The Best Books About Donald Trump’s Ascendance Were Written 50 Years Ago

If you want to understand how it is that Donald Trump has managed to rise to political prominence then you need to read three books, two written more than 50 years ago and one in 2005.

jim crowThe first is C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow. In Jim Crow Woodward tells the story of the emergence of the increasingly severe laws enforcing segregation in the South following the end of Reconstruction. (In the North we were more De Facto than De Jure about segregation.) They grew harsher as the economic status of the Whites and Blacks narrowed; the Whites seeking to hold on to privilege even as their economic status worsened. In the US today wages have been at best stagnant for the last 40 years. In the wake of Financial Crisis and the Great Non-Recovery Americans again find their economic status diminishing at the same time that groups of people – Gays, Lesbians, Transgendered, Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, etc. etc. – are demanding and sometimes even receiving equal treatment under the law. White Americans feel their privileged position slipping away and they are lashing out, this time without the legal mechanisms of Jim Crow. This is one of the reasons behind the rise to the Tea Party and other extreme Rightist movements.

paranoidThe second is Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics. It is a collection of essays and the title essay has understandably received a lot of attention in the last eight years. However I think it is the second essay in the collection, The Pseudo Conservative Revolt – 1954, which truly captures what Charlie Pierce calls “the prion disease afflicting the Republican party.” Here is a relevant quote:

The ideology of pseudo-conservatism can be characterized but not defined, because the pseudo-conservative tends to be more than ordinarily incoherent about politics. The lady who, when General Eisenhower’s victory over Senator Taft had finally become official in 1952, stalked out of the Hilton Hotel declaiming “This means eight more years of socialism,” was probably a fairly good representative of pseudo-conservative mentality. … The general who spoke to the [Freedom Congress] demanding “an Air Force capable of wiping out the Russian Air Force and industry in one sweep,” but also “a material reduction in military expenditures”; the people who a few years ago believed simultaneously that we had no business fighting communism in Korea and that the war should immediately be extended to an all-Asia crusade against communism.

A perfect example of this today is the reaction to Operation Jade Helm, a military training exercise that had been held many times prior to this year in various Southern and Western states. This year however a number of citizens came to believe that this was either a precursor to the Federal government taking over or the actual take over. In Texas “a survey of registered Republicans by Public Policy Polling in May 2015, found that 32% thought that “the Government is trying to take over Texas”, and that half of all Tea Party supporters are concerned with an imminent Texas invasion.” The governor of Texas, a human paper weight named Greg Abbott, met with representatives of these people and ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation, declaring, “During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” This trend of course has reached its apogee and perfect mouthpiece in Trump. However, had Trump not run this insanity would have had no trouble with any other of this year’s crop of GOP contenders for the Presidential nomination.

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Trump’s followers is their devotion to him no matter what he says or does. They so thoroughly identify with him that it does not matter if he says something that is an easily proven lie. (Go here or here for collections of those lies.)

It does not matter that he has offered no policy or course for how he intends to “make America great again.” It does not matter that he has at various times rejected some or all of the Conservative ideas his followers appear to hold. Conservative evangelicals, who used to require candidates be able to answer a lengthy catechism, now do not care that Trump is entirely uninterested in religion. He has made himself immune to the charge of flip-flopping, which used to be able to derail entire campaigns. Indeed his followers appear to assume anything he says comes with a wink-and-a-nudge. They all “know what he really means” so anything he says is in automatic agreement with whatever that particular person believes. His ability to get people to support things that are against their own self-interest is without parallel in American history.

How is this possible? Consider this:

“The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides…is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. … The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.”

bullshitThat is from Harry G. Frankfurter’s remarkable book On Bullshit, a philisophical examination of why facts are of less and less importance in public discourse. (Don’t let the phrase “philisophical examination” scare you, it is both readable and short.)

Trump’s campaign only makes sense once you apply Frankfurt’s theory of bullshit: It was never supposed to have any connection to reality. It exists soley to aggrandize Trump himself and nothing else.

There is quite a bit of the sociopath about Trump. Publicly he shows little empathy and absolutely no remorse for anything. People appear to be of interest to him only to the extent that they can get him something. He shows no loyalty — if you once were useful but now dare to offer even the mildest criticism you are cast off and attacked with the same vengeance used for his bitterest enemies. Should he be elected president he will easily eclipse Woodrow Wilson and Nixon, the current benchmarks for presedential vindictiveness. He will also make Nero and the most recent President Bush look like amateurs when it comes to destroying their own nations.

It’s somehow fitting that the best description of Trump I have found was written 91 years ago by H.L. Mencken in his blistering essay In Memoriam: W.J.B.

“A vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He is ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. … A poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He is a peasant come home to the dung-pile.”

 

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Richard Hofstadter explains the difference between the Tea Party and actual Conservatives

Unlike most of the liberal dissent of the past, the new dissent not only has no respect for non-conformism, but it based upon a relentless demand for conformity. It can most accurately be called pseudo-conservatism…because its exponents, although they believe themselves to be conservatives and usually employ the rhetoric of conservatism, show signs of serious and restless dissatisfaction with American life, traditions and institutions. They have little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word.

– Richard Hofstadter, “The Pseudo Conservative Revolt,” 1954

Published in his essay collection:The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Our Yitzhak Rabin moment?

