Trump’s Gift to America

Photo credit: The Nerdwriter (click image for more)

Stuart Lyle

Many envisage Donald Trump as a plague that has been visited upon the United States, bringing disorder, chaos, and the pestilence of a magnified pandemic. In this telling, before Trump crashed the Republican Party and swept up all the Party faithful, everything was “normal.”  Sure the Republicans were a bit edgy, pushing their partisan efforts to the margins, but was it really all that different from the Democratic Party?

The true answer is, ‘yes:’ the Republican Party had become something far different than the Democratic Party, and it started long before Trumpism gained traction. Trump was very much a natural extension of what the party had been doing for years, narrowing its base to a rabid breed of grievance-driven whites with little regard for the lofty principles it ostensibly stood for. 

Trump, however, was not only a natural extension, but also a very lucky turning point – lucky, that is, from the point of view of US democracy.  Trump has managed to unmask the true direction of the Republican Party. His haplessness and inability to control his own ego have rendered him incapable of pursuing a clever coalition strategy that might have cemented the dominance of the Party and its racist policies for the foreseeable future.

Imagine if instead of Trump, a savvy and ruthless leader like Victor Orbán, head of the Fidesz Party in Hungary, had burst onto the scene in 2016.  Orbán, once a pro-democracy activist, has systematically destroyed Hungary’s post-communist, democratic foundations since regaining power in 2010.  He has unerringly identified weaknesses in the system and in his opponents. At times he has aligned himself with them and then, when he felt the time was right, crushed them.  Democracy in Hungary has been obliterated surprisingly quickly.

Trump, to borrow Lloyd Bentsen’s famous putdown of Dan Quayle in a vice-presidential debate, is no Orbán.  Even as his poll numbers continue to sink with the election less than a month away, he has obtusely decided to torpedo a desperately needed economic stimulus package.  Helping the economy could only help him, but he fears that he would have to share the success with the Congressional Democrats whom he loathes.

What if Trump, rather than doubling down on naked racism in support of the Proud Boys and similar proto-fascist, armed groups, had done what Republican politicians have done for years, i.e. made some anodyne comments about how that’s not how we do things in the United States… while weakly condemning them?   Doing that and dozens of other less extreme things could have worked in his electoral favor, incrementally increasing his support.

Instead, driven by his insatiable ego, he has thrown political caution to the wind and focused only on his most rabid base.  Thank god!  If, instead of following his gut to consolidate his base, he had half Victor Orban’s – or, god forbid, Vladimir Putin’s – political savvy, we would be facing the immediate end of American democracy.  A second term would make the depredations of the first Trump term look like child’s play.  The destruction of the various government departments would proceed completely unchecked.  The elimination of all norms and decorum of the federal government would be enshrined in new, corrosive laws and norms.

Even assuming Trump loses the general election and we are able to lever him out of the White House, we are far from out of the woods.  The problem is not Trump, or even Trumpism.  It is the rot in the Republican Party itself.  We are very lucky that a political ingénue like Trump came to power at this critical time.  He was destructive, sure, but he has alerted the county to the danger the democratic system is in, exposing his many enablers in the Republican Party.

That Party needs to be destroyed.  It is a direct threat to the Republic.  There are a number of Republicans, or former Republicans, who clearly see that, more clearly, it seems, than many Democrats.  Many of these are not just ‘anti-Trumpers’, but high-level operatives who have had the scales removed from their eyes to see the Party for what it has become: a Party of white grievance, instead of a ‘big tent.’  The Never Trumpers have been joined by other groups such as the Lincoln Project, who harken back to the inclusiveness of the post-Civil War Republican Party.

Stuart Stevens, a former Republican consultant who helped put George Bush in the White House has put it eloquently in his book, It Was All a Lie.  The Republican Party has aligned itself ever more strongly with racists going back at least as far as Ronald Reagan.  Using the ‘conservative’ ideal as window-dressing, the Party has worked to fan the grievances of a dwindling percentage of voters who are white and have a sense of loss for a mythical era of white domination somewhere back in the 1950s.

Such a myth is central to the fascist playbook, as Jason Stanley carefully documents in his seminal, How Fascism Works.  Although it is considered hype and ‘unhelpful’ to point out the obvious parallels between the modern Republican Party and the European fascist parties of the 1930s, Stanley takes a calm approach to listing main the characteristics of any fascist movement:

  • building a mythic past of a nation’s “greatness” – think MAGA
  • propaganda machinery capable of injecting that myth into popular consciousness – Fox anyone?
  • anti-intellectualism, something with deep roots in the US
  • unreality and a skein of lies to tie followers together – 20,000 Trump lies and counting according to the Washington Post
  • belief in the value of hierarchy, in the family and of the nation – so-called family values
  • a deep sense of victimhood, of grievance of what has been supposedly “lost” – the 1950s in our case

There are more, but the congruence of these characteristics with how Trumpism has worked, and how the Republican Party has acted since at least the late 1970s, is startling.

Trump, we hope, will soon be confined to the proverbial dustbin of history, but until the anti-democratic machine known as the Republican Party is destroyed, we run the very real risk that rather than a bumbling El Duce Mussolini wannabe, we end up with the real, Hitlerian deal.

