Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
In the 1934 film Viva Villa!, classic Hollywood’s weird but compelling depiction of the 1910 Mexican revolution, Francisco “Pancho” Villa (Wallace Beery) assumes the presidency of war-torn Mexico after the assassination of his predecessor, Francisco Madero (Henry B. Walthall.) In his first speech as the new President, Villa announces that he’s going to continue the program of the late Madero, but he’s going to be much more forceful about it. He says Madero’s weakness, and in particular his attempts to negotiate with his political adversaries and seek common ground, were the reasons he failed and ultimately got killed. So, implementing Madero’s liberal program with an iron hand, he ultimately becomes a bloodthirsty dictator.
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between Donald John Trump and his immediate predecessors as Republican Presidents: Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. All were united in their determination to end government’s involvement in protecting the lives and health of working Americans, privatize or eliminate safety-net programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, allow corporate leaders free rein to do just about anything they want without regard to the consequences for either the economy or the environment, build up the U.S.’s already swollen investments in military personnel and hardware, and get government out of corporate boardrooms while using its power to micromanage what happens in people’s bedrooms, particularly how they express themselves sexually and deal with the consequences therefrom.
During the campaign Trump gained a thoroughly unearned reputation as a “populist.” He isn’t. His choice of fellow billionaire CEO’s like Rex Tillerson of Exxon as Secretary of State and Steven Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury (Trump is at least the fourth President in a row to pick a Treasury Secretary that used to work for Goldman Sachs) showed that, instead of “draining the swamp,” he’s dredging up the swamp creatures and putting them in his government. His pick of Georgia Congressmember Tom Price, longtime advocate of privatizing Social Security and Medicare, as Secretary of Health and Human Services gave the lie to the promises he made during the primary campaign to protect those programs — lies that no doubt got him a lot of votes among nervous Republican senior citizens who heard all the other candidates be honest that they planned to cut them.
Trump’s very first action as President was to rescind a mortgage rate cut by the Federal Home Administration (FHA) that would, if it had been allowed to take effect, have made it easier for ordinary Americans to buy homes. His nominee for Secretary of Labor, fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder, said flat-out that people who work in his industry don’t deserve a $15/hour wage. Two weeks after his election, Trump appeared publicly in Washington, D.C. with one of the slimiest of Wall Street’s swamp creatures, Citibank CEO Jamie Dimon, to announce that he was issuing executive orders gutting the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill passed in 2010 to try to keep Wall Street financiers from melting down the economy again the way they did in 2008. Trump said “there’s nobody better” to advise him about financial policy than Dimon, and one of his actions was to get rid of an Obama-era rule proposal that would have made it illegal for administrators of retirement funds to enrich themselves at the expense of their clients.
What’s more, Trump’s practice of stocking his administration with people who fundamentally don’t believe in the missions of the departments they’re supposed to administer — an Environmental Protection Agency head, Scott Pruitt, who routinely sued the EPA to allow his state to pollute more (while, in his confirmation hearings, questioning whether he’ll continue to allow California to set tougher clean-air rules so the state pollutes less); a Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who’s campaigned to effectively destroy public education in her home state, Michigan, through voucher programs and charter schools; a Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, who not only has no track record administering anything but has said he doesn’t believe in public housing — has its origins in previous Republican Presidents dating back at least as far back as Richard Nixon.
In 1973 Nixon, flush from his landslide re-election and before the Watergate scandal cost him his political capital, appointed far-Right Howard Phillips to head the Office of Economic Opportunity, the agency formed under his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, to carry out the War on Poverty. Phillips made no secret of his disdain for the whole idea of the federal government trying to end poverty, and he later quit the Republican Party because it wasn’t conservative enough for him and ran for President as candidate of the Constitution Party, the remnants of George Wallace’s old American Independent Party.
In 1981 Ronald Reagan likewise appointed Anne M. Gorsuch to run the Environmental Protection Agency even though she, like Scott Pruitt, made no secret of her opposition to the EPA and everything it’s supposed to do — and she was eventually driven out of office. There could be no more vivid demonstration of how tightly Trump’s issue priorities fit into those of his Republican predecessors than his recent appointment of Gorsuch’s son Neil to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Attitude, Not Policy
What separates Trump from Reagan and the two Bushes is not his basic policy — it’s the same mix of economic libertarianism, social conservatism and military bluster that has sustained the Republican party nationally for 40 years or more — but his take-no-prisoners attitude towards implementing it. Reagan talked in his speeches of America as “a shining city on a hill.” George H. W. Bush called for a “kinder, gentler America.” His son George W. Bush called himself a “compassionate conservative.”
