Thursday, February 25, 2016

On Trumpists and the Twitter President

Q: What do you think of the Donald Trump Presidential campaign so far? You haven’t said much about it in Connecticut Commentary, just two meager posts.

A: Connecticut Commentary is devoted to Connecticut politics. The Trump campaign is hugely successful. It will have been the third successful Presidential campaign we’ve seen in the last decade. The first two were campaigns run by President Barack Obama. In fact, some argue that the lame-duck President is STILL campaigning: He just can’t stop himself; success pulls him into the void.

Mr. Trump may be the first Twitter President. When the Borgias in the 15th and 16th centuries wanted to rid themselves of a pestiferous political opponent, they spiked his drink with poison, or they arranged to have brown-shirts meet him in the street to induce a change of mind with clubs and swords. American politicians needn’t go to all that trouble -- they have Twitter. Mr. Trump is a fabulous Twitterer. Here is Mr. Trump on the inoffensive Mitt Romney: “Mitt Romney, who totally blew an election that should have been won and whose tax returns made him look like a fool, is now playing tough guy.”

Q: He’s winning.

A: Hugely. All the world loves a winner. That is the central pillar of Mr. Trump’s campaign: I’m winning the campaign, and I will win as President. He’ll bring China, which is beating us economically, to heel. How? Details are slim. Some suspect he may be hankering for a tariff war, but some of the big guns are on the side of the Chinese who, we’ve been told countless times, are our bankers.

Mr. Trump will reinforce our southern border by building a wall, to be paid by Mexico. Evidently, if Mexico refuses to pony-up, we’ll simply deduct the cost of the wall from the amount of money in foreign aid we send south of the border. Mr. Trump will destroy ISIS and play kissy-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia ex-KGB oil baron who has annexed a huge part of Ukraine, threatens NATO and is Iran’s principal patron. Much of Mr. Trump’s political program, such as it is, is campaign fodder – shades of Mr. Obama.

Q: Mr. Trump is rich and self-financing.

A: “Most ways of making money lead downward” – Henry Thoreau.

Q: That sounds like something Bernie Sanders might endorse. He and Thoreau are similar, no?

A: No. There is something Walden-like about Mr. Sanders. He spent the first forty years of his life avoiding ways of making money and living on the sharp edge of poverty. Mr. Sanders warmly embraced socialism and discovered he could earn a living by expropriating money from other people. Thoreau was not a socialist; he was a rugged individualist.

Maggie Thatcher, Britain's Reaganesque Prime Minister, used to say that the problem with socialism is that, sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money. Having failed to learn from Europe’s mistakes, Mr. Sanders seems determined to repeat them. The European Socialism Mr. Sanders would impose on the rest of us has been tried and found wanting in Western Europe and, most spectacularly, in Latin America. Venezuela is a prime example of a failed Socialist State that has toppled into tyranny, followed by indigence. Hugo Chavez began by expropriating wealth from one-percenters in Venezuela; his experiment in socialism has ended with empty grocery shelves and government storm-troopers shooting protesters.  The United States has been spared the lash of socialism – until now.

Q: Word, spread by those in Connecticut who have embraced Mr. Trump, has it that you do not like The Donald.

A: I neither like nor dislike Mr. Trump. I am interested mostly in political personas, the faces politicians present to their constituents. There is a carnival barker aspect to Mr. Trump that is entertaining. Someone asked me to point to another American politician he most resembled. I said Huey Long. I was thinking of Mr. Long’s populist stump speeches – “every man a king, and every woman a queen,” a variant of Mr. Trump’s “make American great again” -- and Mr. Long’s popularity among people who were convinced he spoke for them, the “silent majority” of his day.

Of course, Mr. Long was a progressive populist; Mr. Trump is – politically at any rate – an empty vessel. His domestic policies are not conservative, and his foreign policy will be disastrous, quite like the foreign policy of Mr. Obama, which is firmly rooted in cloud-coo-coo-land. So, the Republican Party is now poised to accept as its Presidential nominee a man who has said he is more comfortable with the Democratic rather than the Republican Party, and the most popular Democratic Party nominee for President may be Mr. Sanders, a European Socialist.

The middle, it appears, has fallen out of American politics. Largely owing to campaign reform and the rise of new modes of communication, political parties have lost influence. As a planet becomes smaller, it loses mass and gravitational pull. In Connecticut, Independents outnumber both Democrats and Republicans. We now have in Connecticut a one-party state run by Democrats whose progressive policies have ruined the state. Wreckage is everywhere, and chronically it keeps me busy. None of these matters are addressed in Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed.

Q: In one or two of your recent columns, you seem to be more optimistic about the direction in which the state is moving.

A: Not the state exactly. Reality has smashed its balled fist into Governor Dannel Malloy’s face and turned him around; so it would appear from his most recent budget address. Political appearances, as we know, may be deceiving. It might be more accurate to say I’m guardedly pessimistic.

It may be premature to point to trends. However, the Trump and Sanders campaigns indicate political directions. By embracing Mr. Sanders, Democratic voters indicate how far they’ve moved to the left. Liberalism, now old hat among Democrats, marks the middle of the party’s ideological arc. Progressivism is a step further to the left, and socialism is a suicidal dash off the cliff, an extremist political credo.

Over on the right, conservatives are convinced that Trump’s campaign indicates a retrogression, a move back to Rockefellerism. For decades, the Reagan presidency has been a benchmark for conservatives, who had hoped this year to leave their mark on the times. Then along came Mr. Trump, whose most ardent followers now insist that they are not conservatives, nor Republicans, but Trumpists. National Review, long the bellwether of modern conservativism, agrees with all this and has, much to the dismay of the Trumpists, spanked the great man’s behind in an issue of the magazine devoted wholly to Trump and titled, provocatively, “Against Trump.”

Mr. Trump, for his part, has transcended and replaced parties, always small britches for him; he’s changed his political affiliation about five times. It is said Mr. Trump is not a member of the political “establishment,” an expression that is entirely meaningless. Ted Cruz, who both thinks and operates outside the Republican establishment box, is a member of the establishment in the eyes of ardent Trumpists. The “establishment,” as the term is used among Trumpists, means anyone who is a work-a-day politician. If Mr. Trump does manage to secure the Republican Party nomination and defeats in the general election the almost certain Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, he will become a member in good standing of the establishment seconds after being sworn in as President, at which point, one imagines, Trumpist purists will trundle him off to the gallows.

Q: Where is Mr. Trump’s support coming from?

A: Lots of different places. Henry Mencken used to say, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Some people, many of them college professors and radio talk-show hosts, are irredeemably dumb. Mr. Trump is drawing from independents, some of whom are disgruntled refugees from the major parties. As the delegate count increases, Wall Street and the professional advisory class – large and prosperous DC political advisory houses – will move to his corner. The mainstream media likes him because he is good copy.

Hillaryites in the media began thinking Mr. Trump might be a useful foil for their preferred candidate; now, they’re not so sure, but Mr. Trump still sells newspapers. Rockefeller Republicans like him. And then there are political pensioners looking for a spot on his state campaigns. Maybe Mr. Trump will throw a few of his dollars their way; he’s rich, they have heard. And then there are the true believers, Jim Jones types who accuse Mr. Trump’s opponents of having swilled down Jonestown cool-aide. Their skins are very thin.

Q: Will Trump win the nomination?

A: If he assembles a sufficient number of delegates, yes.

Q: What kind of President might he be?

A: I don’t know. And neither does anyone else.
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