Six Essential Readings on Donald Trump

by Corey Robin on January 28, 2016

As we move into the last days before Iowa, it’s useful to review some of the very best things that have been written on Donald Trump. Much of it is recent.

1. Hands down, I’d say Jodi Dean has penned the central text for understanding Trump.

Donald Trump cuts through the ideological haze of American politics and exposes its underlying truth, the truth of enjoyment. Where other candidates appeal to a fictitious unity or pretense of moral integrity, he displays the power of inequality. Money buys access—why deny it? Money creates opportunity—for those who have it. Money lets those with a lot of it express their basest impulses and desires—there is no need to hide the dark drives when there is none before whom one might feel shame (we might call this the Berlusconi principle). It’s the rest of us who bow down.

As Trump makes explicit the power of money in the contemporary US, he facilitates, stimulates, and circulates enjoyment (jouissance). Trump openly expresses the racism, sexism, contempt, and superiority that codes of civility and political correctness insist be repressed. This expression demonstrates the truth of economic inequality: civility is for the middle class, a normative container for the rage of the dispossessed and the contempt of the dispossessors. The .1 % need not pretend to care.

The freedom from civility, the privilege of enjoying superiority, incites different responses, all of which enable people to enjoy—get off on—this political round.

Some of the underpaid and exploited enjoy through Trump. Not only does he give them permission to…


2. Earlier this week in Salon, Steve Fraser offered a bracing comparison between Trump and his most important predecessor:
From its earliest days, the nation has witnessed its fair share of demagogues, some from the left, some from the right, even some from an elusive zone that overlaps left and right, but is neither. Some have aspired to high office, others have even managed to get there (Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy, for example). But none of them – except one – shared Trump’s profile. None of them – except one – rested their claim to political preeminence on their previous careers as titans of industry and finance. None of them – except one – threatened to breach the borders of conventional political protocols and established hierarchies to seek approval instead from the streets.

William Randolph Hearst is that exception.

Despite these striking similarities, The Chief and The Donald didn’t really speak the same language, even if both were masters of political invective and the Great Lie. What they didn’t have in common is a commentary on the evolution of American public life over the last century.

Hearst rose to the surface on a tidal wave of populist anti-capitalist sentiment. The Populist Party and its call for a Cooperative Commonwealth preceded him. So did a vast labor insurgency that faced off against the armed might of the nation’s mightiest industrialists. Those often violent confrontations continued as Hearst established his media empire. So too did a nationwide anti-trust movement that captured the imagination of millions of working- and middle-class people and even influenced the country’s political establishment. Immigrants toiling in the nation’s sweatshops made common cause with middle-class reformers to expose the scandal capitalism had become in urban ghettoes from coast to coast. The Socialist Party elected local officials all over the country, including some congressmen. The Chief tried and to some considerable degree succeeded in convincing all these foes of the new order of industrial and financial capitalism that he was their champion, their “chief.”

Relentlessly, Hearst denounced the trusts, local monopolies that dominated New York’s economy, and national ones that lorded it over the country and preyed on workers, consumers, and small businessmen alike. He talked about the “Trust Frankenstein.” He loathed Teddy Roosevelt (who hated him in return), for his “preening, bombastic, and aristocratic airs.” Like many populists and progressives of the day, he called for the direct election of senators, an income tax, and public ownership of public services. He was staunchly pro-union, arguing that without them the country would be like “China and India where rich mandarins and rajahs lord it over starving populations.” He campaigned for shorter hours and higher pay and portrayed himself as a hero of the immigrant working classes. He came so close to becoming New York’s mayor precisely because he did so well among those immigrant workers as well as the emerging white-collar proletariat and small business people. Not only did Tammany lose the loyalty of its immigrant base, but so too did Hearst take away votes from the Socialists, who were a party of real weight in the city.

One thing is certain, however. For The Donald, this is terra incognito (think immigrants for starters). If Hearst was the inheritor and master manipulator of a widespread left-leaning populism, the prodigal son of Jefferson, Jackson, Bryan and Debs, then Trump is the bastard son of Richard Nixon. Himself a maestro of political choreography (until it did him in), Nixon invoked something he famously anointed “the silent majority” to grease the wheels that landed him in the White House. What nearly got Hearst there was the polar opposite; we might call it “the vociferous majority.” (There is of course no mathematical realty behind either of these “majorities.”) It is the silent one that Trump now speaks for and that makes him a salient component of our public life.


3. This morning, Josh Marshall put the recent dust-up over Trump’s withdrawal from tonight’s debate in a larger perspective:


4. Rick Perlstein knows more about conservatism and the modern GOP than just about anyone. He gave a masterful interview today to Isaac Chotiner in Slate, in which he confessed his bafflement:


I had a very interesting experience this summer. I remember exactly when it was. It was when I was reading an article by [Evan] Osnos in the New Yorker about Trump. He happened to be covering the white nationalist movement, basically neo-Nazis. Coincidentally, it was right when Donald Trump burst onto the scene, and he wrote about how these guys were embracing Trump, as they never had embraced any Republican candidate before. The feeling I got was that this was the first time in a very long time that I’ve read anything about the Republican Party that I couldn’t assimilate into my normal categories. That was a very uncanny and uncomfortable feeling for me. I realized that I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink what was going on. This is something that’s very new, very strange, and very hard to assimilate into what we thought we knew about how the Republican Party worked.


5. Speaking of the New Yorker, I thought this by Ryan Lizza was quite good:

Dnald Trump has a rule at his rallies: for the fifty minutes before he takes the stage, the only music that can be played is from a set list that he put together. The list shows a sensitive side, mixing in Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and music from “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” But it’s heavy on the Rolling Stones—“Sympathy for the Devil,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and the famously impolitic “Brown Sugar.” The young volunteer in charge of music for one rally sent me the full Trump-curated playlist and asked for requests. “Remember,” he said, “the more inappropriate for a political event, the better.”

