Elections 2016

The United States Of Trump

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Will May 3, 2016 be remembered as the beginning of the American edition of the Weimar Republic, which created the conditions that allowed a talentless man named Adolf Hitler to seize power in Germany after World War I? What was it that convinced Ted Cruz and John Kasich to open the gate to the nomination for Donald Trump? Their dropping out of the race was immediately followed by Republican leadership giving its blessing to Donald Trump. Leadership who — forced to lay down their arms — called the New York-based brand manager the presumptive nominee, inviting what is left of the Republican Party to unite behind him.

What was it that caused this final implosion of the Republican Party? Both Kasich and Cruz were used to primary defeats before Indiana, and they even built an alliance in order to prevent Trump from getting the majority of pledged Republican delegates before the convention in Cleveland. They, together with the Republican leadership, were plotting to push Trump off the stage during the convention. Cruz even chose Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential candidate just a few days before giving up! We do not know why the two Republicans changed their plan. Was there a phone call that we do not know about? Or, as some people suggest, did Cruz realize that he is a loser after the unpleasant, suicidal confrontation he had with Trump’s supporters on the day of the primaries in Indiana? Politico describes the series of events leading up to the Indiana primaries that might have contributed to the abrupt retreat of Trump’s major rival. The report ends by quoting Cruz himself:

“The next morning, on primary day, Cruz warned that Indiana was ‘the one thing that stands between us and the abyss.’

“And so now, in Cruz’s own telling, there is just the abyss.”

Is it really? Do we really think that Trump is leading America into Nazism, and that he is ready to start World War III? The list of paranoid forecasts is long. The most recent is a long essay that Andrew Sullivan wrote for New York magazine, with the headline “Democracies end when they are too democratic.” Sullivan is social media nobility, and as such, he loves to sit in the company of the great philosophers. He quotes Plato’s Republic, which in turn quotes Socrates as saying that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” Plato — who had his own idealistic notion of the state — was a disciple of Socrates, and loved to go around with a notebook, recording the master’s words. I could not find that Plato quote outside of Sullivan’s essay, but to me, it is a perfect demonstration of dialectic reasoning.

While nobody can call America an ideal or perfect democracy that has no trace of an authoritarian state — far from it — it’s hard to imagine how the rhetoric and dialogue in Ancient Greece could ever be applied to contemporary American society or to Hitler’s Germany.

Sullivan makes a better argument when he reconstructs the rise of the fascism, but dramatically exaggerates when he says:

And while a critical element of 20th-century fascism — its organized street violence — is missing, you can begin to see it in embryonic form. The phalanx of bodyguards around Trump grows daily; plainclothes bouncers in the crowds have emerged as pseudo-cops to contain the incipient unrest his candidacy will only continue to provoke; supporters have attacked hecklers with sometimes stunning ferocity. Every time Trump legitimizes potential violence by his supporters by saying it comes from a love of country, he sows the seeds for serious civil unrest.  

Is this at all different from the militarization of American society that followed 9/11, with SWAT teams swarming around the country for even the smallest event?

I, of course, am not trying to justify Trump. I think Sullivan is brilliant when he says that, “Trump assiduously cultivated this image and took to reality television as a natural. Each week, for 14 seasons of The Apprentice, he would look someone in the eye and tell them, ‘You’re fired!’ The conversation most humane bosses fear to have with an employee was something Trump clearly relished, and the cruelty became entertainment. In retrospect, it is clear he was training — both himself and his viewers.”

Is this the previously missed dialectic seed — this hint of Trump’s 14-year-long rehearsal for how to fire the Republican Party? Is this what happened on the night of the Indiana primaries?

This seems like a much better guess than most for how to explain what is going on in this year’s elections. I prefer it to the predictions of the coming catastrophe, regarding this year’s campaign as part of the regular political fight, with all the lies, vulgarities, provocations and rudeness that are, unfortunately,part of this increasingly banal contemporary society. I have no idea what Donald Trump is capable of. But it is my firm conviction that this society still contains elements that are capable of preventing major insanities.  

