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.”

 

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.”

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.

zkm8_diva_belt

German pol says unemployed should catch rats

rat4

Especially fitting as we approach the end of the Year of The Rat.

“Especially people who usually collect bottles could get one euro for every dead rat,” Henner Schmidt, head of the business-friendly Free Democrat party in the Mitte district of Berlin, told Berliner Kurier newspaper this week.

Instead of paying per rat, they should pay by weight. Imagine the payoff for bringing in Herr Schmidt? Or Mr. Madoff?

In his defense, “Lassen Sie sie Ratten essen!” doesn’t really sound all that much worse than “Lassen Sie sie Kuchen essen!” (A/K/A “Laissez-les manger le gâteau.”) Still not nearly as good as “Permetta loro di mangiare formaggio!

UPDATE: Now the Italians (or at least the Milanese) are saying, “Lascili mangiare il caviale!”  Customs inspectors in Milan seized 40 kilogrammes (88 pounds) of beluga caviar last month from two couriers travelling from Warsaw, Corriere della Sera newspaper reported. Prosecutors will hang on to a sample of the prized sturgeon eggs worth a total of 400,000 euros (557,000 dollars) for the investigation, while the rest will be given to charities to give to the poor.

Top 10 list of the best Top 10 lists about the year’s stupidities

top10Is it just me or is getting awfully meta in here?

  1. Media corrections of 2008 (RegretTheError)
  2. Most confusing high-tech buzzwords (LanguageMonitor)
  3. Worst political predictions (ForeignPolicy)
  4. Dumbest TV moves (Entertainment Weekly)
  5. TV buzzwords (LanguageMonitor)
  6. Freakiest ads (Adfreak)
  7. Worst political ads (Politico)
  8. Worst business deals — pre-Madoff (Time)
  9. Political buzzwords (LanguageMonitor)
  10. Political quotes (ExtremeMortman)
  11. Best (?) websites about layoffs (BusinessPundit)

Actually, they’re not all Top 10 lists — neither was mine.

Others:

BEST COLLECTION OF YEAR-END LISTS!!! (Fimoculous)

What do Democrats and Cubs fans have in common?

…they assume that something will go wrong until proven otherwise. Great line by Nate Silver over at fivethirtyeight.com.

Despite its unabashed (and clearly announced) pro-Democratic stance, this site is my source of information about political polling. They survey all the polls, weight them for a number of factors and come up with results that to my eyes are the best out there.

Covering O’Biden or McCan’t conventions a giant waste of media money

The political conventions are perfectly timed this year, serving as a perfect antidote to the just finished Munich Beijing Potemkin Olympics. Whatever their many moral faults, the Olympics weren’t boring.

This year I became entranced with field hockey. That was fun to watch. Not as much fun as Usian Bolt, but nothing is as much fun as watching Bolt. The fun couldn’t even be spoiled by the commentator kvelling about how if Bolt had just really focused when he won the first two gold medals he really could have done something. A) He won the damn races going away, so shut up. B) He showed plain old fashioned joy while doing it, so shut up.

The only thing that could have made these games better would have been if NBC had dedicated one channel to a constant live feed of the complete lack of activity in the officially sanctioned protest sites. Oh wait. One other thing could have made this better… any sign of moral cojones on the part of the athletes. Dudes & Dudettes this is the 40th anniversary of Tommie Smith & John Carlos simply raising their fists in salute during the Mexico City games. Yeah, they had to put up with a feces storm the likes of which I can’t imagine. But they never had to wonder about their own integrity. I wish one medal winner had had the courage to receive his or her award with a piece of tape over his or her mouth. That’s all it would have taken. It’s not like you were being asked to stand unnarmed in front of a tank. My self-righteousness is unjustifiable. I participated too. I watched the damn things.  I wasn’t even willing to sacrifice changing the channel, who the hell am I to ask others to do anything?

But I digress …

Now our dusk to dawn interlude of strange and interesting sports and moral peregrinations is about to give away to O’Biden vs. McCan’t. At a time when the press is bleeding money it is impossible for me to understand the amount of money that is spent covering two events with practically no news value whatsoever. I have been told there will be some 4,000 15,000 (thanks Tim!) members of the media covering each convention. 4K people spend a week hoping one person — any person — makes a mistake by straying from the script.

It would be tougher — and more interesting — to cover a house fire. (Actually I’ve never covered a pre-scripted event, so maybe they are tougher than they look. I have covered fires. I know those are tough.)

