I am preoccupied with Trump, and what he means for our nation. He is single-handedly destroying the Republican Party. We haven’t seen a political party collapse in this country in well over a century. It’s happening now. Institutions that are strong don’t collapse overnight. I don’t know that even Trump saw the rot in the GOP. But it was rotten, and that’s why it’s collapsing.
Consider: the last two men standing in the GOP primaries are the two candidates most hated by the Republican establishment: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Sure, Rubio and Kasich are still officially in contention, but they’re not going anywhere. After next week, Rubio will be out, and even a Kasich win in his home state of Ohio will only prolong the inevitable for him.
Though a conservative, I have not considered myself a Republican for almost a decade, and have come to expect nothing from the Republican Party except more of the same stupid mistakes and policies that brought the country low under the Bush presidency (for which I voted twice). But I had come to think of myself as one of those TAC eccentrics, standing outside of institutional conservatism, throwing brickbats. There seemed to be no cracking the bubble. The GOP machine was going to keep churning out candidates for whom it was always 1980, and that was just how it was going to be.
And now Trump. I think back to watching his Mobile rally — August 21, 2015 — on TV, the first time I had seen an entire Trump campaign speech. Thirty thousand people came out to hear him. And the speech was ridiculous — a rambling mess. I snorted that anybody would be taken in by this nonsense. I didn’t care for any of his competitors either, but at least they gave coherent speeches. This guy? Clown.
Seven months later, he’s still giving the same speeches. And now he’s probably going to be the Republican nominee. It’s an incredible thing. Nobody has ever seen a thing like this in American politics. How did the once-mighty Republican Party fall like this? Why did its authority collapse so thoroughly, and so quickly?
It took an outsider so rich that he didn’t have to depend on the party’s donors to fund his campaign. But Ross Perot was that rich guy back in 1992, and he choked. But that was near the beginning of globalization. A quarter-century later, and we’re living in a different nation.
I want to share with you an insightful post by Charles Featherstone, who is a friend of this blog’s. Charles, as you may recall, wrote an amazing memoir about his difficult life, his passing through Islamic radicalism, and hearing a divine call to become a Christian on 9/11, as he worked in downtown Manhattan. Charles’s book began as a long e-mail to me, a critical response to something I wrote about Pope Francis. Here is the original letter from Charles; I suggest you read it in preparation for what I’m about to quote. The point is that Charles has been beat up pretty bad by life. It’s still happening. He’s a middle-aged white guy struggling for work, struggling to find solid ground.
And he likes Donald Trump.
No, he’s not going to vote for him. Charles is not particularly conservative, either. But he likes Trump, and he explains why in this post. Excerpts:
As someone who was told, by the respectable heads of a deeply respectable institution, that I am not a respectable person and have no place in respectable society (and I have heard some version of this my entire life), to see Donald Trump succeed is … well, gratifying. There is nothing respectable about the man. His tawdry, messy life is an open book, his mouth something of a festering, running sore. He’s not much of a thinker. His use of the law to advance his fortune is rather shameless. But honestly, I wish I could live that shamelessly, with that kind of courage, and that kind of persistence, and not have my life and my words constantly held against me. Or not care, because the judgements of gate-keepers don’t matter. Trump is poking all of the right people in the eyes for all the right reasons. I don’t so much care that he wins, but I am enjoying the spectacle of watching someone live so openly and so honestly. He’s coarse and crude, but he appears to make no pretenses. He offends all the right people. He seems to be honest about who he is. That’s not the same as speaking the truth — Trump speaks very little of that. But as someone who has lived in a world that has held the fact that I am Charles Featherstone against me, I am in awe.
I wish I could do that. I wish I could get away with it. And succeed as spectacularly as Trump is.
Past that, though, what he actually says resonates with me. Some. Mostly his anger, the anger he channels of people who do not matter, and who know they do not matter, who know the world is increasingly rigged against them.
Charles talks about the immigration issue, and how he has benefited personally from immigration — for example, in the friends he has met who were immigrants, and who cared for him when nobody else would. More:
But it always struck me there was some other agenda to the immigration. That there still is. I’m not sure what. So immigration — legal, illegal, refugees — makes me uneasy. And I hear, somewhere in the background as I struggle and try to eke out a marginal existence, unable to find meaningful work or care for the people I want to care for — from the advocates for immigration, whether progressive or conservative: “You are privileged, and so you must sacrifice, you must be made to sacrifice. We will take from you and we won’t care what becomes of you. Because you no longer matter.”
