Magazine | July 11, 2016, Issue

The Parable of the Sad Excavator

A transcript of a recent Trump speech had something that sounded like a children’s parable:

A friend of mine, this is two years ago now, I used to tell this story. I haven’t told it. But he’s an excavator. A great excavator. Big! And I see him and he’s very sad! And I said, “Why are you sad?” He’s a rough guy, he doesn’t get too sad! But he got sad. He’s rough. Most excavators are pretty rough. Right? These are not — these are not babies. But I’ll say this. He’s as sad as an excavator can be.

Where the parable of the lachrymose excavator goes, you can guess: We’re not winning. We’re getting killed. The killers are winning. But under the Rule of Trump, the winning will be so excessive the citizens will feel like lab rats who have electrodes in their brain stimulating the pleasure centers: We can take no more of this ecstasy. So he suggested while stumping in that all-important purple swing state, Texas. The people of the Lone Star State will swamp the lines at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, begging for a surcease of incessant victory. The constant exultations of happy excavators will be unbearable. Surely man was not meant to be this happy, or he would not have been expelled from the Garden. Surely God Himself is alarmed by how much the excavators are winning.

Trump’s ululation of fatuities continued: The people of Texas will not only call to complain that the amount of winning they are being asked to endure is beyond the capacity of mere mortals. It’ll be full-spectrum winning, too: “Mr. President, sir, they can’t believe you’ve saved the Second Amendment 100 percent!”

One hundred percent! Give or take. A few hours later, Trump made some NRA supporters Google “caveat emptor” by endorsing a ban on gun sales to people on the Terror List. Constitution, schmonstitution; due process, schmoo process. What matters is doing something, and the terror-list gun loophole, as it’s certain to be called any day, is the big flaming Something of the moment. There are several possible reasons Trump spoke as he did. (Note: His position may have changed six times after this issue went to print.)

Like all other policy positions on complex issues, it fit the 140-character limit of a tweet.

He intended to walk it back later as part of a brilliant 3-D chess game that lets him take every possible position on an issue, as in: “Putin isn’t the problem for anyone, freeloading NATO countries are the problem, they’re going to pay us back, and we’ll use the money to build a military so strong Putin won’t mess with us, which he wants to do, believe me. Believe me.” (A paraphrase, inasmuch as such a thing is possible.)

He had no idea that he had endorsed the elimination of constitutional protections in favor of depriving rights based on a secret government list, because the wide and greasy pipe between his ego and his mouth is unmediated by curiosity, and everyone around him who might offer a word of caution is as stupendously uninformed as he is. The advisers who might blanch at feeding due process to the wood-chipper of political expediency shrug: Eh, the people will still love him. If Trump said he couldn’t shoot someone on Fifth Avenue because he was on a secret list, and that was a plot to keep people from voting for him because everyone would vote for him if he did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, they’d cheer for that, too. Boo lists! Boo lists!

Then if he said the next week that he was off the list because someone said, “Mr. Trump, you can’t be on this list, you’re winning too much, you’re winning too much to be on the list,” they would cheer. And if he said the list was important, very important, we need lists, and we’re going to have so many lists — the Washington Post, am I right? Owned by the Amazon guy. Who has me on his list. Which is fine. So we’re going to have our own lists, and they’re going to have so much trouble — Hoorah lists! Hoorah lists!

See, Hillary would be worse, because her lists would be us, but our lists will be them.

Which one is correct? All of the above, probably. Trump’s smarter defenders wince, noting that he is an imperfect vehicle for some top-notch ideas — which is like saying a supernova is an imperfect example of a star that doesn’t boil the life off a nearby planet. Having probed the bird guts of his utterances for favorable auspices, they are now surprised to find that whenever their candidate takes rhetorical flight, white fluid spatters on their head.

You can imagine Hillary’s response to the terror-ban blacklist: “Mr. Trump is taking a position I’ve held for a long time, and while it’s nice he’s come around to the idea of sensible firearm regulation, he’s still the only candidate in this race endorsed by the NRA, which continues to fight efforts to ban bullets that shoot through the bathrooms where our transgendered citizens continue to struggle for dignity and acceptance. And it’s not just transphobic NRA-endorsed guns we’re talking about. It’s about ensuring a future where our poorest children have access to safe schools with healthy meal choices! Some people look at America and say it’s not possible to provide gluten-free lunches but I look at America and screech like a hyperventilating barn owl and say yes we can and yes we must!

The news the next day: In testy exchange, Trump defends NRA ties, Clinton endorses healthy food for children.

We may not all be Keynesians now, but quite a few of us are Sad Excavators.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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