Trump’s character as seen through the prism of Emerson’s transcendant America

My column today at Real Clear Politics enters the fray over “Trump’s character,” and challenges Jonah Goldberg’s assertion that Trump’s presidency is doomed to fail on account of his character. On the contrary, I believe his character and his vision go hand in hand, and that without President Trump’s unconventional character there would be no chance to implement his extraordinary vision for America. Thanks to Roger Kimball for making significant strides in laying the groundwork for my own argument, and to Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose philosophy of “Self-Reliance” provided the structure for my own discussion of Trump’s character. Here’s the start of my column. For the rest visit, Real Clear Politics.

Trump, Emerson and Questions of Character

By Frank Miele

“Hard to find an ideal in history. By courtesy we call saints and heroes such, but they are very defective characters; I cannot easily find a man I would be.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his notes on Character

Rarely has the character of a mere mortal enjoyed so much attention as that of President Trump. Although his sins and flaws qualify him for Emerson’s “defective” label, he is also viewed widely as a hero, if not a saint. Perhaps that is because a hero is true first to himself and his vision, and oftentimes must overcome his own innate weaknesses to accomplish that which fate has decreed for him.

Liberal commentators, of course, dismiss Trump on all levels, character included. But it is more instructive to consider how conservatives — who have a natural affinity for Trump’s policies — approach the question of his “defective character.” A literary  feud on this topic between conservative writers Jonah Goldberg and Roger Kimball has now entered its fourth round, and though Goldberg has been knocked to the canvas twice, I fully expect him to jump up like another famous New Yorker — Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” — and try yet again to put a knife to Trump’s character and twist it. Because Jonah Goldberg, like many elite Republicans, really doesn’t like Donald Trump.

Here’s the background for those of you who are new to the world of neocon fatwas and Never Trumper vendettas. Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review, which famously devoted a cover story in early 2016 to being “Against Trump.” More recently, on Dec. 27 of last year, Goldberg published an essay called “Character Is Destiny,” in which he opined that “Trump’s character will be his downfall.”

Goldberg was amply rebutted by Kimball, editor and publisher of the New Criterion, in an essay at, where he essentially turned the character issue back on Goldberg and other Never Trumpers. Why, he asked, do you allow your distaste for the man’s character to undermine your own conservative principles — principles that only Trump has been successful at implementing in national policy?

Goldberg responded by insisting that character is more important than accomplishments, which led to the final salvo as Kimball described (in “The Character That Matters”) the destructive outcome of a politics based solely on character and not results. That has been the model for Republican politicians for the past 30 years, and it led to the collapse of the national character we have all witnessed at the same time we watched politicians (and journalists) patting each other on the back for their collegiality and ability to work together.

I commend Kimball for deflecting Goldberg’s false arguments. I could certainly do no better, but what I would like to do here is consider Jonah Goldberg in relation to his true foil, Donald J. Trump, partly seen through the prism of Emerson’s transcendental philosophy.

Like Trump, Goldberg is a consummate New Yorker. But whereas Trump’s New York is a place of boundless possibility and the capital of the American imagination, Goldberg’s is bounded by Columbia University on the north, Times Square on the south, Central Park on the east and the edge of the world on the west. By the edge of the world, I mean the Hudson River, that mythical beginning of the frontier (or American wasteland) that is celebrated most famously in a New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg. Although both Trump and Goldberg currently have abodes located in the Deep Swamp of Washington, D.C., poetic license allows me to picture both of them in their natural habitat of Manhattan, where I think we will get a much clearer picture of them and better understand why they are sworn enemies.

In Goldberg’s world, New York is not the capital, but rather the sole domain of imagination, creativity and invention, and the rest of the country — nay, the world — ought to pay homage to the heightened aesthetic on full display in a cozy West Side walk-up where Jonah envisions himself in a well-worn bathrobe and comfy slippers, sipping on a latte, pinky finger held thus, contemplating who knows what lofty ideals while scratching his navel and pondering with a small part of his very large brain the meaning of “13 down” in the New York Times Sunday crossword.

Meanwhile, across town in Trump Tower, another man in a bathrobe is thinking about how damn lucky he is to live in a country of endless ingenuity, where hard work is a currency as good as gold, and where anyone — yes, anyone — can grow up to become president of the United States just as we were promised in the schoolbooks and speeches. A man could build anything with his own two hands and a blueprint, even a road that led to the White House through the cornfields of Iowa and the stubby mountains of New Hampshire. Call it the American Dream.

You can read the rest, including Emerson’s definition of “character,” here at Real Clear Politics. I believe it more than vindicates President Trump!

Frank Miele writes from Kalispell, Montana, at and is a columnist at Real Clear Politics. To see more of my columns about the Dishonest Media, the Deep Swamp, the failed presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Trump’s war to restore American greatness, read my “Why We Needed Trump” trilogy. The books are available at Amazon in paperback or Kindle editions. Also please considering leaving a review in support of my conservative commentary on one or all of my book pages at Amazon! Thanks!


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One Reply to “Trump’s character as seen through the prism of Emerson’s transcendant America”

  1. Americans elected a warrior, not a Sunday school teacher. ( No offense to Sunday school teachers.)

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