Palin Does Trump-- And She Speaks For All The Paranoid Racist Misanthropes Of America
Part of the reason Trump has shot to the top of the polls-- and has increased his standing while elite journalists and pundits consistently predicted he would implode-- is because media consumers can't get enough of him. He's an outspoken TV celebrity who can get away with saying outrageous things and making up his own facts-- the way Reagan used to do-- and the media covers him as if he were an OJ Simpson car chase. He's great for ratings. It might not compute in my own world-- I never slow down to stare at a highway accident-- but I know that people with sad, shallow lives get something out of identifying with a brash in-your-face asshole and bully like Donald Trump.
Perhaps overexposure will eventually kill off his run, in which case the GOP nomination will go to Trump favorite and fellow fascist Ted Cruz. But watching the embarrassingly pedestrian interview Sarah Palin did with Trump Friday night on some network no one had ever heard of before, OAN (above), maybe people will eventually just grow bored with his antics. There's plenty of time. The Iowa caucuses aren't till the beginning of February. The New Hampshire primary is a week later. The South Carolina Republican primary is February 20-- Dems go a week later-- and the Nevada Republican caucuses are February 23 (three days after the Democrats caucus in that state). So we have five full months before any voting even gets started.
I was interested in one number from the latest Reuters-Ipsos poll released yesterday. It wasn't that the give-day moving average showed Trump at the head of the pack with 28.4% (with almost five times more support than Establishment fave Jeb Bush) but that in the #2 spot was "wouldn't vote"-- 25.2%.
One would like to think that Trump's compulsive lying would do him in, but we're talking about a thoroughly Foxified, dumbed-down Republican primary electorate, so... facts don't matter. When Trump says "millions" of "illegals" are streaming over the southern border, he's appealing to ugly, naked fear, not trying to score points in a debate. The facts-- that deportations of undocumented Mexican immigrants soared after George W. Bush left office, that the number of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has declined, and that more Mexicans have left the U.S. than arrived since Obama became president-- aren't something Trump (or Fox) would ever deem information to impart to Republican primary voters. Why confuse them further?
A few weeks ago we started looking at the similarities between Trump's appeal and the classic appeals fascists were using to reach voters in Europe before World War II. More and more of the mainstream media is starting to notice the same thing. Evan Osnos, writing in The New Yorker, remarks on Trump's flirtation with fascism by noting that his "nationalist coalition" is taking shape.
What accounts for Donald Trump’s political moment? How did a real campaign emerge from a proposition so ludicrous that an episode of The Simpsons once used a Trump Presidency as the conceit for a dystopian future? The candidate himself is an unrewarding source of answers. Plumbing Trump’s psyche is as productive as asking American Pharoah, the winner of the Triple Crown, why he runs. The point is what happens when he does.Meanwhile, the Des Moines Register published the newest Iowa Poll today and it looks like dissatisfaction with the Establishment isn't just a Republican thing. Iowa Democrats have swung strongly away from Establishment candidate Hillary Clinton and towards... Bernie:
In New Hampshire, where voters pride themselves on being unimpressed, Fred Rice, a Republican state representative, arrived at a Trump rally in the beach town of Hampton on an August evening, and found people waiting patiently in a two-hour line that stretched a quarter of a mile down the street. “Never seen that at a political event before,” he said. Other Republicans offer “canned bullshit,” Rice went on. “People have got so terribly annoyed and disenchanted and disenfranchised, really, by candidates who get up there, and all their stump speeches promise everything to everyone.” By the night’s end, Rice was sold. “I heard echoes of Ronald Reagan,” he told me, adding, “If I had to vote today, I would vote for Trump.”
To inhabit Trump’s landscape for a while, to chase his jet or stay behind with his fans in a half-dozen states, is to encounter a confederacy of the frustrated-- less a constituency than a loose alliance of Americans who say they are betrayed by politicians, victimized by a changing world, and enticed by Trump’s insurgency. Dave Anderson, a New Hampshire Republican who retired from United Parcel Service, told me, “People say, ‘Well, it’d be nice to have another Bush.’ No, it wouldn’t be nice. We had two. They did their duty. That’s fine, but we don’t want this Bush following what his brother did. And he’s not coming across as very strong at all. He’s not saying what Trump is saying. He’s not saying what the issues are.”
