Friday, July 28, 2017

Why Trumpist Populism Will Bring His Government Crashing Down

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Trump erupts in yet another mental meltdown....about a bug that maybe climbed onto his suitcoat.

 No sentient citizen could avoid the meltdown spectacle visible in the Trump White House yesterday, with his communications director (Anthony Scaramucci) in an off-hand 'interview'  with a New Yorker reporter even challenging Steve Bannon to perform a near biologically impossible act of self-fellatio.  But this was merely the most visible sign of an Executive in utter disarray and a state of civil war.  ("A White House at war with itself" to use Margaret Brennan's apt description on CBS this a.m.) Make no mistake, also, it will get worse, because we have a band of incompetents and derelict ignoramuses sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As I will show in this post, much of the malignant political cancer that's metastasized the past six months can be attributed to a perverse brand of populism Trump still resorts to - as when he unleashed unseemly political rhetoric at a Boy Scouts' Jamboree some days ago. But first things first.

It was amusing yesterday to read the insufferable Dan Henninger (WSJ, 'The Post Obama Democrats,  p. A13) gloating about Trump's aberrant 2016 win, e.g. "many political sophisticates wondered how Trump would get 620 votes far less 62 million after the McCain slander and the access Hollywood tape'".  And also rubbing rotten eggs in the Democrats' faces over it, "How in God's name did we lose an election to him?"

Now, in retrospect we know the answer, especially to the last. It has to do with the toxic populism that Trump interjected into his campaign - often with the assistance of Russian-created and circulated fake news on social media. But the real explanation can be found in a section of Julian Baggini's book 'The Edge of Reason'  dealing with populism.   The section of note occurs under 'threats to pluralsim' in Baggini's chapter entitled 'Political Reason'.  It ought to be mandatory reading for every thinking American. While not specifically addressing Trump it does peg his rise and acceptance by 62 million idiots perfectly, nailing the brainless foundation of runaway, uncritical populism.

He writes, in terms of introducing the threat (p. 219):

"In social science, populism is almost always understood as entailing a malign kind of simplification in which the virtuous and the wicked are neatly divided between 'us' and 'them'."

We observed this directly in the spectacle of Trump's campaign rallies, in particular when assorted protesters and the media were called out as the "them" and those gathered in their red Trump baseball caps were the "us".  As time went on the memes unleashed also led many racists, KKK'ers, Aryan Nation followers and others to believe they were also part of this malignant  "us".  So, no surprise we beheld images like that below accompanying Trump's campaign appearances and eventual ascension:
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Baggini goes on:

"The editors of a recent academic book on populism define it as pitting a virtuous and homogenous people against a set of elites and dangerous 'others' who were depicted as depriving the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity, and voice. Hence this populism invites us to assume that populism inevitably results in simplistic fallacies."

Again, we beheld this during Trump's campaign and soon after he was sworn in, January 20th. We heard over and over that the press and media were  "the enemies of the people" and the judiciary that issued stays against his Muslim ban were effective traitors and "so-called judges". Then there were the "dangerous others"  Trump targeted repeatedly and multiple  referenced inflammatory statements made by Trump throughout the presidential race corroborate how he singled out Muslims and the Islamic faith as a broad national security threat. He didn't stop there but went after immigrants as well.

Further from Julian Baggini (ibid.):

"Populist discourse undermines all the key underpinnings of political pluralism. Populists would agree that 'we should believe what is most rational to believe'.  But they do not appreciate the difference between this and 'We should believe what it seems to us is most rational to believe'.

The reason for this is that populism rejects the idea that what appears as plain truth to the ordinary person in the street can be anything other than what it is. What seems true is true, and only obfuscating, dissembling elites could pretend otherwise."

And therein we have the basis for fake news and fake reality. Thus, Michael Flynn's ludicrous "pizzagate" conspiracy theory about Hillary running a child sex slave ring out of a D.C. pizzeria SEEMED to be true to the brain dead Trumpies, and so it was.  In like manner, Trump's insane claim that he really won the popular vote (if all those 3-5 m illegals hadn't voted) SEEMED true, so it was. Similarly, Trump's unhinged claim that Obama wiretapped him SEEMED true to the Trumpie populist zombies so probably was. And meanwhile, only 45% of Trump voters believed Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians about information that might be harmful to Hillary Clinton...even though Trump Jr. admitted it and we have the emails to prove it.

Baggini again:

"In a similar way, populism distorts the idea that rationality ought to lead to convergence of belief.  When combined with the fact that some do not agree about what is rational, they take that not as evidence that certainty is possible, but that the dissenters are not rational. When it is believed that what is  most rational is self evident, there is no cause for self doubt when others take a different view."

And further (p. 220):

"The logic of populism is therefore toxic to political pluralism, because it denies the possibility of meaningful disagreement about issues of major political significance. Populism is diametrically opposed to pluralism. It promotes a single set of values instead of plurality, offers simple solutions instead of complex compromises..."

Again, this is what we've seen issue from Trump's toxic populism: Build a giant wall and it will solve our immigration problems, at least from Mexico. Cancel NAFTA and other trade deals and that will bring American jobs back. Blabber about "king coal" and that will bring coal miners' jobs back despite coal is a falling fraction of the energy market.

One of Baggini's  most trenchant observations is that toxic populism is at root a "shift from real politics" - which entails complicated aspects of policy negotiations and compromises - to "political consumerism".  He defines the latter as "giving people what they want without the mediation of experts".

