Have you ever wondered what a mostly adult Huckleberry Finn might have been like? Or who might pass for a modern day Huck Finn? Or what Huck might have done had he been born into money—or made a pile of it? Or the potential similarities between an east coast, city-slicker Huck and his Mississippi River-going, son of a ne’er-do-well, rural counterpart?
Are you getting the drift of this meandering river of queries? If not, let’s pull the raft in for the night and lay the cards on the table. How about Donald Trump as Huckleberry Finn Outrageous, you say? Maybe not. The blustering Donald as the endearing Huck? Yup. The boy born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth as the boy born with next to nothing? Or should that be the boy born with a big mouth as the boy headed to the mouth of the big river? Or maybe just the guileful Donald as the guileful Huck.
H. L. Mencken was on to Huck Finn long ago. He discovered Mark Twain’s book when he was seven and claimed to have read it at least once a year until he was well into his forties. Where, Mencken wondered, could you find a boy as “real as Huck himself?” So far as he could tell, “not a freckle is missing, not a scar, not a trick of boyish fancy, not a habit of boyish mind.” To sum it all up, Huck Finn was the “most delightful boy who ever stole a ginger cake or tortured a cat.”
And where in all of American politics will you find a figure as real as The Donald himself? He was real before he became a reality TV star, and he is real now that he is no longer a reality TV star. True, he may have shaded the rules here and there and he’s certainly drawn a tortured reaction from beings larger than a cat. But let’s keep this thing going a bit longer. OK, it has to be the hair. Huck had a similar shock of straw hair under that straw hat, didn’t he? Of course, the hatless Trump hides nothing, not his hair, not his temper, not his tongue, not his tweets. With The Donald what you see—and hear—and read—is what you get. The same might be said of Huck.
But appearances are far from the whole story. In fact, they aren’t really the point of this tortured (?) comparison. That our president might look and act like a mostly grown-up Huck might perhaps be mildly interesting, but it’s ultimately a good deal less than the main point.
So what IS the point? The outlier who is Donald Trump may well possess the wisdom of the outlier who was Huck Finn.
The youthful Huck may not have known much, but he knew that something was terribly wrong. More than that, he knew that something terribly big was terribly wrong. Think about Huck on that raft with Jim. Huck knew little about the “peculiar institution” of slavery. He knew nothing of its history and probably next to nothing about the history of his country. But he knew Jim, and he knew that Jim was a slave, and he knew that slavery was that terribly big thing that was terribly wrong. Therefore, he knew that he wasn’t going to be complicit in returning Jim to slavery.
Fast forward to 2015 and beyond. When Donald Trump decided to run for president in the summer of 2015, he probably knew next-to-nothing about the details of the major issues facing the country. He may not even have bothered to order the compilation of binders full of policy papers. And if he had, it’s not likely that he would have opened them, much less plowed through them. But he knew something more important than all of that. He knew that things were wrong, including big things which were terribly wrong. He also knew that the political establishments of both parties had either helped make things go wrong in the first place or made them worse in the second place.
No current issue approaches the enormity of the slave issue (although perhaps abortion comes close). But a number of major issues do come to mind. And President Trump has taken all of them on, save one: entitlements. Admittedly, it’s a big one, but at least he hasn’t proposed new entitlements to make things even worse.
Here is the list that “Huck” Trump has tackled—and in no necessary order of importance: 1) the administrative state (otherwise known as the burgeoning federal bureaucracy) and the deference that congressional leaders of both parties have paid to it; 2) porous borders; 3) trade policies that work against the interests of American workers and American employers; 4) a persistently puny 1-2% growth rate which, it turns out, didn’t have to be the “new normal”; 5) the globalist agenda on global warming, oops climate change; 6) renegade nuclear states in fact (North Korea) or in the making (Iran); 7) a Supreme Court that prefers to make law rather than assess the constitutionality of existing laws.
Like Huck, Mr. Trump may not know a whole lot about the intricacies of a whole lot of big, important things. But like Huck, he knows when his country has gone wrong or is off the rails or both. Unlike Huck, he’s somehow managed to mostly grow up. He’s all done stealing ginger cakes and torturing cats. The raft’s been docked and Jim is free. But time’s a-wastin’. There’s an entire raft of new problems to be tackled. And so long as his “habits of boyish mind” remain keen, he might just be able to keep on taking them on.
Editor’s Note: Author John C. “Chuck” Chalberg performs as H. L. Mencken (but not as Mark Twain or Donald Trump).
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Editor’s note: The featured image of President Trump is by Gage Skidmore, and is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.