I have refrained from commenting on the 2016 Presidential Election so far because I find it deeply depressing, more so than previous elections have been. Obviously, I have opinions about it, even strong opinions, but all this disheartening rubbish is so obvious, there is really nothing for me to say that someone else hasn’t already said, better. Besides, pretty much everything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth and the maws of his odious supporters speaks for itself. Here is what I find fascinating and bewildering, though. I just can’t, for the life of me, understand why in the name of all that is holy the Republican Party threw in its lot with Trump.
Now, in all fairness, this was to some degree inevitable. The shrinking, but still significant demographic that forms virtually the entirety of Donald Trump’s “movement” — angry, provincial, racist, undereducated, xenophobic white people — has also been the base of the Republican Party for so long, it would be suicidal to alienate it. It can be said that the GOP wrought its own destruction when it decided to hitch its wagon to that particular star so many, many moons ago; the racialist, nativist, hyper-religious demographic has been useful in the short term, but one had to anticipate even as far back as the 1970’s that it would almost certainly shrink over time while proceeding to alienate growing numbers of people. Still, in the wake of the soul-searching that the GOP did after the humiliating 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, the consensus that emerged was “We should do the same thing we did before, but harder.” Donald Trump is the result of that hardening, the radicalizing of the attitudes that have been the soul of the GOP for decades.
Still, the danger that Donald Trump poses not just for the country, but for the Republican Party has been so obvious from the beginning of his campaign, it’s truly puzzling how dutifully elite Republicans rushed to lie down with him. At the culmination of his vile primary campaign, punctuated by impugning his male opponents’ sexuality, dismissing the bangability of the lone female Republican candidate and the wives of his male rivals, viciously attacking a conservative television anchor and hurling outlandish, Stalinesque accusations that his supporters lapped up, the Party’s calculation seemed to be that he would “pivot” during the general towards a more appropriate, presidential behavior.
The Party leadership thought, apparently, that Trump would be a useful idiot: suitable for mobilizing its base, but willing to otherwise listen and follow directions; that he would learn how to walk, talk, tweet, and appear statesmanlike; that he would let the Party’s seasoned wordsmiths rephrase his hateful views to sound “reasonable”; and that he would perform self-serving, politically savvy mea culpa for his pre-election bad-boy behavior. As we now know, it was a big mistake for the GOP to assume all that. But, clearly not big on learning from (recent) experience, the Party decided to go all in for Trump in the belief that if he wins the election, then — THEN — he’ll just rubber-stamp whatever Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell put on his desk, and simply act as the Party’s hyper-masculine avatar. The vast majority of the Republican establishment continues to believe this despite the fact that Trump demonstrates, with every word, every action, every tweet, that the only person who gets to control Donald Trump is Donald Trump.
Donald Trump never made it a secret that, if elected President, he intends to be a tinpot dictator. Consider the language he’s used in his rallies and debates. Every Presidential candidate in modern history has been careful to underscore that he or she would “work with Congress”. The purpose of this phrase isn’t to argue that the given candidate believes in bipartisanship or can build consensus; it’s to signal that the candidate intends to respect the Separation of Powers, specifically, that despite the President’s considerable influence on policy, enacting it is primarily the Congress’ role. Not Trump. Trump has carefully avoided saying this traditional mantra, and that, in combination with lots of things he HAS said, signals that the only branch of government that’s going to do any governing in his presidency is the Executive.
Trump has said in one of his rallies, for instance, that “we” — that is, Trump himself and his anti-establishment goons — will “open up libel laws” in order to silence people who publish pieces critical of Trump, his friends or his supporters. Congress is to have no role in that endeavor. He has indicated that he would deport millions of people from the US within one hour of taking office — which tells you that, whether or not it’s logistically possible to accomplish literally within one hour, deportations under his rule will take place without giving people labeled “illegal aliens” a chance to contest that determination in a court hearing. Courts would have, at best, a ceremonial function under Trump.
