Monday, August 24, 2015

Pundits continue to chew over Trump's appeal

Roger Cohen has put on his Big Thinking hat and tried to find a common reason for the popularity of Donald Trump's White Power campaign in the Republican Party, Bernie Sanders' popularity among the Democratic base and left-leaning Jeremy Corbyn's strength among the British Labour Party's rank-and-file. (Politics Upended in Britain and America New York Times 08/24/2015)

So he comes up with a generalization broad enough that it could include everyone on the planet:

This is a season of radical discontent. People believe the system is rigged. They have good reason. Rigged to favor the super-rich, rigged to accentuate inequality, rigged to hide huge increases in the cost of living, rigged to buy elections, rigged to put off retirement, rigged to eviscerate pensions, rigged to export jobs, rigged to sabotage equal opportunity, rigged to hurt the middle class and minorities and the poor. Increasingly unequal societies have spawned anger, an unsurprising development. The anger is diffuse, in search of somebody to articulate it, preferably in short declarative sentences.
Yeah, Trump's Tea Party fans are worried about campaign finance and how things are "rigged to hurt the middle class and minorities and the poor." So they flock after Donald Trump's message of scary Mexican moochers who he describes in the same terms Southern lynch mobs described their African-American victims.

But then, Cohen is no one to be especially concerned about white racism, having written a couple of years ago that "people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children." (Ryan Grim and Katherine Fung, Richard Cohen Defends Column: 'Word Racist Is Truly Hurtful' Huffington Post 11/12/2013)

He defended himself on that by claiming he was paraphrasing views of Tea Partiers, not expressing his own. But somehow that didn't seem to give him any insight for the latest column that Trump's fans - unlike most of those of Bernie Sanders or (presumably) Jeremy Corbyn - was not just about some vague sentiment that "the system is rigged." Even the Koch Brothers could agree that "the system is rigged" - against multi-billionaire white Bircher types like themselves.

To the extent that his column is anything other than an attempt to sanitize Republican extremism of which Trump is only the currently most prominent example, it promotes a lazy understanding of politics. Trump-loving white nationalists and Tea Partiers are not potential Sanders voters for the general election. Because supposedly more establishment candidates like Jeb! BUSH are also finding ways to feed the same sort of red meat to the Republican base that Trump specializes in. And they're not aping Bernie Sanders to do it. Cohen describes Sanders basic approach as follows: "Sanders wants to expand Social Security, take America to a single-payer European-style national health system, invest massively to restore America’s crumbling infrastructure, make public college tuition free, get rid of 'starvation wages' for workers, tax Wall Street trading, end America’s wars, and break up banks that are too big to fail."

Trump, on the other hand, is ranting to White Power crowds about Mexican rapists and "anchor babies."

Sanders and Corbyn are talking about meaningful ways to un-rig "the system" and make it work better on behalf of "the middle class and minorities and the poor."

Trump is proposing to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and their American children. Charlie Pierce characterizes this accurately, "Old poison in new bottles. Welcome to the campaign of the current Republican frontrunner." (Future President Donald Trump Deems the 14th Amendment Unconstitutional Esquire Politics Blog 08/19/2015)

Evan Osnos has a worthwhile long read about the Trump campaign. (The Fearful and the Frustrated, titled on the front page with the more descriptive "Trump and the White Nationalists" New Yorker 08/31/2015 issue; accessing 08/24/2015)

I wasn't so impressed with the first part of this article: Trump's supporters are frustrated, blah, blah. But then it goes into the White Power core of his appeal, and that part of the article makes lots of sense. I listened to Trump's Sweet Home Alabama speech on C-Span, and I though I heard someone yell "white power!" I listened to it again, and wasn't entirely sure if it was that or "Trump power". But Osnos heard "white power," too. It sure looked and sounded otherwise like a Ross Barnett rally. (It also reminded me of the swaggering, rich-guy-playing-good-ole-boy performance CEO Hugh McColl put on just after the merger of NationsBank and Bank of America into the current Bank of America.)

It's notable that the brave defenders of the White Race that Jared Taylor found for Osmos to interview refused to give their last names, not incidentally making it impossible to verify the personal anecdotes they use to justify their racial obsessions.

I've gotten to where I almost want to scream, though, whenever I see the latest in the upteenth mentions of Richard Hofstadter, which even Osnos does. I mean, Hofstadter's writing on the "paranoid style" from the 1950s and the 1960s is good. And what he had to say is still useful. But what he wrote 60 years ago wasn't the last word on rightwing radicalism. There has a been a large volume of study and analysis of far-right authoritarian politics in the last couple of decades. Rick Perlstein, Dave Neiwert and John Dean are just three examples. But our Pod Pundits (I'll exempt Osnos from that disreputable group) don't seem to have ever heard of any but Richard Hofstadter.

I've written about Hofstadter in Richard Hofstadter and the "paranoid style" of politics 12/29/2004 and Richard Hofstadter, Broderized 03/01/2010.

Joan Walsh refers to Osmos' article in a piece Monday. (Donald Trump’s Southern strategy: What his Alabama pep rally revealed about the right’s new racial politics Salon 08/24/2015) She also says, "Personally, I can’t decide whether Trump is playing Nixon or George Wallace. Of course, in polite journalistic company, we’re not supposed to say either. We’re still supposed to act like Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign represents the legitimate frustration of the white working class."

I think Krugman is right about the fuzziness of the Beltway Village notion of "the white working class" and of who Trump's base is most likely to be. (Tea and Trumpism 08/11/2015) Joan also mentions something I didn't know, which was that Trump was still trashing the "Central Park Five" even after they had been completely exonerated.

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