Friday, February 19, 2016
February 19, 2016
I promised myself I wouldn't start with politics until the primaries were over, and here I am breaking that promise. The reason for the promise was mostly to avoid writing a blog posting that would become outdated, if not completely obsolete, within a few days or weeks. This isn't an editorial column, after all. But any election-related posting will inevitably be out of date sooner or later, so what the hell. For example, who cares any more about someone's fulminations regarding the possible outcome of the Bush-Kerry race in 2004?
The temptation to talk about the parade of fuck-knuckles currently vying for the Republican nomination is just too strong. Personally, I'd love to see any one of the current contenders--Trump, Jeb Bush, Rubio, Cruz--get the nomination. At least it would assure the country of four more years of Democratic executive leadership, which, while not exactly ideal, would be far better than the alternative, especially if another Supreme Court Justice were to croak during that time.
Donald Trump is particularly fascinating, as everyone seems to agree. You might certainly wonder whether he's a plant by the Democrats, he's that buffoonish and jingoistic. You might wonder that, except for the fact that some of his fellow would-be candidates are equally silly, and as for the Republican electorate in general, well, we know how hopelessly mentally challenged they are. The sad fact is that we do live in a country where millions of people, though probably not a majority, would vote for a guy like Trump not merely to see what might happen, but because they actually believe much of what he says.
Even though the U.S. is a two-party country, and has been with a few minor exceptions from the 1790s to the present, we have to include several viewpoints within the broader bandwidth of each party. Those ranges are, in the case of the Republicans, from the far right to somewhat right of center, and in the case of the Democrats from the same somewhat right of center to the slightly left of center. There's no viable left wing in U.S. politics. Bernie Sanders is as far left as we get here, and he's the only significant politician to call himself a socialist since Eugene Debs, a hundred years ago. Bernie Sanders could be safely cradled within the mainstream of the European left without seeming at all beyond normal progressive thinking over there. But I'm grateful for his presence in the mix this year, if for no other reason than that he's gotten the country, and especially generations younger than mine, accustomed to the word "socialist," so they aren't viscerally afraid of the idea, and don't automatically equate it with bleak Soviet-era governance. Who knows? Maybe after Bernie more politicians will run for local and national office as socialists, and we will eventually have something like a political left wing in the U.S. (And maybe monkeys will fly out my butt.)
What is singular about the current mishmash of Republicans so far, besides their insistence on making fools of themselves in debates every other week, is that not one of them is even close to being moderate on any economic, diplomatic, or (least of all) social issue. The votes of the entire middle-of-the-road chunk of the GOP, without which none of these candidates can hope to win an election, appear to have been at least temporarily abandoned while this gaggle of ass clowns grind away at each other to compete for the support of the fringe right.
What's even more amusing and revealing about Trump and his supporters are the reasons they like him. Ultra nationalism, of course. Racism, of course. A typical Republican usually longs for some idyllic white man's American past that never existed (or if it did, only because of the progressive left-of-center, labor-tolerant policies of the FDR and LBJ administrations). But what most people seem to like about Trump are two things in particular.
The first is that he appears to speak his mind, without regard to the consequences. He's like Howard Beale in the movie Network, who's "mad as hell and not going to take it any more." Of course in that movie, as in Trump's case, Beale was simply a fortuitous media creation who very quickly became nothing but entertainment TV writ large. But people like that, evidently. A guy who's going to say what they, in their stingy little hearts of darkness, would like to shout from the windows. "I hate foreigners! I hate minorities! I hate Islam!"
Actually, with regard to that last one, I can't help agreeing. I do indeed dislike Islam, just as I dislike every other religion that thinks it's the only way in this life and the next (Roman Catholicism, conservative Protestantism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, etc.) and every religion that denies women equal access to its own clergy and decision-making processes and forces them into a subordinate role within humanity (Roman Catholicism, conservative Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism, and of course our old friend Islam). And those are just the western religions with which I'm fairly familiar. No amount of cultural relativism and ignorance disguised as tolerance can justify condoning or turning a blind eye to a religion or branch of a religion that requires its womenfolk to go around with their heads covered, while the men get to dress more or less as they want to, even if such women are allowed, for example, to hold political office or practice professions, or drive cars. And if we tolerate such religions, it seems to me that we've missed the entire point of social equality, and particularly gender equality, by a country mile. It has been said that if you're too open-minded your brains will fall out. That has, I'm afraid, happened in the arena of religious tolerance. But I digress.
The second thing people seem to like about Donald Trump is that he is financially self-sufficient and therefore (they think) not beholden to any special interest groups. They also like the fact that he's fabulously wealthy, combining their worship of money with the mistaken idea that if such money has been bestowed upon someone he must somehow deserve it. Gee, they think, Trump doesn't have to take money from, say, the Koch brothers or big pharmaceutical companies, or giant manufacturers, so he must be an independent thinker. What they forget is that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and has already sucked his money from society through high-end real estate dealings and casinos and golf courses and product branding and television, so he doesn't need to obligate himself to any of the other major wealth-sucking groups at this stage. But to assume that he's not a loyal member of the financial elite who pull the strings in our government is a ridiculous mistake. He's a happy prisoner of his own economic class, lacking even the sense of noblesse oblige that has motivated rich men of the past to become advocates for positive social change. Trump's version of "let them eat cake" is "let them eat shit."
The reason that Donald Trump wants to be president is by no means dissimilar to that of the other candidates--he's ambitious and craves what he hopes will be the power of the office. But he's a little different from his fellow office seekers in that he's already had much more experience being rich and powerful. He's like Alexander the Great, with no more worlds to conquer. What's left for him to do in this country, except to run the biggest Corporation we have, and to sit at the table of the grandest board of directors in the world? That's the sad paradox faced by most people who long to serve the public in our highest office. Unless you are far too arrogant and ambitious to be a decent human being, you probably can't reach that office. It is the reason that so few former presidents have done anything much other than to languish in retirement. Jimmy Carter might be an exception, Barack Obama perhaps will be, too. John Quincy Adams, whom most people have forgotten, was another. He went back into the House of Representatives (the House, mind you, not the Senate) and spent the rest of his life trying to eradicate slavery.
Could you image what would happen to Donald Trump if he became president and lived to be a former president? Or more likely, if he loses or doesn't get the nomination in the first place? I picture him chasing his tail until he melts down into a puddle of yellow ghee, like the cruel tigers in Little Black Sambo. Then, at least, he might serve some useful purpose.