Scientists detected gravitational waves as black holes collided a billion light years away, verifying the final prediction in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but all anybody could talk about was Donald J. Trump. So let’s add to the cacophony!
After 2012’s bizarre Presidential primary season (I guess it’ll become known as Clown Car 1.0), Republican poobahs futzed with the schedule to make it easier to winnow the field in favor of a strong early candidacy. Individual billionaire sugar daddies, unfettered by contribution limits, were allowing asterisks like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to last far beyond their sell-by dates instead of dutifully joining the Tribal Council alongside Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. This was confusing the faithful, who are accustomed to receiving decisions from on high. Ever since Ronald Reagan challenged and nearly toppled Gerald Ford in 1976, which some felt softened Ford up for the Jimmy Carter insurgency, Pub candidates have tended to take their rightful turns in the captain’s seat after some pro forma sliming (see Carolina, South) to tone up for the general.
That was the plan, and it’s working like a charm. One problem, though. That strong early candidacy? This year, it’s not the candidate the big shots wanted. And they don’t know how to react.
Donald Trump doesn’t need to kowtow to wealthy enablers, but it’s not because he’s rich. (Compared to the Pub donor elite, he’s not that rich at all.) It’s because he’s a tv star famous for brute bellicosity, a bad-guy wrestler in a ring full of dog-whistling sissies. His tv persona makes decisions. He gets things done. He sucks the air out of a room and pulls all camera lenses toward true north. Never mind that most of his pronouncements defy any empirical sense: they cut to the heart of what impolite society actually feels in its gut of guts, and ratings go up whenever he yaps. Moochers, peaceniks, pointy-heads and tree-huggers have taken our country away from us (i.e., white males). Let’s reclaim it. Let’s bomb ISIS back to the Stone Age, kick Muslims out of the country, build a Great Wall of New Mexico. I pity the fool who messes with me, even if it’s the Pope. We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take this any more! Donald Trump doesn’t need a can full of expensive tv spots. According to the Tyndall Report, he gets nearly ten times the amount of network news coverage, also known as “free media,” as does his closest rival, Ted Cruz. This isn’t what the Koch brothers had in mind at all, especially since they might be forced to turn on the cash spigot that had Hillary’s name on it even before the Pub primaries are over.
What the heck do people see in Trump? For one thing, somebody who is finally calling bullshit, some of it well deserved.
Fifty years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act (recently emasculated by the Supremes 5-4), LBJ’s rueful prediction has long since come true, and the South has been delivered to the Republican Party. Whenever you hear “the party of Lincoln” and “Democrats supported the KKK,” understand that for most of the 20th century, it was the Democratic Party that was the stronghold of segregation and repression, thanks to its intransigent Southern wing. It’s all there in MASTER OF THE SENATE, Robert Caro’s magnificent chronicle of the era. But the winds changed after the party’s “betrayal” of Dixie, Richard Nixon gave his own clumsily euphemistic shove in 1968, Reagan furthered things along for the ruling class, and now the solid South is solid Pubs, complete with the attendant racism and xenophobia. Yes, I know most Pubs aren’t racists. But most racists are Pubs.
Now, for half a century this smoldering anti-Other resentment has been poked by the Pub party line. Rich people are actually good for the economy because they’re job creators; reduce their taxes and they’ll create even more. Lazy welfare bums play us for suckers. Democrats steal elections through massive voter fraud. Government is utterly incompetent (except for the military and the secret jackboots aching to confiscate your guns or invade Texas) and should butt out of our lives (except for the bedroom and the immigration office). Foreign policy should be built on fear, not respect. Universal health care is a job-killing, inflation-provoking catastrophe. And so on. At the extremes it’s even stranger. Climate change is a hoax perpetrated by scientists in order to get fat research grants. The earth is 6000 years old because the Bible says so, according to newly politicized evangelicals. Science itself is suspect because it’s all just theories anyway. The President (did you realize he’s black?) is a foreign-born Muslim, and he’s either “feckless” (a word the right has recently discovered) or an all-powerful imperial dictator. He’s even been called a “socialist Nazi,” a mutually exclusive term that nevertheless sounds wonderful if you happen to hate the POTUS.
