Monday, February 29, 2016

The Trump Test

If there's anything more amazing, startling, and amusing than the Trump candidacy it's the reactions of all the usual suspects. It was said of a politician of an earlier era (I forget which one) that everyone hated him except the people – and it seems that Trump is in the same category. What's ironic is that, in our time, everyone pretends to be a populist but only Trump and Sanders are the real thing – populism, by definition, being a movement against the establishment – whatever that happens to be. So we, as I've commented previously, are seeing bimodal (bipolar?) populism – a pull from both the right and the left, as personified by The Donald and The Bern. And the establishment is fit to be tied – and I include in that both liberal and conservative, the near-left and the near-right (assuming there is no functioning middle, which is a pretty safe bet these days). The MSM pour hot coals on his coiffed head on a daily basis, as does Fox News and any and all neocons (which includes all other Republican candidates) – the worst invective coming from people who, one would think, would resonate, or at least understand, what Trump is all about, and at least empathize a bit. George Will, for example, whom I respect for his usual wisdom and sterling prose, is absolutely over the top in his hostility... my local paper, neocon-dominated although they do make space for libertarians now and then, is aghast at The Donald, right down to, and including, the house editorial cartoonist. The “argumentum ad Hitlerum” has been brought out in full force – and, let's admit, der Adolf was a populist of sorts, much to the dismay of the establishment of his time.

I'll tell you who isn't afraid of Trump – the libertarians and the paleocons (including Pat Buchanan). They “get it” -- not that they necessarily agree with Trump on all, or even most, issues, but they understand his appeal and don't attempt to blame it on sheer demagoguery (or racism, xenophobia, not being nice, etc.). They realize that a large portion of Americans, of every shape and size, feel threatened, oppressed, ignored, ridiculed, left out, and exploited – and they sympathize. And who is consistently speaking to them in language they understand? Nobody but the Trumpster. They might wish it otherwise – that, for example, the mainstream Republicans would “man up” for once and stop all the pathetic me-too-ism that has been their meme for so many years and election cycles. Any time a libertarian stands up in the midst of a Republican gathering he is booed, hissed, and firmly ushered out the door – as witness Ron Paul & son. Any time our delusional, fanatical, bloodthirsty foreign policy is questioned or criticized, whoever dares to speak up is immediately plastered with the usual labels, starting with “isolationist”, “abandoning our allies” (by which they mean Israel, and none other) – the term “peacenik” having gone out of fashion, apparently.

A current American Conservative (paleocon, note) article gives Trump, along with Kasich, a C in foreign policy – which is their best rating other than a B for Bernie... but I imagine they would give Bernie a triple-F for domestic policy, so we can consider Trump a winner overall. Here is the article:

But – let's face it – the American voter is motivated primarily by domestic policy issues, which is your doctor's word for “pocketbook”. We don't think a whole lot about foreign policy until someone we know is sent to some craphole overseas and comes back in a body bag or with missing limbs, and then cognitive dissonance forces us to allow that, well, it must have been worthwhile, considering the price that was paid. Military spending, most of which can be marked down to empire building rather than true defense of the homeland, doesn't seem to enter anyone's mind as a real expense, in competition with domestic spending – as if our infrastructure doesn't suffer when we spend more rebuilding countries that we've destroyed than we spend on our own highways, sewer and water systems, power grid, etc. It's as if those funds are not fungible – or are, but only under the most extreme circumstances. The fact is, any and all military spending imposes opportunity costs on any and all domestic spending. But apparently we'd rather live in squalor and have a mighty military than enjoy the wealth we have created here at home.

And granted, Trump is very gung-ho when it comes to our military activities overseas, but at the same time seems more hesitant than most candidates when it comes to taking on new burdens in that arena. As the article notes, he “can't seem to make up his mind. He supported regime change in Libya in 2011, but wants to withdraw completely from Syria. He would review the Iran deal and has made comments that could indicate he supports a smaller defense budget, but offers no concrete stance.” But he doesn't have blood in his eye (or anywhere else, ahem) about Russia, and is not itching to go into Syria with the same doomed-to-failure approach we took in Afghanistan and Iraq. He actually comes off as something of a pragmatist (vs. dogmatist or Cold War revivalist) when it comes to foreign policy – and this is sure to enrage all the mainstream “conservatives”.

So, basically, the Trump Test comes down to this. If whoever, or whatever, it is displays nothing but hysteria and seeing Hitler under every bed, you can confidently ignore them, because what it means is that (1) they are sold out to the idea of empire; and (2) they don't really understand, or care, about the plight, grievances, and attitudes of a good portion of Americans (who, admittedly, don't live less than an hour's drive from either coast, so their opinions can't possibly be of any value, and those people don't count in any case); and (3) they have no sense of humor (or, aren't cynical enough, which is probably the same thing when it comes to politics).

Trump is, in short, a symptom – but hey, isn't all of politics symptomatic in some way? Isn't it all about not liking the way things are and wanting them to change? The only question is, for any given candidate, does one agree with their assessment, and with their notions as to what has to change, and how? It's a political issue – grist for dialogue, discussion, and debate... and not for running around with one's hair on fire. We should know by now that any candidate will seem like gift from on high to some, and a lunatic to others.  Clearly, the people who react most hysterically are the ones with the most to lose -- and yet, one wonders, in many cases, precisely what they are so terrified of losing?  What is George Will afraid of?  What is my local paper afraid of?  Are they really so sold out to the establishment that any threat to it is seen as an existential threat to themselves?  In which case, shouldn't we, perhaps, be a bit more skeptical when we read what they have to say?  

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