Review

Donald Trump, Magnificent Vulgarian

The 2016 US election was a turning point for the republic. Having tolerated presidents Barack Obama (Democrat, 2009-17) and George W. Bush (Republican, 2001-2009), and with Hillary Clinton (Democrat) offering more of the same, large swathes of the voting American middle class were desperate for change. They wanted to see it in the way politics was done, and to stop being ignored by their elected representatives in Washington DC.

The election was a contest between former First Lady, senator and ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (a Washington insider) and a trailblazing entertainment and construction businessman from New York with a fondness for disruption, Donald J. Trump. Voters, particularly those living in the Midwest, liked what Trump was offering: making America great again. Trump promised to be their agent for change. He was catering for the needs and aspirations of ordinary Americans, who felt they had been neglected for much too long. The ‘basket of deplorables’ (Clinton’s remark showing her disrespect for millions of hard-working Middle Americans), one in two women, and one in three Hispanics voted for the ultimate risk-taker. A new dawn was emerging in the United States. Trump was to embark on a program of reform – and he was in a hurry to ‘drain the swamp’ of the Washington insiders who looked after only themselves. Trump was soon to discover how entirely different it was campaigning from opposition to governing.

Political historians warn that commentary immediately after an event will never stand as the final word. Dispassionate historical analysis, it is often said, takes time. Written works explain and clarify decisions and events that the participants expect historians to consider when assessing political, economic, social or cultural events.

The rise and fall of the Trump presidency has been the subject of much commentary, mainly by a handful of active participants including academics, commentators, journalists, and Trump family members. Little has been written by those who have some perspective on the machinations of politics and government. To date, the Trump presidency has been the subject of terse political commentary more than measured historical assessment; but commentary is not history.

Donald Trump: The Ultimate Contrarian (Connor Court Publishing, 2021) is Richard Alston’s second foray in two years examining the principles and practice of public leadership, and he offers a scintillating read. Drawing on his time in politics, as a senator and senior minister in the Howard Government, and as a state and federal party leader, Alston ventures where others fear to tread – offering a critique of Trump’s presidency. With outstanding effect.

Alston is no apologist for Trump. Quite the contrary. While seeing Trump as the ultimate political risk-taker, trailblazer and disruptive contrarian, Alston lists many of Trump’s personal character failings on no less than a dozen occasions, including: ‘not only an amoralist but a true vulgarian who fails the character test’; ‘brutish vulgarian’; ‘eccentric high achiever’; ‘disorganised’; ‘vindictive’; and of having the ‘morals of an alley cat’ to name a few. To counter these character failings, Alston does however describe Trump as having a ‘magnetic attraction’, acknowledges his ‘political bravery … [and] invaluable business experience’, and his ‘strategic and deliberate’ approach.

With unrelenting antipathy shown towards Trump from much of the media, the elites, academics, and the business community (both during and after his time in office), Alston argues that ‘if Trump were to be judged solely on character there is little doubt that he would be at the bottom of the class. But, if the criterion is performance in office, he may get a much higher score’. Holding the view there is not much to gain in attempting to retrieve the personal reputation of a deeply flawed human being, Alston suggests a more productive responsibility would be to look closely at Trump’s achievements in office with a view to identifying and learning from those that were successful. Alston’s essay therefore is devoted to ‘identifying those concrete achievements and policy initiatives of Donald Trump, which could be seen to be the key to not only electoral success but getting America back on track’.

Alston makes a worthy contribution to the debate by listing and describing some of Trump’s more noteworthy domestic policy reforms (appointments to the Supreme Court, immigration, tax incentives, jobs, infrastructure spending) and foreign policy achievements (Middle East, China, NAFTA, NATO). Having listed the racked-up  achievements, many more than his immediate predecessors, Alston ponders whether Trump is the best one-term president yet. How’s that for a cheeky dinner conversation starter!

Much commentary in this area indulges in disgust for Trump’s personal qualities. Alston records his distaste for Trump’s character, but as a prelude to a serious review and critique of Trump’s record in office. While the dust is a long way from settling on the Trump presidency, Alston’s contribution is a stake in the ground. It is now on others to offer their qualified opinions.         

