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“Donald Trump And The Tyranny Of The Minority”: A Brand Of Populism Rooted In Anger Overtaking Rational Thought

The rise of Donald Trump has been both fascinating and frightening. Fascinating in that no one could have predicted the boorish billionaire would be such a political tour de force as a presidential candidate. Frightening in that the ferocity of his supporters has blurred the lines of logic and lunacy. We’re all familiar with how powerful a cult of personality can be, but the sheer fanaticism of many Trump followers is cause for alarm.

We all get it. Voters are mad as hell and they are looking for someone to channel their frustration through. In swoops Trump with his simple yet effective brand of Making America Great Again. It can mean different things to different people, but the common denominator is Trump’s uncanny ability to convince the masses he is uniquely their voice, their avenger, their change agent. But is he really?

For months, Trump has co-opted the fears and anxieties of a fed-up electorate to ignite a brand of populism so rooted in anger that it’s overtaking rational thought and common decency. In the beginning, the idea of a Trump candidacy was just a temporary novelty. A political side show—until he actually started winning votes.

Alex de Tocqueville famously warned against the “tyranny of the majority.” Trump’s candidacy is turning into the tyranny of the minority as he continues to rack up primary victories without ever amassing 50 percent of the vote. As a matter of fact, he’s only received an average of 37 percent of the GOP primary vote to date. Even with a winnowing field, Trump is doing more to alienate voters than to unify them. After Trump won Florida, knocking Marco Rubio out of the race, the conventional wisdom was he would make the presidential pivot. Based on Trump’s antics since then, it’s clear he has not.

Trump’s continued petulant behavior and willful ignorance on a host of critically important issues is scaring the bejesus out of more than just the political establishment. His latest spat with Ted Cruz over their wives, his bizarre obsession with discrediting a female reporter who was manhandled by his campaign manager even after he was charged with simple battery, and his most recent comments on punishing women who have illegal abortions are just the latest examples of why 73 percent of women have an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

Even with his litany of disqualifying remarks, Trump’s loyal followers are unwilling to hold him accountable for anything he says or does, no matter how outrageous or untrue. They are sending a message that they are sick of politics as usual and Trump is their populist conduit. But in that populist quest for retribution, Republican primary voters are investing in someone who represents everything they claim to despise—big-government intervention, fiscal irresponsibility, authoritarian tendencies, political hypocrisy, duplicitous tactics, and flat out disregard for constitutional constraints. The contradiction is breathtaking.

But so is the intensity of Trump’s support.

Many Trump supporters are quick to lash out, condemn, even threaten the rest of us who find Trump objectionable. Yes, threaten. All it takes is a cursory examination of the social media of outspoken critics of Trump to get a sense of the intense vitriol and attempts at intimidating non-Trump supporters into silence. Myself included.

The freedom to dissent has always been a hallmark of American values. After living under the authoritarian rule of the British monarchy, the Founding Fathers understood the importance of protecting individuals’ right to express dissatisfaction with their government, have a free press unimpeded by the influence of the government, and enjoy the freedom to assemble. Trump’s campaign has challenged every one of those sacred rights, but his acolytes continue to make excuses for him. It makes you wonder what attracts so many people to someone who exhibits the characteristics of an authoritarian in a country that was founded on opposing such tyranny?

Thankfully, our Founding Fathers had the foresight to create the framework of a constitutional republic instead of a pure democracy to protect us from ourselves. Pure majority rule can accelerate the destruction of an entire society if left unchecked. Look no further than ancient Rome.

At the time, John Adams’s suspicions of democracy were evident in his spirited exchanges with Thomas Jefferson. Adams warned that democracies had a tendency to ultimately destroy themselves because the passions that fueled monarchies could be similarly found in “all men, under all forms of simple government and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence and cruelty.” Our republic has many constitutional checks and balances for a reason, including the Electoral College. Time to brush up on American Civics 101.

This may be news to many Trump supporters, or even Trump himself, as they try to push the narrative that Trump should be the GOP nominee even if he has only a plurality of delegates and not the majority, despite the fact that every GOP nominee for president has been required to obtain a majority of delegates since the party’s first convention in 1856. It’s terribly disingenuous for Trump and his surrogates to peddle the false idea that the game is somehow rigged against him when this is the game he signed up to play. Whining about the rules and threatening litigation is juvenile but befitting of the vexatious litigant that Trump is. Then again, it’s much easier to take advantage of angry populists than it is to do the work of marshaling patriots who respect and understand the responsibility of protecting the republic for the good of all Americans.

Whether Trump’s candidacy is sincere or a massive ego-trip reality-show episode remains to be seen. But the American people ultimately determine the ending. Choose wisely.

