Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Donald Trump Nurses a New Grievance

In case you were wondering, no, Donald Trump does not have the temperament to lead anything:
Donald Trump claimed that Sen. Ted Cruz stole his Iowa caucus win in a tweet early this morning. In an initial posting on Twitter, the Republican presidential frontrunner wrote “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he illegally stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong any way he got more votes than anticipated. Bad!” He deleted this posting, fixed his spelling, and took out the word “illegally” in a new version of the tweet that remains up. After a string of tweets blasting the Cruz campaign’s controversial “voter violation” mailers and an email that seemed to suggest Ben Carson was dropping out of the GOP race, Trump accused the Texas senator of “fraud,” said the Monday results should be nullified, and demanded a do-over.
The dirty trick played on the Ben Carson campaign--a classic bit of ratfucking designed to suppress or confuse the voters--opens Cruz up to charges of being an illegitimate winner. This is also being used, to a lesser extent, by the Bernie Sanders campaign with one exception--Sanders actually knows how to run and win a campaign. He has a great deal more experience than Cruz who hasn't even served a full term in the United States Senate.

Trump's charges won't hold water--they're not going to re-do the Iowa Caucus. That, in and of itself, shows that Trump is not listening to anyone who knows a damned thing. He was better off being gracious, but that didn't solve the problem with the massive hole that eats into his psyche. You know, the burned, bleeding hole President Obama opened up when he publicly mocked Trump?
Trump was then at the height of his unimaginably ugly marketing of birther fantasies, and, just days before, the state of Hawaii had, at the President’s request, released Obama’s long-form birth certificate in order to end, or try to end, the nonsense. Having referred to that act, he then gently but acutely mocked Trump’s Presidential ambitions: “I know that he’s taken some flack lately—no one is prouder to put this birth-certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to the issues that matter, like: did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And—where are Biggie and Tupac?” The President went on, “We all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example—no, seriously—just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice”—there was laughter at the mention of the program’s name. Obama explained that, when a team did not impress, Trump “didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf—you fired Gary Busey. And these are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night.”

What was really memorable about the event, though, was Trump’s response. Seated a few tables away from us magazine scribes, Trump’s humiliation was as absolute, and as visible, as any I have ever seen: his head set in place, like a man in a pillory, he barely moved or altered his expression as wave after wave of laughter struck him. There was not a trace of feigning good humor about him, not an ounce of the normal politician’s, or American regular guy’s “Hey, good one on me!” attitude—that thick-skinned cheerfulness that almost all American public people learn, however painfully, to cultivate. No head bobbing or hand-clapping or chin-shaking or sheepish grinning—he sat perfectly still, chin tight, in locked, unmovable rage. If he had not just embarked on so ugly an exercise in pure racism, one might almost have felt sorry for him.
Some day someone may well write a kind of micro-history of that night, as historians now are wont to do, as a pivot in American life, both a triumph of Obama’s own particular and enveloping form of cool and as harbinger of—well, of what exactly? A lot depends on what happens next with the Donald and his followers. Certainly, the notion that Trump’s rise, however long it lasts, is a product of a special skill, or circumstance, or a new national “mood,” is absurd. Trumpism is a permanent part of American life—in one form or another, with one voice or another blaring it out. At any moment in our modern history, some form of populist nationalism has always held some significant share—whether five or ten per cent – of the population. Among embittered white men, Trump’s “base,” it has often held a share much larger than that. Trump is not offering anything that was not offered before him, often in identical language and with a similarly incoherent political program, by Pat Buchanan or Ross Perot, by George Wallace or Barry Goldwater, or way back when by Father Coughlin or Huey Long. Populist nationalism is not an eruptive response to a new condition of 2015—it is a perennial ideological position, deeply rooted in the nature of modernity: a social class sees its perceived displacement as the result of a double conspiracy of outsiders and élitists. The outsiders are swamping us, and the insiders are mocking us—this ideology alters its local color as circumstances change, but the essential core is always there. They look down on us and they have no right to look down on us. Indeed, the politics of Trump, far from being in any way new, are exactly the politics of Huck Finn’s drunken father in “Huckleberry Finn”: “Call this a govment! Just look at it and see what it’s like . . . . A man can’t get his rights in a govment like this.” Widespread dissatisfaction with all professional politicians, a certainty of having been “sold out,” a feeling of complete alienation from both political parties—“Not a dime’s worth of difference between them” was George Wallace’s formulation, a half century ago—these are permanent intuitions of the American aggrieved. The feelings may be somewhat aggravated by bad times, or alleviated by good ones, but at the height of the prosperous fifties a significant proportion of Americans were persuaded that the entire government was in the hands of saboteurs and traitors at the pay of a foreign power, while in the still more prosperous nineties a similar faction was persuaded that the liberal President was actually a coke dealer who had murdered a friend.

Donald Trump needs a reason to keep running. He needs a grievance against someone to motivate him to show up where common people stand around with their finger in their mouth, waiting to see if he'll get close enough for a handshake. Trump has been a celebrity for decades. He does not want to deal with these people, but he will use them to help address his grievances. 

What's missing is an advisory team that can help him navigate these waters and make smarter decisions. Without these people, Trump is tweeting out his thoughts before they are fully formed. A real campaign uses strategy and plans. Trump uses social media and the mob. 

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