Trump’s fans tend to express little regard for political norms. They cheer at his most outlandish statements. O’Reilly asked Trump if he meant it when he said that he would “take out” the family members of terrorists. He didn’t believe that Trump would “put out hits on women and children” if he were elected. Trump replied, “I would do pretty severe stuff.” The Mesa crowd erupted in applause. “Yeah, baby!” a man near me yelled. I had never previously been to a political event at which people cheered for the murder of women and children.

Throughout his campaign, Trump has made much of the dangers posed by immigration and political correctness. But central to his platform is his insistence that Americans are being cheated. To protect themselves, he says, they need to hire someone who will cut them a better deal. Domestically, he argues that undocumented immigrants are causing the wages of middle-class workers to plummet, and that campaign donors are bribing politicians—except Trump, a billionaire who can’t be bought. His foreign policy, such as it is, is guided by the idea that America is besieged by a long list of adversaries. He customizes his us-versus-them argument to every issue. At rallies in New Hampshire and Iowa, he warns voters that the two states might lose their status as hosts of the first two Presidential nominating contests. “There’s a big movement to put you at the back of the pack,” he said in New Hampshire recently. (In reality, there is little momentum for any movement to change the primary calendar.)

Some prominent Republicans fear that a Trump nomination would fundamentally alter the identity of the Republican Party, even if he goes on to lose the general election, which seems likely. The Party would become more downscale, a potential asset if it meant drawing in disaffected Democrats, but also more alienating to non-whites, who represent the largest source of potential growth in the electorate. It would be defined by ethno-nationalism at home and an anti-interventionist retreat from America’s obligations abroad. The last major figure in Republican politics who came close to Trump’s brand of nationalism was Pat Buchanan, the former Nixon aide who ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996. Buchanan was driven from the Republican Party by mainstream conservatives, who called him an isolationist and an anti-Semite; in 2000, he captured the nomination of the Reform Party. If Trump wins the nomination, it will be his opponents who are driven from the Party.


6. Last, there’s a book on conservatism that came out a few years ago. Controversial, they said. Yet every day, its theses seem truer and truer.

Update (11 am)

Jed Purdy also had a great piece in Dissent yesterday that I missed:

There is another difference that may be more telling about just what the Trump phenomenon is. His political language conjures up a very different world from the other candidates’. He dismisses the high-church liturgy of American politics: rag-tag colonists, a terrible Civil War, World War Two and fear itself, the sin of slavery (either lingering or long-since overcome), the Constitution, the Constitution, the Constution. That will be the language of the GOP debate, along with its pathetic jabs and sick burns. Cruz, although a man of the hard right, speaks this language just like virtually every American politician of the last century. Trump’s language, less consistently anti-government than Cruz’s, is something different and strange. That is part of Trump’s unsettling novelty.

When Trump mentions the Constitution, it tends to be the Second Amendment. “We’ve got to have the right to protect ourselves,” he told students at the evangelical Liberty University earlier this January. Announcing his candidacy last June, he praised a couple who, fearful of being attacked by escaped convicts, told him, “We now have a gun on every table. We’re ready to start shooting.” Vigilante fantasies of citizens shooting back at terrorists have become standard on the right, but the meaning of Trump’s Second Amendment is especially private and personal. In his America, haunted by illegal immigrants out for rape and murder, under a government too cowed by political correctness to protect its people, people have to be prepared to look out for themselves. No one is looking out for them.

That turns out to be the key to Trump’s message: no one is looking out for you.


And here is Joe Lowndes, setting Trump against the back drop of the troubled history of the GOP, racism, and National Review:
It is no coincidence that Trump’s strongest support comes from working-class Republicans who feel their whiteness no longer protects them.


{ 50 comments }

1

TM 01.28.16 at 4:10 pm

“I had never previously been to a political event at which people cheered for the murder of women and children.”

Really? Maybe he hasn’t been paying attenntion to what Republicans have been cheering for these past decades. If Trump forces pundits to face the reality of right wing America, we should be grateful.

2

marku52 01.28.16 at 4:23 pm

Here’s one I thought was especially insightful. It is based on the advice given Pat Buchanan back in ’96. Advice that he did not take. Trump appears to have hit on the same idea.
“To simplify Francis’ theory: There are a number of Americans who are losers from a process of economic globalization that enriches a transnational global elite. These Middle Americans see jobs disappearing to Asia and increased competition from immigrants. Most of them feel threatened by cultural liberalism, at least the type that sees Middle Americans as loathsome white bigots. But they are also threatened by conservatives who would take away their Medicare, hand their Social Security earnings to fund-managers in Connecticut, and cut off their unemployment too.”

I told [Buchanan] privately that he would be better off without all the hangers-on, direct-mail artists, fund-raising whiz kids, marketing and PR czars, and the rest of the crew that today constitutes the backbone of all that remains of the famous “Conservative Movement” and who never fail to show up on the campaign doorstep to guzzle someone else’s liquor and pocket other people’s money. “These people are defunct,” I told him. “You don’t need them, and you’re better off without them. Go to New Hampshire and call yourself a patriot, a nationalist, an America Firster, but don’t even use the word ‘conservative.’ It doesn’t mean anything any more.”
http://theweek.com/articles/599577/how-obscure-adviser-pat-buchanan-predicted-wild-trump-campaign-1996

3

Anarcissie 01.28.16 at 4:33 pm

TM 01.28.16 at 4:10 pm @ 1 —
‘Republicans’?

4

anon 01.28.16 at 4:39 pm

“As Trump makes explicit the power of money in the contemporary US, he facilitates, stimulates, and circulates enjoyment (jouissance).”

