hamilton, which underscored in his mind how far we have fallen since the Founding.  A second Noonan friend took his child to the Reagan Library, which, like the dramatization of Hamilton's life, precipitated a comparison between the exalted past and the sordid present.  No more have we such leaders as Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, King, and John Kennedy.

Miss Noonan reveals the series of experiences and resulting feelings that constitute her "Moment."  A "great political party," the Republicans, is "splintering."  Her fellow opinion writers have much disappointed her since some who had "backed the policies that broke [the Republican Party]" now publish essays about who was responsible for the very deed.  Others write disdainfully of the "white working class" (presumably Trump's supporters) instead of treating them with compassion.  On this we agree with Miss Noonan.

Hamilton, conservative women tussling over Trump in emails, Hillary Clinton yelling on TV, demonstrators trying to block those journeying to a Trump rally, and a Paul Simon song also affect Miss Noonan.  The song ends with an admonition not to cry, and so Miss Noonan sobs, "[b]ecause [her] country is in trouble, [b]ecause [she] felt anguish at all the estrangements, [b]ecause some things that shouldn't have changed have changed, [b]ecause too much is being lost," and "[b]ecause the great choice in a nation of 320 million may come down to Crazy Man [that would be Mr. Trump] versus Criminal [Secretary Clinton]."

Now, Miss Noonan's emotion is obviously that of a good and patriotic American.  We hope it, then, not   ungracious to suggest that in righting the nation's course at so perilous a moment, if that is what she has in mind, emotion makes a poor counselor.  It is, again, only with the greatest respect that we recall  2008, in which Miss Noonan had very positive feelings about the Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama.  She rather roughly aspersed the intelligence of such a woman as Sarah Palin, who in retrospect saw Mr. Obama more clearly than did Miss Noonan.

Miss Noonan's friends also would do well to leaven their perturbation with a more lucid thought.  It is most unlikely that any Bernie Sanders rally the first friend and his child attended was "great and wonderful."  It was instead an eruption of Marxist claptrap by an old crank who, given the chance, would have his people living like the Cubans and Venezuelans.  The fact that a young person is repelled by vulgarities shouted at a Trump rally is reassuring, but his or her finding Bernie Sanders to be wonderful is not.  There are probably better sources from which to derive appreciation of the Founding Fathers than a rap musical, for those old enough to read, at any rate.

The point is not to dispel passion from electoral politics.  A national political campaign will never prevail without the passionate devotion of millions of people.  This is something that the purveyors of many nominally conservative journals of opinion cannot seem to understand.  But winning an election is one thing; diagnosing and restoring what is wanting in a nation is another.

Early in our history, it was said:

Passion has helped us, but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy.  Reason – cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason – must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense.  Let those materials be molded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the Constitution and laws[.]

Lincoln's warning in the Young Men's Lyceum Address (1838) that passion could be the enemy of liberty is borne out every day now by the effort of the left to trample upon freedoms of speech, association, and religion, all in the ardent conviction that they are completely right and the contrary view is inadmissible.  Some of the events that disturb Miss Noonan – vulgarity and lawless protests – might suggest the same problem, although democratic debate is never going to be quiet, and the truth can emerge from acrimonious exchanges.  In any event, we need leaders and citizens out of government willing to stand up for constitutional liberty, for the rule of law, and for the rule of reason.  The despairing second friend should be advised that we do too have a small number of leaders of this caliber, comparable in intellect and integrity to those that he mentions.  Senator Ted Cruz is one such a leader, whether or not one agrees with his policy positions.  His filmed attempt to argue the facts with a boorish Trump supporter in front of an unsympathetic crowd, just before the end of his campaign, was an indication.  

Neither the Trump supporter nor anyone in the crowd had any answer to the senator's points, or any intention of listening to them.  But that could not obscure the example of a man determined to argue from fact and reason, and always with civility, no matter what catcalls and insolence he had to endure.  Democracy is governance by persuasion – persuasion of voters, persuasion of legislators – but reasoned speech and demagoguery can both persuade.  And those persuaded are made better or worse as a result.

There are many admirable people who for understandable reasons support Trump, but the belligerence and indifference to truth of those Senator Cruz encountered on this occasion suggest the effect that their candidate has had upon them.  Those influenced by demagogues become a mob.  Those willing to uphold reason and decorum before a mob represent hope.  The case for maintaining the Constitution in its primacy rests upon reason, and on our people's willingness to heed it.

No set of candidates in an election, however bad, betoken irretrievable loss, so long as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are revered – a tall order, given the state of American education, but the first object of our endeavors.  Let them be revered by the common citizen and, above all, by the young as they enter citizenship, and we may say, in the words of the civil rights hymn, "No more weeping, no more weeping over me."

We may be assured that the Republic fashioned at Philadelphia will not die, regardless of who becomes president this year and irrespective of the foibles of politicians, but will be as ever the towering edifice upon which the world gazes, in envy and in hope.