On the other hand, it is interesting and very instructive — if we humans still have some historic memory and the will to learn — to look at the mea culpa of the media and pollsters who did not see Trump’s rise coming. Let’s just take the the best of them:

In 2008, Nate Silver successfully called the outcomes in 49 of the 50 states during the U.S. presidential election, then got hired by the New York Times, where — on his blog, FiveThirtyEight — he again predicted exact outcome for the 2012 elections. In 2013, Silver — who wanted to expand his brand — sold FiveThirtyEight to ESPN, where he now runs a much bigger operation. He still follows politics, especially elections. Except that this time, Silver got it all wrong; and on the night of May 3, he had to admit that “we basically got the Republican race wrong.” In a piece, “Trumpology,” that I wrote for Yonder last December, I described the process that led Silver to make this mistake. In spite of his brilliance, he got the primaries wrong because for months he stuck to his algorithms, which did not and could not account for Trump’s irrationality. It is obvious that Silver underestimated the voters’ political anger with America’s corrupt and boiled political system.

Since that dark night in Indiana, pollsters and the media at large have been changing out their registers, turning their keys, and getting ready for what seems to be gearing up to be an incredibly tempered debate. According to reports, many Republicans are ready to abandon the Good Old Party that the tycoon has taken over.

But while Trump no longer has any rivals, Hillary Clinton will have to continue to fight back against the courageous and  popular Bernie Sanders, who has no intention of giving up, and who intends to bring his delegates all the way to the convention.

But for the media, the main election campaign has already started. For them, there are only Trump and Clinton left.

While Trump tends to be more presidential in his appearances after May 3, lowering his tone, in Clinton’s first interview since the Indiana primaries, the Democratic candidate called Trump a loose cannon several times, claiming that none of his possible insults will make her lose her temper. She intends to campaign on the issues that will show the voters her experience and credibility as a leader.

I am convinced that Hillary is wrong. The forthcoming election campaign will not be about the candidates’ experience, about an elaborate discussion on budget, or about any such concrete issue. The audience of this election is no longer ready to hear this. Trump — and,in part, Sanders — are proof of this. The autumn battle between the two nominees will be like the Wimbledon final between Bjorn Borg and John Mcenroe in 1981, when the match was less about tennis and more about mind games. There is no doubt that Clinton and Trump will try to bring the game onto their own turf. “It will be a fierce battle, like a long root canal,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s former campaign chief. No doubt, neither Clinton nor Trump will spare any punches or poisonous bites in this battle.

And to go back to Sullivan, he is quite correct in saying:

If you like America as it is, vote Clinton. After all, she has been a member of the American political elite for a quarter-century. Clinton, moreover, has shown no ability to inspire or rally anyone but her longtime loyalists. She is lost in the new media and has struggled to put away a 74-year-old socialist who is barely a member of her party. Her own unfavorables are only 11 points lower than Trump’s (far higher than Obama’s, John Kerry’s, or Al Gore’s were at this point in the race), and the more she campaigns, the higher her unfavorables go (including in her own party).   

…only to be wrong in his assessment of the voters:

And so those Democrats who are gleefully predicting a Clinton landslide in November need to both check their complacency and understand that the Trump question really isn’t a cause for partisan Schadenfreude anymore. It’s much more dangerous than that. Those still backing the demagogue of the left, Bernie Sanders, might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise — and their facile conflation of that with corruption — is only playing into Trump’s hands.

If the catastrophe called Trump makes Hillary Clinton more eligible or for some even obligatory vote, then voting for her because she would be the guarantee for non-change, for status quo, is almost as depressing as voting for Trump. The way I see it, America does not have four more years to waste. And for this reason, I am happy that I do not vote here. The responsibility this time is bigger than ever.  

Also published on Medium.

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