Presidential Campaign

After Iran deal, an opening for Trump?

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Newspaper photographers are the resident shamans of the political world. They tell the story beneath the story, occasionally while the editors are looking elsewhere. I’ve a little stack of such mastery stuck in the bottom of my desk; a photograph from the New York Daily News of the World Trade Centers on Earth Day 1978, with the sun framed dead center between the towers, as if it were a Druid temple or Stonehedge on the summer solstice. Another of a woman frozen in shock as she fled down the stairs, turning her head back to watch New York firefighters rush up the stairs in the same towers on 9/11, very likely to heroic and selfless death. Another of a Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, in yellow robes, on fire in Saigon early in the war in Vietnam.

They holistically tell the stories that otherwise cannot be fully told in the limitation of words. The agreement with Iran is such an immense moment that it may be only the photographers who are telling the real story. And the pictures of Secretary of State John Kerry are uniformly grim. While Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, waving to the crowds from his balcony, is absolutely glowing. And so is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

This moment resembles another decades back, when the ayatollahs first came into Middle East fashion in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and took 52 Americans hostages, holding them for 444 days. They threatened them to kill them unless President Carter turned over Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the recently deposed shah of Iran; turn him over to certain death.

They tormented Carter until the end of his presidency. In New York City, where I lived at the time, it split liberalism in half. For all the political contentions I’d sat through over the years, none played out so savagely as this. It would come to blows as it reached beyond the everyday political sensitivities. Half said refuse the ayatollah’s demands; half said send back the shah for execution.

{mosads}A solution was ahead. The dramatic hostage situation muscled the presidential election upcoming in 1980 out of the mainstream and brought Ronald Reagan to the presidency. I think he never would have registered otherwise. He hadn’t done well in his 1976 attempt, losing the Republican primary to President Ford. But that was before the rise of the ayatollahs and the taking of American hostages.

He was an unlikely, outside-the-box candidate and although he had been governor of California, was known to the world as a movie actor, and critics parodied his background with clips from the film “Bedtime for Bonzo.” But I’d contend that he came to the presidency because of the weakness we had seen and experienced in the hostage crisis, and America organically rose out of the mainstream of political predictability in response.

The hostage-taking challenged our American character. They could not have destroyed us then, nor could they today. But they could ruin us. Had we yielded to the ayatollahs then, there would have been nothing left of us, nothing worth preserving.

And that situation, then, more than any other since, resembles the Obama-Kerry agreement with Iran today. This time, the outcome is not clear. But the photographs show Kerry vaguely lost and mildly bewildered. The photos of Zarif in triumph.

And so it has been passed on to us and will rise to final destiny this time not in bar fights and partisan seminars, but in the 2016 election. And we feel a creeping anxiety today that will challenge the whole process. Would any other of the mainstream contenders going into the 2016 election have done any better than Kerry? Would any of the bucolic rurals in the Republican line today offer more than bluster?

It was a fashion a few years back which arose with the Tea Party, when a need was felt to step out of the margins and start again with strength and originally to find the singular, fearless, radical original who could start from strength in a new place. To find, that is, John Galt, the fictional hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

And the Iran agreement has again pressed us out of the margins, leaving us politically helpless in the Middle East and this establishes the new and rising normal, everywhere.

The key question now going into 2016 will be this: “Who is John Galt?”

And in that, President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s Iran deal has overnight raised the status of the singular outsider who most closely suggests the intrepid, individualized archetype of John Galt: Donald Trump.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at

Tags 1979 1980 2016 presidential campaign 2016 Republican primary Ali Khamenei Donald Trump Iran deal Iran nuclear deal Iranian hostage crisis Iran–United States relations Jimmy Carter John Kerry Mohammad Javad Zarif Nuclear program of Iran Ronald Reagan
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