In the 2012 HBO movie Game Change about the 2008 US presidential election, John McCain (Ed Harris) makes an observation about the populist anger he encountered in his town halls and rallies late in the campaign. This is not a direct quote, but I think it captures the gist– “There is a dark side to American populism, and there are some politicians who are willing to exploit that dark side for their own advantage.” It was an apt observation at the time, encapsulating the building political rage that would culminate in the Tea Party, and the politicians who have been willing to pander to it. Unfortunately, it is even more apt eight years later.
Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Every other conventional or semi-conventional candidate flamed out and fell short, even the hard right conservative– in fact, dangerously theocratic— Ted Cruz. Against all conventional wisdom, Trump has tapped into the boiling rage of people on the right who feel disenfranchised and left out.
Ironically, their sense of dislocation is not wholly without foundation. People in this country across the political spectrum sense that the system is rigged, benefiting an elite rather than the greater mass of citizens, with a ossified governmental apparatus and economic forces that are grinding the middle class into non-existence. This has found expression on the left first in the Occupy movement, and then in Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign. The right-wing expression of this rage, unfortunately, is larded with racist memes and scary nativism. The Tea Party and their allies are not wrong in saying that they’re being screwed, but they go wrong with their proposed solutions.
And now all this populist anger on the right has found a spokesman in Donald Trump. People looking for an outsider who says what he thinks have elevated him to the status of someone who can right everything they see as wrong with our current system. And Trump is an excellent salesman, who has proven adept at selling himself as the one person who can right the ship of state– no matter what it takes.
In other times and places this sort of person has been called ‘a man on a white horse’.
I don’t believe I am engaging in hyperbole. Many autocratic or fascist strongmen have gained power not through a coup or a revolution, but by exploiting populist grievances to achieve office through established constitutional paths– and that list includes Adolf Hitler. We have now reached a very scary moment in the life of our nation.
By all the evidence I can see, Donald Trump has no actual plan for America, and no guiding principle other than his megalomaniacal self-importance. On the other hand, I see no evidence that his stated concern about working people is genuine. It appears to be mere shtick. His proposed policies are horrifying when they’re not just plain ludicrous. His whole campaign has been about him, and the promotion of his ‘brand’. He is clearly unfit for high office, and even conservatives recognize this. And yet, the base of the Republican party has anointed this man as their chosen one. You would think they’ve all gone dotty at once, except that Trump is actually the logical result of decades of Republican pandering to the dark side of the American right. I can do no better than to quote John Scalzi on this point–
“Again, Trump has been leading the GOP polls almost without interruption for months. He’s not an outlier. He’s there for a reason. The reason is that the GOP has made space in their party for race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots, and has done so for years by conscious and intentional strategy. Trump did not bring his supporters into the GOP. They were already there…..The GOP wasn’t always the party of race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots — there’s a reason the term was “Dixiecrat” and not “Republidixies” — but they took possession of them 50 years ago and have been banking on them ever since.
The GOP’s problem is that Trump is the distillation of every political strategy they’ve honed over the last several decades, and particularly ramped up over the last two. Lionizing the “political outsider”? Check! Fawning over billionaires? Check! Ratcheting up political rhetoric so that everyone who opposes you is the enemy and sick and awful? Check! Scaring the crap out of not-young white conservative Christians with the image of lawless racial and religious minorities? Check! Valorizing the tribalism of white conservative Christianity over the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States? Check!
There’s a reason why the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s executive director wants GOP candidates to “be like Trump” even as [Lindsey] Graham bleats that Trump doesn’t represent the party. Lindsey Graham, are you shitting me? Trump doesn’t just represent your party. He’s the goddamn Platonic ideal of it. You can’t spend decades preparing the way for someone like Donald Trump and then pretend to be shocked, shocked when he roars down the field, flawlessly executing your playbook.”
So here we are, facing a choice between (mostly likely) a flawed but competent Democratic candidate, and a man who should not be allowed within ten miles of the levers of constitutional power, never mind the nuclear launch codes. Voting for this man in the general election would be a vote for anarchy and, quite possibly, the end of the Republic. I can’t put it any simpler than that.
Everyone who gives a damn about this country needs to oppose this man. Even if you can’t bring yourself to vote for Hillary, please, please don’t vote for Trump. Support your preferred down-ticket candidates if you wish, but do not cast a vote for this man. A vote for him is a bullet loaded into a revolver and aimed at the whole country. Period.
Next post: why the Donald is just a symptom of the right’s dislocation– and why that should keep us all awake at night.