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry." — Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik

“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” Ms. Giffords said last March. “But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.”

Never a good sign when a candidate puts out an ad saying, “I’m not a witch.”

And that candidate is? Why Christine O’Donnell (R-You’re Joking), of course.

 

What’s especially impressive is that it gets WORSE after she assures us she’s not a rhymes with b … i ….

As Stewart or Colbert put it, “All this information is coming from an unreliable source: Christin O’Donnell.”

FWIW, I believe her. I can’t believe there’s a coven that would take her.

NBC CEO’s campaign slogan: Proven incompetence!

If you think the selection of clowns in DC couldn’t get any worse, guess again. NBC CEO Jeff Zucker – the guy who gave us Lenovision and nearly killed his network and its affiliates in the process – says he would “certainly look at” running for political office.

Speaking on the Joe Scarborough show, Jeff “10% Of Americans Are Unemployed and I’m Not?” Zucker said he would be good because

"I do think that there would be a benefit to having people who have run businesses in office — who have a sense of how to how to get something across the finish line, make hard decisions that actually everybody can get behind … I think we just have to get the cynicism behind us and we have to get some things accomplished and I think people who can do that would be very helpful and beneficial.”

“We have to get some things accomplished and I think people who can do that would be very helpful and beneficial.” I heartily concur with Mr. Z on this! If he would care to suggest someone with those qualities I would welcome it.

Between him and Carly Fiorina, it feels like politics is what you do after you’ve tried to wreck your company.

Most colorful pol in US ready to run again for office!

God bless you, Buddy Cianci.

Cianci –– former mayor of Providence, RI, current radio talk show host, and convicted felon – says he may get back into politics. Cianci says he may run against either Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Carpet Bagger) or current Mayor David N. Cicilline (the only gay Jewish Italian mayor IN THE WORLD!).

marinara Buddy is an astute observer of politics and he notes there is a strong anti-incumbent feeling out there. This feeling is running even higher in the Bay State which has something like a 13% unemployment rate. (Top that Michigan!) To outsiders it would seem that even that wouldn’t be enough for Cianci to get elected. They would be wrong.

Outsiders get all hung up on the fact that Buddy left office in disgrace not once but twice.

  • In 1984 he resigned the mayoralty after pleading no-contest to charges of kidnapping and assaulting Raymond DeLeo with a fireplace log, an ashtray and a lighted cigarette. Cianci believed DeLeo, a long-time friend, was having an affair with the mayor’s estranged wife. This assault was witnessed by Cianci’s police chauffeur, his divorce lawyer, the Providence director of public works and a former state attorney general. But that’s ancient history.
  • In 2002, during his seventh term as mayor, he was convicted for running a criminal enterprise out of City Hall and served a 4.5 year sentence. In some states that could present a problem, but not in Little Rhody where getting busted is practically a rite of passage for most pols. (For even more entertaining details click here for my article on RI, politics and corruption.)

Outsiders get it wrong because if you haven’t lived in RI you have no idea how weird it is. It is Fellini meets Terry Gilliam only weirder.

If Buddy runs do not bet against him. He has lost only one election that I can think of. His pasta sauce, The Mayor’s Own Marinara, is still sold throughout the state (and if you want some amusement google “Rhode Island gift baskets” and look at the contents).He remains popular with the electorate because he probably knows all of them. As Providence Journal columnist Bob Kerr told me, “I always remember there’s the friend of mine who’s a Cambodian guy – he came here, survived the killing fields. Did the classic American struggle, went to school and went to college, became a school counselor and then he got his master’s degree. On a hot summer afternoon in South Providence in this guy’s backyard, they were celebrating his master’s degree with some Cambodian food and a few friends and up comes the limo and out gets Buddy with a proclamation. … And that’s him, he’s always doing stuff like that.” During his times in office it was widely believed that Buddy would attend the opening of a door.

Sadly Kennedy’s seat is probably safe. Buddy would be bored out of his mind in Congress and he knows it. But if he runs for mayor his only opposition will be the good government types who are ethically right and about as interesting as a damp sponge.

Also in Buddy’s favor is the “he can’t be any worse than what we already have” factor. If I still lived in RI, I’d vote for him in a heartbeat – he may not always provide bread but he excels at circus.

Mrs. Vince McMahon running for US Senate

Dear Reality,

Please leave something for the satirists.

Yrs,

CollateralDamage

Get used to hearing a lot of “political smackdown” references because Linda McMahon, CEO of the WWE, is challenging Conneticut’s Chris Dodd for his Senate seat. Dodd – head of the banking committee who got a sweetheart deal on a mortgage from Countrywide – is more than a little vulnerable. Mrs. McMahon has actual qualifications: She has served as CEO since May 1997 and was the company’s president from May 1993 through June 2000. The Stamford, Conn.-based company produces live and televised wresting events and licenses and sells video games, toys and other retail products. The company’s sales totaled $526.5 million in 2008.

Quick cheap shots:

  • Well she does know a lot about throwing things into a ring.
  • She is READY TO RUMBLE!!!
  • All her committee meetings will be a cage match.
  • If she gets into trouble she will slap the hand of an actual politician to take her place.
  • She’s perfect for the job. Lot’s of experience staging fights where the outcome is already fixed.
  • Promises to bring Congress up to WWE’s level of honesty and integrity.
  • Best. Inauguration. Party. EVER.

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