Oh, man. If we have to first understand Lacan before we can understand Trump, then we’re all really screwed. “Trump through Lacan,” no. “Trump avec Lacan,” maybe, since “straight talk” can be just as effective a form of authoritarian demagoguery as obscurantism.

5

Joseph Brenner 01.28.16 at 4:54 pm

I’d go with Josh Marshall over Jodi Dean: I think the key to the phenomena is a worship of strength, they want a Strong Man– and that means a man without moral restrictions. I think intellectuals keep getting confused by looking at the substance of speech and action (“why are they voting against their interests?”) when it’s all just looking for Big Daddy.

6

None 01.28.16 at 5:00 pm

Norman Mailer’s piece on the 1964 republican convention seems germane.

7

Phil 01.28.16 at 5:20 pm

That’s Barthes, not Lacan, and jouissance (which you can roughly translate as ‘orgasm’) just means “pleasure which exceeds the structures of meaning & discipline within which it happens”. As opposed to plaisir, which means “yes, I thoroughly enjoyed that”, and is one thing you don’t find at your average tent revival meeting, Springsteen gig or Trump rally.

8

Rakesh Bhandari 01.28.16 at 5:55 pm

I think here of Jenna on 30 Rock falling for her female impersonator. I would imagine that Trump would ask Kristen Wiig to impersonate him and then choose her as his running-mate since his daughter is too young to be VP.
Also: did Trump decide to run for the Presidency after Obama humiliated him at a press corp dinner by comparing the tough decision he made to kill Osama bin Laden to the birther Trump’s “decisive” action to fire Gary Busey?
Also don’t forget how many men admire Trump for his really hot wives.

9

Rakesh Bhandari 01.28.16 at 5:57 pm

10

bob mcmanus 01.28.16 at 6:17 pm

Yeah, Jodi Dean is good.

“…civility is for the middle class, a normative container for the rage of the dispossessed and the contempt of the dispossessors. The .1 % need not pretend to care.

The freedom from civility, the privilege of enjoying superiority, incites different responses, all of which enable people to enjoy—get off on—this political round.”

We need to connect Trump to Sanders and Corbyn, BLM, women warriors in film, Arab Spring 2.0…all the dialectical moments of incivility popping up like mushrooms.

11

Glen Tomkins 01.28.16 at 6:17 pm

Unfortunately, this is a topic on which rational discussion is fairly useless. The nub of the problem already has a name, Godwin’s Law.

I think it’s fair to say that the main reason we care at all about the candidacy of The Donald is its potential to follow the Hitler trajectory, if only a little way towards its end. Even folks who are interested in his campaign mainly for his potential to hand the contest to the Ds, people who are sure he will never win — the nomination or the presidency itself — are basing that on the idea that he is so openly committed to things like the ethnic cleansing of 11 million undocumented that the electorate will reject him as too overtly Third Reich-like.

But you can’t really talk about the issue that way, because it seems fatally overwrought. Casting someone as the next Hitler has been done, and done to death, by people who pretty much refute themselves. Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is an excellent recent example. This history basically means you can’t start comparing Trump to Hitler until he’s passed some milestone of achieved atrocity.

The rub is that it will be too late by then, after the atrocities start at even a minor level, to talk about stopping Trump, or whoever else is going to be the next politician to ride to power using the dynamics that Hitler exploited so skillfully. What you can’t get at by approaching this topic from recent US political experience is that the next step is to turn the language of the dominance Josh Marshall talks about into action. When Pearlstein talks about prior R politicians who used racism and nativism, but stopped short of condoning violent action based on racist ideas, he’s talking about the barrier that a politician who wants to fully exploit the dynamic has to break through. You have to do that, create a cycle of back and forth violence, to keep the fear of the other alive. If you don’t have actual fearful things happening, if it remains pure talk, the fear will die down, and you lose the wave.

Think of it in concrete political terms. It certainly seems that Trump can secure the nomination just through mook talk, because the R electorate is majority mook, or near enough. But the general electorate does not at all, and won’t be without preparation, seem to be majority mook. This is presumably why establishment Rs are concerned about Trump winning the nomination. In the recent past, the experience has been that, yes, to win the R nomination a candidate has to tack right, but can then tack to the center after winning the nomination. Can Trump do that without so betraying the public identity he has established as the unabashed teller of un-PC truths, that he implodes? I don’t see Trump quietly accepting the loserdom of an imploded campaign.

What option does a Trump who has won the R nomination have, other than to make enough of the general electorate start to think in mook terms that he can win the general election? How does he do that other than by exploiting fear of the other/others du jour? How does he make people fear this other or others, except by violence? Of course, the violence has to be blamable on the others. He can’t just have brown shirts go out and start committing acts of violence without people fearing him rather than the other. He needs an other that will at least fight back, if not commit the first act of violence. ISIL would seem to be an obvious candidate to be his early partner in back and forth violence, as Communist street gangs were for Hitler.

Is it likely to go this way? I doubt it. Trump probably isn’t driven or intelligent enough to pursue this with the necessary focus. It may be that no ISIL or other violent other will emerge to get the violence started. But we don’t really know what Trump’s capable of, since in the US these days you can ride crony capitalism to become a billionaire without much drive or intelligence. This is what Trump does, though, if he wins the nomination and really wants to be president. He finds some violence to at least exploit, and some means to foment and otherwise control the continued cycle of violence that he will need to make the majority of the US general electorate think and vote mook. It’s that or be a loser.

After he was first made Chancellor, Hitler is said to have remarked that he wasn’t ever going to leave the Chancellery building except as a corpse. Trump’s not been made Chancellor yet, and maybe he doesn’t have as much awareness of the dynamic he’s exploiting, but that dynamic will push him to the same end unless he accepts loserdom in the near future, at the next rung or two of the ladder.

12

Frank Wilhoit 01.28.16 at 6:34 pm

Everybody is overthinking Mr. Trump. (How much thinking does HE do? Well, then, why are you trying to do more?)

