books

On losing respect for your bookshelf

I love books. I have been reading them since I was 5 years old and seriously collecting them since I acquired my first bookshelf a few months after settling in Australia. Now most of my 3,500-strong brood competes for space with my car in the garage, but the more special parts of the collection remain within my right arm’s reach in the study. I often glance at them when the writer’s block strikes me down in front of the computer. It usually only makes it worse. That first bookshelf is still with me, by the way.

Lately, I have been judging the faces and names staring back at me from the spines. Paul McCartney once crooned a long time ago about “ebony and ivory” that “live together in perfect harmony.” “Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?” Sir Paul would poignantly wonder. Possibly because they don’t have any choice; they have just been put there and can’t move. Who knows.

My books are like that. While the American conservative movement has been fracturing like crazy over the Trump ascendancy (now, that is one good title that Robert Ludlum will never use, not just because he’s no longer with us), on my bookshelf the #NeverTrump and the #MakeAmericaGreatAgain crowds uneasily press against each other and mingle, as if it still was a GOP convention, circa 2012.

I thought about it this morning in particular, having just read two diametrically opposite pieces from two authors whose works you see in the photo.

On Breitbart, David Horowitz has penned a long, confused apologia for Trump’s character, policy and performance, using as a hook an attack on Bill Kristol: “Republican spoiler, renegade Jew” (maybe it was a Breitbart subeditor, but I haven’t seen Horowitz repudiating the line). A wisdom of launching a spoiling third party run might indeed be debatable; questioning Kristol’s Jewishness because he doesn’t support Trump seems more of a stretch, to say the least.

Meanwhile, in the Washington Examiner, Daniel Hannan, a Tory member of the European Parliament and a Brexit campaigner, argues passionately that Trump “is not fit to lead the free world. He is a narcissistic, thin-skinned bully, a serial liar, a man who shows not the slightest respect for the office to which he aspires.” That’s before Hannan even gets to Trump’s ideology, if one can call it that.

My whole conscious political life I have been a broad church conservative, partly on the account of my own beliefs, which can’t be easily pigeon-holed, and partly because as a baby Cold Warrior I’ve grown to appreciate the value of building wide coalitions against the main enemy. As such, I was never one for political litmus tests on the right. However, Donald Trump is so singularly unattractive a person and so unsuitable for the role of a Republican nominee and potentially the President that I can’t help but to think less of his cheerleaders and enthusiasts. I understand the anger and frustration that gave birth to the Trump phenomenon, I even sympathise with some of the policy conundrums that infuriate and agitate his base. But whatever the question is, Trump is just not the answer.

The wonderful thing about this election campaign so far (if wonderful is a gross overstatement it shows how desperate I am for some good angle to this otherwise excruciating spectacle) has been its clarifying effect.  We finally know where everyone stands and what they’re made of.  Crises have that effect on people, and a crisis it is now. I’ve commented to my Facebook friends a few weeks back that so far I have not lost respect for anyone I actually respected on my side, but I have a lot less respect for many I’ve had little respect for in the first place.

That’s why reading Horowitz’s Trump apologia has been so painful. I have read his work for more than two decades now, and was always fascinated by his political odyssey from a far-left activist to a new born conservative, so well told in his memoirs “A Radical Son”. I expected better of him.

Hannan is a Brit. As such, it doesn’t particularly matter what he – and I for that matter – think about Trump. Neither of us has a vote, and we can be summarily dismissed as meddling foreigners who should mind their own business – even if we say what we say out of love and respect for the Great Republic and a deep affinity with American conservatism.

How well has the rest of my bookshelf performed so far?

Stanley Kurtz, Thomas Sowell, Michael Medved, John Podhoretz and David Frum have all been pretty consistently unimpressed by Trump, sometimes scathingly so. Some might question to what degree Frum is still on the right, apart from my bookshelf, but hey, I said a broad church. Peggy Noonan is ambiguous, but if I’m reading her Catholic views correctly, Trump is a penance sent for the GOP sins. Hugh Hewitt is a reluctant supporter, Dinesh D’Souza perhaps even less reluctant. They subscribe to the “Hillary is Satan, ergo anyone but Hillary” school of thought.

Ann Coulter has always been a grenade thrower who thrives on drama and controversies; books aren’t going to sell themselves.  Her love affair with Trump hardly comes as a shock. Hannity is a talking head. I don’t know him, so I won’t venture to impugn his motives; maybe he genuinely believes Trump will make America great again, maybe Trump’s just good for news business. Palin has been more of a letdown, considering I’ve spent years defending her from friends, not all of them on the left, who have always considered her a redneck idiot. Relevance deprivation can be a terrible thing to bear. As my last service to her, however, I will keep reminding people that it was Tina Fey’s Palin, not Palin herself, who said she can see Russia from her house.

God only knows what will happen to the Republic Party and the United States after November this year. But on my shelf, it will always be party like it’s 2015.

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