Ted's Excellent Adventure In Indiana... Ended Any Chance Of Him Becoming President
I don't have any warm and fuzzy feelings for Ted Cruz. I tend to see him something like Boehner sees him-- but I'm sure I hate him even more than Boehner does, since they agree on policy and just differ on process. I hate everything Cruz wants to do to my country. Nonetheless, yesterday I almost felt sorry for him. He was in Marion, Indiana and decided to confront, in a friendly and personable way, the Trump fans in his audience. Now, what does it take to be a Trump fan who drives all the way from Ohio to heckle Ted Cruz and repeatedly scream "Lyin' Ted" into his face? Let's start with the likelihood of a sad double-digit IQ... but attached to a pretty good memory. Watch the video up top.
Cruz tried using facts and reason on these hecklers. The one I caught on TV, the self-described "pole climber" from Ohio, asked Cruz what he's going to do about the Second Amendment. Fact: no one is as radical and extreme as Cruz when it comes to gun-lunacy. And he has a long record to back it up, a record he shared with the Trumpist pole climber. Furthermore Trump is kind of a quasi-liberal on gun rights. "Donald Trump," said Cruz, then feeling safely far from the thrashing he got in New York 2 weeks ago, "is a New York liberal who will take away your Second Amendment rights. This man is lying to you and will take advantage of you."
How frustrating was it for poor Cruz to have the tables turned on him by the ignorant and brainwashed rubes who have, until the dawning of the Era of Trump, boosted his career? Ted sounds so uncharacteristically... reasonable. "Civilized people," he told the uncivilized baboon who kept screaming "Lyin' Ted" he was trying to reason with, "don't just scream and yell at each other." Maybe Cruz should have thought of that before he joined the Republican Party.
Today, Indiana Republicans basically told Ted Cruz to go pack it in and accept the inevitable. And that's what he's doing. Indiana was, after all, a bigger power base for the KKK when it was at its peak than even Georgia or Alabama was. And at one time that might have been good news for Ted Cruz... but not with Trump as his opponent. In a 3-way race Trump won 589,416 (53.3%) to 405,581 (36.6%) for Cruz and 83,801 (7.6%) for Kasich. And which Senate contender won the support of a Republican electorate that turned out to give Trump the nomination and end Cruz's hopes? The Wall Street-owned Chamber of Commerce guy (Todd Young) thrashed the far right teabagger (Marlin Stutzman), 67.1% to 32.9%. Young will face one of the worst and most reactionary of the old line Blue Dogs, Baron Hill, hoping against hope for an unlikely-- and undeserved-- political comeback.
Andrew Sullivan has a story in the new New York Magazine that makes a chilling point: America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny. "[A]s I watched frenzied Trump rallies on C-SPAN in the spring, and saw him lay waste to far more qualified political peers in the debates by simply calling them names," he wrote, "the nausea turned to dread. And when he seemed to condone physical violence as a response to political disagreement, alarm bells started to ring in my head... Could it be that the Donald has emerged from the populist circuses of pro wrestling and New York City tabloids, via reality television and Twitter, to prove not just Plato but also James Madison right, that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention … and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”? Is he testing democracy’s singular weakness-- its susceptibility to the demagogue-- by blasting through the firewalls we once had in place to prevent such a person from seizing power? Or am I overreacting?"
That Ohio pole-climber Cruz spent so much time speaking with in the video... he seems really ripe for fascism... really ripe; begging for it.
This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain-- and has actually helped exacerbate.
For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.
Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear-- how can they not?-- the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them-- all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities-- and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”
And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the tea party: not just the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of the white working-class world, its culture and way of life. Obama never intended this, but he became a symbol to many of this cultural marginalization. The Black Lives Matter left stoked the fires still further; so did the gay left, for whom the word magnanimity seems unknown, even in the wake of stunning successes. And as the tea party swept through Washington in 2010, as its representatives repeatedly held the government budget hostage, threatened the very credit of the U.S., and refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, the American political and media Establishment mostly chose to interpret such behavior as something other than unprecedented. But Trump saw what others didn’t, just as Hoffer noted: “The frustrated individual and the true believer make better prognosticators than those who have reason to want the preservation of the status quo.”