In the first place, like all politicians, most particularly like all charismatic authoritarian/totalitarian politicians such as the referent of Godwin’s Law, Donald Trump does not exist.

His supporters exist and all attention should be focussed exclusively upon them.

His message to them is the only message that they want to hear: that he will give them cover to settle their own scores. From there, it plays out as it did in Rwanda.

Glen Tomkins @11 gets one thing right that almost no one else gets: “others du jour“. The enemy is fungible. There are no racists; there are only sadists, whose targets-of-convenience may be racially distinct because that makes them easy to identify. Formerly, one had to have a pseudophilosophy to justify hating blacks or whomever; Trump has blown past the need for a pseudophilosophy.

But he gets another thing badly wrong: “Trump probably isn’t driven or intelligent enough to pursue this with the necessary focus.” This is wrong even if it is right, because Trump does not exist, but his followers do, and they are driven enough, and “smart” and “focus” do not enter into it.

13

Lee A. Arnold 01.28.16 at 6:55 pm

A 1990 Vanity Fair story about a Trump divorce reveals much about psychology, and contains this:

“Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed. Kennedy now guards a copy of My New Order in a closet at his office, as if it were a grenade. Hitler’s speeches, from his earliest days up through the Phony War of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist.”

http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/2015/07/donald-ivana-trump-divorce-prenup-marie-brenner

14

Rakesh Bhandari 01.28.16 at 6:58 pm

What exactly did Trump mean when he said that his ditto-heads would continue to support him even if they saw him murder someone in the street apparently out of vengeance? I suppose that this supports Wilhoit’s interesting idea that some support him because they imagine that he would give them cover for their own crimes. Shahid Amin once showed that peasants carried out anti-colonial actions in the name of the “Mahatma” that Gandhi himself opposed. Wilhoit’s idea is interesting that Trump has created himself as a palimpsest that the resentful can write their own grievances on.

15

novakant 01.28.16 at 6:58 pm

It’s Lacan.

Barthes and others picked up the term later. Not that it matters, lol.

16

Glen Tomkins 01.28.16 at 7:19 pm

Frank Wilhoit,

If your point in insisting that The Donald is a creature of the needs of his supporters is that there has to be a strong need out there, sure, point taken. Hitler had the disaster of the Great Depression creating life-and-death needs in many of members of the German electorate who normally would have voted for a conventional party. Trump has the more long term slump in the prospects of blue collar workers, who either can’t find blue collar jobs anymore, or find that these jobs do less for them than they did for their parents. Not as dramatic, but longer term, and the damage adds up the longer it goes on. The health statistics for this group are truly alarming.

But you also need someone to exploit the needs. The whole world went through the Great Depression at the same time as Germany. There were millions in America with the same needs as the German electorate, but in the US they failed to find as competent and driven an exploiter of those needs.

The point that you need a talented and driven person to meet the needs of the True Believers is part of the Godwin barrier. To point out that Hitler was intelligent and energetic, compared to his conventional politician opponents at least, is seen as somehow a sort of denialism. It’s as if you have to stick with an account of those times that is practically theological. There was some special, categorical, sui generis, evil about Hitler and the Germany he came to dominate. They all have to be seen as pathological at best, or you’re denying the special status of the Third Reich, and worse, somehow you’re taking their side. To me, a Hitler driven to the Holocaust as the culmination of a conscious political strategy that he executed rather brilliantly (except for the rather huge defect that it could only end with his corpse being dragged from the Chancellery building), rather than his own deeply felt anti-Semitic prejudice, is a more evil Hitler than a mere bigot, as bigots are a dime a dozen, and mostly harmless. Obviously, other people’s ideas about evil and moral blame differ.

17

Map Maker 01.28.16 at 7:25 pm

He is going to succeed because our political conversations are so limited that the scope of debate in the R vs. D world is irrelevant for a significant minority of voters.

Why is the immigration debate so one sided in Washington? The Koch brothers are huge fans of free markets in labor … and so are the Democrats, labeling anyone who opposes them as going down Godwin’s law, for doing what most other countries do without thinking: protecting their domestic labor force from wage competition from foreigners.

While the economics of immigration is generally positive, there are winners and losers. Trump’s supporters include a lot of losers. Let’s make fun of them, right?

Just hope immigration doesn’t come after your field, at least the federal government checks employment status more carefully than any construction, restaurant, or manual labor position in my state, I should be safe for awhile…

18

PGD 01.28.16 at 7:55 pm

I don’t get the argument that Trump is going to be the guy to take the U.S. to fascism, or do a Reichstag Fire provocation (as Glen Tomkins seems to be arguing) or whatever.

And I really don’t think he caught in some kind of cycle where he needs to generate fear-based provocation in order to get votes. He is running because the Establishment is a bunch of failures and he is not a failure, he’s Trump, he’s a winner. You don’t need a constant stream of violent provocations to convince people that the Establishment is a failure, their own actions have established that quite firmly in peoples’ heads.

If anything, Trump turned down the volume on some of the Establishment rhetorical fear-mongering. E.g. Putin the devil incarnate — no he’s not, Trump can negotiate with Putin. Hilary recent told us that we needed to be prepared to go to war with Iran in case they moved toward a nuclear weapon. Again Trump assures as that as the master dealmaker he will negotiate with those guys and get us a good bargain.

Another thing that confuses me is the double standard. The U.S> government is extremely violent already. The GW Bush Administration tortured hundreds of people to death. Obama engages in extrajudicial assassinations and supported/protected mass surveillance programs that put everyone, not just Muslims, ‘in a file’. Yet those guys are our standard politicians and Trump is Hitler because???