Not Donald Trump. His speeches are dark, apocalyptic, describing an America literally on the point of collapse and one that, as he said at the Republican Convention last summer, “only I can fix.” Everything we know about Trump as a businessman, a politician and a human being shows that he has no kindness, gentleness or compassion in his heart at all. To Trump, kindness, gentleness and compassion are the marks of losers and wimps.
Whereas George W. Bush disguised that his administration planned to use torture in the “war on terror” — they cooked up the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” and then further abbreviated that as “EIT’s” — Trump proudly embraced the T-word and said, “Torture works.” (People who’ve actually fought wars, including Trump’s Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, know it doesn’t.) As Trump and his ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, put it in Trump’s first book, The Art of the Deal, “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”
In just two weeks, Trump has shown that he’s going to govern the country the same way he ran the Trump Organization: with total self-righteous belief in his own genius and course, a fierce intolerance with dissent both from within and without, a Manichean division of the country into “us” — the people who elected him — and “them,” who didn’t, and an insulting, vindictive response to anyone who criticizes him, from John McCain (“weak”) to Meryl Streep (“overrated”). As Atlantic and Los Angeles Times columnist Ronald Brownstein wrote on January 26 (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/are-liberals-launching-their-own-tea-party/514403/), “Trump’s tumultuous first week made clear that even after his narrow victory he is determined to pursue the sweeping policy changes, at home and abroad, that typically follow a landslide.”
Indeed, I think Trump’s attitude towards power is even worse than Brownstein’s description. In the first 14 days of his Presidency he signed no fewer than 20 executive orders, and he reportedly has his staff carrying around the texts of further executive orders he can sign in whatever sequence pleases him at any given moment. What’s more, instead of signing his executive orders in his office and handing them to his staff to implement, he’s staging full-blown ceremonies in which he’s photographed sweeping his signature across them using a giant Sharpie, I guess because any less flamboyant writing instrument wouldn’t be big enough for his … hands.
I’m old enough to remember that when Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, the bills creating Medicare and Medicaid, and the other landmarks of his administration, he used a separate pen for each letter of his name so he could give them to the people, both elected officials and grass-roots activists, who had helped steer them through Congress. Not Trump: he’s presented with each executive order in a beautiful leather case and he sweeps his Sharpie across each one in a huge signature that sends the visual message, “This is what I am doing for you. No one but me had anything to do with it at all.”
The effect is a striking visual demonstration of how Trump views the Presidency: not as a powerful but Constitutionally limited office to which he has been elected to do the people’s will, but as a plebiscitary dictatorship which allows him to do whatever he wants at any time. When he sweeps his hand and his big Sharpie across those leather-encased orders he looks less like a democratically elected leader than like a general who’s just taken power in a coup d’état and is ruling by decree. As Trump himself said at a rally in Louisiana shortly after his election, “I don’t need your votes anymore. Maybe in four years I will.” In Trump’s world, he’s an absolute dictator and the only recourse the American people have against him is to vote not to renew his option when it comes up four years from now.
And what Trump is planning to do with the dictatorial power he has — or at least thinks he has — is fundamentally remake America as completely as Lenin remade Russia after November 1917 or Hitler remade Germany after January 1933. During the 2016 campaigns Democrats, frantically looking for traction against the Trump phenomenon, sometimes asked the rhetorical question, “When does Trump believes America was ‘great’ and what’s the era he wants to return to so it will be ‘great again’?”
Now we know: the 1880’s, when the power of giant corporations to pay their workers pittances, run unsafe workplaces that killed many of them, combine into ever-larger monopolistic trusts, openly buy elective office for themselves or their stooges, and pollute the environment to their hearts’ contents was unchallenged. Trump wants to return to the era in which the federal government pulled back from its commitment to protect African-Americans in the South, and the Supreme Court routinely overruled civil rights legislation designed to protect people of color and first declared that corporations were “persons” and therefore had political, economic and social rights equivalent to those of live human beings.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise because Ayn Rand, the founder of the Libertarian political and economic philosophy that dominates the Republican party, named the 1880’s as the greatest decade in American history, before the original Populists started organizing and demanding reforms that are anathema to the supposed “populist” Trump: laws to break up the big monopolies that controlled the economy, protect workers’ health and safety on the job, ensure them at least a somewhat livable wage and have public utilities owned by the public, not for-profit corporations. The great irony of the constant references to Trump as a “populist” is that his program will return the U.S. to the state of total corporate power the real Populists of the 1890’s were rebelling against!
