When Donald Trump invokes the memory of my hero, William F. Buckley Jr. — the image to the right is on my mouse pad — my first reaction is a vague recall of the gag, ideally voiced with a Southern accent, about the man who had not minded when his friends and neighbors had been shot at, but when his dog was targeted, well that was the last straw.
So as a loyal Republican who has voted for almost all [couldn’t do Dole] of the party’s nominees in primaries since Reagan, I’ve watched this pre-Primary season with some regret as the embodiment of a charlatan has consistently been leading in our polls. Bad enough. But now this, Trump attempting to wrap himself in the Buckley mantle.
As someone who has read almost everything the prolific writer wrote, the idea of any intellectual connection between Trump and Buckley creates a sensory overload of disbelief.
Buckley’s Catholicism was at the center of his life and he exhibited great manners in his countless appearances in over 50 years in the public square. You might say the contrast with Trump is yuuugggeee. We don’t even have to guess what WFB thought of Trump – the excerpt below is from a 2000 article reproduced in the recent National Review edition:
… Look for the narcissist. The most obvious target in today’s lineup is, of course, Donald Trump. When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America. But whatever the depths of self-enchantment, the demagogue has to say something. So what does Trump say? That he is a successful businessman and that that is what America needs in the Oval Office. There is some plausibility in this, though not much. The greatest deeds of American Presidents — midwifing the new republic; freeing the slaves; harnessing the energies and vision needed to win the Cold War — had little to do with a bottom line.
Buckley had good reason to wish to root out narcissists in our politics. Early in his active ventures into politics, Buckley had a front row seat to how badly the wrong messenger hungering for the limelight can harm the conservative cause. His name was Joseph McCarthy.
The cause back in the 1950’s was communist infiltration of our politics by elites who sympathized with Stalin’s Russia following WWII. The tragic and compelling figure of Whittaker Chambers did much to expose the reality of traitors like Alger Hiss who had effectively burrowed their way into American government. McCarthy’s excesses [although WFB always maintained that McCarthy’s excesses never approached the excesses of his critics] caused great harm to the conservative movement. America deserved better than a McCarthy to wage the battle Chambers had exposed.
Similarly, if one believes that Western cultures are on the verge of having to do battle with Islamists — Muslims who wish to impose their version of Islam over society — it’s critical that we enlist leaders in that battle who avoid overreach in their public pronouncements. The call to ban all Muslims exemplifies the type of strategic error that would be almost guaranteed from a Trump-type. To paraphrase an old saying, if you’re gonna take a swing at the caliphate….
The entire WFB article which discussed Trump is copied at end of post.
Editor’s Note: The following excerpts are drawn from an essay by William F. Buckley Jr. that appeared in the March/April 2000 issue of Cigar Aficionado.
any people are inflamed by the rampant demagoguery in the present scene. Demagoguery — demagogy — comes in two modes. Most conspicuous is that of the candidate who promises the voters what are best described as Nice Things. Why not health care for the uninsured? Or for children? Why not cheaper drugs? Free child delivery? (Free funerals?) Sharpshooters tracking down demagogy were out there waiting last summer, eyes trained, when Bill Bradley arrived in Iowa. Would he do it? Would he advocate an end to the subsidy of ethanol? Ethanol is the program, excogitated during the Carter Administration, which sought to augment the staying power of a gallon of gasoline by an infusion of ethanol. What happened is that the price of oil went down, and the potential economic value of an ethanol additive turned out to be less than the cost of producing ethanol, and that was many moons ago. . . .
What about the aspirant who has a private vision to offer to the public and has the means, personal or contrived, to finance a campaign? In some cases, the vision isn’t merely a program to be adopted. It is a program that includes the visionary’s serving as President. Look for the narcissist. The most obvious target in today’s lineup is, of course, Donald Trump. When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America. But whatever the depths of self-enchantment, the demagogue has to say something. So what does Trump say? That he is a successful businessman and that that is what America needs in the Oval Office. There is some plausibility in this, though not much. The greatest deeds of American Presidents — midwifing the new republic; freeing the slaves; harnessing the energies and vision needed to win the Cold War — had little to do with a bottom line.
So what else can Trump offer us? Well to begin with, a self-financed campaign. Does it follow that all who finance their own campaigns are narcissists? At this writing Steve Forbes has spent $63 million in pursuit of the Republican nomination. Forbes is an evangelist, not an exhibitionist. In his long and sober private career, Steve Forbes never bought a casino, and if he had done so, he would not have called it Forbes’s Funhouse. His motivations are discernibly selfless. . . .
There are moments of deep gloom during the primary season. The candidates are immediately approached after a public event to be told whether what they just finished saying added or subtracted from their probable standing in the polls. And the American voter who wants to see a sign of life and of pride in the participants in our expensive and exhausting democratic obstacle course wonder, sometimes with a sense of desperation, whether what we’re seeing is new. Or, are we looking at merely this season’s reenactment of a ritual that began when Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were quarreling before their conclusive encounter at Weehawken?
There is always rivalry, and there is always a search for means of exploiting the means of advancing one’s own position. In other ages, one paid court to the king. Now we pay court to the people. In the final analysis, just as the king might look down with terminal disdain upon a courtier whose hypocrisy repelled him, so we have no substitute for relying on the voter to exercise a quiet veto when it becomes more necessary to discourage cynical demagogy, than to advance free health for the kids. That can come later, in another venue; the resistance to a corrupting demagogy should take first priority.
— William F. Buckley Jr. was the founder and editor of National Review