Politics postsThursday May 26, 2016
The best thing I've read that explains the rise of Donald Trump—a cottage industry now—comes from George Packer in The New Yorker, who doesn't pull punches (calling Trump, among other things, “a celebrity proto-fascist with no impulse control”) but is measured while discussing how we got here; how Trump is both the same and different:
Republican Presidential candidates received majorities of the white vote in every election after 1964. In 2012, Barack Obama won about forty per cent of it, average for Democrats in the past half century. But no Republican candidate—not even Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan—made as specific an appeal to the economic anxieties and social resentments of white Americans as Trump has. When he vows to “make America great again,” he is talking about and to white America, especially the less well off.
More, Packer doesn't dismiss these Trump supporters:
White male privilege remains alive in America, but the phrase would seem odd, if not infuriating, to a sixty-year-old man working as a Walmart greeter in southern Ohio. The growing strain of identity politics on the left is pushing working-class whites, chastised for various types of bigotry (and sometimes justifiably), all the more decisively toward Trump.
This is probably the key line:
Trump has seized the Republican nomination by finding scapegoats for the economic hardships and disintegrating lives of working-class whites, while giving these voters a reassuring but false promise of their restoration to the center of American life.
I keep going back to these four words:
During my lifetime (b. 1963), we've had social progress (Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights, Title IX, Lawrence, Obergefell) but economic regress (rich richer, etc.). More groups of people now have the chance to be part of the dwindling middle class.
Worse, GOP candidates have appealed to those suffering from economic regress by blaming social progress. It's mostly veiled—Goldwater's states' rights, Nixon's law and order, Reagan welfare queen, H.W.'s prison turnstiles—but it's there. And once in power, their policies wind up increasing economic regress while continuing to blame social progress.
Trump, as Packer says, is simply more blatant in his scapegoating. It's a formula will keep working until Americans wise up.
The Reality TV Candidate
Again, from Gabriel Sherman's New York Magazine piece, “Operation Trump: Inside the most unorthodox campaign in political history”:
One factor that's been particularly crucial to Trump's rise may be the way that reality television, cable news, and talk radio have shaped the culture's sense of “reality” — in other words, its relationship to truth. If Ronald Reagan showed us that Hollywood was good training for politics, Trump is proving that the performance skills one learns in the more modern entertainment arenas are even more useful. Talk and reality shows are improvised operations, mastered by larger-than-life personalities expert at distorting and provoking, shifting and commandeering attention.
Even before this, I kept thinking of Reagan: how often Trump, like Reagan, gets it wrong, and how much, as with Reagan, it doesn't matter. Carl Icahn will be Trump's Sec. of Treasury; well, that's news to Icahn. Paul Ryan keeps calling; news to Ryan. Sherman adds the following almost as an aside, knowing it should be devastating, knowing it isn't at all:
“I don't spend much money,” [Trump] told me. “In New Hampshire, I spent $2 million” — actually $3.7 million — “Bush spent $48 million” — actually $36.1 million — “I came in first in a landslide, he came in sixth” — actually fourth. “Who do you want as your president?”
Reagan was the first to master this type of “big picture”/“wrong facts” successful political campaign: trees causing more pollution than cars; praising events that only happened in movies; trickle-down economics; ketchup as a vegetable. Like in a movie, facts didn't matter; feeling did. He also played the white race card over and over again. (See: “welfare queen.”)
Trump, of course, is expanding upon all of these—but with reality-TV loutishness rather than “B”-movie Hollywood glamour.
Interestingly, Sherman sees a Trump almost wistful about his reality-TV days: wishing he could go back to them, wishing he could stop this crazy thing. He's still in the game, though; and if he's in the game, he has to play to win. It's as if Trump, too, is hoping to wake from the nightmare he's created.
Feeling the Bern Out
Last night, a friend on Facebook posted a link to an article in which the author suggested if all else fails Bernie Sanders should run as a third party candidate in November. I didn't click through to the article, just saw the quote pasted above the post. It was late, on a Friday, I'd had some drinks, and I got angry. The three comments below the post pissed me off even more:
- I'm in.