 

By: Tara Setmayer, The Daily Beast, April 4, 2016

April 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Founding Fathers, Populism, Trump Supporters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Can Dish It Out, But Can’t Take It”: The Republican Delusion, Free Speech Includes The Right To Be Free From Criticism

The GOP is a “party of crybabies.” Or so says Jonathan Bernstein in yesterday’s Salon, reprieving one of my biggest pet peeves, which is the presumption by conservatives that freedom of speech entails freedom from criticism for one’s opinions – no matter how absurd or obscene those opinions might be.

The reason this matters is that one important measure of the health of a democracy is the quality of its public discourse and debate. Politics, after all, is the process by which unlike groups sort out their differences.

“I’m Okay, You’re Okay” sounds harmless enough. But inside the velvet glove of the right wing’s democratic-sounding assertion that we are all entitled to our own opinions and that all opinions should therefore be equally tolerated and respected is the iron fist of an authoritarian mindset that presumes when one group – typically theirs – seeks to demean or marginalize some other group there is not a damn thing the rest of us can do about it but grin and bear it.

On the contrary, the entire justification for freedom of speech in a liberal democracy, and why it is one of our cardinal political values – enshrined in the very First Amendment of our Constitution — is that free speech provides the foundation for open and robust debate, for a marketplace of ideas, for the sifting process of political give-and-take that sorts the wheat of what is true from the chaff of what is false.

Debate defines the mental habits and values — the character — at the core of what Walter Lippmann called the “traditions of civility” which separate Western democratic political institutions from all others that have existed throughout history.

Yet, we know that right wing conservatives do not believe in free and open debate or subscribe to Lippmann’s traditions of civility, or at the end of the day believe in free speech at all for any but themselves and likeminded true believers, because of their hysterical reaction to requirements like the long-dead Fairness Doctrine that do nothing more than guarantee opposing ideas equal time.

What right wing conservatives want in the end, says Bernstein, is not the freedom to speak and compete as participants in a democracy but the freedom to monopolize the means of communication, to proselytize without interruption, to propagandize without rebuttal, to transmit whatever angry, hateful, insulting and offensively anti-social messages they choose without censure.

In this way, conservatives hope the larger society will eventually conform, by a process of relentless repetition and attrition, to their reactionary notions of what a proper society ought to look like.

And so, says Bernstein, “it’s time to call out” Republicans for their belief that “democracy” means giving them “the supposed right to be free from criticism.”

Such “epistemic closure” might be popular inside the “faith-based community’s” closed-information loop, he says, “but it’s a nasty idea that sorts exceptionally badly with democratic politics.”

Thus, to right wing conservatives, it was far less offensive for immigration “expert” Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation to call blacks and Hispanics mentally deficient than it was for Richwine’s critics to call him a “racist.”

The mainstreaming of extremism begins with the absurd — and very unconservative assumption — that in some way all ideas are created equal, or that standards do not exist for identifying and ostracizing wrong or deeply offensive ones.

Thus, we are logically led to a conviction popular with conservatives these days that “the accusation of racism is one of the worst things that anyone can call you in public life,” as Richwine himself pleads, for “once that word is out there, it’s very difficult to recover from it, even when it is completely untrue.”

Yet, someone with more imagination than Richwine might imagine even worse things to be called than “racist,” counters Bernstein. “For example, someone could be called a member of an intellectually inferior race, genetically doomed to always be looking up to those races that have superior intelligence. But pointing that out would no doubt violate Richwine’s standards of civilized political discourse.”

The same goes for Christian fundamentalists. With them, calling homosexuality a crime against nature and a sin against God barely registers on their Outrage-o-Meter. What really stings is to call these anti-gay holy-rollers “bigots.” Indeed, it’s the liberal critics of religious anti-gay critics who are the real bigots, according to these right wing fundamentalists, because it’s liberals who are persecuting the devout for offenses no more sinful than defending their Judeo-Christian traditional family values.

Similarly, notes Bernstein, the Republican response to the Democratic rhetoric of a “war on women” wasn’t so much that the substance of Democratic charges was wrong, since Republicans made no effort to offer a point-by-point substantive rebuttal. It was, rather, as one Republican Congressman put it, that the criticism of conservatives itself was “repugnant.”

No wonder the perpetually put-upon Peggy Noonan is always shaking her well-coiffed head and sighing her by now-famous sigh and asking why do President Obama and the Democrats always seem to be picking so many disagreeable fights?

Even more telling, says Bernstein, was Mitch McConnell’s “epic” op-ed in the Washington Post this week, in which McConnell claimed the First Amendment was imperiled by the Obama campaign’s “explicit attacks on groups and other private citizens” in 2012.

