Saturday, November 5, 2016

Donald Trump and the End of American Exceptionalism

Blah, blah, blah.

Here's yet another leftist screed warning about the dangers of Donald Trump and Trumpism. These screeds have been polluting the web with an increasing frequency this last few weeks. That's how frightened the political class has become.

From Jelani Cobb, at the New Yorker:
In the sixteen months since he declared his candidacy, Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign has elicited comparisons to those of George Wallace and Barry Goldwater, to the hallucinatory paranoia of Joseph McCarthy, to the fascist preoccupations of Charles Lindbergh, and to lesser lights of American demagoguery like Father Coughlin and the Know-Nothings of the nineteenth century.

The unifying theme among these figures, beyond their disdain for democracy, was their common residence in the loser’s aisle of American history. McCarthy’s conspiratorial manipulation of the public eventually earned him the enmity of both Republicans and Democrats and a vote in the Senate to censure him. Wallace carried just five states and garnered thirteen per cent of the popular vote. Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson by sixteen million popular votes, winning just fifty-two Electoral College votes to Johnson’s four hundred and eighty-six. Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 classic “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” charted the lunatic genealogy of fringe movements dating back to the early years of the Republic, but the more sanguine assessment of that lineage is that few of these movements—anti-Catholicism, anti-Freemasonry, or Know-Nothingism, for instance—managed to sustain themselves in the long term or to fully inhabit the political mainstream.

Goldwater is heralded as the father of modern conservatism, but he could occupy that niche only because successive generations of his heirs refined and streamlined his message, buffing away the elements that the public saw as extremist. The modern Republican Party staked its claim on conservatism, not on Goldwaterism.

All this points to yet another reason why Trump represents a unique danger in American politics. Trumpism does not seek simply to make a point and pass on its genes to more politically palatable heirs, nor is it readily apparent why he would need to settle for this. When George Will announced his departure from the G.O.P., last summer, he offered a modified version of Ronald Reagan’s quote about leaving the Democrats—“I didn’t leave the Party; the Party left me.” But a kind of converse narrative applies to Trump; he didn’t join the Republican Party so much as its most febrile elements joined him. Trump is partly a product of forces that the G.O.P. created by pandering to a base whose dilated pupils the Party mistook for gullibility, not abject, irrational fear that would send those voters scurrying to the nearest authoritarian savior they could find. The error was in thinking that this populace, mainlining Glenn Beck and Alex Jones theories and pondering how the Minutemen would have fought Sharia law, could be controlled. (For evidence to the contrary, the Party needed look no further than the premature political demise of Eric Cantor.) The old adage warns that one should beware of puppets that begin pulling their own strings.

In this light, Trump represents a kind of return to the old-time religion, a fundamentalism that rejects the effete nature of dog-whistle politics the way the religious right defined itself by rejecting the watery tenets of liberal Christianity. Implicit within dog-whistling is enough respect for democratic norms and those outside one’s base to speak to that base in terms that the mass populace can’t readily decipher. Here, plausible deniability is at least a recognition that there are people with interests different from one’s own and that their influence, if not their interests or humanity, warrants a certain degree of respect. Trump is doing the opposite of this. He is an exhorter in a midsummer tent revival: direct, literal, and speaking at a decibel that makes it impossible to misunderstand his intentions. The end result of Trump’s evangelism is that a xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, serially mendacious narcissist is poised to pull in somewhere north of fifty million votes in the midst of the most bitterly contentious election in modern American history. The easy analysis holds that Trump’s jihad against decency has wrecked the Republican Party, but the damage is far more extensive than this...
The main problem here is its incompleteness. Cobb completely omits the Democrat Party from any responsibility for the rise of Trumpism. But as anyone with half a brain knows, the radicalization of the Democrats since at least the Iraq war has unleashed ideological forces that just now seem to have spun out of control, mainly because Trump is unfiltered (in his professed disdain for political correctness, and so forth). Also, Cobb forgets that the culture itself has changed since the the days of both Goldwater and Reagan. Social media has only accelerated a coarsening of American life that's seeped into politics like a cancer. Trumpism won't go away because Obamism isn't going away. Polls show that partisans on both sides have increased in strength and there's precious little incentive to cooperate with the opponent. Fractured, polarized politics lets out the worst. If Cobb were honest he'd at least concede that forces across the ideological spectrum are responsible for where we are today, and his failure ---- along with those of his political class ---- will ensure that these same forces of a long shelf life.

But keep reading.

And see also, "Social Media Enables Prejudice to Slip Back Into the Mainstream."