The cherry on top (two, actually) — so far — came during the second Presidential Debate, the townhall. The first of these, of course, is the promise that, if elected President, he would have Hillary Clinton investigated, tried and sent to prison. Which raises a question, as far as I’m concerned: if jailing your opponent is a foregone conclusion, why bother with an investigation and a trial? To create an appearance of lawfulness? Kangaroo tribunals have never made sense to me — absolutely no one is fooled by them, but dictators love them. I suppose it’s just a revered part of their political theater. The Republican Party seems fine with this, since have have demonstrated over the last few years that they will never accept the legitimacy of any investigation that doesn’t reach a predetermined conclusion that’s favorable to them. They have used the judicial process to target political opponents; Trump is just more direct and outspoken about this. And so, the United States now stands on the verge of joining such countries as Russia, Iran, Egypt and North Korea in the glorious tradition of suppressing democracy through trumped up (sorry) prosecutions of political opponents. And down the road, who knows? Maybe targeting their families too, maybe killing them. Maybe going after opposition supporters, then voters. At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me to see GOP brahmins go along with that. No price is too high for outlawing abortion and reinstating Jim Crow, amirite? As long as their their avatar packs the Supreme Court with reactionary judges to undo every little bit of progress made since 1865 and to transfer control of the government to a handful of billionaires, they don’t care if he burns the place down.
Of course, if Trump becomes president, the judicial branch in general, and the Supreme Court in particular, will become irrelevant. Their function, as I said, will at most be ceremonial. Trump has made it clear again and again, that he will defer to nobody and use his power any way he wants. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t understand how democracy works, maybe it’s because he isn’t familiar with the structure of American governance, maybe it’s because he doesn’t give a fuck. Whatever the reason, he envisions himself as King, Emperor and Supreme Leader, and intends to exercise personal rule. This, by the way, illustrates the danger that I’ve mentioned in some of my other posts of conflating corporate management with competent statecraft. The cultures of corporations on the one hand, and democratic governments on the other are fundamentally different. Trump has made it clear he intends to rule the United States as his personal fiefdom, that his judgment is the only one that matters to him, and that he expects other members of his party to act as dutiful subordinates carrying out his will — not colleagues, not even advisors, and certainly not functionaries with special powers that he doesn’t supersede. He has, in the past, dismissed criticism of his business failures on the not-unreasonable ground that those companies were his to ruin. What IS unreasonable and very disturbing, is that Trump perceives his country exactly the same way. If Trump becomes President, it won’t matter one bit what Congress wants, or what the courts say, even if they are controlled entirely by fellow Republicans. After all — and this is what should really, really scare you — the President controls the Executive, i.e. the enforcement arm of the government. Trump, if he becomes President, will rule by decree, have the military and the cops enforce his unilateral will, and lob missiles, including nuclear warheads, at whoever the fuck he wants. And that’s exactly what his supporters want. (Because they love the Constitution, dontcha know.)
If Trump goes rogue — and he absolutely will — the nation’s only hope will be that his underlings will rebel against illegal orders. Will they? Maybe, maybe not. The history of totalitarian regimes shows that the terror they unleash traps individuals in a kind of inertia , where people feel so frightened and powerless, they consent to being mere cogwheels in the machinery of the State. Besides, he will pack the Executive with his acolytes, and they will do his bidding without hesitation.
What’s more, controlling the Executive is not the only enforcement mechanism Trump will have at his disposal — which brings me to the second “cherry-on-top” in that townhall debate. I am referring specifically to the question that a Muslim woman in the audience asked about islamophobia. Trump responded by acknowledging that islamophobia is bad, but characterized Muslims themselves as being primarily responsible for it, and added that Muslims have a special obligation — unlike, presumably, citizens that belong to other groups — to report “hatred” expressed by other Muslims. That is his “plan” for addressing islamophobia, and it sounds an awful lot like an upfront justification for pogroms. I mean, European Jews heard similar dog whistles from benevolent antisemites for centuries, and since I am an Eastern European Jew, the language Trump chose sounds very familiar to me. Sure, prejudice against your group is bad (he is saying) and I feel sorry for you, but let’s be perfectly honest, if politically incorrect here: you invite prejudice by insisting on being different. As long as you continue identifying with your group, I am not sure I can protect you from the righteous, if misguided, anger of our good citizens. Maybe if more of you were to apologize for belonging to this group and report your family, friends and neighbors anytime they express the slightest criticism of me, that would reduce the anger that people understandably feel towards you. It’s less about shifting the blame onto Muslims and more about signaling to his rabid supporters that he will give them carte blanche to attack Muslims and, in all likelihood, not only Muslims.
Trumpistas may not represent anything close to a majority of Americans, but the fact remains that Trump has mobilized enormous mobs that are positively howling for blood. He has encouraged people to physically attack protesters at his rallies, and he has given more than one indication that he will use angry mobs to consolidate his power.