On at least one major issue, immigration, Trump’s idea of when America was “great” and to which it needs to return to become “great again” is considerably later than the 1880’s. It’s 1924, when Congress passed and Republican President Calvin Coolidge signed the most restrictive anti-immigration bill in U.S. history. Not only did it drastically cut the opportunities for documented (so-called “legal”) immigration into the U.S., it assigned each nation in the world a specific quota of how many people it could send here as immigrants. The law gave by far the largest quotas to European countries, because it was designed to make sure the U.S. remained a nation with a white majority — and it achieved that goal. This bill was the basis of U.S. immigration policy for 41 years, until U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) pushed through a reform in 1965 that, among other things, made it illegal for U.S. immigration policy to discriminate against any particular nation.
Though Trump made a lot of attacks on so-called “illegal” immigrants during his campaign and promised, among other things, to build a wall across the entire 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico (already the most highly fortified border in the world between two countries that aren’t actually at war with each other), one speech he gave on immigration was virtually ignored. It called for a drastic cutback in the number of visas available to immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. lawfully, and it was based largely on the ideas of a writer named Peter Brimelow. I first encountered Brimelow’s name in the 1980’s, when I was researching an article on immigration and found a series of articles he wrote for the National Review, later collected into a book called Alien Nation, in which he said the U.S. needed drastic cutbacks in documented immigration to, as he put it, “preserve the ethnic mix” of the U.S. — in other words, to keep America a white-majority country and reverse the demographic trends that threaten that status.
So it was no surprise when Brimelow turned up as an advisor to Trump on immigration policy and Trump gave a speech last summer that echoed Brimelow’s program: severe cutbacks on documented immigration, a shift away from reuniting families as the basis of U.S. immigration policy (as it has been since Kennedy’s 1965 bill that replaced the quota system) and towards targeted immigrants who have marketable skills for high-end employment. It also was no surprise when Brimelow turned up at that remarkable rally celebrating Trump’s victory headed by white-supremacist “alt-Right” activist Richard Spencer, in which Spencer led the crowd in chants of “Hail Trump!” and the stiff-armed Nazi salute.
And it’s been no surprise that immigration — the issue that catapulted Trump to the top of the Republican primary field when he announced his candidacy in June 2015 and helped keep him there and ultimately win him the election — is the issue on which Trump has faced the most volatile controversy of his first three weeks in office. On January 25, Trump issued a sweeping executive order putting all admissions of political refugees into the U.S. on hold for 120 days, and designating immigrants and travelers from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — for a 90-day ban (an indefinite ban in Syria’s case) and so-called “extreme vetting.” Trump presented this as an anti-terror move rather than an implementation of his campaign promise to ban all immigration from Muslim countries. “This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” he said, and he denounced anyone who questioned it (including U.S. Senator and 2008 Republican Presidential nominee John McCain) as “weak” on fighting terrorism.
Yet, as MS-NBC prime-time host Rachel Maddow noted on the day the order was issued, none of the lethal terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in the last 16 years, from September 11, 2001 to date, have been committed by nationals (or descendants of nationals) of any of the seven countries on Trump’s list. Other commentators noted that nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, from which the leaders of al-Qaeda and most of the 9/11 hijackers actually came, contain hotels or other businesses with Trump’s name on them while the seven he singled out don’t. What’s more, as Maddow pointed out, Trump issued his order on Holocaust Remembrance Day — and one of the aspects the Remembrance Day is supposed to make us remember is that by refusing to admit Jewish refugees from Europe in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, the U.S. sent them back home, where many were caught up in the Holocaust and killed in the death camps.
Since I began writing this article, Trump’s sweeping executive order has been challenged in the courts, and a federal district judge in Seattle, Jason L. Robart — originally appointed by George W. Bush and confirmed by a Republican Senate — slapped a temporary restraining order to keep it from staying in effect. Trump’s response was predictable: he denounced Robart as a “so-called judge” and said that if another terror attack occurs, the blood will be on Judge Robart’s hands. Robart’s order was upheld unanimously by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and Trump got even more furious when he, like much of the country, listened to the hearing on his order and heard the judge daring to question whether Trump could just declare everyone from seven specific countries persona non grata without any evidence.
