We should all step back and understand what is going on in our most important expression of self-governance. A democracy gives us the right to select our most important leader. The leader who will have directly or indirectly effect or influence every instrument of government and who has the power to subordinate the institutions that protect us.
Courts decide who wins or loses disputes. Our legislature (Congress) can act by majority rule unless the President vetoes their actions. The President, as well, has broad executive authority and enjoys what President Theodore Roosevelt called the “bully pulpit”.
These powers need to be used cautiously. And, more often than not, my preference has been to act at the State level—distributed power. These principles, at least in normal times, brand me as a conservative. But now a movement called populism has overtaken the conservative party. But I would call it by a different name: Selfism.
In the last 30 days Donald J Trump has displayed Selfism in ways that leave no doubt. He has called Courts corrupt. He urged the Republicans to shut down the government if they don’t get everything they want. He has called prosecutors lunatics and President Biden the worst President in history. In short, disagreements with him result from corruption (the courts), treason (General Milley) or severe mental illness (lunatic prosecutors).
The Wall Street Journal on the matter of General Milley noted: “Here was part of Mr. Trump’s send-off for Mr. Milley, who’s finishing his tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs: “This guy turned out to be a Woke train wreck who, if the Fake News reporting is correct, was actually dealing with China to give them a heads up on the thinking of the President of the United States. This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”
The message is clear—if I don’t like the outcome then the institutions of government are corrupt. Not just wrong, treasonous.
Selfism is a radical version of sanctimony. We have all experienced it. It is that worst of all dinner conversations when somebody must always be right. Morally superior as the definition goes. It is I, I, I.
I can’t think of a more toxic combination: power and Selfism. Laughingly Trump calls Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, DeSanctimonious.
Presumptively we all have some measure of sanctimony. I suspect there are very few who don’t think one or more of their opinions are morally superior. Paradoxically, those who insist that all principles are relative are the most sanctimonious.
One feature of The Spy is that the reader can tell the writer to “take a hike” or worse. I have been asked why I don’t respond to criticism. I welcome criticism. Afterall, I have been given the privilege of expressing my view first.
In a much, much larger context we rely on our court processes to settle disputes and know there are several layers of appeal from the initial decision. Yet, Donald Trump has reserved some of his harshest criticisms for the Courts and its procedures.
And let’s not forget that for over four years he was the appointing authority for the federal court judges. While perfect balance in the judiciary is elusive, alternating political authority is about as close as we humans can get. And when a candidate who wants that power is the candidate of the Selfism Party, we should look elsewhere.
Now before laying down the pen, I would offer that Selfism’s convergence with Populism is when a candidate exploits populist views to achieve his ultimate ambition. Getting elected must be a first step.
Donald Trump betrayed his true intoxication when he said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” This was a revealing moment when he essentially said he could depart from civility and conservative thought without losing voters.
The final test for the Republican Party will occur after Trump is no longer its head. Will Populists with much less electoral weight than Trump, like Senators JD Vance and Josh Hawley, prevail over Governors and Senators whose views and actions are more representative of, say, Former President Ronald Reagan? I, of course, hope the test will come sooner.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.