And just a note to the O’Biden team — WHO THE HELL DOES A MAJOR NEWS RELEASE ON A SATURDAY IN AUGUST? Any bump from the announcement is dead by the time Monday rolls around and people start paying attention again. It almost looks like you didn’t want the pick of The Human Wind Tunnell to get much play.

Suffice to say, we will all be well and fully informed watching whatever snippets The Daily Show and Colbert Report decide to run.

Just as idiotic as the resources spent on covering the conventions is the importance given to them. It will be banner headlines everywhere when Obama gets the official nod but I have no idea why. I always thought news was supposed to contain … well … news. It would be amazing if anything that happens at either confab rises to a level that justifies putting them above the fold on the front page. (Note: This is jargon from back in the time when dead trees were kings of the media world. Above the fold means the news is important enough to be on that prime piece of real estate first seen by the consumer. Below the fold means it is important but still on the bottom of page one and therefore on the side of a folded paper away from the consumer. Anyone wishing to learn more useless newspeak from back when mastodons roamed the media should email me. -30-)

McCain blows saving throw in attack on Dungeons & Dragons

I’ve tried to be bipartisan in both my support and bashing of the two presidential contenders but Sen. McCain has just crossed the line. His campaign is trying to say that playing Dungeons & Dragons is a BAD THING!!! In a blog post on McCain’s site some NPC named Michael Goldfarb wrote:

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman’s memory of war from the comfort of mom’s basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.

T-shirts & bumper stickers may be purchased here.

Nor is this the first time that McCain’s campaign has tried to make D&D the equivalent of being called a “pinko.”

In an earlier post Goldfarb described the editors of the NYTimes as having “all the intelligence and reason of the average Daily Kos diarist sitting at home in his mother’s basement and ranting into the ether between games of dungeons and dragons.

After that first ad hominem attack scads of Wingnuts stood up and proclaimed that they too were out and proud about playing D&D.  Mr. ‘Farb responded to one of them (Ace of Spades) with the following:

If my comments caused any harm or hurt to the hard working Americans who play Dungeons & Dragons, I apologize. This campaign is committed to increasing the strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores of every American.
–Michael Goldfarb

Not surprisingly Mr. Spades is now doubting the sincerity of that apology.

T-shirts & bumper stickers may be purchased here.

I think there is more outing to do here. I think that Mr. Goldfarb is covering for the fact that he, too, is or was a D&D player. This fits into the classic behavior pattern of closeted homosexuals joining with gay bashers in an attempt to deny their own behavior. It is time for some enterprising journalist to get their hands on a copy of Mr. Goldfarb’s high school yearbook and start making some calls! C’mon, doesn’t this look like the face of someone who cried when his 10th level magic user died after failing to check for traps? I find it difficult to believe that this man has NOT spent many Saturday nights playing with his 20-sided dice.

Gotta say Mike, Dungeons & Dragons is not going to be the next “limousine liberal” or “brie-eating” in the political lexicon. This is especially poor timing given that the pale and the (usually) dateless like myself are still mourning the death of Gary Gygax.

Mr. Mencken’s quote was never more apropos: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” I wonder how many attack die that hobgoblin gets?

Presidential Idol in New Hampshire: An explanation

Here’s my take on what happened.

  1. Most of the press dislikes Hillary so much that they were overjoyed to jump on the Obama-mania bandwagon. This isn’t some sort of vast-MSM conspiracy, it’s just that Hillary and the media have always taken each other’s actions personally. My sympathies lie with the MSM and not Hillary in that particular debate. However, that doesn’t change the fact that pretty much everyone called it wrong.
  2. Mitt Romney has now lost in a state where no one knew him and in one where everybody knew him. He now hopes to win in a state where everyone over the age of 45 once knew his father. Somewhere the lone Romney fanatic not on Mitt’s payroll is sad. The rest of us can rejoice. I wonder how much the dislike of Mitt got independents to vote against him in the GOP primary and not vote for someone on the Democratic side?
  3. Weirdest moment of the zeitgeist: Listening to interview after interview with people saying that they were trying to decide between Obama and McCain. Now, I like both of those guys. I’d be happy with either one in the White House. That said — they have nothing in common policy wise. The differences between them are about as subtle as the difference between pasta and LSD.

Press release of the day: “PQ Media Expects Political Spending Splurge in 2008”

Wow, way to go out on a limb. I never would have guessed that. This is just one of the insights available for $695 in the report PQ Media’s Political Media Buying 2008: Preliminary Forecast Analysis

PQ Media’s motto: “We stay ahead of the curve to keep you ahead of the curve”

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