Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No one can say the people are deceived

I don't know what I can add to all the well-informed denunciations and warnings about Trump's demagoguery published in response to his post-Orlando speech.  See, e.g., Francis Wilkinson and Steve Benen. But the manifest depravity of this speech, which raised demonization of Muslims to something approaching Nazi levels, does highlight something basic about the choice before us that's perhaps hiding in plain sight.

The speech rendered all the more obvious truths about Trump that have long been obvious: 1. He is promising to abrogate the Constitution in fundamental ways. 2. He will say anything that he senses will inflame his followers and throw the media into a frenzy. 3. His solipsism is so extreme that there is no boundary line in his mind between what works for him and what is true. 4. He's such an transparently self-aggrandizing fraud that anyone, regardless of education or political engagement, should be able to see through him in two minutes. "Anyone" includes grade school children.

To me, that last point is worth chewing on. Whatever has gone wrong with our democracy -- and in the last few decades, a lot has -- we right now have a clear view and an open choice. The media is not so corrupt that it's masking what Trump is proposing,nor is it failing to probe his long trail of business frauds and failures.  Billionaires have not put him forward, and Clinton will outraise him. His proposals to proscribe a religion adhered to by a fifth of humanity, round up  and deport 11 million people, muzzle the press, and commit war crimes are not subtle. You don't need a business degree to see that Trump University and the Trump Network (a vitamin-selling scheme involving a urine test) -- were fraudulent to their core.

If we elect Trump, we deserve him. Doing so would be an eyes-wide-open rejection of constitutional democracy.

I don't think the country as a whole will choose Trump. The Republican primary electorate did choose him, however. That means that the corruption in our political system has come to a head where it's concentrated. Until the Republican party splits and the larger part of it becomes something better, we are sitting on a volcano. As Jonathan Chait said when Cruz & co. were threatening the last debt ceiling crisis, Republican extremism will lead to catastrophe sooner or later if it's not somehow moderated. More hopefully, Obama has cast the current moment as a test of the country's often-proved capacity for self-correction:
 We've always gone through periods when our democracy seems stuck, and when that happens we have to find a new way of doing business. We're in one of those moments. We've got to build a better politics, One that's less of a spectacle and more of a battle of ideas....one that understands the success of the American experiment rests on our willingness to engage all our citizens in this work. 
If Trump splits the GOP -- more likely after a loss than before it -- he could be the instrument of that self-correction. That's former-Reagan-official-turned-GOP-scourge Bruce Bartlett's stated hope:
I believe that only when the GOP suffers a massive defeat will it purge itself of the crazies and forces of intolerance that have taken control of it. Then, and only then, can the GOP become a center-right governing party that deserves to occupy the White House.

The death of today's Republican Party is, therefore, necessary to its survival, in my opinion. And Donald Trump can make it happen, which is why I voted for him.
I wouldn't have backed Trump's nomination to roll the dice on triggering this transformation, as Bartlett did. But the possibility that Trump will have the desired effect is real.

Update, 6/15: Citing this post, Kevin Drum suggests that, moving beyond the argument over whether Trump can be deemed fascist, it's time to start taking note of parallels with Hitler -- though given Trump's lack of policy seriousness and consistency, Drum acknowledges, it's hard to know what he'd actually do in office. Partly in response, Greg Sargent argues that we should leave behind the "parlor game" of labeling Trump (fascist, authoritarian, Nazi) and focus on pinning him down with probing questions as to what he'd actually do in response to the threats he, um, trumps up. Internment camps for Muslims? Suppress speech that he deems supportive of the enemy?

One benefit of such questions: Trump is so ill-informed and so lacking historical perspective that he's likely to agree off the cuff that whatever brutal measure a report floats sounds good -- as he did when a reporter asked him last November what he thought of a database of Muslims living in the US. So get him on the record. Why not revive the Sedition Act of 1918, which forbade the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the US government?  Or the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which empowered  the president to imprison and deport noncitizens deemed dangerous and to jail those who made statements about the government that the government deemed false?

I agree that it's vital to keep pushing Trump to flesh out his vague, menacing vows such as to "get tough" with an immigrant group he's accused of pervasive disloyalty. Get him on record proposing to tear down every specific civil liberty that our Constitution and laws purport to safeguard. At the same time, I think the premise of this post is also true: we know more than enough about Trump for any sane electorate to reject him. And it does look like ours will.  This week his negatives are going through the roof.

But you never know. So keep pressing him to expose himself -- or commit himself to atrocities he hasn't yet imagined.
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Related: Trump promises to keep the vermin out

3 comments:

  1. Great essay.

    Not sure why Bartlett thinks the "center-right governing party" faction of the GOP is the strongest. More likely, in splitting from the theocratic authoritarian wing, it would face a choice of either irrelevance or some sort of attempt to join up with the Democrats. That which is named the Republican Party will continue down the path of Trump and Cruz for the foreseeable future.

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  2. Followed the link Kevin Drum provided...

    What Jim Heartney said, both paras.

    I think Bartlett is way too optimistic. In the event that Trump loses, Republicans will say what they always say: "Trump was insufficiently conservative (and nuts into the bargain). We won't make *that* mistake again."

    Cruz or Ryan or Rand or Rubio will likely be the GOP nominee in 2020. Cruz would be as much of a threat to the Constitution as Trump. Ryan and Rand and Rubio perhaps aren't the existential threat to constitutional order that Trump and Cruz are, but they aren't exactly "moderate" Republicans.

    We've had 8 years without an economic downturn. Has there been a 12 year period of economic expansion since WWII? "Predicting is hard etc", but still...

    Congressional gridlock will likely continue should Republicans maintain control of the House, while Democrats are unlikely to achieve a 60-vote majority in the Senate.

    Even should Trump lose in November, the American constitutional order isn't out of the woods yet.

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  3. Don't know why anybody would think that "... pinning him down with probing questions " will actually achieve anything; it hasn't so far. Whether or not we "label" Trump, the unpleasant reality is that he is a 'strong' solipsist. If you can't take that simple truth on board, you're never going to able to handle Trump in any way at all.

    And you simply aren't able to take that on board, are you. Even to call Trump a Nazi is to obstinately compartmentalize his grand, sweeping psychopathy. And nobody out there will notice, so they'll still vote for him anyway.

    Good luck, America.

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