How so? Because the Obama campaign published opposition research on big Mitt Romney donors on its website, says Bernstein. There were no claims from Republicans that the information on the website was false. One Romney big-money donor singled out did in fact pour millions of dollars into anti-gay rights crusades.  Neither were their claims that criticism of Republicans was linked in any way to their harassment at the hands of federal agencies in the same way Richard Nixon once ordered the IRS to target those on his “enemies list.”

No, for McConnell, the truly offensive thing about Democratic criticism was that it occurred at all.

For McConnell, such criticism is all part of “the left-wing playbook: Expose your opponents to public view, release the liberal thugs and hope the public pressure or unwanted attention scares them from supporting causes you oppose.”

What McConnell objects to, in short, is the possibility that billionaire businessmen who bankroll Republicans or other far right causes might face retaliation from their customers exercising their own First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly to organize boycotts of right wing businessmen whose politics or causes they oppose.

That’s what McConnell cannot abide: The idea that the plutocrats he supports — the upper crust, the ruling class, the New American Oligarchy — might in any way be inconvenienced or held accountable through the normal channels of democratic give-and-take for their exercise of political power.

McConnell and fellow plutocrats like Mitt Romney think members of their class ought to be able to pull strings anonymously, surreptitiously, “quietly behind closed doors,” without the public being any the wiser or able to retaliate in any way.

“The First Amendment was written to protect speech that was not popular,” said McConnell, cynically twisting the meaning of one of America’s fundamental democratic rights to suit his own self-serving   purpose, which is to revive a new Gilded Age Plutocracy. “The American people need to remain vigilant against any effort by the powerful to stifle speech.”

That means, as Bernstein points out, keeping speech as anonymous and immune from criticism as possible.

That idea is not only “nuts,” says Bernstein, it is also “deeply anti-democratic.” We should all be careful in democratic politics to avoid questioning other people’s motives, he says. But there is nothing wrong with taking note of whose interests are being served in politics or questioning who benefits from a particular policy.

“Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with the press using those donors as a shorthand way of informing citizens which interests are represented by the various candidates, or for those candidates to make a point of which interests finance their opponents,” he says.

Recent liberal complaints about conservative criticisms have been limited to legitimate concerns about their accuracy, as in the phony idea that 47% of the population is a parasitic class of “takers” who pay no taxes. Liberal complaints of conservative behavior have also focused on their decency, as when Sandra Fluke was slandered as a “slut” for offending right wing talk radio fat man Rush Limbaugh when she testified publicly for birth control benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

Free speech and democracy are inextricably linked, says Bernstein, and so “the Republican delusion” that free speech includes the right to be free from criticism is, therefore, “quite destructive.”

It’s destructive because right wing conservatives think they have the latitude to attack ethnic groups without the risk of being called out for their racist comments, says Bernstein, or to dominate campaigns financially without the risk anyone will notice who really runs the country.

Democracy and secrecy – or silence — don’t mix. But that is what Republicans think they are entitled to under their contorted definition of what “democracy” entails.

It’s long been said that if ever government of, by and for the people were to perish from this earth, it is likely to be done in from within – by those who had grown weary of its disciplines of liberality, disinterestedness and broad-mindedness or found that popular government did not serve their selfish, parochial interests.

That’s why this debate over free speech matters, and why it’s important we understand its meaning. With their dangerous assertion that criticism of conservative ideas imposes an intolerable contraction of their First Amendment rights, political reactionaries like Mitch McConnell have once again unfurled a rich liberal tapestry of individual freedoms, liberties and democratic rights as a cloak for autocracy and authoritarianism.

 

By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, May 26, 2013

May 27, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Rewarded With Media Attention”: Code Pink Heckler Was Just Plain Rude And Disrespectful

It says something when the president’s handling of a heckler becomes a story in and of itself, especially when that story is a sideline to a very important and substance-filled speech about the future prosecution of terrorists and the use of unmanned drones. And what it says isn’t good.

President Obama was interrupted several times by a woman (later identified with being with the left-leaning group Code Pink) who badgered him with questions about closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. This is an important question, to be sure, and Obama has yet to follow through on a campaign promise to close it. But yelling at the chief executive – no matter who he is or what you think of him – in the middle of a speech is just rude. The fact that she did it while he was in the middle of addressing that very question is even more irritating. And it exposes what the true motivation was on the part of the protester: to draw attention to herself.

Obama handled it well, acknowledging her presence and her questions (an unnecessary concession to anyone who disrupts for the sake of disrupting) and finally reminding her that free speech means that she needs to listen, as well, while he is talking. The woman undermined her own legitimate cause by making it more about herself and the theater of it all than about the issue itself. And that is a theme that is becoming increasingly pervasive.

