Friday, May 13, 2016

The Trump Fix

In this world of endless cravings for another instant online rush, Trump rules.  There's something Trumpian that's outrageous or weird in the news several times a day to feed the need, so everybody looks for their Trump fix.

But the fact that he's not just a reality TV and Twitter star but the candidate of a major political party for the office of President of the United States is something quite different, and has inspired some new diatribes that try to focus a little attention on the potential trouble we're in because of this.

Adam Gopnik at the New Yorker pulled no punches: Trump is a fascist:

"But his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government, whether Léon Blum’s or Barack Obama’s, is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success.” It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.

Hitler’s enablers in 1933—yes, we should go there, instantly and often, not to blacken our political opponents but as a reminder that evil happens insidiously, and most often with people on the same side telling each other, Well, he’s not so bad, not as bad as they are. We can control him. (Or, on the opposite side, I’d rather have a radical who will make the establishment miserable than a moderate who will make people think it can all be worked out.)"

Jonathan Chiat at New York a few days ago looked at the question of how Trump triumphed when the chattering classes were sure he couldn't.  He's not very polite in his conclusion: "Here’s the factor I think everybody missed: The Republican Party turns out to be filled with idiots. Far more of them than anybody expected....While it's impolite and politically counterproductive, if we want to accurately identify the analytic error that caused so many of us to dismiss Trump, we must return to the idiocy question. The particular idiocy involves both the party’s elites and its voters."

Chiat's description of Trump seems designed to blow away the media fog of bewildered 'objectivity' and conventional acceptance: Trump did not even seem to be an especially effective demagogue. He is not eloquent, not even in a homespun way. He stumbles on his phrases, repeats himself over and over, and his speeches consist of bragging and recitation of polling results so dull and digressive his audience often heads for the exits well before the conclusion...

Unlike Bachmann or Cain [previous GOP 'joke candidates'], Trump had an even weaker grasp on intro-level Republican dogma, instead ranting like a drunk on a bar stool (“Bomb the shit out of ISIS!”). In debates, rather than use the standard tactic of mouthing pabulum that sounded vaguely like a substantive response before pivoting to his preferred message, he dispensed with the pabulum altogether, relying instead on vague, repetitive bragging and grade-school-level personal insults of his opponents. He puts down his opponents’ beauty or their height, or simply smirks at them. His appeal operates not at a low intellectual level but at a sub-intellectual level."

Chiat has since added more fuel to Gopnik's points, though he prefers "authoritarian" to "fascist" terminology. Chiat's critique quoted above got criticized for not focusing on racism in Trump's supporters, and Chiat defended this by noting how many times previously he has identified this.  Gopnik writes: "To associate such ideas too mechanically with the rise of some specific economic anxiety is to give the movement and its leader a dignity and sympathy that they do not deserve."

So who is right, Chiat and Gopnik, or Andrew Sullivan?  Of course, they all are.  Sullivan is right that elites have largely ignored the true plight of white working class families, and Trump's appeal is based largely on a dangerous mix of anger unrestrained by intelligent analysis, racism, race-based nationalism, the substitution of vulgar show business for reality, and institutionalized stupidity.

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