Donald Trump: The Ultimate Contrarian
Richard Alston,

Connor Court Publishing, 2021                                                       

Andrew Blyth is a doctoral student at UNSW Canberra as is co-editor of The Art of Coalition: The Howard Government Experience, 1996-2007 (UNSW Press, 2022)

11 comments
  • IainC

    Have to say I agree with most of this. My summary: the least presidential President in my time, but with the best set of policies for America in the last generation. His team-management was terrible, but he managed to set in train national policies and results which I can hardly fault in hindsight. It’s a shame much of his time was spent fending off Democrat fabrications. Most of the alleged “failures” that prompted mock-hysterical backlash (pretend, as with everything) like shutting borders to several countries early in the pandemic were shown to be absolutely correct. His biggest error of judgement was to carry the “robbed election” schtick too far although, given egregious and self-evidently preposterous democrat fabrications large and small over the previous period, it’s not hard for him and many others to harbour well-founded deep suspicions; “it’s the sort of thing they would do if they could”. My personal take is that the Dem machine is so incompetent (vide the trainwreck that was 2021) they couldn’t possibly manage to organize it, let alone pull it off.
    The past 5 years has convinced me that the Democrats and their allies fomented and willed a January 6 overthrow (in its metaphorical sense) practically every day of his Presidency, and with so much flak obscuring adult analysis, it will take a few years to reveal many of the truths. Prediction: none of them will involve Democrat accusations.

  • Maic

    I suggest that many readers currently suffering under ineffectual or leftist governments would happily trade in the lot for a Donald Trump in charge. Whatever his personal faults and limitations he had a feel for the values and concerns of voters who saw that they were either being patronized or ignored. Against a constant barrage of sabotage and fake media allegations he gave the country a sense of direction. This was evident even to those of us who live in other parts of the world.
    Yes, his enemies did defeat him in the end and who is going to argue that the lives of Americans have greatly improved since his departure.
    Now I know it’s not my vote and not my country but it seems to me to be the height of foolishness to remove a leader who is actually leading and replace him with one who is not and who at times barely seems aware of his surroundings.
    Will Trump do a McArthur -“I shall return?”
    We will see – although one wonders what sort of a train wreck the country will be in when the next President takes office!

  • Patrick McCauley

    Elvis has left the building

    If anyone should have ever won anything
    it was the Trumpian effort
    and bodily marathon,
    the spiritual triumph
    of the man
    whom
    without a guitar and stricken with plague
    crooned to his hundreds of thousands
    three and four and five times every day
    like Elvis Presley (without hair)
    to the dying of America.

    He, who crooned to the hundreds of thousands
    begging them to love him
    in all his ugliness, he was American made.
    He sang to them,
    the dying Americans
    for hours, like a superhero
    he sang them the blues
    willed them to a new vision
    Revealing the swamp as the ruling class
    the journalists as fake news
    the universities telling lies
    the new and secret and invisible
    enemies of the people.

    While the media looked the other way
    the eyes and the ears of the world
    claimed that there was nothing here.
    The swamp over flowed
    when the levy was dry
    and it was the day before
    the day
    America died.

    Trump was made in the USA
    from his long feet to his small hands.
    If you gave him a guitar, he was Elvis
    and he sang to the people
    begging to be loved.
    begging to be forgiven.
    He was so lonely
    he wanted everyone.

    It is not hard to see him as superman.
    With a gun he was Clint E
    with a made day.
    With a horse
    he could have played John Wayne.

    There’s something Hollywood made
    about Donald Trump
    even though they claim a hatred of him
    so deep and profound,
    he got an Oscar every single year
    he reigned.

    On his knees
    begging them to love him
    suburban women to love him
    if you love him
    he will make America
    great again.

    And he did in all the right places.
    He took America to Jerusalem
    he took Jerusalem to Kim Jong Un.
    He brought all the troops home
    made lots of jobs
    built a wall around democracy
    and freedom (of speech).
    He got the Arabs talking.

    He looked all the great Satans
    in the eye
    not once but twice and three times.
    Win or lose – this loser wins.

    A Willi Loman salesman
    could not be God
    just a flawed human being
    the ugly American

    Donald Trump was the messenger
    running through the void
    shining out a light on things
    we had not seen before.

    The message he brought
    the light he shined
    remain.

  • BalancedObservation

    Good to see an Australian writer who isn’t blinkered against being able to recognise some favourable aspects of the Trump presidency. What a hide the ultra intelligent Richard Alston has to be so presumptuous as to disagree with the overwhelming majority of Australia’s media and political commentators.

