Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What's causing the follies of Donald Trump?

In "The portrait of Dorian Trump", 18/5/17, I admitted to some disappointment in the first four months of the Trump presidency, and in The Donald himself. It/he hasn't been a disaster, but it/he hasn't been the MAGA Revolution that we were promised and hoped and prayed for.

What happened? Just by coincidence, my weekend reading included The March of Folly, by the eminent historian Barbara Tuchman (Knopf/Ballantine 1984), in which I found the following passage on the subject of the expulsion from France of the Huguenots by Louis XIV, the Sun King.

The peculiarity of the whole affair was its needlessness, and this underlines two characteristics of folly: it often does not spring from a great design, and its consequences are frequently a surprise. The folly lies in persisting thereafter..

With acute if unwitting significance, a French historian wrote of the Revocation [of the Edict of Nantes] that "Great designs are rare in politics; the King proceeded empirically and sometimes impulsively."

His point is reinforced from an unexpected source in a perceptive comment by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who cautioned, "In analyzing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial."

This is a factor usually overlooked by political scientists who, in discussing the nature of power, always treat it, even when negatively, with immense respect. They fail to see it as sometimes a matter of ordinary men walking into water over their heads, acting unwisely or foolishly or perversely as people in ordinary circumstances frequently do.

The trappings and impact of power deceive us, endowing the possessors with a quality larger than life. Shorn of his tremendous curled peruke, high heels and ermine, the Sun King was a man subject to misjudgment, error and impulse -- like you and me....

Folly is a child of power. We all know, from unending repetitions of Lord Acton's dictum, that power corrupts. We are less aware that it breed folly; that the power to command frequently causes failure to think; that the responsibility of power often fades as its exercise augments.

The overall responsibility of power is to govern as reasonably as possible in the interest of the state and its citizens. A duty in that process is to keep well-informed, to heed information, to keep mind and judgment open and to resist the insidious spell of wooden-headedness. If the mind is open enough to perceive that a given policy is harming rather than serving self-interest, and self-confident enough to acknowledge it, and wise enough to reverse it, that is a summit in the art of government.

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