19

Rakesh Bhandari 01.28.16 at 8:12 pm

This is what Obama envisioned as the change that Trump would bring to the White House.

http://www.abmuku.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/obama-trump-whitehouse-correspondents-dinner-2011-video.jpg

20

Frank Wilhoit 01.28.16 at 8:59 pm

Glen Tomkins @16,

Thank you for replying. It took a minute to figure out what you did there.

The fact that Hitler was not a historical actor, whereas his followers were, does not legitimize them, or their filthy little imaginary crybaby so-called “needs”. God Himself Forbid that they be let off the hook — which, of course, is exactly what we did, when we said, “Oh, it was all Hitler’s personal fault”.

Here is how totalitarianism used to go. First you decide to kill somebody. This is the only step that is not completely fungible.

Second, you decide who to kill. This is, in principle, entirely random and based upon convenience; but the next point has — sorry, had — something of a lock-in effect.

Third, you decide why to kill them. This is where it was formerly necessary to create an elaborate pseudophilosophy. This was a very substantial cottage industry for many years and the pathological-history section of the libraries are full of cubic miles of its work product. If I gave examples, they would get their feelings hurt, so supply your own; but some of them have been quite seriously engaged with by quiote serious scholars in various times and places. (This is also how the absurd notion arose that there are “right ” and “left” totalitarianisms and that they are somehow different.)

…but no more: comes now The Donald with his mighty shield, emblazoned

TL;DR

and pseudophilosophy is no more (excuse me while I shed a single, scalding tear). But I do not contradict myself by crediting Trump with this innovation; he merely observed the nanosecond rapidity with which his marks pivot from n1ggers to fagg0ts to k1kes to ragheads to eggheads to… … … … …ad inf.

(Another essential side point, right here, is that this is the problem with trying to tell cops that “Black Lives Matter”. It is no good telling a sadist that this one target is now off limits. Other targets will at once be found.)

Anyhow, there are other steps in building a totalitarian mass movement, but the last and most fungible one is the choice of a “leader”.

The fashionable interpretation of totalitarianism has to focus on the “leader” because he has to be the scapegoat, so that the blame is not laid where it belongs, on his “followers”. No one knows how to think through the logical or practical consequences of holding the followers responsible, so instead, the plausible myth of the “leader” was invented. It allows us to say that totalitarian regimes are inauthentic, and that they can be “decapitated”. Neither is true.

21

Marshall Peace 01.28.16 at 9:19 pm

… really about demonstrating dominance – not policy mastery or polling leads but a series of symbols and actions that mark the dominating from the dominated.

Typical social behavior among the great apes. https://books.google.com/books?id=XsrhU2vV5PIC

22

24AheadDotCom 01.28.16 at 9:23 pm

Map Maker:

If immigration started negatively impacting nanny employers, they’d know how to deal with it effectively. They wouldn’t deal with it by following a charlatan like Trump. They’d do it by, for instance, pressuring Sanders and Clinton not to do what they did: hire illegal aliens for their campaigns. They’d make arguments against it and show their opponents wrong; Trumpeters can’t even conceive of doing that.

It’s hard to tell if Trump is intentionally taking vital issues and then neutering them or if he just does that because he’s pandering to those who’ll only support things presented in the grossest terms possible.

For instance, Trump could have demanded that Obama does more stringent refugee checking and made that a centerpiece of his campaign. He’d get a lot of support for that and he could have forced Obama’s hand. Instead, he proposed something that no one with any power supports and that will never happen. See my Trump posts for how his plans would fail miserably and what he should do instead. That’s how to undercut him: point out to his supporters that he’s misleading them rather than helping them.

23

rootlesscosmo 01.28.16 at 9:56 pm

I got my first passport in 1964 because I planned to emigrate when (not if, when) Barry Goldwater was elected that Fall. (Marginal to my fingertips, I wrote in Dizzy Gillespie on the California ballot anyway.) I mention this to illustrate that my skills as a political prognosticator are much worse than you would get by tossing a coin or rolling a die. But how good is anybody’s crystal ball this year? Months ago, there were confident predictions that Trump would flame out early, when voters (and particularly the small subset that take part in Iowa Republican caucuses) figured out he was a clown. When that didn’t happen, predictions were made that he’d flame out when those voters figured out he was a dangerous quasi-Fascist. Then the forecast was that the “establishment” Republicans would unite around Bush, the other candidates would retire because their money ran out, and life would go back to two-party normal. So far, I think most of the forecasters are doing about as well as I did back before President Goldwater’s first term. I don’t know if Trump is Hitler or Berlusconi or George Wallace or the fictional character played by Andy Griffith in “A Face in the Crowd” or a genuine novelty in American political life, and I’m not sure anyone else does either.

24

Meredith 01.28.16 at 10:48 pm

The U. S. is founded, far more than we like to think, on grabbing land and killing Indians, and on using slaves and headrights and indentured servants to develop that land and also build other industries. Obviously, not the whole story, not by a long shot. But we don’t visit that part of the story enough and so keep being surprised by Malheurs, by Trumps…. (As so often, Melville, was onto us: the metaphysics of Indian hating.)

25

Lee A. Arnold 01.28.16 at 10:50 pm

I would like to know what Rick Perlstein THOUGHT he knew, about “how the Republican Party worked”!

Would Mr. Perlstein be so kind as to state it in brief?

26

Lee A. Arnold 01.28.16 at 11:03 pm

I agree with Glen Tomkins that Trump’s strategy to secure the GOP nomination by jockeying himself on the fearful and uneducated. But that may only amount to 25% of the total electorate.

And I agree with Frank Wilhoit that Trump is driven and intelligent.

But Frank — What do you think Trump can do, to win over the vast majority don’t want hatred and racism spoken out of the White House? (How does he even win over conservative foreign policy realists who know that anti-Muslim sentiments will make it impossible for US troops find friendlies in Muslim lands, should there be another war?)

