My friend David Blankenhorn on Donald Trump’s America:
God help us, there’s some of Donald Trump in us all. He’s an American type, reflecting abiding strains in our national character. His emergence as a serious candidate for the presidency has alarmed many Americans, as well it should. But it should not have surprised us as much as it did, and it should not prevent us now from understanding, with as much empathy as judgment, the winsomeness of his appeal to a disaffected group of our fellow citizens.
The first ideal American—the first to reach mythic stature—was the woodsman. Our most famous woodsman was Daniel Boone, who had countless imitators and heirs, including the “Sons of Daniel Boone,” which later became the Boy Scouts of America. The woodsman hunted, trapped, and sometimes surveyed. We revered him for his ability to thrive in the woods, his apartness from civilization, his bravery and endurance, his similarity to and conflict with Native Americans, his eagerness to head toward what for him and his fellow whites was new country, and his earnest and seemingly uncomplicated character.
The second American type is the builder. Our most famous builder was Benjamin Franklin, who in some ways invented the type. We revere builders because they work hard and honestly, accumulating wealth over time. (Franklin’s most famous writing is “The Way to Wealth.”) They are frugal. They dislike waste, even in small amounts, and avoid ostentation and self-display. They defer gratification, mistrust debt, and spend less than they earn. They prize their good reputations. Because they view themselves as stewards rather than owners of wealth, they embrace the moral imperative of conserving and giving back. Their ethic was perfectly captured by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (what a great word, methodism, to describe this way of life!) when he urged his followers to “Gain all you can, save all you can, then give all you can.”
Because this way of living hinges on thrift and hard work, it often produces wealth, and sometimes considerable wealth, for those who practice it. It has probably produced the majority of U.S. business titans, from Andrew Carnegie (who wrote “The Gospel of Wealth”) to Warren Buffett (whose license plate, before he sold it to benefit a charity, read “THRIFTY”). And, more than any other way of thinking and living, it has produced the great American middle class, which currently seems to be shrinking.
Which brings us to the third American type: the magnifico. Our most famous magnifico today is Donald Trump.
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.