Tuesday

November 21st, 2017

Insight

Donald Trump is a malleable mess

George Will

By George Will

Published Sept. 10, 2015

"I remember, when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum's Circus, which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit on the program which I most desired to see was the one described as 'The Boneless Wonder.' My parents judged that that spectacle would be too revolting and demoralizing for my youthful eyes, and I have waited fifty years to see The Boneless Wonder sitting on the Treasury Bench."

— Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, referring to British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, 1931

Donald Trump, whose promises are probably as malleable as his principles, promises to support the Republican nominee. Some of his rivals for the nomination, disoriented by their fear and envy of him, are making the GOP seem like the party of boneless wonders.

Some, who loudly lament how illegal immigrants damage the rule of law, have found a heroine in Kentucky. A county clerk, whose devotion to her faith is not stronger than her desire to keep her paycheck, chose jail rather than resignation when confronted with having to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court and the Constitution regarding same-sex marriage.

Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker think her religious freedom is being trampled. So does Ted Cruz, who surely knows better. He clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and must remember the 1892 case in which a Massachusetts policeman claimed that rules restricting political activity by police violated his constitutional rights. Rejecting this claim, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court wrote that the officer "may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be a policeman."

Trump, the tone-setter of today's GOP, recently chastised Jeb Bush for answering in Spanish a question that was asked in Spanish. Trump said Bush "should really set the example by speaking English while in the United States." Trump presumably deplores the fact that a leading Illinois Republican politician in the late 1850s bought one of the region's many German-language newspapers, and even briefly took German lessons. Abraham Lincoln did so, says Harold Holzer in "Lincoln and the Power of the Press," in order to "boost his appeal to the most important voting bloc in his region." Somehow, Americans of German extraction — the largest group of Americans — seem to have assimilated even though Lincoln set a sinister "example."

In an extended recent riff on how great and loved he is ("Kanye West . . . loves Trump. He goes around saying 'Trump is my all-time hero.' He says it to everybody.") and on subordinate matters, Trump cited, as evidence that "our country is being killed on trade," this: "They have in Japan the biggest ships you've ever seen pouring cars into Los Angeles, pouring them in. I've never seen anything like it. We send them beef, and they don't even want it. It's going to end, and they're going to like us."

Well. Leaving aside Japan's strange willingness to purchase unwanted beef, most Japanese vehicles that pour into the United States do so from plants in the United States. The vehicles are assembled by Americans using mostly American parts.

So, after Iowa's evangelicals have plumbed Trump's theological depths("When we go in church and I drink the little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and I eat the little cracker — I guess that's a form of asking forgiveness"), South Carolinians can evaluate his America-can't-compete, trade-is-killing-us campaign. There, his woe-is-us narrative will collide with cheerful realities that Republican Gov. Nikki Haley recently described in a Washington speech:

Flat-screen TVs are made in Winnsboro, bicycles are made in Manning (the New Jersey company moved its manufacturing there from China), and five foreign-owned tire companies (Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental, Giti Tire and Trelleborg) manufacture in the state. So do Mercedes and, starting in 2018, Volvo. South Carolina has what Germany does not have — the world's largest BMW plant, from which vehicles pour at a rate of one every minute.

Recently Trump told MSNBC that, after his speech the day before, "The CNN reporter said it was the single greatest political speech she's ever heard." Asked which reporter, he said: "I don't know her name. But she was wearing a beautiful red dress." National Review's Jim Geraghty reports that CNN says neither of its correspondents at the Trump event wore red.

Novelist Mary McCarthy said of playwright Lillian Hellman, "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'" If that was so, Trump is not even an original.

Disclosure: The columnist's wife, Mari Will, works for Scott Walker.

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