New Hampshire Speaks

So last night I fixed myself a strong drink and settled in for a long spell of nail-biting election-returns watching, but it was pretty much over before I’d swallowed even half of it. Hillary lost big. Trump won big. Kasich–the most dignified and least awful-seeming right-winger of the Republican hopefuls this cycle–edged out Bush and Rubio and Cruz, throwing the GOP quest for a more-conservative but less-alienating alternative to Trump into disarray.

First things first. Hillary didn’t just lose–somebody beat her. A Jewish atheist Socialist Democrat beat her. From Brooklyn yet, the borough that my parents grew up in, that I have lived more than half of my life in, and where both of my two children were born and came of age. This is huge and I hear almost no kvelling. When the sanctimonious Joe Lieberman got the nod for VP 16 years ago, the kvelling was literally deafening and nobody outside of Connecticut had ever cast a vote for the guy.

I was still working in book publishing back then; a couple of weeks later, I found myself sitting across a desk from the New York Times best-selling author Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who told me with a perfectly straight face that Lieberman’s nomination was perhaps the most consequential moment for the Jews in America’s history. My wife (who wasn’t born a Jew) went to hear Julius Lester give a talk about his conversion at a Brooklyn synagogue around that time, and a little old lady in the audience asked Lester if he was as excited about Joe Lieberman as she was. And now Sanders, whose politics and religiosity probably reflects more Jews’ politics and religiosity than Lieberman’s or Telushkin’s or for that matter Lester’s, is the biggest dark horse since, I don’t know, Donald Trump–and you can hear a pin drop in the Jewish media echo chamber. Pretty soon, all kinds of professional Jews are going to be lining up against Sanders as a clear-and-present danger to Israel.  Is that ironic or what? We finally get a Jew and the Jews hate him. It’s like the old joke about the two synagogues on the desert island, one that you belong to and one that you would never go to. Except that the non-synagogue-goers are winning the day.

Watching Bernie’s and Trump’s victory speeches last night, it occurred to me that for the first time in my memory, the two parties are giving us an unambiguous set of alternatives–two completely opposite temperaments, ideologies, ethoses, and understandings of the purpose of government and the role of the US in the world. The fact that neither party likes them or knows what to do with them is just the icing on the cake.

This is an unbelievably consequential moment we are living through. If this was happening in another country, our pundits would say that this kind of sea change is only to be expected after it lost two wars, suffered an economic near-death experience, and delivered virtually all of its economic growth to the top 5 percent. But since it’s happening here, the elites and the pundits are caught equally off guard.

Political systems, we’re used to thinking, evolve incrementally and predictably and it certainly looks that way in retrospect, when you edit out all of the red herrings and dead ends. Nobody remembers the anti-Masons or the Silverites or the rural Populists or the reborn KKK except as weird eccentricities and excrescences. But had things gone just a little differently, they would have seemed inevitable too.

For what it’s worth, I thought Hillary’s speech was pretty good last night. But politicians almost always sound more gracious and thoughtful when they are conceding than when they are selling themselves. And something tells me that she’ll be making a lot more concession speeches in the months to come.

As for Rubio, I thought he was a bad bet all along as the GOP’s white knight. He’s always been a crappy speaker and a creepy personality, even if he did talk in paragraphs. Good speech makers connect. Their audiences feel like the flow is going from them to the speaker rather than vice versa, because he or she puts their inchoate feelings and aspirations into words. That’s what Bill Clinton did back in 1992 and Obama did in 2008 and what Bernie Sanders (and Trump, alas) are doing today. Hispanics see Rubio as a sellout and xenophobes see him as a Fifth Columnist. He’s like a Jewish convert politicking for Pope–nobody trusts him or likes him. Trump is genuinely popular and he’s more moderate in his politics than any of them, even Kasich. He’s vile and dangerous and evil and may well lead us into something very much like Fascism, but he’s not really a conservative, just like The National Review says.

The people don’t want what they used to think they wanted. The Republicans would reject Reagan if he came back from the grave and huge numbers of Democrats would probably reject JFK as a neo-Liberal cold warrior too.

Our politics have gotten out of sync with our economics. Late stage capitalism disinherits a lot of people, but it doesn’t disenfranchise all of them. It’s a big problem for late stage capitalism. And for old-line Democrats and Republicans too.

 

Trump’s Ugly Twitter Melt-down

Writing in Vox on January 30, and with much more prescience than me, David Roberts explained “Why I Still Believe Donald Trump Will Never Be President.” Trump’s whole MO turns on dominance, he wrote. What sort of face will he show to the voters when he’s not in a position of total control?

