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“The Nation’s Cult Leader”: From ‘Yes We Can’ To ‘I Alone Can Fix It’

At roughly this point eight years ago, when Democrats were desperate to reclaim the White House after two terms of a Republican president, then-Sen. Barack Obama accepted the party’s nomination and delivered a speech that emphasized unity. “In America, our destiny is inextricably linked,” he said, “that together our dreams can be one.”

The speech used the word “we” constantly. “America, we cannot turn back,” Obama said. “We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future.”

The campaign’s slogan, of course, was “Yes we can.”

It was therefore a little jarring last night to hear one of the more memorable lines from Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” He added, “I will restore law and order to our country.”

Trump concluded, “I am your voice.”

The language was a little jarring, as The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum explained very well.

[Trump] did not appeal to prayer, or to God. He did not ask Americans to measure him against their values, or to hold him responsible for living up to them. He did not ask for their help. He asked them to place their faith in him.

He broke with two centuries of American political tradition, in which candidates for office – and above all, for the nation’s highest office – acknowledge their fallibility and limitations, asking for the help of their fellow Americans, and of God, to accomplish what they cannot do on their own.

To be sure, the Republicans in attendance didn’t seem to mind. The more Trump positioned himself as the nation’s savior, the more the crowd cheered.

But as a rule, when a man with authoritarian instincts condemns the political system and declares, “I alone can fix it,” he sounds less like a president and more like a cult leader.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 21, 2016

July 24, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, Republican National Convention | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It Won’t Be Enough To Win”: Trump Considers Another Old White Male Politician For Veep

Donald Trump’s shortlist for VP looks like just another communications and demographic nightmare for the GOP. The main candidates that we know of so far appear to be Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich and now appears to include Indiana governor Mike Pence:

According to two Republicans familiar with the meeting, the conversation between Trump and Pence lasted for more than an hour, and the governor was joined by his wife, Karen, as he visited with the real-estate mogul.

One person described the session as “warm and friendly,” while the other called it a “getting to know you thing, a chance for both of them to connect.” They both noted that the presence of Karen Pence is probably a sign that the Pence family is comfortable with the prospect of the Republican governor joining the ticket, although they said they have not spoken with her.

Both people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss their knowledge of the meeting, the location of which had been closely guarded for days.

Pence’s stock has been rising in Trump’s orbit, they said, describing him as respected by the candidate, despite Pence’s endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) in the Republican primary.

Trump’s camp says that he will pick a running mate before the convention. That would be common sense. Less commonsensical is Trump’s shortlist of older white male Republican government types as VP. Even Trump must realize at this point that political appeals to older white men won’t be enough to win him the election. He has to expand his base to have a prayer of winning that doesn’t depend on Hillary Clinton self-imploding.

Trump could try to win votes by expanding demographically by picking a woman or minority. The challenge for him there is that he has alienated most of the reasonably potential choices, from Nikki Haley to Meg Whitman. He could try to expand the map geographically by choosing someone from the midwestern states like Ohio and Wisconsin.

Or he could use the vice-president slot to communicate that he’s not your typical Republican politician by selecting someone from the business community, perhaps a tech entrepreneur.

But it’s not at all clear what Trump stands to gain from picking someone like Christie, Gingrich or Pence. The voters to whom those figures appeal, Trump already has. And that won’t be enough for him in November.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 1, 2016

July 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Vice Presidential Nominee, White Men | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Donald Trump’s Corrupt Bargain On Guns”: Where The Party’s Elites Pretend To Share The Base’s Cultural Values And Priorities

Donald Trump speaks before the National Rifle Association’s convention today, where he will enact a charade of cultural affinity for the assembled members, one utterly laughable in its insincerity. Not being there to ask them, I can’t say whether anyone in the hall actually believes that he means what he’ll say to them.

But as long as he hits the right notes — vowing to make sure guns are brought into as many places by as many people as possible, pouring sneering contempt on city slickers and egghead liberals, painting ludicrously paranoid pictures of America as a post-apocalyptic hellscape of crime and chaos, insisting that Hillary Clinton will singlehandedly destroy every right they treasure — it’ll be good enough for them.

This is a perfect expression of the larger Republican bargain, where the party’s elites pretend to share the base’s cultural values and priorities, and in exchange are put into office where they pursue an agenda of tax cuts and regulatory rollback. You can see it played out with one constituency group after another. For instance, when Trump stood before an audience of evangelicals and cited “Two Corinthians,” he quoted from the verse, then said, “Is that the one? Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like.”

The audience snickered at his ham-handed attempt at pandering, and when Trump says that the Bible is his favorite book (even better than The Art of the Deal!), nobody thinks he’s being honest. But guess what: Trump will have no trouble holding on to the evangelical vote in the fall. After some doubts, they came around to him, just like every Republican constituency group either has already or will before long.

It does take a bit of rationalization, but that’s often a part of the presidential campaign process. Once somebody is your party’s nominee, you’re going to work hard to convince yourself that he’s not just the least bad option, but somebody who’s actually terrific. So in the latest CBS/New York Times poll, 67 percent of Republican voters say Trump “shares their values,” even though for so many of them he plainly doesn’t. That number will probably climb higher between now and the election.