7 thoughts on “Trump’s Gift to America

  1. All well and good. But unfortunately, the incumbent has publicly stated he and his team are working furiously to fix the election results. (Sen. Harris hinted at this last night, Pence making faces of great objection, but Harris should have spelled out the details: during first Trump-Biden “debate,” the incumbent objected to potential voters being sent ballots to mail back if they hadn’t directly requested same. Add the game-playing with Postal Service, etc., and there can be no guarantee the election will be legit. Plus there’s the “little matter” of the dreadful Electoral College.) So the opportunity to restore something like “democracy” after a single-term Trump presidency may be a pipe dream. With the higher courts, and soon SCOTUS itself, packed with Trump appointees, what fair and neutral body will arbitrate a reversal of a rigged Trump victory? I saw a headline other day asking rhetorically “Will Trumpism Persist After Trump?” Sad to have to say, it is my view that it absolutely will, because without a racist, xenophobic, homophobic (yes, Hillary, you hit the nail on the head, before instantly retracting your 2016 description of Trump’s base!) audience already in place to devour The Donald’s hate-mongering, he wouldn’t be the incumbent today. One may well say that “Trumpism” existed pre-Trump! Details are still sketchy, but apparently we’re seeing, in the case of the Governor of Michigan, how dangerous it can be to be publicly declared an enemy by Donald J. Trump. The same Trump who used the first “debate” with Biden to issue instructions to “the Proud Boys”: “Stand back, but…STAND BY.” The gravity of our current political situation cannot be overstated.

    • Forwarned is forearmed. There are a lot of moving parts to the political system in the United States. The fact that a coward like Trump states he wont go is no guarantee that about the amount of actual resistence he and the parts of government he has corrupted will put up. The battle will not end Nov 3rd, but there are a lot more people ready to engage in it than in 2000 when the Bushies stole the election in Florida. The period from the election to the inauguration is likely to be chaotic, but no reason to hang one’s head. This is a historic opportunity to right the listing ship of American democracy.

  2. I stopped reading after the smarmy put down of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, arguably the world’s premier statesman and a popular, effective leader of his country, one heads and shoulders above anything the United States seems capable of producing at the moment. Better luck next article.

  3. Much of what is said here I have been saying from early on in Trump’s assent. If the GOP was not there already, Trump would not have gained political traction. What could have been noted more clearly is that this country has never given up its racist, genocidal roots–much less acknowledged them in any working way. But ignored here is how the Dems are part of the problem as they actually support much of the GOP agenda and always have. With Hilary they basically threw that 2016 election having trashed a most viable candidate in Bernie Sanders that was rousingly popular, even with many right leaning and independent people. What is notable is that the stripping off the mask of the GOP was allowable because of the broad arrogance of that party which assumed they had their control locked up. And it was true. They had achieved the neo-con dream of controlling Congress and SCOTUS and much of the Governorships of the States. Remember The Project for a New American Century of Cheney, et al fame!

    I have to agree with Michael Murry here about Putin–a favorite tool for propaganda use in the US. Americans have no idea what is going on with Russia as we never get meaningful news/reporting. Why would we when such information would cost the 1% their most useful tool for fearmongering of the foreign. We have no idea what Trump’s connection with Putin is really about. Reading RT the past couple y ears shows support from Putin/Russian for Trump in many ways but not completely. Reading foreign news informs us that Putin has been very good at reaching out the the EU countries for partnerships and he has been excellent with China in particular in setting up a competitive economic base to side step the nefarious American control. This is the real problem for the US with him, not his pro- or anti-democracy positions. In his favor was his stand against ISIS in Syria, a move in line with world agreements but the US freaked out as this country had/has actually been supporting that militaristic and divisive movement for years, funding and arming it regularly. The attack on Putin in this article just shows that all people, including those with somewhat progressive thinking, succumb to the mainstream propaganda without any understanding of how their own biases/prejudices/beliefs interfere with their understandings.

    • Yeah, one of the “gag me with a spoon” moments of the VP “debate” was when Pence accused Biden of being a puppet of China, with Harris countering with jabs about the Putin-Trump apparent coziness. Trump admires Putin’s “strongman” image, fancies himself on a par. Putin cannot openly embrace Trump fully for simple reason that Trump can’t “drain the swamp,” he can’t reverse 75 years of State Dept. policy of presenting Russia as an enemy, usually Enemy #1. Come to think of it now, neither of the VP candidates specifically answered the moderator’s question: “Is China a competitor, adversary or enemy?” Had I been in Sen. Harris’s shoes, I would have explained that it was the Republican Nixon who “opened China to trade,” the first step in the shipping overseas of literally millions of US manufacturing jobs. China did not “steal” a single American job. American bosses shipped them overseas! But try to tell that to Joe Six-Pack, who’s about as ignorant of economics as Mr. Trump! China is a terrific competitor, obviously, and a designated enemy by the US Ruling Class. Yet, where would we get our goods from nowadays without China?? It’s a dandy quandary!

    • Funny, that a throwaway comment about Vladimir Putin’s “political savvy” has attracted such a strong defence of the Russian President. It is hardly a “smarmy put down” to accuse Putin of political savvy. Regardless of the role Putin has played in making Russia great again (MAGA reference intended) internationally, he and his minions have worked tirelessly – and extremely effectively – at crushing all opposiiton in Russia. I am a fluent reader of Hungarian and knowlegeable in Russian and have followed developments in both countries for over 40 years, so I have not reached these conclusions from tainted western propaganda. It is exactly because I respect how capable Putin has been that I am glad that Trump is not on that level.

      • Despite internal divisions, Russia IS a “Great Power.” And thus still a convenient bogeyman to use to “justify” USA’s positively obscene expenditures on war preparation. A mere 75 years after Russian sacrifices that Americans can’t even grasp (not that they want to) helped the Allies defeat the Nazi Beast. I am of the Vietnam Generation and was “blessed” to participate in those “duck and cover” drills in elementary school. The Cold War never ended, folks!

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