Presidential campaigns are long and intense, with many ups and downs along the way. Once he is no longer a phenomenon, a spectacle, but an honest-to-god candidate in a one-on-one race, Trump will not be able to avoid answering questions about policy or substance. He will not be able to belittle and marginalize everyone who challenges him or skip every debate that doesn’t agree to his terms.

He will not be able to dictate the terms of the contest, as he has so far.

Sooner or later he’ll have to navigate situations where he’s on the defensive, where he’s being asked to defend himself or apologize or treat an opponent with respect. What then? What will arrogant bluster look like in that context?….It’s pathological. And the thing about pathologies is that they cannot be taken on and off like masks. They are pre-conscious; they order incoming experience.

Or what, he might have asked, would happen if he loses a caucus that he really, really thought he was going to win–and that nearly every pollster, media outlet, fellow traveler and determined adversary had assured him he would? Trump’s embarrassing Twitter meltdown this morning makes him look even more deflated than he did on Monday night.

Capture

Maybe it really is true, that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Maybe the whole Trump phenomenon will turn out to have been a fever dream. We’ll soon find out.

 

Why Donald Trump Will Win the Republican Nomination (and very likely the presidency)

I’m not a prophet, but I wanted to get my thinking on the record before the first votes come in tomorrow. I’m not even a pundit–hardly anyone reads this page, it’s mostly just a way for me to keep track of my thoughts as they evolve and change with circumstances.

Anything could happen tomorrow to change the race. If Santorum wins Iowa again, for example, that would knock Trump out of the headlines for a while. If Hillary wins New Hampshire next week, that would do the same to Bernie Sanders. And anything can happen between next week and next November–ten months are a relative eternity. Just ask John McCain, who pretty much lost everything on one day (September 24, 2008), when he suspended his campaign so he could return to the Senate to fix the US economy (or maybe it was September 15, when he said “the fundamentals of our economy are strong”).  The point is, he made it clear that he had been blindsided by a catastrophe that he didn’t and couldn’t understand.

Some people say that McCain lost it at the Republican convention, when he nominated Sarah Palin as his running mate, but in retrospect, it seems more to me like he was laying the groundwork for Donald Trump’s ascendancy. Sarah Palin showed the world that a right wing candidate for public office could pretty much say and do whatever they felt like (and their families could too), so long as they pandered to the resentments of the right identity group.

So yeah, I do think that Trump is going to finish the job that Sarah Palin was too greedy and too much of a quitter to finish herself.

The funny thing is that it’s still all about the economic meltdown of 2008, though no one in the establishment seems to recognize that because the stock market’s recovery was so strong. Despite its occasional ups and downs (like the one that’s going on right now), their portfolios are as sound as John McCain said the US economy as a whole was back then. No, to understand Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ appeals on a gut level, you have to punch a clock–or more to the point, not punch a clock, and not have many prospects of doing so any time soon.

If it feels like the center isn’t holding, it’s because it’s not. If it feels like the ground is crumbling beneath our feet, it’s because it is. We are living through what a Marxist would call a contradiction.

Any economic system that delivers almost all of its rewards to a small minority will be fundamentally incompatible with a political system that vests its power in the hands of the majority.

For neo-liberal Republicans, the Laffer Curve was supposed to be the magic formula that would resolve the contradiction; for neo-Liberal Democrats, the rising tide of global capitalism was supposed to lift all boats. Unfortunately for the neo-Liberals of both parties, neither solution did what it was supposed to. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it took the destruction of the welfare state and much of our infrastructure to make this clear. This is why the establishments of both parties are having such a hard time selling themselves–and this is why we are as vulnerable to Fascism as we’ve been since the 1930s. If the cognitive dissonance wasn’t so painful, maybe they would understand the quandary they’re in.

But as students of cognitive dissonance know, what’s more likely is that the GOP establishment will convince itself and a big enough chunk of middle America that Trump is just the shot in the arm that this nation needs. That’s how most people resolve cognitive dissonance–by angry denial and wishful thinking.

I Guess We’re Screwed Afterall

Trump

One thing I’ve always maintained is that as subjective as each of us is by definition, people who are committed to ideologies are even more-so. They literally see the world as they believe it to be. If you’re John Calhoun and it’s the 1840s, for example, you see slavery as a benign institution, or as one that is so natural and intrinsic to human economies that it falls outside the realm of moral judgment altogether, except insofar as it reflects on property rights. When a true believer’s view is not the default view (let’s say you’re a neo-Seccessionist in 2016), when it requires a strenuous conscious effort reinforced by propaganda, peer pressure, and other kinds of formal and informal suasion to hold onto it despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, cognitive dissonance kicks in. Being the person you are, with the views and values that you hold, is psychically painful. Not surprisingly, you are likely to be intemperate in your rhetoric and even your actions; you also become susceptible to some kinds of cognitive Kool Aids.