So, as horrific as Trump’s pronouncements on immigration are, honestly, they speak to me. They shouldn’t, but they do.
Trump channels something — the rage and desperation of a people who know they don’t matter anymore. Whose lives and wellbeing have become a blight, an embarrassment, who are now disposable. Yes, they have may been a privileged people once, knowing the order of the world arising from the great struggles of the first half of the 20th century was arranged for them, and may be struggling for privilege again, but they also know politics has told them — economically and socially — “lie down and die.” That they are white, and crude, and prone to brutality and violence, frequently not very compassionate or empathetic, all-too-often confused by the world, and that their religion is simplistic and mostly idolatrous, all that makes it hard to sympathize with them. (I find it hard.) But you leave people behind at your peril. You can tell them to “lie down and die,” and some will. But many won’t.
Read the whole thing. Charles foresees tragedy. He compares Trump to Hugo Chavez, who rose to power by making the masses of people who are nobodies in their country feel like somebody was standing up and speaking for them. Yet (says Charles), Chavez ruined his nation. Would a President Trump do that to America? Charles believes the country is already well on its way to ruin.
Charles Featherstone is not an optimist.
Look, not everybody who votes for Trump is poor, or working class, or struggling economically. One Trump supporter I know lives in a million-dollar house; he just hates what his party has become, and voting Trump (as he did in his state’s primary) is a way of sending a message to the RNC. He might have sent it before with his vote, but there was no message candidate to vote for. Point is, Trump is drawing from all demographic groups. Come to think of it, it might actually be more interesting to find out why Republicans for whom America has been working pretty well are going for Trump.
Still, voices like Charles Featherstone’s must be heard. Here’s something by Michael Cooper Jr., a lawyer writing from his home in one of the poorest counties in North Carolina:
Now, I walk into the courtroom every week and see the faces of childhood friends in a town where 23 percent of the population lives in poverty and 25 percent never finished high school.
So if there are winners and losers in America, I know the losers. They lost jobs to China and Vietnam. And they’re dying younger, caught in an endless cycle of jail, drug charges and applying for disability to pay the child support bill.
They lost their influence, their dignity and their shot at the American Dream, and now they’re angry. They’re angry at Washington and Wall Street, at big corporations and big government. And they’re voting now for Donald Trump.
His supporters realize he’s a joke. They do not care. They know he’s authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who’ve long ignored their interests.
When you’re earning $32,000 a year and haven’t had a decent vacation in over a decade, it doesn’t matter who Trump appoints to the U.N., or if he poisons America’s standing in the world, you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.
Reading these essays made me think about the future for my three kids. The oldest is 16. It never occurs to me that they are going to have trouble making it in the world. They’re going to graduate college, and get on the career track. Or so I tell myself. Truth is, I don’t know this to be true at all. I live in a bubble. America “works” for me and mine … until it doesn’t. Then what?
I haven’t cast a vote for president in the last two elections (a write-in protest vote in ’08 doesn’t count) because I have no faith in either party. Michael Cooper Jr. writes:
As productivity climbed, working-class Americans wanted their wages to rise also. Instead, Republicans gave them tax cuts for the rich while liberal Democrats called them racists and bigots.
Yep. And I would add that Republicans gave them needless foreign wars. Who needs a conservative party like that? A conservative activist chided me on Twitter yesterday for not getting behind Ted Cruz, who is “a Reagan conservative.” As if the Soviet Union were still a menace, and there was no economic problem that couldn’t be fixed by tax cuts and deregulation.
Let me say it again: I think Trump is a poor man’s idea of a rich man, a demagogue who would be a terrible president, possibly even a tyrant. But I get why people less secure economically than I am don’t care, and are for him anyway. Hell, in Louisiana, our crackpot Gov. Earl K. Long was a total buffoon, and probably insane — but he came from somewhere, and he did a lot of good for poor people who were ignored by proper, respectable people in the establishment. If you are a mainstream Republican or Democrat, and aren’t trying to understand Trump’s appeal (as opposed to simply writing his backers off as racist clods), then you are making a big, big mistake. Trump may be denied the GOP nomination, in the end, and he probably won’t be elected president. But the people he motivated, and who voted for him, they aren’t going away — and neither are their problems and concerns.
Who will speak for them then?
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