The posting below originally ran in this space, March 2, 2016. Since the Trump nightmare has only grown in intensity, I am reproducing the earlier posting for the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for all of us, that elections have consequences.—Jim Wall
Super Tuesday [March 1] performed as predicted. Hillary Clinton won six southern states with considerable African-American backing. She narrowly won Massachusetts. Sanders won Vermont, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Colorado.
The major message from this particular Super Tuesday is that Donald Trump has emerged as an even more threatening nightmare to both political parties. It is a nightmare which will only grow in intensity.
Trump’s success is rooted in the political toxins of fear and hate, symbiotic emotions generated by a political process whose dominant generating force is the manic desire to gain power and control wealth.
That force is so prevalent that a disturbingly large and expanding number of voters do not respond to the current political culture with the agonizing “scream” displayed above in the iconic composition by the Expressionist Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
Instead of screaming in horror, those voters thrive on fear and hate, toxic forces that landed with the pious Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.
After the Pilgrims and their successors conquered and slaughtered the indigenous people of a not-so-new land, a new republic grew into an empire, but at what a cost. “We reap what we sow” is the harsh reminder of how we got to this moment that demands a “scream”.
In our current political incarnation, Republicans are directly responsible for Trumpism, while Democrats assisted in creating the cultural soil in which Trumpism was born and raised.
The Democratic Party developed a softer brand of fear and hate through its militant neoliberalism. That softer brand is now embodied in the campaign of Hillary Clinton, carrying forward the Clinton brand her husband shaped and polished in his two terms in the White House.
Nicholas Kristof describes the current Trump phenomenon in polite New York Times language when he writes:
The most likely Republican nominee for president is a man who mocks women, insults Latinos, endorses war crimes like torture, denounces party icons and favors barring people from the United States based on their religion.
He’s less a true-believer conservative than an opportunist, though, for he has supported single-payer health insurance, abortion rights and tighter gun measures. Lindsey Graham says he’s “crazy,” Jeb Bush says he would be worse than President Obama, and the conservative National Review warned that he is a “menace to American conservatism.”
Donald Trump is “smarter than critics believe — he understood the political mood better than we pundits did — but I can’t think of any national politician I’ve met over the decades who was so ill informed on the issues, or so evasive, or who so elegantly and dangerously melded bombast and vapidity”.
Kristof asks the question we will hear increasingly over the next nine months, “how did we get to this stage where the leading Republican candidate is loathed by the Republican establishment?”
His answer is direct: “Republican leaders brought this on themselves. Over the decades they pried open a Pandora’s box, a toxic politics of fear and resentment, sometimes brewed with a tinge of racial animus, and they could never satisfy the unrealistic expectations that they nurtured among supporters”.
Peter Wehner is a self-described evangelical Christian and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He served in the last three Republican administrations. He speaks from the GOP side of the political spectrum and the conservative side of the religious spectrum.
The question that troubles him is why is Donald Trump “the candidate of choice of many evangelical Christians?” He probes for an answer in a recent New York Times column he wrote before Trump’s Super Tuesday victories:
Mr. Trump won a plurality of evangelical votes in each of the last three Republican contests, in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. He won the glowing endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, who has called him ‘one of the greatest visionaries of our time.’ Last week, Pat Robertson, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, told Mr. Trump during an interview, ‘You inspire us all.’
Wehner adds that “Trump’s evangelical supporters don’t care about his agenda; they are utterly captivated by his persona. They view him as the strongest, most dominant, most assertive political figure they have ever seen. In an odd bow to Nietzschean ethics, they respect and applaud his Will to Power. And so the man who openly admires tyrants like Vladimir V. Putin and praised the Chinese crackdown in Tiananmen Square because it showed ‘strength’ has become the repository of their hopes”.
Set aside the fact that Mr. Trump is a compulsive and unrepentant liar. Set aside, too, that he has demonstrated no ability for statecraft or the actual administration of government and has demonstrated much incompetence at business to boot. Bracket for now the fact that Mr. Trump has been more erratic, unprincipled and proudly ignorant when it comes to public policy than perhaps any major presidential candidate in American history.
What “stuns” Wehner is how “his fellow evangelicals can rally behind a man whose words and actions are so at odds with the central teachings of our faith. They overlook, rationalize and even delight in Mr. Trump’s obsessive name-calling and Twitter attacks, his threats and acts of intimidation, his vindictiveness and casual cruelty (including mocking the disabled and P.O.W.s), all of which masquerade as strength and toughness.”
This Republican evangelical Christian points to a conclusion that has obviously disturbed him: “For some evangelicals, Christianity is no longer shaping their politics; with Mr. Trump in view, their faith lies subordinate”.
Yet it goes beyond that. Trumpism is not a political philosophy; it is a purposeful effort, led by a demagogue, to incite ugly passions, stoke resentments and divisions, and create fear of those who are not like ‘us’ — Mexicans, Muslims and Syrian refugees. But it will not end there. There will always be fresh targets.
Author and analyst Mike Lofgren identifies the source of the fear and hate that generated Trumpism, the “war on terror”:
The ‘war on terror’ is the longest continuous war in US history. Taxpayers have ponied up over $4 trillion to wage it. Yet the consensus of our intelligence community is that we are more in danger than ever. Did we spend more than $4 trillion to make ourselves less safe? Let us unpack the contradictions.
Terrorism in the United States is statistically a negligible cause of mortality: One is about as likely to die from being crushed by a flat-screen TV, and more likely to die falling in the bathtub than from terrorism. Imagine if we had spent $4 trillion to cure cancer or heart disease. Nevertheless, nearly every word US government officials have uttered about the matter during the last 15 years has been designed to instill dread of terrorism in the population. And it has worked.
Lofgren cites a study of the South Carolina Republican primary which found that voters “declared terrorism to be their foremost concern, eclipsing a stagnant, low-wage economy; deteriorating living standards leading to an actual increase in the death rate of GOP voters’ core demographic; and the most expensive and least available health care in the ‘developed’ world.”
It is not just the voters of South Carolina who see “terrorism” as our nation’s “foremost concern”. We are a people described in this statement by a foremost authority on shaping national concerns:
The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
—Hermann Goring, in an interview by Gustave Gilbert, April 18, 1946.
The reproduction of The Scream is from Wikipedia. The photo of Donald Trump is from AlterNet.