I’m used to seeing this on the right–it was a major premise of The New Hate–but I have to admit that it’s more than a bit discomfiting to see so much of it on my side, for example in this brilliant piece by Corey Robin. Yes, Bernie is a far better candidate than Hillary, but that doesn’t mean–as Robin seems to or needs to think it does–that he’s a strong candidate. What it means is that Clinton is as weak a candidate as Jeb Bush is, and for many of the same reasons.

No, I’m not analogizing Bernie’s politics to Trump’s or Cruz’s–they’re my politics too and I support him. I’m just pointing out that the “viability” issue involves a ton of wishful thinking on both sides, and that if Hillary’s pragmatic appeal is a mirage, so is the notion that Bernie’s Democratic Socialism gives him some kind of an advantage (extremism may be a winning formula for Republicans, but that’s because the country has moved so far to the right. Not one member of the not-so-silent populist “majority” that is trending towards Trump or Cruz will cast a vote for Sanders).

Not that I think Sanders is any kind of an extremist. And not that I think the Tea Partiers are any kind of a majority. But I do believe we’re doomed.

It’s been a slow motion train-wreck, going all the way back to 2008, when the Democratic powers began to hallucinate that HRC hadn’t lost to Barack Obama but become the next Democratic president-in-waiting.

We have fallen into a Sartrean cul de sac, all of us, and the stakes are so high. Right now it seems to me that whether we nominate Sanders or Clinton, Trump or Cruz will be our next president. It’s just unthinkable and I wish I could stop thinking it. If someone offered me a glass of Kool Aid, I might be tempted to drink it.

Is Donald Trump our Henry Ford?

Trump isn’t Hitler; he isn’t Father Coughlin; he isn’t even Henry Ford (whose racism was theoretical rather than opportunistic like Trump’s). History can’t shed much light on Trump, because it’s written by winners. We read it as a parable of progress, in which, thanks to the checks and balances that the Federalists carefully wrote into the Constitution and our own better nature, the worst impulses of the democratic mob have consistently been foiled. Slavery met its Lincoln; the Know Nothings were swept into history’s dustbin; and once Pearl Harbor was attacked, even Ford and Lindbergh joined the fight against fascism (literally–Ford hired Lindbergh as a consultant at Willow Run, which was making bombers).

As ugly as Trump’s historical analogs were, they didn’t do well in national elections. The Know Nothings did elect a bunch of congressmen and eight governors in the 1850s, but they didn’t survive the Civil War. Father Coughlin endorsed the Union party’s William Lemke for president in 1936; despite his millions of dedicated listeners, Lemke got less than 2% of the vote. As dangerous as Coughlin and Lindbergh were, as pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic as many of the America Firsters were, they couldn’t stop either FDR or America’s entrance into the war. What’s scary about Trump isn’t his racist demagoguery per se–we’ve seen his like before, they show up every 30 years or so, usually at times of economic stress and social change. What’s scary is how deep his support may run during this particular cycle. That’s an open question and one that history can’t provide an answer to.

Crossing the Rubicon

Yesterday, citing a poll from Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy that purported to show that 51% of US Muslims would prefer to live under Shariah law rather than the Constitution and that 20% believe that violence is justified to make Shariah the law of the land, Donald J. Trump, the front runner for the Republican nomination for president of the United States, called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until our “representatives can figure out what is going on.”

 

Frank Gaffney was a deputy secretary of defense under Reagan; he’s also the guy, lest you forget, who says that Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist is a sleeper agent for the Muslim Brotherhood (you can hear him telling Glenn Beck the whole story above). I’ve written a lot about him, here and in The New Hate. 

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In the introduction of The New Hate, I noted that Gaffney had endorsed a “semiotic interpretation of the US Missile Defense Agency’s newly-minted logo as a conscious morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo–stunning evidence, as Gaffney put it, of ‘various, ominous and far more clear-cut acts of submission to Shariah by President Obama and his team'” (when it came out that the redesign was executed and approved during George W. Bush’s administration, Gaffney retracted his claims).

But if you’ll bear with me, I want to quote a much longer Gaffney-inspired passage from The New Hate, because I could have written it yesterday:

There are a host of “aspects  of Shariah that are now beginning to be adopted or accommodated in our country,” Frank Gaffney had told Fox News as far back as 2008. “We think far from being frivolous or innocuous or innocent, these represent a form of, what I think [is] best described as stealth Jihad.” In the fall of 2010, Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy issued a massive report titled Shariah: The Threat to America. “The results of months of analysis, discussion and drafting by a group of top security policy experts,” the report was intended to provide “a comprehensive and articulate ‘second opinion'” on “the preeminent totalitarian threat of our time: the legal-political-military doctrine known within Islam as ‘shariah.'” For the report’s purposes, Shariah was defined not simply as the body of Islamic law but as an all-out effort to create a worldwide caliphate by any means possible.