Trump’s constant talk of his money, his peering down on the one per cent (not to mention the ninety-nine), has helped him to a surprising degree. “I love the fact that he wouldn’t be owing anybody,” Nancy Merz, a fifty-two-year-old Hampton Republican, told me. She worked at a furniture company, she said. “But the industry went down the tubes.” Her husband, Charlie, used to build household electricity meters at a General Electric plant, until the job moved to Mexico. Now he parks cars at a hospital. Trump, in his speech, promised to stop companies from sending jobs abroad, and the Merzes became Trump Republicans. They are churchgoers, but they don’t expect Trump to become one, and they forgive his unpriestly comments about women. “There are so many other things going on in this country that we’ve got be concerned about,” Nancy said. “I’ve seen a lot of our friends lose their houses.”
Trump’s fans project onto him a vast range of imaginings-- about toughness, business acumen, honesty-- from a continuum that ranges from economic and libertarian conservatives to the far-right fringe. In partisan terms, his ideas are riven by contradiction-- he calls for mass deportations but opposes cuts to Medicare and Social Security; he vows to expand the military but criticizes free trade-- and yet that is a reflection of voters’ often incoherent sets of convictions. The biggest surprise in Trump’s following? He “made an incredible surge among the Tea Party supporters,” according to Patrick Murray, who runs polling for Monmouth University. Before Trump announced his candidacy, only twenty per cent of Tea Partiers had a favorable view of him; a month later, that figure had risen to fifty-six per cent. Trump became the top choice among Tea Party voters, supplanting (and opening a large lead over) Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Governor Scott Walker, of Wisconsin, both Tea Party stalwarts. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted last month, the “broad majority” of Trump’s supporters hailed from two groups: voters with no college degree, and voters who say that immigrants weaken America. By mid-August, Trump was even closing in on Hillary Clinton. CNN reported that, when voters were asked to choose between the two, Clinton was leading fifty-one per cent to forty-five.
In Hampton, I dropped by Fast Eddie’s Diner for the breakfast rush. “He has my vote,” Karen Mayer, a sixty-one-year-old human-resources manager, told me. Already? “Already,” she said. Her husband, Bob Hazelton, nodded in agreement. I asked what issue they cared about more than any other. “Illegal immigration, because it’s destroying the country,” Mayer said. I didn’t expect that answer in New Hampshire, I remarked. She replied, “They’re everywhere, and they are sucking our economy dry.” Hazelton nodded again, and said, “And we’re paying for it.”
When the Trump storm broke this summer, it touched off smaller tempests that stirred up American politics in ways that were easy to miss from afar. At the time, I happened to be reporting on extremist white-rights groups, and observed at first hand their reactions to his candidacy. Trump was advancing a dire portrait of immigration that partly overlapped with their own. On June 28th, twelve days after Trump’s announcement, the Daily Stormer, America’s most popular neo-Nazi news site, endorsed him for President: “Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it’s time to deport these people.” The Daily Stormer urged white men to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.
Ever since the Tea Party’s peak, in 2010, and its fade, citizens on the American far right-- Patriot militias, border vigilantes, white supremacists-- have searched for a standard-bearer, and now they’d found him. In the past, “white nationalists,” as they call themselves, had described Trump as a “Jew-lover,” but the new tone of his campaign was a revelation. Richard Spencer is a self-described “identitarian” who lives in Whitefish, Montana, and promotes “white racial consciousness.” At thirty-six, Spencer is trim and preppy, with degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago. He is the president and director of the National Policy Institute, a think tank, co-founded by William Regnery, a member of the conservative publishing family, that is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Spencer “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.” Spencer told me that he had expected the Presidential campaign to be an “amusing freak show,” but that Trump was “refreshing.” He went on, “Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have-- that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon. I think he is the one person who can tap into it.”