The reason I am saying all this isn’t to wonder why, with Trump’s repeated promises to unmake the American democracy, it took a “hot mic” recording of Trump bragging about sexual assault for parts of the Republican establishment to disavow him (and even then, half-heartedly, in a manner of having one’s cake and eating it too). The bigger problem for the Republicans is that Trump’s political repressions, if he is elected, aren’t going to be limited to Latinos, Muslims and liberals. He will almost certainly turn against his own party and purge it of all who may be a threat to him — or even just anyone who ever slightly criticized him. And when I say “purge”, that’s not a reference to mere political freezing-out. While Trump’s old age would give one hope that he doesn’t have enough time to completely change the nature of the regime, the history of totalitarian governments strongly suggests that its leaders devour their own political establishment — literally. It’s not just the careers of “establishment” Republicans that would be in danger under Trump, but their very lives, and the lives of their families too. At this point, they better pray — hard — that their orange boy loses. Perhaps the same conservatives who so love to gratuitously invoke Stalin to tarnish the Left should take a few days to learn about the actual historical reality of his rise to power and his reign to better comprehend just what they’ve gotten themselves into.
At this point, the real issue for Republicans, and one they are unable to see, is their physical safety. As far as the GOP’s reputation is concerned, it’s already too late — the GOP owns Trump. The fact that they embraced him and continued to support him through one indication after another that he is a violent, unprincipled, thin-skinned, power-hungry nincompoop with delusions of grandeur; the fact that American evangelical leaders threw their support behind him despite the fact that he is a serial philanderer, an unfaithful husband, a collector of trophy wives, a bad citizen, an uncharitable billionaire (allegedly), a dishonest businessman and in every way an antithesis to what would be an embodiment of Traditional Values (while attacking his female rival for being loyal to her husband, no less) — all of this will haunt Republicans for at least a generation. I am amused, you see, when I hear predictions that Mike Pence will make a credible presidential contender in 2020 or 2024. Assuming Trump doesn’t become the Czar of All Americas For Life, and we still have a country in the 2020’s, Mike Pence will forever bear the legacy of having been Trump’s sidekick. He will never live this down. And every Republican politician, in every race, will have to answer what he or she was doing while Trump clawed his way towards presidency. They made him their standard-bearer; his sins are now theirs.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Pussygate, the Republican Outreach to Broads continues to be as huge and classy as ever.
In response to the unsurprising “revelations” of Trump’s grossness towards the fair sex, Paul Ryan noted that women are to be “championed and revered”. Which would be very flattering to me, I suppose, if I were a character in “Ivanhoe”.
A number of Republicans were gently horrified by Trump’s coarseness and (allegedly) roving tiny rodent appendages because, you see, they have wives, daughters, sisters and other women identified first and foremost by their relationships to men. I know, I know. Republicans who say this shit mean well, they think they are being gentlemen — but that’s what makes their reflexive misogyny so fascinating. It is so very much a norm for them, they don’t even realize how offensive it is to characterize sexual assault of women as, primarily, an offense against those women’s male rightful owners. You don’t vandalize another man’s vehicle; you don’t grab someone else’s woman’s pussy. As people who read my blog regularly may have noticed, large, ostentatious displays of bigotry get no rise out of me; I am primarily curious about subtle, insidious bias, expressed by people who clearly believe themselves to be benevolent, reasonable, even egalitarian. It’s not explicit denials that women are human beings with agency that fascinate me — it’s talking about women as if it’s a given that we only exist vicariously through men, with no humanity or autonomy of our own.
Which brings us to most Republicans’ calls to conservative women to continue to support Trump, because though he may be a repulsive misogynist, women should disregard that in favor of helping him save the country. Question is — save it for whom? Women comprise half the population. And, regardless of how many women would publicly identify as feminists, women’s issues directly affect all women. Republicans’ greatest — and ongoing — mistake with regard to gender is to treat women as, first of all, primarily extensions of their menfolk, and second, a minority which, for the sake of good citizenship, should put aside its narrow and exotic interests and take one for the team, if need be. It’s true, the GOP is also hostile to the interests of people of color, immigrants and religious minorities; but what is especially galling to me in GOP’s attitude towards women is that women are LITERALLY NOT A MINORITY. As we are nearing the 19th Amendment Centennial, more and more women, including conservative women, are realizing the ridiculousness of these assumptions. The days of treating an ACTUAL minority as Default People whose interests are good, important and universal, while the interests of other groups are merely nefarious “agendas”, are coming to an end. And Republicans, if they keep doing The Same Thing But Harder, will keep losing votes, especially women’s votes, too numerous to disregard or take for granted. With that in mind, the only way for the Republican Party to ensure its long term survival is to imbibe history’s most important lesson, which is, alas, at odds with the very idea of conservatism:
CHANGE OR DIE