“If shariah is thus viewed as an alien legal system hostile to and in      contravention of the U.S. Constitution, and as one which dictates both violent and non-violent means to a capable audience ready to act imminently, then logically, those who seek to establish shariah in America–whether by violent means or by stealth–can be said to be engaged in criminal sedition, not the protected practice of a religion.”

So long as Muslims see the West as “an obstacle to be overcome, not a culture and civilization to be embraced or at least tolerated,” they should be treated as either enemy soldiers or subversive spies. Back in the 1920s, Henry Ford was as horrified by the presence of rabbinical courts in New York State as the anti-Shariah forces are today by the prospect of Muslim law worming its way into state, local, and federal statutes. “There is a Jewish court sitting in a public building in the city of New York every week, and other courts, for the sole advantage and use of this people whose spokesmen deny that they are a ‘separate people,’ are in formation everywhere,” he wrote. “Wherever Jewish tendencies are permitted to work unhindered, the result is not ‘Americanization,’ or ‘Anglicization’ nor any other distinctive nationalism, but a strong and ruling reversion back to essential Judaization.'”

The authors of the Shariah report acknowledge that some of the world’s Muslims–maybe even most of them–are not overt extremists. But they don’t vest much credit in them either. Just as the Devil quotes Scripture when it suits his purposes, stealth jihadists will pay lip service to liberal values while secretly working to undermine them. If Catholics are defined as soldiers in the service of the pope who are determined to destroy representative government in whatever country they live in, then there can be no innocent Catholics; if Communists are understood to be slaves of Moscow, then they can only be subversive. So it is with Islam. Moderate-seeming Muslims may be the most suspect of all, since they would be the most ideally positioned to become sleepers.

Some of the anti-Shariah hysteria can be attributed to Christian chauvinism; some to an instinctive, defensive nativism, inflamed by an uncertain economy and the lingering shock of 9/11. Some of it has been fomented by Christian cultural conservatives, some of it by right-wing Jews who regard Israel’s traditional enemies with the same indiscriminate loathing that Hitler’s Nazis did their ancestors (when Osama bin Laden’s killing was announced on May 1, 2011, Debbie Schlussel blogged, “One down, 1.8 billion to go…many of ’em inside U.S. borders, with the U.S. government at all levels kissing their asses”). Anders Behring Breivik’s 1500 page manifesto, “2008: A European Declaration of Independence,” which explains why the forces for Politically Correct Multiculturalism, Marxism, and Shariah compelled him to murder 77 of his fellow Norwegians, contains a generous selection of their writings, much to some of its unwitting contributors’ embarrassment…

Much of what has been playing out in the political scene over the past few years is displaced Obama hatred, and many of his political rivals have been leveraging it for all it’s worth. Obama is a Marxist revolutionary whose middle name is the same as the ex-dictator of Iraq’s. He’s not white, he’s probably not American, and he might not even be a Christian. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in August 2010 found that nearly one in five Americans and more than one in three self-described conservative Republicans believed that Obama is a Muslim.

As the Reverend Gerald Burton Winrod wrote of Franklin Delano Roosevelt three-quarters of a century ago, he is “not one of us.”

 

 

Time for a Divorce?

I posted the below on my Facebook page the other day; I’m transferring it here because if this blog is less read than Facebook, it’s also less ephemeral.

On December 5, 2015, the Texas GOP voted down a proposal to put a referendum question on the state primary ballot asking voters whether they thought Texas should secede from the Union. It got me thinking….Why not?

Last week on the Charlie Rose show, I heard Karl Rove recount a moving story about how a crowd of 30,000 mourners spontaneously burst into “God Bless America” as the train bearing McKinley’s body pulled into the depot in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania–a full 17 years before Irving Berlin wrote the song.

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This solicitation for the God, Guns, and Gold video (from the Bible-based survivalist outfit Solutions from Science) tells how colonial ministers used to lay their six shooters on their pulpits before they preached–even though the six shooter wasn’t invented until 1833, 57 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

These are silly examples of ahistoricism, but they come from impassioned self-described conservatives, who claim that they draw their inspiration from history. Both have views that are as incompatible with life in the modern world as they are with the factual versions of the Golden Ages that they are so nostalgic for. They aren’t even compatible with each other–it’s more than likely that the pragmatic Rove and the Christianist Joe McDurmon hate each other almost as much as they both hate me. And my point is?

If America came to me for marital therapy, I would urge it to sever its union as quickly as possible–peacefully, mindfully, and equitably, of course, but definitively, because when two people can’t agree on even a baseline for reality, then they shouldn’t be living under the same roof. Do it for the children, I’d say: it’s more harmful than helpful for them to be living in such a toxic environment.