As for the NRA faithful, Trump is about as far from their values as he could be. A born-and-bred city dweller, he used to support an assault weapons ban and expanded background checks. In his 2000 book The America We Deserve he wrote that “The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions.”

But now he’s turned himself into a parody of a gun nut. He says he has a concealed-carry permit, he wants to rescind President Obama’s executive actions expanding background checks, he thinks assault weapons are tremendous, and he wants to make any permit you get in any state valid in the 49 other states, so people can bring their guns even where other states don’t want them. And as for gun-free zones, “My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones.”

Trump is saying to gun advocates: Is that the one? Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like.

Gun advocates certainly get something substantive out of the deal: inaction. Fortunately for them, Trump doesn’t actually have to do much for them, since the status quo isn’t that bad as far as they’re concerned (forget about him wiping away gun-free school zones with a stroke of a pen on his first day — that exists as the result of a law passed by Congress in the 1990s, and it would take another act of Congress to repeal it). But the real appeal is cultural, and they want candidates to genuflect before that culture, no matter how baldly phony the act might be.

The NRA, which believe it or not used to be an organization devoted to promoting gun safety and good marksmanship, has succeeded over the last couple of decades in freighting guns with all kinds of cultural associations, making them one of the most powerful markers of identity in American life. They’ve encouraged people to think that gun ownership makes you self-reliant, independent, masculine, strong, capable, and patriotic — and anyone who thinks that 30,000 Americans killed by guns every year is a problem worth addressing must not be any of those things.

Those voters will be told that if they don’t get out and vote Republican, Hillary Clinton will send her jackbooted government thugs to break down their doors and take their guns, leaving them defenseless against the dusky horde of low-lifes lying in wait to kill them and rape their women. They will be told that it’s an emergency, that the gun-grabbing is set to begin the day after inauguration, that their lives and freedom and everything they hold dear hang in the balance.

“If you cherish Second Amendment rights, the stakes have never been higher than they are in this election,” says an NRA spokesperson, which is an amazing coincidence, considering that the stakes were never higher than they were in the last election, and the stakes were never higher than they were in the election before that, and the election before that and the election before that.

The cultural argument also helps cloud the fact that Republican politicians have chosen to take the positions of the NRA leadership, which are far more extreme not just than those held by the public, but even by the group’s own membership. The NRA opposes universal background checks, which are supported not only by around nine in ten Americans, but by three-quarters of NRA members. With just a few exceptions, nearly every Republican in Congress lines up with the NRA leadership and against their own constituents.

The group successfully tells gun owners: Forget about that, because Democrats want to grab your guns. There can be no compromise. And when Donald Trump goes before them and acts like Yosemite Sam, either they’re foolish enough to think he means what he says, or they decide that it doesn’t really matter.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 20, 2016

May 23, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Gun Deaths, Gun Free Zones, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For 2016, Let Franken Be Franken”: Democrats Have The Perfect Trump Slayer: Al Franken

Now that the general election matchup is settled, the Democratic Party is starting to coordinate their anti-Trump strategy and messaging. As usual, their product is almost unbelievably lame: “Dangerous Donald.” Apparently that is the best slur they can come up with, so if you live in a swing state, get ready to hear that 900 times a day for the next six months.

But in the meantime, somebody else needs to actually come up with some decent Trump put-downs — something that at a minimum does not portray him as some sort of cool, leather-jacketed rebel. Elizabeth Warren has been putting together a reasonable first pass, getting in multi-day Twitter fights with Trump by ridiculing his pathetic business record and his extensive history of vile sexism.

However, there is one Democratic senator with the detailed, on the ground expertise this garbage reality show hellscape of an election requires. Someone, indeed, whose entire career has been leading up to this point. That someone is Al Franken, the junior Democratic senator from Minnesota.

The very obvious weakness of Trump when it comes to political trench warfare is that, like most bullies, he can dish it out, but he can’t take it. He can utterly humiliate a gutless patrician like Jeb Bush, but it’s extremely easy to bait him into undignified bursts of outrage. Alex Pareene managed it back in 2012 with a few paragraphs in Salon.

Lightweight reporter Alex Pareene @pareene is known as a total joke in political circles. Hence, he writes for Loser Salon. @Salon

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2012

On one level, Trump sort of thrives on this stuff. In the context of the Republican primary, stooping to his level of juvenility didn’t work for Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.

However, the general election will be very different than the Republican primary. First, none of the other Republicans were any better than Bush at trading barbs. Marco Rubio sounded like a panicky high-schooler reading from a memorized sheet of insults his dad wrote down for him, and Ted Cruz sounds like a smug oleaginous weasel regardless of what he’s saying. Anyone who’s even slightly creative and self-confident ought to be able to do far better than that.

The general election will also be before a very different audience than the Republican primary electorate. Before GOP base voters, Trump’s bigotry and sexism played pretty well, or could at least be looked past. But before the rest of the country, he can’t afford to stoop to the vile slurs that are quite obviously right below the surface. He needs to look presidential as much as possible, and one way to throw a wrench in that effort is to bait him into saying vile stuff.