As Amy Davidson noted in a February 8 post on the New Yorker Web site (http://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/the-ninth-circuit-and-president-trumps-lies), August Flentje, the Trump administration’s lawyer, said that putting a hold on Trump’s order “overrides the President’s national-security judgment about the level of risk,” One of the judges, Michelle Friedland — another Bush appointee — asked Flentje, “Have you offered any evidence to support this need you’re describing for the executive order, or are you really arguing that we can’t even ask about whether there’s evidence because this decision is non-reviewable?”
“Well, the President determined that there was a real risk,” Flentje replied, making it clear that his position was that Trump had sole authority to decide which immigrants from which countries posed a risk to the American people, and the courts had no right to review or question his decisions. It sure sounded an awful lot like former President Richard Nixon’s infamous statement to interviewer David Frost in 1977 that “when the President does it, that means it is not illegal.” Trump has already made clear in a lot of ways his belief that he’s above the law: he’s seized on an obscure 1970’s statute to claim that he can’t be held to any of the conflict-of-interest restrictions that cover all other employees of the U.S. government, and he’s insisted that he will never release his tax returns publicly and it doesn’t matter because the only people who care are reporters.
When Trump lost at the Ninth Circuit, his first response was to issue a defiant set of tweets in all caps that said, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” Since then, he’s come up with a way to have his cake and eat it too: he’ll withdraw the executive order in question, thereby invalidating the whole case, and just write a new one (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/white-house-considers-rewriting-trumps-immigration-order/2017/02/10/ddcf5a6a-efb5-11e6-b4ff-ac2cf509efe5_story.html?utm_term=.5de129133e39). One can imagine this process going on forever: Trump’s previous order gets thrown out, he writes another one and throws people out of the country based on it, then when that order gets thrown out he just writes another, and so on.
TrumpAmerica: No Checks, No Balances
January 19, 2017 was the last day of the United States of America, a relatively free and democratic nation-state governed by the rule of law. Since then we have lived in TrumpAmerica (branding is everything!), a petty dictatorship governed by the whims of one man and the ideology of one political party. TrumpAmerica is an ever more frightening place to live, but the scariest aspect of it is how helpless we are in the face of Trump’s and the Republicans’ assault on basic human, social and political values and how little hope there is that anyone or anything will stop him.
Not the Republicans, certainly. The hopes some people had that Trump didn’t have a set of deeply held ideological convictions were dashed early on when Trump adopted whole-hog the conventional orthodoxy of the Republican party on issue after issue: giveaway tax cuts for the rich; abolishing government regulation of business, the environment, workers’ and consumers’ health and safety, or anything else; rollbacks of civil-rights protections for people of color, women and Queers; abolition of women’s right to reproductive choice and defunding any organization that defends it; ending “Net Neutrality” and thereby allowing Right-wing voices to monopolize the Internet as they have done with every other medium of electronic communication; and even such a long-standing and definitely ideologically driven priority as getting rid of public broadcasting and government funding for the arts.
I think Adam Johnson went a bit too far in his February 10 Los Angeles Times column, “Stop comparing Trump to foreign leaders. He’s a distinctly American phenomenon” (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-johnson-trump-is-like-x-20170210-story.html#nt=oft12aH-3li3), in saying that Trump shouldn’t be compared to other countries’ authoritarian leaders. Certainly studying how other countries transitioned from democracy to dictatorship — Russia in 1917 and again in 2000, Germany in 1933, Venezuela in 1989, Hungary in 2010, Turkey in 2014, the Philippines in 2016 — can offer valuable comparisons to Trump’s rise in the U.S., even though it can also be depressing to see from those examples how difficult it is to restore democracy once a pseudo-populist demagogue has seized power and set out to destroy it.