By "experts" he means political experts, or those who respect governmental norms, traditions and history.  These turned out to be exactly the lot that Trump railed against in his campaign and vowed to overturn, the so-called "elites".   And so he commenced a Vulgarian's campaign to destroy all recognized norms and sow chaos - even in his own White House. Hence the frequently heard comment that he loves it when his staff are at each other's throats. As is the case now with Scaramucci unloading on Reince Priebus yelping: 'Reince is a F****** paranoid schizophrenic" and also calling out Bannon, e.g. "I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock."

Is this any way to run a White House? According to Trump's "bible" -  based on endless conflict and "winning" -  it is. (Trump also taught his kids from the time they were pouchlings to win at any cost.) Trouble is it doesn't get you very far in actual governance and actually sows the seeds of your administration's destruction.

The problem is that this deliberate sowing of internecine warfare and chaos prevents democratic governance. Ditto with spectacles like Trump befouling a Boy Scout Jamboree with his own twisted political rhetoric (for which the Boy Scouts of America has had to apologize) and now going after his own AG Sessions via daily public shaming.  Even eliciting the following  words from  WSJ conservative columnist Karl Rove (p. A13), that it shows:

"just how vindictive, shortsighted and impulsive Mr. Trump can be."

And also how blatantly stupid, because Trump doesn't even need to fire Sessions to rid himself of Bob Mueller, he can get Rod Rosenstein to do it.  The real reason Trump is going after Sessions is personal pique, an unabated anger at his recusing himself from the Russiagate probe. This is every bit the attribute of a toxic populist - a guy with not only mental issues but manhood ones as well. I mean, as with Comey, he is too cowardly to even face Jeff Beauregard mano a mano to tell him why he's pissed.

Charles Blow, in yesterday's NY Times also had this to add about Trump:

"this man’s vindictiveness and mendacity are undergirded by the unequaled power of the American president, and as such he has graduated on the scale of power from toddler to budding tyrant. This threat Trump poses — to our morals, ethics, norms and collective sense of propriety — may be without equal from a domestic source"

Which brings us to the very real threat toxic populism poses to a pluralistic democracy, especially when that populism is being driven by a psychotic  populist halfwit with Trump's hair trigger temper and astounding sense of grievance.  Because of this he's driven to direct his rage at assorted ephemeral  targets, sowing utter chaos and confusion and in effect ushering in an era of "anti-politics" - insofar as political sense, judgments and norms ate undermined.  In this guise, because he finally represents neither the electorate nor his party, he becomes a threat to the Republic at large.

At root, as numerous commentators  (e.g. David Frum, Rick Wilson, Max Boot, Charles Blow et al) have already pointed out, the roots of destruction inhere in how this administration ('guided' by Trump's brand of populism) have exploded all historically respected norms. Even LBJ, who had a hand in cooperating with the Kennedy assassination, knew he had to keep his colorful language largely off the public radar once he became president. Hence, he let loose in private not to a news magazine reporter. - as Charlie Pierce noted last night on MSNBC's 'All In'.

Sidney Blumenthal, writing in The Denver Post ('What would Lincoln think of Trump?, July 23, p. 1D) notes Lincoln believed there was an even greater danger to this Republic than rampaging mobs, warning against "the emergence of a man driven to power by a fierce desire for celebrity and fame who 'thirsts and burns for distinction'. A demagogue who 'scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious'  and 'believing nothing is left in the way of building up would set boldly to the task of tearing down."

Thus an individual who "tears down institutions and excites the mobocratic spirit, subverting the right to free expression and with it, our national freedom."

This is Trump in a nutshell and hence the fruit of his populism: destruction.

The dark aspect of Trumpist populism - which will ultimately cause his administration to crash and burn- is that the only time he enjoys being president is when he's shattering some norm or governance or of American life, or watching others exact cruelty on one another.   In this respect, he's "like the Roman coliseum emperor who just wants to see the lions eat the Christians" in the words of MSNBC's Joy Reid.  But this is not governance, it's practiced atrocity guided by a nihilistic mindset.

Baggini again:

"The populist mode of politics is in essence, an anti-politics. This insidiously undermines the very foundations of a democratic, pluralist state, replacing  any sense of the need for reasoned dialogue, compromise and accommodation with a simplistic idea that the government's role is to reflect the clear, unified will of the people."

Thus, the singling out of Muslims, immigrants, transgender people and others for opprobrium - in terms of walls, travel bans or ostracism for military service - is taken to reflect the "unified will of the people". However, as we know, it is not all the people but the insane, unhinged, unread and fake news oriented Trump populist base.  Barely 40 percent of the actual electorate.

And the most clarifying observation yet in terms of the current Trump clusterfuck:

"The major problem with this is that if you are elected on the basis that all major ills originate from outside 'the people' (e.g. your people), there is simply no way you can govern.  At best you have a short term disaster and a return to traditional parties to clean up the mess. At worst, you create an ongoing situation in which governance becomes impossible."

It is this last to which we are fast approaching under Trumpist populism and the unstable, lawless, mindless Trump.

Watch for this populist circus to fall apart very soon. After it does, let's hope the American citizen and voter manages to rise above political consumerism the next time around - as opposed to being suckered by another classless, big -mouthed weasel and charlatan. Or in Sidney Blumenthal's words: "it will require the people to be united with each other -  intelligent and attached to the government and laws - to successfully frustrate his designs."

See also:


"While the press was writing about about The Mooch’s theatrics, less attention was being paid to the ongoing Goldmanization of Trump’s administration – a trend that poses a serious risk to the American people, and potentially to the global economy."

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