As I said, Elizabeth Warren has a good start. But Al Franken is, so far as I can tell, the only former comedian in Congress from either party. He was on Saturday Night Live for many years, and wrote several comedy books, including Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right — both genuinely funny and full of quite nasty insults. He knows this stuff backwards and forwards.

One thing Franken could do, aside from baiting Trump himself, is teach Democratic politicos how not to sound like the bloodless technocrats who have long since had the personality crushed out of them. He could knock together a few slideshows, hold a conference or two, and teach at least a few how to perform a reasonable approximation of “witty.” Because it’s probably best if people like Warren and Franken et al take point in mocking Trump, allowing Clinton to stay above the fray.

During his Senate career, Franken has been relatively modest and quiet, probably due to the personality-crushing mechanism (read: constant begging of rich people for money) I described above. But he surely remembers how to be mean to Republicans.

This election’s GOP nominee deserves his special talents more than any other in United States history. So for 2016, let Franken be Franken.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 13, 2016

May 15, 2016 Posted by | Al Franken, Donald Trump, GOP Primaries | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Please Don’t Mainstream Trump”: The Risks Of Declaring Trump A Morally Acceptable Leader For Our Country Are High

Donald Trump’s Republican primary triumph means that this cannot be a normal election. Americans who see our country as a model of tolerance, inclusion, rationality and liberty must come together across party lines to defeat him decisively.

Many forces will be at work in the coming weeks to normalize Trump — and, yes, the media will play a big role in this. On both the right and the left, there will be strong temptations to go along.

Refusing to fall in line behind Trump will ask more of conservatives. Beating Trump means electing Hillary Clinton, the last thing most conservatives want to do. It would likely lead to a liberal majority on the Supreme Court and the ratification of the achievements of President Obama’s administration, including the Affordable Care Act. Conservative opposition could deepen a popular revulsion against Trump that in turn could help Democrats take over the Senate and gain House seats.

But the risks of declaring Trump a morally acceptable leader for our country are higher still, and shrewd Trump opponents on the right are already trying to disentangle the presidential race from contests lower on the ballot.

Three streams of Republicans are likely to oppose Trump: those to his right on trade and government spending; neoconservatives who oppose his “America First” noninterventionist foreign policy; and the remaining moderates and others in the party alarmed over his outbursts on, among other things, torture, immigration, race, women, Latinos, Muslims, Vladimir Putin and, lest we forget, Obama’s birthplace, Ted Cruz’s father and John McCain’s military service. These honorable and brave conservatives should not lose their nerve under pressure from conventional politicians or the very lobbyists and big donors Trump likes to denounce.

The fact that Trump draws opposition from the most ideological parts of the Republican Party heightens the temptation on the left to cheer his apparent victory. As someone who has argued that the right has long been on the wrong path, I understand this urge.

It’s certainly true that his feat vindicates much of what progressives have said about the conservative movement. Republican leaders have a lot to answer for, and not only the incompetence and timidity of their stop-Trump efforts.

They have spent years stoking the resentment and anger on the right end of their party that fueled Trump’s movement. They ignored the material interests of their struggling white working-class base and also popular exhaustion with foreign commitments fed by interventionist misadventures. Along with many Democrats, they underestimated the anger over trade agreements that accelerated the economic dislocation of the less well-off.

After this election, the GOP will need an extended period of self-examination. But no one on the left should applaud the rise of Trump as representing a friendly form of “populism” — let alone view him as the leader of a mass movement of the working class. He is no such thing. He is channeling the European far right, mixing intolerance, resentment and nationalism.

There will be much commentary on Trump’s political brilliance. But this should not blind us to the degree that Trumpism is very much a minority movement in our country. He has won some 10.6 million votes, but this amounts to less than a quarter of the votes cast in the primaries this year. It’s fewer than Clinton’s 12.4 million votes and not many more than the 9.3 million Bernie Sanders has received.

But never again will I underestimate Trump, having done this a month ago, rashly predicting he would lose the Republican nomination. I clearly had an excess of confidence that Cruz could rally anti-Trump voters and thought a series of wildly outrageous Trump statements would do more harm to his candidacy than they did.

I was dead wrong as a pundit, allowing myself to get carried away by my confidence that, at the end of it all, Americans would see through Trump. I still devoutly believe they will do so, once the campaign moves out of the Republican primaries, but I now know how urgent it is to resist capitulation to every attempt to move Trump into the political mainstream.

My friend, the writer Leon Wieseltier, suggested a slogan that embodies the appropriate response to Trump’s ascent: “Preserve the Shock.”

“The only proper response to his success is shame, anger and resistance,” Wieseltier said. “We must not accustom ourselves to this. . . . Trump is not a ‘new normal.’ No amount of economic injustice, no grievance, justifies the resort to his ugliness.”

Staying shocked for six months is hard. It is also absolutely necessary.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 4, 2016

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, Media, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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