But Johnson is absolutely right when he says, “Trump’s agenda is largely the same as the broader Republican Party; his rise, moreover, was the logical manifestation of the xenophobic, ‘insurgent’ tea party movement — funded and supported not by foreign governments, but by entirely domestic billionaires. … The groundwork for Trump was laid by Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Fox News and the Drudge Report. All pushed the limits of ‘post-truth,’ all spent years stoking white grievance, demonizing immigrants, spreading ‘Black-on-white crime’ panic. Trump is a raw, unfiltered expression of American nativism and white grievance. The effort to stop Trump would be better served attacking these threads — and their specific Right-wing ideology — than continuing to draw lazy parallels to foreign enemies in bad standing with the U.S. national security establishment.”
That’s why, despite the visible distaste of old-line establishment Republicans for Trump, he’s getting his way on virtually every issue he’s bothered to present to Congress — most notably his choices for his Cabinet, who are being ratified one by one in the U.S. Senate. Aside from the two Republican Senators who dissented on Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, all Trump’s Cabinet choices have won the lock-step support of all 52 Republican Senators. And, as Johnson writes, “There’s a reason why Republican senators from John McCain to Marco Rubio have voted to confirm Trump’s nominees: They basically agree with him.” The Republican establishment has reacted to Trump largely the way the old-line German Right did to Hitler: at first they denounced him as a pretentious lower-class parvenu who wasn’t even German (Hitler was Austrian), but when he looked like he was about to assume power they supported, embraced and gave money to him because they realized he was about to implement their agenda: suppressing the Left and the unions, rebuilding Germany’s military and (dare I say it?) “making Germany great again.”
So don’t hold out any hope that dissident Republicans will stop Trump. And don’t hold out much hope that the Democrats will stop him, either. The Democrats have fallen so far so fast in the last eight years that Time magazine just ran a cover story asking if they still matter. The Republicans have gained absolute power in Washington, D.C. largely by shrewdly exploiting the anti-democratic provisions originally built into the U.S. Constitution — the makeup of the U.S. Senate, the Electoral College and the near-total control state legislatures have over determining who can vote and drawing legislative districts. They have carefully and savvily made sure they control as many state governments as possible, and in state after state they are zipping through a hard-Right legislative agenda at warp speed (see “State G.O.P. Leaders Move Quickly as Party Bickers in Congress,” New York Times, February 11, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/11/us/state-republican-leaders-move-swiftly.html?_r=0).
While the Republicans have focused on where political power really resides in the U.S. — in Congress and, even more emphatically, in the states — the Democrats have been way too concerned about the Presidency. The result was that, once they lost the Oval Office in the 2016 election, they had literally nothing to fall back on. As I’ve pointed out in these pages before, the so-called “Obama coalition” was able to elect only one person — Obama himself. Otherwise the Obama years were one political disaster for the Democrats after another, culminating in the 2016 rout and the rise of TrumpAmerica. Even if more Americans vote for Democrats than Republicans, not only for President but Congress, that’s largely meaningless because it’s where and how those votes are distributed that really counts. Indeed, if I were running the Democratic Party right now I’d forget about Congress and the Presidency and focus on the battles where the real future of American politics will be decided: control of the states.
The Democrats have several handicaps that severely limit their ability to act as a restraining force on Trump and the Republicans. First, unlike the Republican Party, which is ideologically unified along an agenda of economic libertarianism and social conservative, the Democrats remain a mixed party, an uneasy and contentious blend of progressives and pro-corporate moderates. Second, while the interests of the grass-roots activists and the corporate donors to the Republican Party are basically the same — both want government out of the boardrooms and into the bedrooms — the Democrats’ big donors have fundamentally different interests from the Democrats’ young activists. (That was one reason why the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was so bitter, and why Clinton lost so many of Sanders’ voters: either they stayed home, they threw their votes away on alternative-party candidates, or, in many of the Rust Belt states that were key to Trump’s victory, they actually voted for Trump.)
What’s more, the Democrats can’t copy the strategy the Republicans used so effectively against Obama — do what we want or we shut down the government — because the Democrats actually want government to work. The Republicans’ key constituencies don’t suffer — or at least they don’t believe they suffer — when the government shuts down. The rich don’t need government’s help to make themselves even richer — though, when it’s offered, they certainly welcome it — and the white working-class people see government programs as things that take money away from them to help people of color and other “undeserving” types. The Democrats, who in order to win elections at all need the votes of women and people of color to overcome the Republicans’ overwhelming advantage over white men (though in the 2016 election the Republicans won white women as well), can’t afford to shut down the government and thereby immiserate their key constituencies.
