There are those who seek merely to decry Trump, and there are those who are befuddled by him. His opponents want to destroy him now that he is winning, and some in the establishment – like former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the old guard – fear his taking over the GOP.

Donald Trump and the political phenomenon he has created are most understandable.

Three kinds of people are involved in politics: political theorists, unprincipled actors and principled actors.

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Political theorists

Theorists of both the right (like Charles Krauthammer and George Will) and the left (Brookings Institute senior fellow William Galston and Harvard University political theorist Danielle Allen) and many lesser minds in academia and in the media conceive of politics as putting into practice a preconceived theory.

  • To be educated into this ideology is to be taught how to expound, defend and implement the ideology. Today, political theorists on both the left and the right act as if they believe their political goals can be advanced and largely accomplished through intellectual discourse alone.
  • Theorists expect politicians to be imperfect but deferential versions of themselves. The theorists like to be consulted, and while theorists may pretend they have no ego (it’s all about the theory), political theorists today are increasingly devoted to maintaining and building their own prestige.
  • Political theorists believe that political actors who do not play their intellectual game are either fools or scoundrels.

Republican theorists pretend that Ronald Reagan was one of them. Reagan was great at giving speeches, even though he did not write many of them. In contrast, Abraham Lincoln wrote great speeches. But from the public record, many of Lincoln’s speeches when first delivered were for one reason or another not fully appreciated. So, while Reagan may have been better at delivering great speeches and Lincoln was better at writing great speeches, both were first and foremost consummate politicians, not unduly constrained by any theory articulated in their public addresses.

The point is, both Reagan and Lincoln understood that the essence of politics is about action, not about theory, no matter how eloquently articulated.

Unprincipled actors vs. principled political actors

The Clintons epitomize what we mean in defining consummate unprincipled political actors, so much so that the definition of unprincipled political actors is today clear to most political observers without further elaboration.

When the Clintons are asked to express a vision, we get crafted phrases, such as “building a bridge to the 21st century,” or a vision defined in personal terms, such as “first female president,” which reduces to the assertion that politics is all about me.

Unprincipled political actors pursue politics in hopes of becoming wealthy celebrities capable of doing almost anything imaginable, without serious concern for morality, simply to win.

An unprincipled political actor will never emulate Harry S. Truman, who as president removed from his wallet a postage stamp he purchased to “frank” personal messages sent to keep in touch with family and friends back home in Independence, Missouri – the location to which he aspired to retire after serving his term in office as head of state.

Principled political leaders do not see politics as an end but as a means – a means to create, maintain or defend a way of life. It’s the way of life that matters because principled political actors derive their satisfaction from real-world activities in private life. The classical examples are Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus in the ancient world and George Washington in the modern world, two gentlemen who aspired to retire to their country estates, where they could resume their lives tending the land when the demands of politics no longer called them forth into the public arena.

Principled political actors do not need to be president or to see their photograph on the cover of GQ or Vogue to feel their lives are fulfilled.

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump can claim success in many fields of real-estate endeavor.

His vision, to make America great again, sounds corny to political theorists of the left who are so embarrassed at America’s might and economic power that they gravitate to the hate America crowd. At the same time, his vision grates on political theorists on the right because Trump is unafraid to embrace big government when big government helps him advance toward his goal of making America great again.

Then, too, his willingness to be flexible in the world of realpolitik equally annoys political theorists on the left and on the right.

Trump exudes self-confidence, a confidence that comes in part from past achievement.

His assertion of self-confidence – “I’m number one in the polls” – as well as his assertion he is a billionaire financing his own campaign, embarrasses principled political actors who think humility is the sine qua non required for entry into the political pantheon. At the same time, these same assertions grate upon unprincipled political actors loathe to admit any other politician might be their superior, deserving of more public attention in the spotlight of celebrity.

For all three traditional definitions of political politicians – political theorists, principled political actors and unprincipled political actors – the real problem is that Trump believes it is true American can be great again, and he dares to say without any reservation that he has the talent and the means to accomplish that goal, even if he must do so against all odds.

For Trump, to exude confidence not only inspires others to confidence, but becomes a self-fulfilling act. But the truth is that to make America great again, one has to believe that one is a partial expression of that greatness. Trump wants all Americans to be included in that greatness he sees as possible for America, and he dares to extend his reach beyond party, class, race, gender and region.

In this sense Trump has much to share with both Reagan and Lincoln in that all three gentlemen have embraced the highest ideals of our Founding Fathers with the naiveté to believe their destiny was to assist this nation in fulfilling that dream.

In the final analysis, Trump – like Reagan and Lincoln before him – loves America and welcomes the challenge to return this country to the glory our forefathers intended to bequeath to future generations. In the final analysis, Trump can embrace this challenge in this age because he is, after all, an entrepreneur.

A race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will post an unprincipled politician against a principled one – with neither qualifying as political theorists. That much should be clear.

What remains harder for many on the left and on the right to grasp is that understanding Trump is really not all that difficult, not after you realize that Trump might actually achieve what he says he wants to achieve.

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