Friday, March 04, 2016

Andrew Bacevich on Trumpism

Historian Andrew Bacevich reflects on the political developments currently known as the Trump phenomenon in Don’t Cry for Me, America: What Trumpism Means for Democracy TomDispatch 03/01/2016, with an introduction by Nick Turse, Andrew Bacevich, Donald Trump and the Remaking of America.

Bacevich gives Tricky Dicky some of the blame. I always enjoy seeing new support for the Grand Unified Theory of Nixon's Villainy:

There is a form of genius at work here. To an extent unmatched by any other figure in American public life, Trump understands that previous distinctions between the ostensibly serious and the self-evidently frivolous have collapsed. Back in 1968, then running for president, Richard Nixon, of all people, got things rolling when he appeared on Laugh-In and uttered the immortal words, “Sock it to me?” But no one has come close to Trump in grasping the implications of all this: in contemporary America, celebrity confers authority. Mere credentials or qualifications have become an afterthought. How else to explain the host of a "reality" TV show instantly qualifying as a serious contender for high office?
Of course, the Republicans are projecting a more currently theory of Villainy. AS Bacevich notes, "with absolute unanimity, Trump, Cruz, and Rubio ascribe to Barack Obama any and all problems besetting the nation. To take their critique at face value, the country was doing swimmingly well back in 2009 when Obama took office. Today, it’s FUBAR, due entirely to Obama’s malign actions."

He also takes a dig at Presidential megalomananic tendencies:

Fantasies of a great president saving the day still persist, something that Trump, Cruz, and Rubio have all made the centerpiece of their campaigns. Elect me, each asserts. I alone can save the Republic.

Here, however, Trump may enjoy an edge over his competitors, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. With Americans assigning to their presidents the attributes of demigods -- each and every one memorialized before death with a library-shrine -- who better to fill the role than an egomaniacal tycoon who already acts the part? The times call for strong leadership. Who better to provide it than a wheeler-dealer unbothered by the rules that constrain mere mortals?

Bacevich sees Trump as an authoritarian:

Should Trump or a Trump mini-me ultimately succeed in capturing the presidency, a possibility that can no longer be dismissed out of hand, the effects will be even more profound. In all but name, the United States will cease to be a constitutional republic. Once President Trump inevitably declares that he alone expresses the popular will, Americans will find that they have traded the rule of law for a version of caudillismo. Trump’s Washington could come to resemble Buenos Aires in the days of Juan Perón, with Melania a suitably glamorous stand-in for Evita, and plebiscites suitably glamorous stand-ins for elections.
Bacevich is on of my very favorite writers and historians. But I'm afraid he has a surprisingly conventional image of Juan and Eva Perón. Though Peronism is complicated, to put it mildly. I'm not sure how he associates "plebiscites [that are] suitably glamorous stand-ins for elections" with them. The elections of 1946 and 1951 were free and competitive elections, the latter being the first in which Argentine women had the right to vote.

Now, if he wants to compare a Trump Administration to Perón's second Presidency follow by *Isabel* Perón's, that's a much better comparison. Isabel basically let a weird mystic named José López Rega run the show, complete with death squads. That sounds more like Trump's speed to me, given his overt enthusiasm for torture and war crimes. (Pamela Engel, Donald Trump suddenly softened his stance on torture after getting blasted by military and legal experts Business Insider 03/04/2016)

Bacevich makes an intriguing argument about Trump's impact on the two-party system:

If Trump secures the Republican nomination, now an increasingly imaginable prospect, the party is likely to implode. Whatever rump organization survives will have forfeited any remaining claim to represent principled conservatism.

None of this will matter to Trump, however. He is no conservative and Trumpism requires no party. Even if some new institutional alternative to conventional liberalism eventually emerges, the two-party system that has long defined the landscape of American politics will be gone for good.
He doesn't expand on the point in his article. Others have argued that the Citizens United decision resulted in the fracture of the Republican Party as a national organization, massively encouraging the tendency toward a factionalized party of a variety of compenting factions of the billionaires and Christian fundamentalists. The United States is famous for having a "weak" party system anyway. And the Republican Party can still function as an ideologically coherent national party even with competing internal factions. Because on major policy perspectives, even the currently squabbling Presidential candidates share a strong common orientation, as Paul Krugman describes in Clash of Republican Con Artists New York Times 03/04/2016:

In fact, you have to wonder why, exactly, the Republican establishment is really so horrified by Mr. Trump. Yes, he’s a con man, but they all are. So why is this con job different from any other?

The answer, I’d suggest, is that the establishment’s problem with Mr. Trump isn’t the con he brings; it’s the cons he disrupts.

First, there’s the con Republicans usually manage to pull off in national elections — the one where they pose as a serious, grown-up party honestly trying to grapple with America’s problems. The truth is that that party died a long time ago, that these days it’s voodoo economics and neocon fantasies all the way down. ...

What Donald Trump has done is tell the base that it doesn’t have to accept the whole package. He promises to make America white again — surely everyone knows that’s the real slogan, right? — while simultaneously promising to protect Social Security and Medicare, and hinting at (though not actually proposing) higher taxes on the rich. Outraged establishment Republicans splutter that he’s not a real conservative, but neither, it turns out, are many of their own voters.

Just to be clear, I find the prospect of a Trump administration terrifying, and so should you. But you should also be terrified by the prospect of a President Rubio, sitting in the White House with his circle of warmongers, or a President Cruz, whom one suspects would love to bring back the Spanish Inquisition.

Bob Reich gives his version of the end-of-the-Party on his Facebook page today:

If you caught any of last night’s Republican debate you understand my point that there is no longer a Republican Party. In its place we have a Star Wars barroom of yelling, yiping, vulgar, empty-headed, bigoted buffoons. The level of discourse last night reached a new low (Trump bragged about being well-endowed “I guarantee you there’s no problem down there”), and the degree of animus a new level of school-yard vapidity. This is not a governing party’s candidates. It is a collection of wining [sic] teenagers.
But does the level of internal chaos among Republican Party factions mean that the two party system is set to disintegrate? I would rule it out, but I'm dubious. The US system of winner-take-all elections is a powerful incentive to a two-party system.

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