If the Republicans won’t stop Trump and the Democrats can’t, who’s left? At one point I was hoping that Trump would at least be reachable by his fellow 0.01-percenters, who would talk him out of some of his dumbest and potentially most destructive ideas by pointing out to him how much money they and he stood to lose if they were implemented. There is a certain degree of evidence that that’s going on — Trump has pulled back from at least some of his most extreme attacks on the NATO alliance and he’s endorsed the so-called “one-China policy” the mainland Chinese government insists on if we’re going to have a relationship with China at all. (Given that China is both the largest manufacturer of “U.S.” goods and the biggest holder of the U.S.’s national debt, the U.S. government cannot afford to alienate China without collapsing both its own and the world’s economies.) But for the most part the corporate ruling class of the U.S. has gone along with Trump — as shown by how much the stock market has gone up since his election despite quite a few predictions that it would go down.
Also don’t hold much false hope that the American judiciary is going to hold Trump accountable — even though that appears to be what happened when a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift Judge Jason Robart’s order blocking enforcement of Trump’s ban on refugees. The federal court system may be an island of independence from TrumpAmerica for now, but it won’t be much longer. After the Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate in the 2014 election, they refused to hold hearings or vote not only on President Obama’s appointee to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, they also blocked the filling of over 100 vacancies throughout the federal court system. Now Trump will get to appoint people to all those judgeships — and he’s already made clear what he wants in his judges. He wants them to “do what is right” — i.e., what the Boss tells them to do. Besides, as Andrew Jackson (reportedly one of Trump’s heroes) once said when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him, “The Court has made its decision. Now let them enforce it.
The last group that could at least conceivably hold Donald Trump to account is the American people themselves. A lot of progressives have been hailing the extraordinary turnout at rallies and protests held against the Trump administration, notably the Women’s Marches on January 21 (the day after Trump’s inauguration) and the pickets at airports and elsewhere targeting the refugee ban. But street protests only work when they’re targeted at adversaries who have some degree of conscience, some sense of moral justice to which the protesters can appeal. Trump and the Republicans have none. To them — and to their supporters, who have been brainwashed by talk radio, Fox News and other Right-wing propaganda outlets for decades to believe that anyone who opposes them is part of some deep, dark conspiracy out to ruin America — the fact that people are protesting Trump is only proof that he’s right and he’s doing the things he promised, the things that will “drain the swamp” and restore the white working-class America of their dreams.
Besides, for the last half-century the American Left has basically willed itself into irrelevance by stubbornly clinging to values, policies and practice that assure it will never again come anywhere near hailing distance of power. Among these are the fanatic pursuit of “internal democracy” through consensus decision-making — which ensures that no Left organization can actually plan strategically or follow a long-term strategy — and an intellectual contempt for the non-college-educated that expresses itself in impenetrable jargon like the word of the moment in Left circles, “intersectionality” — a word I would like to see stricken from the language now and forever!
Whatever “intersectionality” meant when the term was coined — I must confess I looked it up on Wikipedia and couldn’t make heads or tails of it — in practice it has come to mean that the more oppressed communities you can claim to be a part of (female, person of color, Queer, Transgender, disabled), the more worthy you’re considered. It’s yet another way the U.S. Left gives the finger to anyone who isn’t poor, Black, Queer or female — and with the thinly veiled contempt for the white working class the Left expresses by using words like “intersectionality” and the fetishization of oppression that lays behind them, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the American white working class has embraced the Right en masse and found its chosen champion in Donald Trump.
The American Left — particularly that part of it that clings to the useless, counterproductive policy of attempting to organize alternative political parties — also keeps making a mistake that helped create one of the greatest historical disasters of all time. In the early 1930’s the German Communist Party took the line that their center-Left rivals, the Social Democrats, were the “real enemy” — and thereby they helped the real “real enemy,” Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, come to power and bring on World War II and the Holocaust. To my astonishment, I’m still getting messages from people in the Green Party taking a similar line that the Democrats are the “real enemy” and that there’s no difference between them and the Republicans — a message that encouraged Leftists to sit out the 2016 election (or to throw their votes away on the Green Party or other Left splinter parties, which under the U.S.’s election system means the same thing) and thereby helped the real “real enemy,” Donald Trump and the Republicans.
