It is cliche (at this point, or ever) that Donald Trump is way, way, way over the line of things said and done that would have sunk other Presidents or Presidential candidates. Example – forty years ago our tolerance for authoritarians, authoritarian ideas, and authoritarian methods was close to zero, any acceptance of that was “fringe” – we were the good guys who valued freedom, and authoritarians were the bad guys. Holding authoritarians in very low esteem was simply “American”.
Back then, any President or Presidential hopeful who trafficked in authoritarianism in EITHER party was instantly and permanently disqualified from getting anywhere near the Presidency – let alone if he/she did so repeatedly and enthusiastically.
Donald has AGAIN added to his ALREADY sizable pile of authoritarian-ish statements just in the last few days. And he’s not going to stop. Repeatedly and enthusiastically. This is way beyond the pale of years past.
(I’ve asked Trump supporters if the authoritarian tendency is problematic – the response I remember most is they shrug it off with something like “Yes, but Hillary’s emails are worse”.)
Sorta teflon. But why?
In the mind of Trump’s supporters he is already elected to a second term, and there’s no debate, it’s a done deal. And for now, they say leave him alone and let him work magic – albeit maybe a bit messy, cover your eyes and ears if you’re squeamish, they might say. (They have a judgment that if Trump’s kind of magic isn’t your kind of magic you just don’t understand the problems of socialism, too many immigrants, la la la – but as long as you let Trump take care of all that they’ll let you be, probably.)
On the flip side, Donald’s die hard detractors feel they’ve already collected way more than enough evidence to justify “the” hard and irredeemable fall from grace, where Donald eternally feels shame for all he’s done – and this fall is already in the cards, any day now – in fact, overdue. The detractors need to just keep saying what they’ve been saying, or dial it up a bit, or find a new angle – but regardless, he will fall spectacularly, it’s already a done deal. SO they keep harassing him, believing that will tip the scales soon.
I say: NEITHER SET of die-hards sees the world accurately.
First, re: Donald’s detractors: Harrassing Donald Trump is mostly pointless. He feeds on it.
Second, re: Trump’s supporters: He IS abnormal, and the fact we are here doesn’t say good things about the health of our democracy, and doesn’t say good things about our world twenty years from now if it goes like it’s headed.
In May or June-ish of 2016, when DT was well on his way to securing the Republican nomination, one of my friends asked me “BUT WHY?”
The analogy I made then – is that American government, governing, and politically getting stuff done are broken, and have been broken for decades. Quite a few people are sick of it all, sick of politics, and sick of politicians. Quite a few people across the political spectrum want to smash it all. Or they’re annoyed enough with politics to “check out”, but they don’t mind if somebody else smashes it all. I used the analogy then of “Humpty Dumpty”… Donald J. Trump is pretty much promising, albeit in coded language, that he’ll pull the unworkable “Humpty Dumpty” government off the wall and beat the snot out of it, so all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put it back together again.
Authoritarian language? In this context, a feature, not a bug. A steamroller of norms and values? Again, a feature, not a bug. An ego the size of Manhattan. Feature not a bug.
Under what circumstances and context do amoral opportunists come in to smash it all? And what tactics do they use? This isn’t rocket science – read “The Prince” by Machiavelli, or study the life of Caesar, Napoleon, or Saddam Hussein. Read “The Art of War” regarding when your enemies are weak and ripe for toppling. Look around.
But before we go too far and get lost in the comparison to opportunistic, egotistical authoritarians… if we do that, we lose the point here.
WE. THE. PEOPLE. We the people have a duty, in a democracy, to make government and governing work. And whatever you blame… parties, society, or whatever… we the people have let politics become unworkable.
Sure, liberals believe this that’s wrong, and conservatives believe that that’s wrong, and you’re shouting to be heard, when will they hear how wrong “they” are? Should I shout “you’re wrong” louder?