Jared Taylor, the editor of American Renaissance, a white-nationalist magazine and Web site based in Oakton, Virginia, told me, in regard to Trump, “I’m sure he would repudiate any association with people like me, but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit.”
...Ann Coulter, whose most recent book is ¡Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole, appeared on Sean Hannity’s show and urged fellow-Republicans to see Trump’s summer as a harbinger. “The new litmus test for real conservatives is immigration,” she said. “They used to say the same thing about the pro-life Republicans and the pro-gun Republicans, and, ‘Oh, they’re fringe and they’re tacky, and we’re so embarrassed to be associated with them.’ Now every one of them comes along and pretends they’d be Reagan.”
From the pantheon of great demagogues, Trump has plucked some best practices-- William Jennings Bryan’s bombast, Huey Long’s wit, Father Charles Coughlin’s mastery of the airwaves-- but historians are at pains to find the perfect analogue, because so much of Trump’s recipe is specific to the present. Celebrities had little place in American politics until the 1920 Presidential election, when Al Jolson and other stars from the fledgling film industry endorsed Warren Harding [who ran on deporting Mexican immigrants and promptly did so after he was elected]. Two decades ago, Americans were less focussed on paid-for politicians, so Ross Perot, a self-funded billionaire candidate, did not derive the same benefit as Trump from the perception of independence.
Trump’s signature lines-- “The American dream is dead” and “We don’t have victories anymore”-- constitute a bitter mantra in tune with a moment when the share of Americans who tell Gallup pollsters that there is “plenty of opportunity” has dropped to an unprecedented fifty-two per cent; when trust in government has reached its lowest level on record, and Americans’ approval of both major parties has sunk, for the first time, below forty per cent. Matthew Heimbach, who is twenty-four, and a prominent white-nationalist activist in Cincinnati, told me that Trump has energized disaffected young men like him. “He is bringing people back out of their slumber,” he said.
Ordinarily, the white-nationalist Web sites mock Republicans as Zionist stooges and corporate puppets who have opened the borders in order to keep wages low. But, on July 9th, VDARE, an opinion site founded to “push back the plans of pro-Amnesty/Immigration Surge politicians, ethnic activists and corrupt Big Business,” hailed Trump as “the first figure with the financial, cultural, and economic resources to openly defy elite consensus. If he can mobilize Republicans behind him and make a credible run for the Presidency, he can create a whole new media environment for patriots to openly speak their mind without fear of losing their jobs.” The piece was headlined “WE ARE ALL DONALD TRUMP NOW.”
Trump has succeeded in unleashing an old gene in American politics-- the crude tribalism that Richard Hofstadter named “the paranoid style”-- and, over the summer, it replicated like a runaway mutation. Whenever Americans have confronted the reshuffling of status and influence-- the Great Migration, the end of Jim Crow, the end of a white majority-- we succumb to the anti-democratic politics of absolutism, of a “conflict between absolute good and absolute evil,” in which, Hofstadter wrote, “the quality needed is not a willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Nothing but complete victory will do.” Trump was born to the part. “I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win,” he wrote, in The Art of the Deal. “Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.” Trump, who long ago mastered the behavioral nudges that could herd the public into his casinos and onto his golf courses, looked so playful when he gave out Lindsey Graham’s cell-phone number that it was easy to miss just how malicious a gesture it truly was. It expressed the knowledge that, with a single utterance, he could subject an enemy to that most savage weapon of all: us.
Trump’s candidacy has already left a durable mark, expanding the discourse of hate such that, in the midst of his feuds and provocations, we barely even registered that Senator Ted Cruz had called the sitting President “the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism,” or that Senator Marco Rubio had redoubled his opposition to abortion in cases of rape, incest, or a mortal threat to the mother. Trump has bequeathed a concoction of celebrity, wealth, and alienation that is more potent than any we’ve seen before. If, as the Republican establishment hopes, the stargazers eventually defect, Trump will be left with the hardest core-- the portion of the electorate that is drifting deeper into unreality, with no reconciliation in sight.