What does Trump do, after he’s got the GOP nomination — say, “I really didn’t mean it?” Who in would vote for a person like that in the Oval Office? Trump will even lose the white supremacist vote!

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Phil 01.28.16 at 11:23 pm

#13 – I stand corrected. Oddly enough I initially wrote “not (necessarily) Lacan” to hedge that particular bet, but thought it looked a bit (too) pretentious.

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Frank Wilhoit 01.29.16 at 12:17 am

Lee A. Arnold @26: You’ve not got my point, I’m afraid.

Trump in office would make a fool of himself in short order;
…but he has already made every other possible kind of fool of himself (? I didn’t call him intelligent…?), to us;
…but he’s not talking to us, and when he is “talking” to his people, he is using political discourse, not rational discourse. In other words, most of what he says is affect (watch a Hitler speech with the sound off), and the rest is code and allegories.

If he has a program (of course, it is his people’s program, not his own), it is to destroy the institutions that (in their view) have betrayed them — not to repair them, or even to replace them with new ones with different purposes, but to destroy them.

But what does it take, in this time and place, to destroy institutions? Couldn’t we wish we knew that, because they have already been destroyed. They stand, hollow shells, propped up by inertia, waiting to be flicked with a finger like in a Looney Tunes short, whereupon they flish into dust. All it takes is a wink and a nod. Trump’s people will do the rest.

And this is the real point. Trump himself will not and need not do anything. All he has to do is give his people the high sign that it is now perfectly safe. Depending upon how the coming months play out, it is possible that he may accumulate enough auctoritas to give that sign before the election. But again, it will not be him doing this, as a historical actor: it will be the awareness, channeled through him, that the institutions have no credibility left and no ability to exercise power. (Their response time, indeed, has just recently been measured, with high precision: it is 24 days.)

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Lee A. Arnold 01.29.16 at 1:18 am

Frank Wilhoit #28 — Oh I see, you wrote (at #12) that even if Trump were intelligent, he doesn’t exist. But I was hoping you would address one of Glen Tomkin’s other implications (at #11), and describe how you think Trump, who doesn’t exist, might change his nonexistent spots in order to win the election, (since so far the majority of general voters appear to dislike his message,) without looking like an opportunistic hypocrite, and worse than every other candidate.

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Glen Tomkins 01.29.16 at 4:51 am

Lee Arnold @29,

I think that is the big question right now about Trump. If he does win the nomination, how does he change up in order to win the general?

It certainly looks like he can get the nomination just by continuing to say outrageous things that excite the mook vote, because that vote is strong enough within the party. If he were a conventional politician with his poll numbers (strength and length), I would be less cautious and say that he was a cinch for the nomination. But he’s not conventional, so his poll numbers might reflect tactical poll responses. The mooks just tell pollsters they’re going for Trump as a protest, but will actually vote for a conventional candidate when it comes down to voting. But that thinking is probably wishful thinking. Trump has to be considered the favorite right now.

But you’re right, he has to change strategy once he is the nominee. The mook vote isn’t big enough to win the general.

R candidates always do change strategy to some extent, move to the center for the general after saying some hard right things to keep from getting outflanked on their right in the nomination race. But Trump not only has much farther to go if he wants to pursue that conventional strategy — i.e., he has a bigger quantitative problem than usual — he has a qualitative problem that is unprecedented. He’s not some establishment candidate with a long track record of conventional political behavior before he went lurching to the right to win the nomination. The sum total of his political identity is that he’s the anti-conventional candidate. He speaks truth to perceived PC power. The mooks would go from enthusiastic supporters to outraged opposition if Trump went conventional.

That’s why I think that a Trump who has won the nomination has no path to victory in the general other than making much more of the general electorate vote mook than seem at all inclined to right now. 9/11 did an excellent job of mooking up the electorate, at least for a few cycles. He needs something like that, something to make people afraid and willing to turn to grand autocratic solutions like invading foreign countries or throwing a lot of people in prison, or deporting millions back to Mexico and Central America.

I don’t think he has a clear path, within his control, to any such 9/11, or Reichstag Fire, if we want to go Godwin. But ISIL might perceive it as an opportunity to give him the gift of another 9/11, in order to get Trump elected so his administration will heighten the contradictions. Heightening the contradictions seems to be in their playbook, as the Paris attacks only make sense to me as an attempt to get France to bear down on French Muslims, and the 9/11 attacks as an attempt to get the US to invade Afghanistan. Domestically, he would have to rely on a van der Lubbe type to commit some senseless act of violence in reaction to his rhetoric.

But I do think that Trump really would be without any other solution if he is the nominee. He either creates or exploits events to turn 51% of the general electorate mook, or he faces certain defeat. Conventional politicians maneuver to position themselves to be where 51% of the electorate is already located. Trump will have to get them to come to him, and he’s not doing it with the hope of benefits from grand public policy projects. It will have to be fear, and fear has to be constantly renewed.

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Anarcissie 01.29.16 at 5:06 am

If there are more than two candidates in the general election, Mr. Trump will not necessarily need 50% plus one of the electorate.

Also, I think you all are underestimating the ‘mook’ vote.

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Ze K 01.29.16 at 8:14 am

Call it ‘mook’, or call it ‘protest’. If they really use elections as signaling mechanism, then this is the next signal.

Government approval numbers have been running below 20% for years, and recently I think I saw 7%. If that doesn’t impress them, they’ll get Trump. If they manage to suppress it this time and keep doing what they are doing, next time it’ll get even more interesting.

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Phil 01.29.16 at 9:23 am

Heightening the contradictions seems to be in their playbook, as the Paris attacks only make sense to me as an attempt to get France to bear down on French Muslims,

Yes, IS have stated that this is what they’re about. Paraphrasing, they want to give Muslims in the West the choice between an Uncle Tom fake Muslim identity, under the protection of governments who really hate them, or standing tall as Muslims by emigrating to join IS. (Sorry about this but) if you think of the appeal of Palestine to early Jewish settlers you can get the flavour of what they’re saying.