But a factor larger than all that is that the largest plurality supports the guy who’s going to knock Humpty Dumpty off the wall and mess him up. IT SEEMS like everybody, including the next smallest pluralities are arguing about the same things we’ve argued about for decades, with arguments seemingly limited to two mutually exclusive ideologies, using the same shop-worn crap that lots and lots of people are tired of. (And a bunch of others have “checked out”, but obviously that doesn’t change the dynamics above.)
Trump WANTS Republicans and Democrats to agree on nothing. It creates a space of chaos in which he can work on a whole different plane, in a way that we don’t even know how to talk about if we can only analyze from conservative and liberal talking points.
In the big picture, a decent chunk of Trump’s supporters, a decent chunk of Trump’s detractors, and a decent chunk of people who don’t care all want to dismantle and reconfigure our unworkable politics. Okay… and/but/so… How do we do that? ACTUALLY re-configuring political systems and societies in real life is unavoidably messy, especially with no consensus. Change things, yes, but to what? How? Why? We just don’t agree. And, when things get messy in these kind of matters, human beings don’t really have honest or direct conversation about it.
Our primate cousins ALSO get dishonest in the middle of power struggles – dishonesty, backstabbing, and hidden intentions are baked into how “revolutions” go at a very primal level. Disaffected people wanting to smash it all IS a big driver right now, so the Humpty-Dumpty killer has enough support to be in power, and the dynamics are chaotic. This introduces factors which run counter to our normal assumptions about politics. Lies and distortions are ALSO a feature not a bug. And so, to those who agree with a liar, the right lie is not “bad”, and not a strike against the liar. So heavy focus on “this is a lie”, and “that’s a lie” by the guy pulling poor Humpty off the wall, to some degree has us going in circles, because so many people justify the lie as “a different kind of truth”. So, Trump lies. Pretty simple. I’m not saying “big deal”… but let’s take a step back and breathe for a minute.
WE. THE. PEOPLE. We the people have failed to make government, governing, and politics work.
We’ve built (and are fairly complicit in) a system where neither party really works for what’s best for all of us, and the ideological faceoff has both power structures blind and belligerent. The extremely persistent hypocrisy of both parties is an example.
So. We get Donald Trump. The wrecking ball. Because we couldn’t fix it ourselves. Is that the end of it?
Narcissists are just a TOOL, that WE, the people, USE, when we’re faced with an intractable mess of government. They’re useful. Not to “all” of us. And not even a majority of us – but with the level of division, mutually exclusive parties, checked out people, and nihilists who want to burn it all down, now making decisions by majority just ISN’T POSSIBLE. “WE” drifts toward whoever seems to smash through the b.s. and cobble together the biggest sub-group. If it works, exhausted people fall in line, and beat the still trying to squabble opponents into submission. Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Wyatt Earp in Tombstone. Napoleon shouldering aside the Directory. All that happened in the middle of a hot mess. The narcissist opportunist who steps forward to grab power is secondary to the fact that a hot mess existed to begin with to leave that opening.
The fact that a wrecking ball makes sense to so many people says more about us than it says about the wrecking ball.
After the china shop is under bad management for a long long time, and everybody’s fighting about what goes where, bringing in a bull looks like a good idea. Level it. Smash it. Screw the china shop. The smoking rubble of an empty lot gives us a clearer space to start from scratch. While we’re surveying the smoking rubble, our most trusted leader will present an idea of where to go from there. Strangely enough, this way of thinking transcends liberal, conservative, and nihilist-screw-it-all types… a lot of the most passionate people have this possibility in the back of their minds.
And because Trump is the bull “we” have chosen (the we that couldn’t agree on anything), liberals who want to smash it all actually empower Trump, not undermine him.
And if all you’ve got out of that is “but the Republicans!” or “but the Democrats!”, then that’s just more of the same. If YOU don’t want the bull in the china shop making our governing decisions, effing get along, and effing support policy proposals that works for ALL Americans – moderates, liberals, conservatives, don’t cares, and sick of it alls. We’re in this together, all of us.
It is not him. It is us.
May 11, 2019 — 3:00 am
A well thought and well written commentary on something that effects us all.
May 9, 2019 — 7:41 am
You nailed it. 🎯