    Nevertheless going by this review the book misses some of the key, really interesting and unusual achievements of the Trump presidency. Maybe it was simply the reviewer here who missed them or their importance. I couldn’t get hold of an ebook version to check. (And I’m not prepared to pay for another hard copy political book when I don’t want one. Happy to pay for an ebook but not a hard copy. But happy to accept a complimentary hard copy).

    Here’s a small sample of what has been missed.

    One of the most interesting economic achievements of the Trump presidency was to get the unemployment rate of black Americans down to its lowest level, probably ever, but certainly in the last 50 Years. There were other similarly interesting economic achievements also missed in the book.

    Just to bracket China in a general comment misses the vital impact Trump had on China policy. Trump woke up to them when his smooth predecessor seemed asleep to their ambitions. Trump has set a political environment around China in US opinion that the Democrat administration simply can’t ignore. Australia would be much better off with Trump still in the presidency but his legacy has seen the sleepy Joe Biden administration forced into not being nearly as incompetent on China as Obama was.

    Trump defused the lethal situation with North Korea that he inherited from the world’s most eloquent appeaser ever, Barrack Obama. During the handover to Trump, Obama went out of his way to stress the immediate threat North Korea posed. Trump certainly didn’t fix the problem permanently but he sure defused it better in one term than Obama could in two terms.

    I note the almost obligatory attack on Trump’s personal character as if to establish the author as impartial. It’s a stance a number of people take but I find it gratuitous and boring.

  • BalancedObservation

    Sorry about the lack of spacing in my previous post. Here’s the same comment with readable spacing.

    Good to see an Australian writer who isn’t blinkered against being able to recognise some favourable aspects of the Trump presidency. What a hide the ultra intelligent Richard Alston has to be so presumptuous as to disagree with the overwhelming majority of Australia’s media and political commentators.

    Nevertheless going by this review the book misses some of the key, really interesting and unusual achievements of the Trump presidency. Maybe it was simply the reviewer here who missed them or their importance. I couldn’t get hold of an ebook version to check. (And I’m not prepared to pay for another hard copy political book when I don’t want one. Happy to pay for an ebook but not a hard copy. But happy to accept a complimentary hard copy).

    Here’s a small sample of what has been missed.

    One of the most interesting economic achievements of the Trump presidency was to get the unemployment rate of black Americans down to its lowest level, probably ever, but certainly in the last 50 Years. There were other similarly interesting economic achievements also missed in the book.

    Just to bracket China in a general comment misses the vital impact Trump had on China policy. Trump woke up to them when his smooth predecessor seemed asleep to their ambitions. Trump has set a political environment around China in US opinion that the Democrat administration simply can’t ignore. Australia would be much better off with Trump still in the presidency but his legacy has seen the sleepy Joe Biden administration forced into not being nearly as incompetent on China as Obama was.

    Trump defused the lethal situation with North Korea that he inherited from the world’s most eloquent appeaser ever, Barrack Obama. During the handover to Trump, Obama went out of his way to stress the immediate threat North Korea posed. Trump certainly didn’t fix the problem permanently but he sure defused it better in one term than Obama could in two terms.

    I note the almost obligatory attack on Trump’s personal character as if to establish the author as impartial. It’s a stance a number of people take but I find it gratuitous and boring.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I think that Trump has already lost any claim he might have had to the title of “Least Presidential President”. Biden usurped that role from his first day in office. Trump was many things, but aside from his brash and loud manner, his actual behaviour and morals were no worse than several of his Democratic predecessors in living memory. The others look better in hindsight mainly because they were and continue to be protected by the corrupt mainstream media that did everything lawful and unlawful in their considerable power to destroy Trump from the moment he announced his candidacy.
    If Miranda Devine’s account of the Biden family industry is accurate, Biden is orders of magnitude more blatantly corrupt than Donald Trump, without any of Trump’s evident competence. No sane person could ever claim that Trump’s morals are worse or even close to as bad as either Bill Clinton’s, Lyndon Johnson’s or almost any of the Kennedys’, all beloved and virtually canonised by the Democrats and their mainstream media. Anyone tuned into Democratic loyalists in social media will be aware of their almost unanimous insistence that Teddy Kennedy was unfairly denied his turn as President after Chappaquiddick, which, the insist, was in no way his fault or responsibility.
    Trump is a rough diamond but he is nonetheless a very real gem compared with most of the Presidential dross in recent decades.

