Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Those DT Blues

I’ve got those DT Blues.

I have tried, and I can’t shake them.  Those DT Blues have been getting me down.  It’s possible—not necessarily likely but definitely possible—that Donald Trump will defy the laws of nature (those he doesn’t deny) and become our next President.

As Sherlock Holmes once said, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

It’s a great line from the Great Detective, but improbabilities don’t happen all that often in politics.  Yes, there is the odd upset in a primary, and once in a while you have a wave election where even old favorites can get swept away.  But Presidential politics—especially in the primary era, does not lend itself to the weird and outré.  There just aren’t that many longshot candidacies that end in success—there are the “quixotic” and the pretenders, the contenders and the winners. Obama might have surprised Hillary in 2008, but he was already considered a supernova by that time.  Other candidates in recent years—Romney, McCain, Bush the Younger, Dole, Bush Senior, Reagan, Ford and Nixon were all established party names. The Democrats could get a little funkier—Carter and McGovern in particular, but the edge for an Establishment-favored or even accepted candidate, from name recognition, to money, to institutional help, was so significant that the idea of a successful Trump candidacy seemed absurd. 

Yet, here he is.  When historians do the post-mortem of this election, and particularly, on the nominating process, they may very well focus on the fragmented field, the surprising underperformance by those candidates who should have been better, and most importantly, on the emergence of a potent populism.  But what Republicans (actually, pretty much all of us) clearly did not see was that, in a strange sort of way, the quadrennial complaints of the hard-right were actually correct—the GOP never had nominated a “true” conservative, and, by doing so, had never really energized the base.

This is where Trump, and his brilliantly asynchronous campaign, achieved complete tactical surprise.  Conservatism is not necessarily just some pristine set of principles laid out for all time like the Ten Commandments. Rather, it is a pulse, a way of thinking about things, an urgency for command, a desire for order, and a willingness to use power to impose that order. 

Trump’s opponents, and the GOP at the institutional level, failed to recognize that.  They simply assumed that the primary battle would take place on familiar ground—a group of basically like-minded people fighting over narrow slices of ground defined mostly by tone and not substance.  So they all just read from the same hymnal, some with a little more fire and brimstone than the others, all while trying to appear “Presidential.” When Trump began to show some staying power, they (and their allies in the media and intelligentsia) began banging a new drum. Trump was not only coarse and un-Presidential; he wasn’t even a conservative.

But he was a conservative. Not a check-the-box type, but, rather, at the gut level. That’s why he has the nomination—he didn’t win it by default—he’s wanted, passionately, by a determined group of primary voters who liked both what he said, and the way he said it.  

One of the great paradoxes of Trump’s appeal is that a made-for-television personality could actually appear to be authentic. He’s lived his life out in the open, courted publicity, bragged about his sex life, threatened, cajoled, promoted, bankrupted. What many of us (Left, Center and Right) didn’t expect was that his apparently unscripted boorishness and his manifest dislike for certain ethnic groups somehow added to his authenticity, and made him more appealing to some.  All of us know “a guy” and maybe a few “guys” who say things that make you wince.  He’s the shirtless one at the 4th of July picnic manning the grill, flipping burgers and dogs and chicken, popping open cans of beer, and running off a bit at the mouth.  Some of us like what he says, because, to tell the truth, we don’t particularly cotton to “those people” all that much anyway, and we are tired of all this pussy-footing around about hurting people’s feelings. The insulted ones should man up and not be so sensitive—and maybe they should leave, and take their funny accents and their different cultures elsewhere.  That Trump wears a fancy suit instead of tank-top, and still talks like that, just shows how potent he is.  Nobody tells Trump what to say.  Trump doesn’t take guff. He will put down those tongs and the 25-ounce Bud and lay you out—or, have one of his friends do it for him. So either join in the fun, have a beer and a brat, or shut the heck up.

OK, the billionaire gets the Archie Bunker crowd. For his supporters on the far right, they hear a little goose-step in his swagger (and tweets) and they love it.  For NRA members, Trump-world will be a land where you get a high-five for packing heat, not some scolding.  For displaced blue-collar workers tired of seeing their jobs shipped somewhere, Trump’s going to tear up every trade deal, every last piece of paper that sucks the life out of their communities, because he’s a world-class negotiator. 

But even that doesn’t make you President.  So, as with any good salesman, wait…there’s more!  If you own a small business, you are tired of dumb regulations and filling out forms, Trump will do something about that. Maybe you lost out on a promotion or your daughter got turned down at the college of her choice, and you don’t think it was done on merit—Trump will do something about that.  Or your Social Security—Trump says he will protect that.  It could just be Hillary—Trump will clean her clock in November and send her to jail, and boy, don’t those Clintons (especially her) deserve their comeuppance?

From all that, you start to see the outlines of a winning coalition—but not everyone who should be is on board. I have read literally hundreds of editorials, op-eds, and syndicated pieces by conservative authors.  Many are highly critical of Trump—George Will has actually left the GOP over his nomination, and the distinguished scholar Charles Murray has said he can’t support the candidacy. Senior members of the Bush Administration’s national security team have even gone so far as to say they will vote for Clinton.  It’s not easy to buck party loyalty (for confirmation, watch Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain try to retain their dignity while kneeling) but these people, and like-minded others, as well as some very big money people, realize that a Trump Presidency is a bridge too far for them.  They will sit it out, or spend their energies down-ballot.

Yet, all those finely-honed and sincere pieces are just a whisper in a storm.  Here’s another one from the Washington Post “I hate Donald Trump, but he might get my vote.”   It’s by a gentlemen named Jim Ruth.  He identifies himself as part of the “New Silent Majority” and says, “We are under no illusions about Trump. We know that this Man Who Would Be King is a classic bully and a world-class demagogue in his personal, professional and political lives. He will continue to demonize his perceived enemies and take the low road at every opportunity…. So why then would rational, affluent, informed citizens consider voting for The Donald? Short of not voting at all — still an option some of us are considering — he’s the only one who appears to want to preserve the American way of life as we know it.”

And that is the one note Trump’s been playing on his Gibson, better than anyone else:  Command, order, and control—the true modern conservatism.

It’s left me with those DT Blues.    

July 5, 2016

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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