- Whatever it takes for positive change.
- Jill Stein Bernie Sanders ticket? Yes please.
So I added this:
- Please see 2000, Naderites. Jesus Christ.
The “I'm in” responder then responded to that, saying because Bernie won primaries and Nader didn't, mine was “a straw man argument.” Which totally misunderstands “straw man argument.” But I responded anyway. In part:
If Hillary supporters were suggesting a third-party run I would say “Fuck you” to them, and I say it to anyone on Bernie's side as well.
Then I got away from the Internet because who needs that shit.
I woke up this morning still thinking about it. Then I realized what day yesterday was. Of course. April Fools! And I'd been fooled! I kind of laughed and shook my head. I thought, “How could I have fallen for that?” I anticipated all the shit I would get, and what I would say in response.
So I went back on Facebook and ... found out it wasn't an April Fools joke. It was a real article, a real sentiment. People had since added to the post. Thankfully, most were reasonable and on my side. One woman, the “I'm in” woman, was the outlier, with a visceral hatred for Hillary.
All of which is simply lead-in to the quote below from my man Paul Krugman. His post this morning, “Feel the Math,” essentially says, “Nice run, Bernie. Now behave. And get your people to behave, too.” Quote:
Second, it's time for Sanders to engage in some citizenship. The presidency isn't the only office on the line; down-ballot races for the Senate and even the House are going to be crucial. Clinton has been raising money for other races; Sanders hasn't, and is still being evasive on whether he will ever do so. Not acceptable.
Indeed. I know who “them” is. I just hope most of us know who's us.
The Seattle Response to Paul O'Neill's Endorsement of Donald Trump
See: right. Story here.
I was at that '96 game at the Kingdome, by the way. Our catcher, John Marzano (RIP), was channeling every fan in MLB with that headlock/punch. O'Neill was despised. He was known as the whiniest of whiners. He complained about everything. Which, of course, makes him the perfect person to endorse The Donald. Spoiled shits of the world, unite.
Apparently Johnny Damon has also joined him in supporting Trump, undoing all the good Damon did in 2004 with one sentence. “Everything he does,” Damon said of Trump, “he does first-class—his hotels, his businesses, his golf courses.” I guess Damon and I have different definitions of “first class.” For one, I save it for people with class.
Anyway it's a good reminder that all of these guys are just jocks. And you remember what jocks were like in high school, right? Well, times that by a thousand. Ten thousand. Times it by 252 million.
Bending Over Backwards in Different Directions
Two things caught my eye this morning.
The first, via Jeffrey Wells' site, was a YouTube video of Pres. Obama talking at the South-by-Southwest Festival, where he mentioned that the U.S. is “the only advanced democracy in the world that makes it harder for people to vote.” The audience laughs a little, Obama says, “You're laughing, but it's ... bad. We systematically put up barriers and make it as hard as possible for our citizens to vote.”
The second was a New York Times piece on a far-right conservative running for the Texas State Board of Education, which, as longtime readers know, chooses the standards for our nation's textbooks. This conservative, Mary Lou Bruner, believes, among other things, that:
- Pres. Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth
- the U.S. should ban Islam
- the Democratic Party had John F. Kennedy killed
- the U.N. has hatched a plot to depopulate the world
What do these two articles have in common?
The Obama quote reveals a man bending over backwards to be conciliatory. “We systematically put up barriers,” he says, but as Wells rightly notes, it's not “we”: it's GOP governors and legislatures, mostly in the Deep South. Pres. Obama could call conservatives on this but he goes out of his way to be diplomatic.
The Bruner thing? That's the far right going out of its way (and out of its mind) to attack, besmirch, sully, not only Pres. Obama but democracy, history, common sense. They make up shit and report it as news. They've been doing it forever but ramped it up when Obama took office.
Then these same conservatives accuse Pres. Obama of not being conciliatory; of not willing to compromise.
Then the mainstream press reports this in “he said/she said” fashion, as if both parties were responsible for “gridlock.”
Then these same conservatives accuse this same mainstream press of being “liberal.”