...[W]hat’s notable about Trump’s supporters is precisely what one would expect from members of a mass movement: their intense loyalty. Trump is their man, however inarticulate they are when explaining why. He’s tough, he’s real, and they’ve got his back, especially when he is attacked by all the people they have come to despise: liberal Democrats and traditional Republicans. At rallies, whenever a protester is hauled out, you can almost sense the rising rage of the collective identity venting itself against a lone dissenter and finding a catharsis of sorts in the brute force a mob can inflict on an individual. Trump tells the crowd he’d like to punch a protester in the face or have him carried out on a stretcher. No modern politician who has come this close to the presidency has championed violence in this way. It would be disqualifying if our hyperdemocracy hadn’t already abolished disqualifications.
And while a critical element of 20th-century fascism-- its organized street violence-- is missing, you can begin to see it in embryonic form. The phalanx of bodyguards around Trump grows daily; plainclothes bouncers in the crowds have emerged as pseudo-cops to contain the incipient unrest his candidacy will only continue to provoke; supporters have attacked hecklers with sometimes stunning ferocity. Every time Trump legitimizes potential violence by his supporters by saying it comes from a love of country, he sows the seeds for serious civil unrest.
Trump celebrates torture-- the one true love of tyrants everywhere-- not because it allegedly produces intelligence but because it has a demonstration effect. At his rallies he has recounted the mythical acts of one General John J. Pershing when confronted with an alleged outbreak of Islamist terrorism in the Philippines. Pershing, in Trump’s telling, lines up 50 Muslim prisoners, swishes a series of bullets in the corpses of freshly slaughtered pigs, and orders his men to put those bullets in their rifles and kill 49 of the captured Muslim men. He spares one captive solely so he can go back and tell his friends. End of the terrorism problem.
In some ways, this story contains all the elements of Trump’s core appeal. The vexing problem of tackling jihadist terror? Torture and murder enough terrorists and they will simply go away. The complicated issue of undocumented workers, drawn by jobs many Americans won’t take? Deport every single one of them and build a wall to stop the rest. Fuck political correctness. As one of his supporters told an obtuse reporter at a rally when asked if he supported Trump: “Hell yeah! He’s no-bullshit. All balls. Fuck you all balls. That’s what I’m about.” And therein lies the appeal of tyrants from the beginning of time. Fuck you all balls. Irrationality with muscle.
The racial aspect of this is also unmissable. When the enemy within is Mexican or Muslim, and your ranks are extremely white, you set up a rubric for a racial conflict. And what’s truly terrifying about Trump is that he does not seem to shrink from such a prospect; he relishes it.
For, like all tyrants, he is utterly lacking in self-control. Sleeping a handful of hours a night, impulsively tweeting in the early hours, improvising madly on subjects he knows nothing about, Trump rants and raves as he surfs an entirely reactive media landscape. Once again, Plato had his temperament down: A tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning,” a man who “throughout his entire life... is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains.” Sound familiar? Trump is as mercurial and as unpredictable and as emotional as the daily Twitter stream. And we are contemplating giving him access to the nuclear codes.
Those who believe that Trump’s ugly, thuggish populism has no chance of ever making it to the White House seem to me to be missing this dynamic. Neo-fascist movements do not advance gradually by persuasion; they first transform the terms of the debate, create a new movement based on untrammeled emotion, take over existing institutions, and then ruthlessly exploit events. And so current poll numbers are only reassuring if you ignore the potential impact of sudden, external events-- an economic downturn or a terror attack in a major city in the months before November. I have no doubt, for example, that Trump is sincere in his desire to “cut the head off” ISIS, whatever that can possibly mean. But it remains a fact that the interests of ISIS and the Trump campaign are now perfectly aligned. Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally.
And though Trump’s unfavorables are extraordinarily high (around 65 percent), he is already showing signs of changing his tune, pivoting (fitfully) to the more presidential mode he envisages deploying in the general election. I suspect this will, to some fools on the fence, come as a kind of relief, and may open their minds to him once more. Tyrants, like mob bosses, know the value of a smile: Precisely because of the fear he’s already generated, you desperately want to believe in his new warmth. It’s part of the good-cop-bad-cop routine that will be familiar to anyone who has studied the presidency of Vladimir Putin.
With his appeal to his own base locked up, Trump may well also shift to more moderate stances on social issues like abortion (he already wants to amend the GOP platform to a less draconian position) or gay and even transgender rights. He is consistent in his inconsistency, because, for him, winning is what counts. He has had a real case against Ted Cruz-- that the senator has no base outside ideological-conservative quarters and is even less likely to win a general election. More potently, Trump has a worryingly strong argument against Clinton herself-- or “crooked Hillary,” as he now dubs her.