What’s more, within the Left there exists a so-called “black bloc” tendency which has hijacked some of the major anti-Trump protests and engaged in wanton, counterproductive violence against people and property. The “black blockers” have been an irritant to the various attempts at creating a mass Left protest movement since they emerged in Seattle at the anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations in 1999, and they serve Donald Trump in the same way that Marinus van der Lubbe, the crazy Dutch Communist who burned the German Reichstag on February 27, 1933, thereby giving Adolf Hitler the pretext he needed to suspend the German Constitution and push through the “Enabling Laws” under which he proclaimed his dictatorship.
The “black bloc” and the other protesters who kept Right-wing speaker, journalist and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at UC Berkeley on February 1 handed Donald Trump and the “alt-Right” movement a major propaganda victory. Instead of organizing a disciplined, peaceful vigil outside the hall as Yiannopoulos spoke, or — better yet — staging their own event in direct competition with his, the protest organizers allowed 150 “black blockers” to hijack the event and start a riot that led the campus police to cancel Yiannopoulos’s speech. Trump was therefore able to argue that he and his “alt-Right” allies were defending freedom of speech against a cabal of sinister Leftists too afraid of open dialogue to allow views contrary to their own to be expressed on campus.
Indeed, conservative author and speechwriter David Frum has argued in his Atlantic article “How to Build an Autocracy” (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/) that protest against Trump only serves Trump’s aims — and the more violent and antisocial the anti-Trump protests are, the better they work for him. “Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource,” Frum wrote. “Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it — and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. Immigration protesters marching with Mexican flags; Black Lives Matter demonstrators bearing antipolice slogans — these are the images of the opposition that Trump will wish his supporters to see. The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.”
If Trump can’t or won’t be stopped by Congressmembers (who are ideologically aligned with him and also afraid of him targeting them politically), the courts (in a couple of years Trump will be able to pack the federal judiciary and therefore will effectively own the courts), the nominal opposition party (already reduced to virtual irrelevance in the corridors of power), or a mass protest movement, what can? He could lose the loyalty of the people who voted him into office, but so far not only hasn’t that happened, but every move he’s made has cemented them even more tightly to him. Trump won the Presidency with 46 percent of the vote, and the latest polls put his approval rating at 45 percent — a statistical tie.
Trump’s open defiance of political norms, his total refusal even to look like he’s reaching across the aisle, and the carefully cultivated macho swagger with which he presents himself publicly all have cemented his coalition ever tighter to him. Unless significant numbers of Trump’s voters not only get disenchanted with him but can be persuaded to view the Democrats as a legitimate and preferable alternative, Trump will be able to stay in power indefinitely. It’s clear that not even age and the Constitutional limitation of the Presidency to two four-year terms by the 22nd Amendment will stop Trump in his quest for perpetual power. That’s why he’s made his children and son-in-law such integral parts of his administration; clearly he’s grooming them for the succession.
Donald Trump’s Presidency and the near-total power the Republican Party has over modern American politics is the culmination of a decades-long struggle by a far-Right tendency that emerged in the late 1930’s in opposition to the New Deal and U.S. involvement in World War II and has managed to sustain itself ever since. It’s had setbacks — the downfall of its first elected official with nationwide stature, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) in 1954 (McCarthy not only anticipated much of Trump’s rhetoric and his unashamed lying, there’s even a direct connection with them: attorney Roy Cohn, who as a young man was on McCarthy’s staff and decades later helped Trump break his family’s real-estate development business out of New York’s outer boroughs and into Manhattan); the landslide defeat of its first Presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, in 1964; and the Presidential victories of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — but it has brilliantly recovered from them and kept its eyes on the prize.
Now the prize is within reach. Under Donald Trump the Republican Party is poised to achieve what Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s political strategist, called “full-spectrum dominance” of U.S. politics. Ironically given how basic Trump’s demonization of Mexico is to his politics, their model is Mexico in the last two-thirds of the 20th century, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) occasionally allowed other parties to win the odd election but kept the presidency, the federal power and virtually all the states under their tight control. Today’s Republicans want to convert the American political system from one in which multiple parties exist but only two parties matter to one in which multiple parties exist but only one party matters. And they want to use that power to repeal the entire 20th century and return America to the dark ages of the 1880’s, when corporate leaders had near-absolute power, workers had no rights, people of color were at best second-class citizens, women were the legal property of their husbands and Queers, when their existence was acknowledged at all, were considered the scum of the earth.