Such propaganda has worked fine all this time, especially on the state and local level, about which too few voters care and at which there isn’t much informed opposition. It’s downright easy to pull this stuff off in times of prosperity, when things are managing to get better or people are at least treading water. America is an aspirational society, the land of opportunity, each citizen unencumbered by his class at birth. A humble thus-and-so can grow up to be a captain of industry, or even — dare he think it? — president of the United States. We let wealthy people off easy because in our dreams we too might be wealthy some day, either by dint of honest labor or a stroke of lottery luck. When we get rich, we want all those juicy tax breaks for ourselves so we can conserve what we have and battle those who threaten any portion of it, just as the big shots do today.
But recent times have not been prosperous for the American working class, despite what it says in the latest jobs report or the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Real wages are flat and have been for decades. Whatever leverage collective bargaining once provided has slowly dissipated into insignificance. Technology and lower-wage foreign workers are removing jobs from the economy which will never return. What’s different this time is that some people are beginning to look past the Other-directed fear and anger to perceive a new villain: the political long con that leaves them behind.
Election after election, guys in shirt sleeves and cowboy boots step up to the mike and promise to look out for the “hard-working American people.” But, once in office, time and again they join the plutocracy that keeps things humming along for the few American people at the top. One of the most beautiful whoppers is “trickle-down” economics, which holds that tax cuts for the richest people are stimulative because they provide more capital to build factories and hire workers. In fact, nothing trickles down: when the wealthy get a windfall, they save or invest it rather than buying goods or services. A tax cut for the middle class and lower would be injected straight into the economy in the form of spending; let’s call it “bubble-up” economics. Not only have “austerity” programs damaged research and education across the country, they also cause us to ignore the crumbling infrastructure whose urgent repair would instantly create thousands of badly needed jobs. Sometimes you just have to borrow money, as anyone who owns a house or car will attest, but the false equivalency of “my family balances its budget, the government should too” seems to squelch any long view.
So the working class is going nowhere while the wealthy continue to take the lion’s share of gains in productivity. And one day Joe Sixpack looks up and realizes the only thing he’s netted in the past two decades is affordable health care, and that came from a Kenyan Marxist! Jeez, the rich power brokers are part of the problem! Joe can get madder, which is why Trump has been so successful blaming our ills on outsiders, or more terrified: have you ever heard louder national shrieking than during the 2014 Ebola scare? Compare and contrast with shrugs over the latest mass slaughter (unless a foreigner was responsible).
This realization, while overdue, is widespread. That’s how you get the Bernie Sanders insurrection as well. “Income inequality” isn’t a partisan term, at least not this year. The feeling that one’s country is slipping away, formerly the key to manipulating older white guys, is beginning to be joined for different reasons even by educated younger people, the less fortunate of them awash in college debt and resentful about it. Thus they feel the Bern. But whether it’s calculated or an accident, Trump’s bluster has come along at just the right moment. This was Ted Cruz’s scenario: a pox on all their houses! But he didn’t count on somebody who could outshout him. Neither did Jeb!, Rubio, Christie (this was really supposed to be his role), Jindal, Walker, Perry — the growing list of The Fallen continues to grace the ceiling of Stephen Colbert’s sanctuary. If the Pubs are counting on a brokered convention, I can’t wait to see the torches and pitchforks that come out when they deny Trump from a smoke-filled room.
I don’t see how Trump can possibly win the general: there aren’t enough angry old white guys. But I couldn’t see how he could get anywhere near the Republican nomination either, and now he’s a whisker away. You know it’s true because you’re starting to hear Pub apologists say, hey, maybe he can bring our down-ballot guys a bunch of first-time voters! Low turnout historically favors Pubs, which is why they suppress voting with all their might and pray for apathy. (If too many Democrats boycott Hillary or just stay home, as is their wont, there’ll be only one candidate remaining.) But maybe this year is different. Maybe the Pubs need turnout. After all, if Hillary wins and the Senate flips, Mitch McConnell loses his gamble and she could install Abbie frickin Hoffman on the Supreme Court. That’s a base-energizin’ thought.
My guess is that Trump entered the race as a brand-building lark and is as surprised as anyone else that he’s gotten this far. But presidential races can mess with ya. Now, Trump thinks he can actually win. So does Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile, I direct Cruz-fearing Pub mavens to the holy schadenfreude of Hosea 8:7: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Don’t act like you didn’t see this coming. Even if you didn’t wake up until it was almost too late, this is still on you.