...In his 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis wrote a counterfactual about what would happen if fascism as it was then spreading across Europe were to triumph in America. It’s not a good novel, but it remains a resonant one. The imagined American fascist leader-- a senator called Buzz Windrip-- is a “Professional Common Man… But he was the Common Man twenty-times-magnified by his oratory, so that while the other Commoners could understand his every purpose, which was exactly the same as their own, they saw him towering among them, and they raised hands to him in worship.”
He “was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic.” “‘I ” Windrip opines at one point. “‘Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest … plotting how they can put over their lies, and ”
He is obsessed with the balance of trade and promises instant economic success: "‘I shall not be content till this country can produce every single thing we need … We shall have such a balance of trade as will go far to carry out my often-criticized yet completely sound idea of from $3000 to $5000 per year for every single family.’ ” However fantastical and empty his promises, he nonetheless mesmerizes the party faithful at the nominating convention (held in Cleveland!): “Something in the intensity with which Windrip looked at his audience, looked at all of them, his glance slowly taking them in from the highest-perched seat to the nearest, convinced them that he was talking to each individual, directly and solely; that he wanted to take each of them into his heart; that he was telling them the truths, the imperious and dangerous facts, that had been hidden from them.”
And all the elites who stood in his way? Crippled by their own failures, demoralized by their crumbling stature, they first mock and then cave. As one lone journalist laments before the election (he finds himself in a concentration camp afterward): “I’ve got to keep remembering … that Windrip is only the lightest cork on the whirlpool. He didn’t plot all this thing. With all the justified discontent there is against the smart politicians and the Plush Horses of Plutocracy-- oh, if it hadn’t been one Windrip, it’d been another… We had it coming, we Respectables.”
And, 81 years later, many of us did. An American elite that has presided over massive and increasing public debt, that failed to prevent 9/11, that chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively moot in a constitutional democracy: “We Respectables” deserve a comeuppance. The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.
But elites still matter in a democracy. They matter not because they are democracy’s enemy but because they provide the critical ingredient to save democracy from itself. The political Establishment may be battered and demoralized, deferential to the algorithms of the web and to the monosyllables of a gifted demagogue, but this is not the time to give up on America’s near-unique and stabilizing blend of democracy and elite responsibility. The country has endured far harsher times than the present without succumbing to rank demagoguery; it avoided the fascism that destroyed Europe; it has channeled extraordinary outpourings of democratic energy into constitutional order. It seems shocking to argue that we need elites in this democratic age-- especially with vast inequalities of wealth and elite failures all around us. But we need them precisely to protect this precious democracy from its own destabilizing excesses.
And so those Democrats who are gleefully predicting a Clinton landslide in November need to both check their complacency and understand that the Trump question really isn’t a cause for partisan Schadenfreude anymore. It’s much more dangerous than that. Those still backing the demagogue of the left, Bernie Sanders, might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise-- and their facile conflation of that with corruption-- is only playing into Trump’s hands. That it will fall to Clinton to temper her party’s ambitions will be uncomfortable to watch, since her willingness to compromise and equivocate is precisely what many Americans find so distrustful. And yet she may soon be all we have left to counter the threat. She needs to grasp the lethality of her foe, moderate the kind of identity politics that unwittingly empowers him, make an unapologetic case that experience and moderation are not vices, address much more directly the anxieties of the white working class-- and Democrats must listen.
More to the point, those Republicans desperately trying to use the long-standing rules of their own nominating process to thwart this monster deserve our passionate support, not our disdain. This is not the moment to remind them that they partly brought this on themselves. This is a moment to offer solidarity, especially as the odds are increasingly stacked against them. Ted Cruz and John Kasich face their decisive battle in Indiana on May 3. But they need to fight on, with any tactic at hand, all the way to the bitter end. The Republican delegates who are trying to protect their party from the whims of an outsider demagogue are, at this moment, doing what they ought to be doing to prevent civil and racial unrest, an international conflict, and a constitutional crisis. These GOP elites have every right to deploy whatever rules or procedural roadblocks they can muster, and they should refuse to be intimidated.
And if they fail in Indiana or Cleveland, as they likely will, they need, quite simply, to disown their party’s candidate. They should resist any temptation to loyally back the nominee or to sit this election out. They must take the fight to Trump at every opportunity, unite with Democrats and Independents against him, and be prepared to sacrifice one election in order to save their party and their country.
For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.