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Guano 01.29.16 at 11:22 am

“That turns out to be the key to Trump’s message: no one is looking out for you.”

A question from the UK: to what extent does the USA have the features of a failed state? It would appear that the state doesn’t have a monopoly of violence and there are large numbers of people who think that it shouldn’t have a monopoly of violence.

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kidneystones 01.29.16 at 11:48 am

Thanks for these Corey. I’m sure they offer some insights. Can’t say suggesting I find any evidence to merit suggestion the United States is in imminent danger of turning into Rwanda. Indeed, some might say that the suggestion is more profoundly f@cking offensive to the slaughtered than any Americans. The kicker is that the comparison reminds us that it was the husband of HRC who proved unequal to preventing that outcome. But I digress. I like Sean Trende. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/01/28/cruz_trump_and_the_missing_white_voters_129465.html#2

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Anarcissie 01.29.16 at 3:48 pm

Guano 01.29.16 at 11:22 am @ 34 —
I believe many Americans would say that they have a natural right to use violence, including the violence of advanced small arms, to defend their lives, liberty, and sacred property. Their idea of the governmental Gewaltmonopol is that is should be a carefully restricted power of original violence, such as the power to collect taxes or aggressively defend the realm from external enemies. Just guessing; no evidence but anecdotal observation and idle talk. Of course, the picture I give may be far too rational. The principles are intuited, not usually worked out logically and consistently.

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David 01.29.16 at 7:44 pm

I wonder whether some of the bitterness directed against Trump, and his approximate analogues in Europe, isn’t just an acceptable way of expressing contempt for the concerns of ordinary people, and indeed ordinary people themselves. Trump and co (Le Pen, Corbyn, several leaders in Spain, Italy and Greece) are much less important for who they are and what they think, than as symbols for everything that is wrong and inadequate with western politics today. Political elites spend their time arguing about which country the US should attack next, or whether the EU is already perfect, or can still be made better. They are terrified of elections over the next few years in which the concerns of ordinary people would actually be talked about for once. But as long as they fail to engage with these concerns they leave a gaping hole in the political system be filled by a whole range of different political actors, some, it has to be said, more attractive than others.

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giantslor 01.29.16 at 8:39 pm

I think this comment from Ann Marie Olsen explains a lot:

The thing you and others are missing in all of this is the penis/surplus powerlessness angle. you see certain people (constitutional conservatives, evangelicals, racists, homophobes, tea baggers, militiamen, preppers, etc) have been completely emasculated, nay castrated, by “the system” which mostly means the black guy in the white house. they also see their own party establishment to blame but mostly its the muslim, kenyan, commie pinko, not eligible to be the president, president. and now finally along comes Donald J Trump waving his giant white penis around, giving hope to the dickless that they will finally be able to grow back their own manhoods where there is nothing now but a bloody stump. all that surplus powerlessness (the term coined by rabbi michael lerner which explains so much of the world) has now been erased by their very own bully Donald J Trump. as long as he is bullying people, the right people, Donald J Trump can say anything. He can criticise war heroes, the disabled, women, and people in his own party. He can be ridiculous, he can lie, he can make absolutely no sense whatsoever and it wont matter. He gave them back their schlongy schlongs and every time he bashes the “other” with it their own purple headed soldier man gets bigger, thicker, meatier, stronger…..they FEEL it. Donald J Trump has reverse neutered these flag waving capons and they are highly motivated to get out there and vote now. How do you work that phenomena into your equations? It’s what helped Reagan get elected. Is this going to get Donald J Trump elected too? Conversely, if a woman or a jew beats him in the general will that be a death blow to the party? Will the full and complete genital mutilation of the republican party finally render it dead meat?

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Eskimo 01.29.16 at 9:36 pm

I have been reading a lot of interesting comparisons. There’s the one that triggers the Godwin tripwire, of course. Also: Trump’s foreign policy is like Robert Taft’s (Politico). Trump is like Hearst (above), or maybe Wallace. I think: he is like Berlusconi. But do any of these comparisons make sense? Trump doesn’t seem to have a plan, an ideology, or even consistency from day to day, besides “I’m rich and tough.”

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kidneystones 01.30.16 at 3:37 am

Six Essential Readings plus – NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/30/business/donald-trump-unions.html?_r=0

The NYT, like most anti-Trump media, presents union preference for job protection via Trump as another facet of utterly un-expected, upside down world we live in today.

Who could imagine that all unions are not alike – the most notable schism falling along public sector versus private sector members. Dems treat public service unions as an extension of the Democratic party and vice versa. Private sector unions enjoy no such inside track status. As this 2013 article in Time points out: http://ideas.time.com/2013/01/29/viewpoint-why-the-decline-of-unions-is-your-problem-too/ 35% of private sector workers in the bad old ’50s belonged to unions. The current percentage of unionized private sector employees hovers in the single digits.

Predictions about Trump’s ceilings and the negative impact of his ‘racism’ and ‘hate speech’ have proved reliably useless. Sanders is about to discover that he, too, is a closet racist, in much the same way that Geraldine Ferraro did, along with the Clintons. The term has almost no traction whatsoever among many independents and almost all on the right.

If Bill and Hillary and Bernie are racist, who isn’t?

The Huffpo has now decided to include a racist/xenophoic/blah-blah-blah sticker to all Trump coverage, which considering the pretty much all white skin tones of the liberal media, is likely to turn out badly should Trump defy all predictions again (see above) and run out a strategy of employment and education offerings to all ‘illegals’ who leave and re-apply legally. File under amnesty and path to citizenship.