Court-watchers are horrified that convicted murderer Jodi Arias was allowed to give interviews while the jury was still deliberating on her (yet undetermined) penalty. That’s an understandable emotion – who wants to hear from someone found guilty of a brutal killing? But when the media (and viewers) turn the criminal justice system into a three-act play, we can’t be shocked if one of the main characters wants to deliver a closing soliloquy.

The hearings on Capitol Hill over a series of controversies – some far more serious than the others – have also become low-grade theater, with the accusations, rhetoric and character assessments dominating the process. The sheer soap opera tone of it all threatens to overshadow the very serious and important role of Congress in overseeing the executive branch. But the setup of the modern system, in which everything is televised, 24/7, promotes the idea of government as theater.

As for Obama and his heckler, how sad that the issue has become not why an adult person would behave so rudely, denying the president the right to speak in the name of the First Amendment, but how the president handled the situation. It’s unfortunately become acceptable – or at least, accepted – for grown people to scream at hosts at town hall meetings, shout over people espousing opposing viewpoints on TV, and even to interrupt the president of the United States while he is delivering a formal speech on a deadly serious topic. Most of us learned at the age of about four that such behavior would be punished, and so stopped doing it. Such behavior is now rewarded with media attention.

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, May 24, 2013

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Wide Latitude To Jackassery”: Imagine If The Government Started Policing Rush Limbaugh’s Facts

Today, Philip Bump at Grist passed along this interesting story about a shock jock in Australia who, after spewing some false nonsense about climate change on the air, “has been ordered to undergo ‘factual accuracy’ training, and to use fact-checkers.” Obviously, the government has no such powers here in America, but it’s a good reminder that America’s particular version of free speech wasn’t handed down from above, or even by the Founders. The words in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”) are very general; the contours and details of that freedom have been given shape over the decades by a succession of Supreme Court cases. James Madison didn’t have an opinion about whether it was OK for Rush Limbaugh to go on the air and call Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” so we had to figure out later how to handle that, and we chose, for some good reasons, to let it slide (legally speaking).

In other countries where people are just as committed to freedom as we are, they’ve come to slightly different conclusions about where the limits of those freedoms are. It’s not that they don’t value free expression, it’s just that competing values like truth and civility sometimes get weighed more heavily. We believe there are limits to freedom of speech no less than the Australians do; we just put those limits farther out. There are plenty of speech acts you can be sued or even prosecuted for, from intentionally libeling someone to inciting violence to revealing state secrets to conspiring to commit a crime.

I wouldn’t be comfortable with our government making decisions like the one the Australian government did, but we shouldn’t forget that our expansive interpretation of free speech comes with a cost. Because we don’t want the government policing the truth, we have to put up with a lot of lies; because we don’t think you have a right not to be offended, we have to put up with lots of offensive speech. There are countries where the consensus belief is that personal dignity is a value that outweighs freedom of speech, so you can be punished for offending someone. This is at the heart of why many people in the Muslim world can’t quite understand why our society would tolerate something like that anti-Muslim film, and why we can’t quite understand why they got so worked up over it, since it was just some jackass making a stupid video. Here in America, we offer wide latitude to jackassery.

There are lots of Americans who only value free speech so long as their own feelings aren’t being hurt and they don’t have to hear any speech they don’t like. But democracy is often painful and unpleasant. For instance, 18 days from now, half the country is going to be very, very disappointed with the results of the election. I have a feeling that when it happens, particularly if Barack Obama wins, we’re going to see how thin the commitment to democracy is on the part of some people.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 19, 2012

October 22, 2012 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hank Williams Jr. Doesn’t Quite Get The First Amendment

ESPN will no longer air Hank Williams Jr.’s song at the beginning of Monday Night Football, it was announced today. Will MNF survive? Ha, of course it will. Nobody cares about that song. ESPN could play literally any song in the world before Monday Night Football, and the experience would be just as good. Please just don’t use this song. We can’t take it anymore.

Amusingly enough, both ESPN and Williams took credit for the split. ESPN, in a statement, said, “We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams Jr. We appreciate his contributions over the past years.  The success of Monday Night Football has always been about the games and that will continue.” Williams, meanwhile, posted this note on his website, once again capitalizing whatever words he felt deserved capitalization.

“After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision. By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment
Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE.  It’s been a great run.”

Williams makes a common mistake here. His “First Amendment Freedom of Speech” was not “stepped on” by ESPN. Williams was and is free to make whatever Hitler analogies he so desires. He can write a new country song called “President Obama Is Just Like Hitler” if he wants to and play it at his next concert. But ESPN isn’t bound by the First Amendment to associate with him. The First Amendment doesn’t protect anyone from the repercussions of their own stupidity.

 

By: Dan Amira, Daily Intel, October 6, 2011

October 9, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Democracy, Freedom, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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