  • BalancedObservation

    Doubting Thomas

    “Trump is a rough diamond but he is nonetheless a very real gem compared with most of the Presidential dross in recent decades.”

    Great comment. It says so much in very few words.

  • brennan1950

    By the living daylights you lot are hard markers.

    For one, he’s conservative in his economic policies and pro business.

    Secondly, he has incredible poise. Witness when he arrived for the State of the Union address.

    OK, he’s a New York property billionaire, however being President of the most powerful nation ever in the history of our world is another thing altogether.

    He arrived in the room as though it was his parent’s home. Totally self assured and confident in his bearing. This behaviour is not presidential?

    So is speaking at Klu Klux Clan funerals presidential?

    Which President had an Italian opera singer sing Ave Maria on the White House portico? So is Christian and proud of it not Presidential?

    It seems commentators compete to damn him for what are essentially peccadillos. It not as thought leaders of the western world are thick on the ground.

  • brennan1950

    Further, if the editor of Quadrant cannot do better that write a Trump article headline with vulgarian in the headline then he ought to seek other employment.

    My understanding is he witnessed at first hand commentary attempting to tear down Mrs Thatcher year upon year. He should know better.

  • guilfoyle

    Balanced Observation makes the point that any comment about Trump is invariably preceded by the obligatory disclaimer – much like any comments by members of the Catholic Church in relation to any circumstances surrounding an allegation of sexual abuse had to be preceded by a comment sympathetic to victims, (as though to defend something or someone in relation to a specific allegation is to disrespect or disregard all victims of that crime). The disclaimer was a necessary precaution to be taken against the self-righteous outrage that would inevitably erupt in the media (some of whom had forgotten their prior advocacy of paedophilia), by any attempt at rebuttal of any claim at all – cast as anti-Christian by the Alinsky technique of ‘using the rules of the institution against it.’

    The compliance in this case with the obligatory disclaimer; ie., agreement that Trump is bad/vulgar etc is to avoid the ever-present personal attack – in this case, the label of ‘Trump voter’ by which one is tarnished to a level of war criminal, bigoted, racist and replete with all the ‘phobes’ – all adjectives by which a person will be silenced, their opinion cast aside and, in some cases, personal relationships severed. Such is the force of adjectives in today’s discourse.

    Trump may have epitomised vulgarity to those habituees of the White House, but it was a vulgarity which was the result of honest expression- expression which is definitely not the virtuous language used by his opponents. It is amusing that the Clintons are accused on their own emails with taking funds from earthquake victims in Haiti – as low as a politician can go? And yet Hillary is extolled as a ‘woman’ ‘inclusive’ etc, not only because she belongs to the correct political group, but also because she uses the accepted language (that is, language employed to obscure rather than reveal). The juxtaposition of the effete diplomacy of Obama – with his much applauded ineffectual niceties with Trump’s labelling of ‘Rocket Man’ shows that Trump understood the mentality of those with whom he was dealing at a level that any US leader in history could never imagine. For an example of pure (& hilarious) outrageous humour, look at Trump’s speech at the Al Smith dinner, prior to his electoral win against Hillary, where he said that the evening gave each side the chance to meet the other side’s team and that he ‘got the chance to meet the people who worked so hard to get [Hillary] elected – there they are – the heads of NBC, CNN, CBS, ABC…New York Times right over there…working overtime….. The president told me to stop whining but I really have to say that the media is even more biased than ever before – you want the proof? Michelle Obama gives a speech and everyone loves it – it’s fantastic- they think she’s absolutely great. My wife Melania gives the exact same speech and people get on her case. ‘

    That example of totally outrageous willingness to eyeball and stare down his critics and take the Mickey just about sums up Trump as a person who goes beyond the platitudes of the powerful and absolutely transgresses the unwritten code of the saccharine language that passes for communication by the political elite in today’s world.

  • Claude James

    To say obvious, Trump would not have become president were there not a deep underlying comprehension among many US citizens that the Left is Evil.
    And so, the Left had to destroy Trump.
    Which they did.
    The mainstream media is 90% Evil Left -as it is in Australia too, of course.
    It’s just in Australia too few non-Leftists can see this, or rather are too complacent to bother to look.

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.