Dems have for some reason managed to convince themselves that ordinary middle-class and working people are utterly immune to the siren call of private sector jobs that offer security, the prospect of promotion, and a better future for their children. Underestimating Trump’s ability to pivot to the center whilst keeping his supporters, charitably identified here as ‘mooks’, is pretty much par for the course for liberal prognosticators, especially when the topic is Trump.

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kidneystones 01.30.16 at 5:21 am

And for those (like me) who appreciate and teach granular, quantitative, analysis of rhetoric, a real treat from David Byler: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/07/20/text_mining_the_republican_announcement_speeches_127447.html

Trump is literally speaking a different language to the rest of the inter-changeable GOP mutts. The table and word cloud are both highly illuminating.

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Neville Morley 01.30.16 at 8:36 am

Not an American, so apologies in advance for any lamentable ignorance, but in the absence of any threads on European politics at the moment…

(1) Given how far US constitutional set-up drew on Roman forms, it seems reasonable to surmise that it incorporated (consciously or not) underlying principles. *The* key aims of Roman system were inertia and the limitation of individual power (to a fair extent seen as the same thing – above all, no one can be allwed to change the rules of the game). So, separation of powers, term limits – if only they’d had the sense to institute two presidents rather than this quasi-monarchy. This raises the question of what difference Trump – or Cruz, or Sanders, or whoever – could actually make. A lot of the answers I’ve seen focus on the president’s ability, sometimes, to change one or two of the levers governing other bits of the system (Supreme Court, most obviously). Otherwise, grid-locked Congress keeps everything grid-locked. What am I missing?

(2) If this is more or less right, then us poor Europeans have it much worse. Putting major executive power in hands of Prime Minister or equivalent means that entire system can shift dramatically leftwards or rightwards all at once – charismatic populist leader helps his followers gain control of legislature, supporters dominating legislature gives power to leader – and they are then in a position immediately to start changing the rules of the game (see Hungary, Poland… United Kingdom). Trump is, in this respect, very different from Berlusconi: he has the possibility of winning the presidency without an organised party behind him – but he can’t bring a wave of supporters into office on his coat-tails.

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Hidari 01.30.16 at 1:29 pm

@41 On Trump’s language.

Again, as you said, Trump speaks, literally, a different language from the other candidates.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.30.16 at 2:17 pm

Most interesting part (for me) of that response to Kimmel is where Trump quickly and quietly says, “It’s temporary.” He almost swallows it, so you won’t remember it and you won’t think of its implication — but he puts it in. If you have listened closely since the beginning of the campaign, you will have noticed that he makes lots of little hedges like this. Why? Because Trump is leaving himself a way to get out of everything he says on actual policy. He can reverse course later, and say, “I didn’t say that. You weren’t listening to me.” Just about the only proposal he has not hedged on, is the Great Mexican Wall. On several other issues where he has been caught flatly wrong (e.g. Obama’s birth certificate) Trump now says, “I don’t talk about that, anymore.” This behavior holds one of the keys to fighting him in the general campaign.

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jonnybutter 01.30.16 at 3:28 pm

#42

It is often the inertia that gives rise to the authoritarian, don’t you think? Nothing changes and people get sick of it. Yes, in a European parliamentary system, the winning party gets to actually implement policy in that country – as an American, I envy you that. But I’d say there seems to be strong inertia in Europe too, at the union level. In some ways the EU seems even more inflexible than is the US Federal system, however individual countries’ politics goes.

The presidential system for individual countries is quite a bit worse – especially our (US) creaky old version of it – because it’s ridiculously undemocratic (like the EU, frankly); it may have been built to produce inertia, but it’s also inherently unstable (like the EU again). There’s a scary, ad hoc quality to it. If a Euro country makes a political mistake, it can (generally) vote out the offenders and the new party can actually implement its policies. There is a thrashing out – there is, in a word, politics.

In the US, all presidential campaigns are mostly aspirational – and our Congress is so dysfunctional at the moment that this is even more true for this election, probably. But if aspiration is all you have, esp amid said dysfunction, then aspiration becomes important! The US system was not so much built for inertia as for drift – entropy.

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Rakesh Bhandari 02.01.16 at 5:50 am

Trump’s basic promise is to protect white men by disengaging from the world after a few, final bombing campaigns until he can with the help of white men build casino strips throughout the US that the world will respect. No white person will want for a job. The hotels that he will build will touch the sky, as Palin poetically put it. Trump will turn the whole world into tourists of America.

The American net foreign position will strengthen on the basis of tourism; plus the 45% tariff on Chinese goods will make sure the casinos are supplied with American-made goods. The buffets will be great; the shows spectacular. This will be the soft power that puts the US back on top. America has under-exploited the cultural capital of Hooters and Hard Rock Cafe. No more with Trump.

People will call Trump all the time to tell them how they love being American again.

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Rakesh Bhandari 02.01.16 at 5:54 am

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Rakesh Bhandari 02.02.16 at 4:03 pm

Steven Greenhouse ‏@greenhousenyt 2h2 hours ago
Trump maybe hurt becuz some supporters afraid to go to caucus & be seen backing an obnoxious billionaire. He may do better in secret ballots

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Rakesh Bhandari 02.02.16 at 4:07 pm

Probably easier to show up in Iowan Republican Caucus and proclaim your passionate support for the true Christian Ted Cruz, given the nature of anti-abortion politics in the state. But given the secret ballot the Republican Id Donald Trump may emerge victorious.
Is Cruz saving the revival of “Drill, Baby, Drill” for later in the campaign? I mean, he is the official spokesperson for the domestic oil and gas industry, right?

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Rakesh Bhandari 02.02.16 at 4:12 pm

My guess as to why Trump lost; also reasons he did not appear at the debate was probably to duck questions on abortion.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/01/26/antiabortion-activists-to-iowa-voters-support-anyone-but-donald-trump/
Would like to see data, but my guess is that Iowa may be one of the most anti-abortion states in the Union.

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