Tuesday, May 03, 2016

It Can Happen Here

Update Tues. night: Trump trumpled, Cruz, crushed, abandoned ship.  Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for President.

As Jonathan Chiat noted (in his column "Trump Has Won and the Republican Party is Broken") Earlier in the day Trump had accused Cruz's father of "having conspired to kill President Kennedy."  This is the guy whose father is pretty much documented as having been a sympathizer, if not member, of the Klan.  But according to the Guardian, Cruz had referred to Trump's "battles with venereal disease."

Chiat writes: "Most of America, including a significant minority of Republicans, have seen Trump’s candidacy exactly for the con it is. Trump for President is a category error. He is, as his rivals have described him, a charlatan, a con artist, a congenital liar, a man self-evidently unfit for office at any level, and especially the presidency. As George Will has argued, his unfitness is so manifest that it applies to anybody who considers him suitable for the office; a person is “unqualified for high office because he or she will think Trump is qualified.”

Yet, as if to support Andrew Sullivan's thesis below, Trump has been winning by larger and larger margins, virtually destroying his opponents, and had a growing lead of 30 polling points in California (where the GOP is quite small these days.)  Some of this is very probably a response to Cruz in the negative, big time.  But clearly the con is working with larger numbers of GOP primary voters.  Meanwhile, Bernie's win in Indiana--which doesn't mean much in his chances for more delegates--is preventing the Democratic unity necessary to face  Trump, who is now free to turn his entire attention on Hillary.

TUES. A.M.: It doesn't stop.  The (Republican) former Speaker of the House called Ted Cruz  "Lucifer in the flesh," and satanists who were interviewed renounced him.  His wife, Heidi Cruz, found herself denying that he was the Zodiac Killer--apparently one of those Internet conspiracies given prominence by Comedy Central's Larry Wilmore in his monologue at the White House Correspondents Dinner. (Some loved his jokes, some hated them; I thought they were poorly delivered--he seemed a bit overwhelmed-- and consequently just not very funny.)

Meanwhile, a few days after Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said that a Trump presidency would lead "to another 9-11, Donald Trump claimed to CNN that he has more foreign policy experience than anyone, certainly than a former Secretary of State and First Lady. And he made millions in the process (no joke, that's what he said.)

 But the question was in response to a joke at the Correspondents Dinner, this time by President Obama ("They say Donald lacks the foreign policy experience to be President. But, in fairness, he has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world: Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan.")

But for those who relished the prospect of being entertained by the Trump shock jock campaign before they settle down to a boring Hillary presidency--maybe not so fast.  The voices have been few but notable--Thomas Franks, then the guy who writes the Dilbert cartoons, and now, at greater length and with elegant arguments, Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine.

Sullivan couches his warning about the power of Trump within a Platonic warning about democracies at their height quickly turning to dictatorships.  He cherrypicks enough characteristics familiar to us now to get your attention.  He continues with an analysis of the erosion of institutional protections against going off the deep end in any directed that the Founders established, and the end of that process (so far) is Trump.

The new media environment unleashes emotion far more than reason, he writes.  And notes the historical pattern of mass movements arises not when things are at their worst but when things are starting to recover (he name-checks Eric Hoffer on this, but it's a known psychological as well as historical phenomenon.)

Sullivan stings every ideology, party, class, point of view and special interest group at least a little (including gay Americans, which Sullivan can get away with, as an outspoken gay man on gender equality and other relevant issues.)  But he is most eloquent interpreting the point of view of the white working class for the elites who read him.  The white working class has been hurt by technology and globalization, then again by the Great Recession and things haven't gotten better except for the elites in charge.

"This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working ­class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain — and has actually helped exacerbate."

Revolutionaries of the 60s haplessly but sincerely tried to make common cause with the working class, even when some of its members were beating them up at antiwar demonstrations.  But today's left, Sullivan writes, has only contempt for them, politically and culturally, considering them racists and sexists:

"A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”"

Of course racism in particular is endemic to Trump's appeal, but self-satisfied ignorance by elites is pretty good cover.  Sullivan sees that the realities cannot be glibly dismissed, even as he highlights the great danger of these emotions being shaped by the likes of Trump."... the most powerful engine for such a movement...is always the evocation of hatred."

Sullivan illustrates the Trump appeals to hatred and violence.  He notes as well the weakness of Hillary's candidacy--that despite Trump's terrible numbers for a general election, her popularity is lower at this point than recent Democratic candidates like Gore and Kerry, who did not become President.

Sullivan ends by addressing the elites who are most likely to be reading his words, to take control, to deny Trump the nomination.  I doubt that's the best prescription for what he sees ailing us, and anyway, after Trump's expected triumph in Indiana later today, it's not going to happen.

What is going to happen, however, will likely be a terrible test.  Without even considering institutional history and philosophies of government, at this time and place we're facing a crisis in the guise of a circus.

Sullivan notes the Sinclair Lewis novel, It Can't Happen Here, and resemblances of the fascist who becomes President in the Great Depression in that fiction, to Trump's basic message.  That story (as in the play version that was one of the Federal Theatre Project's great triumphs, which we commemorated a few years ago with a reading of the play at the Dell'Arte Theatre) is a template for a lot of what we've being seeing from the rabid right and the Republican party for awhile now.  And one feature of it is especially relevant to this campaign: violence on behalf of the candidate.

This is looking like it will be a violent campaign--violent words from candidate Trump and from partisans of both sides, and violence against persons. Just this week Trump supporters in Indiana and West Virginia, and anti-Trump protestors in California are harbingers.  I'm not trying to equate them, but a lot of people will.  Combined with the real threat of Bernie or Bust supporters to divide Democrats and suppress the vote, the danger is too many voters not voting in November.

For that's probably all that has to happen to avoid self-destruction this time, maybe long enough and in a way to throw a different light on all these changes.  And maybe soon enough to deal with the real crises, especially the climate crisis, that threatens not just this democracy, or this society, but human civilization and life as we know it on this planet.

After all the noise and the mud, and perhaps even the blood, people who know better do what is necessary to vote, and vote.  Battling fear, cynicism and despair, vote.  This is the means that's necessary.

No comments: