What’s New about This President–Trump’s Hundred Daze, Part 2

by Mark Lause, editorial board member on April 30, 2017

News coverage certainly tends to focus on the peculiarities of Donald Trump, which are real enough.   His thinly disguised unconcern–even contempt–for people of color, women, and, indeed, essentially anyone not in his tax bracket rubs many people the wrong way.  His reactionary rhetoric  rub most of the educated white middle class the wrong way and horrifies people of color, as well as the international community.

That said, Trump did not become president by accident.  That Democrats nominated their weakest candidate and ran a miserable campaign was no accident either.  Both parties have always preferred to avoid discussing policies in favor of using the old American electoral tactic of trying to terrify one’s base about the substantive menace of “the Other.”   This reflects a common agreement around a reductionist misrepresentation of the complex and diverse population of nearly 320,000,000 Americans spread out across an entire continent.

In this light, Hillary Clinton once described Trump’s people as the “deplorables.”  Her followers have warned that Trump’s ascendancy would be that of a particularly misogynistic Adolph Hitler.  The owners of the Democratic Party had a more popular candidate, the self-described “socialist” Bernie Sanders beating all possible Republican candidates in the polls.  No matter.

Those same owners of the party sought to stampede what they saw as their natural voting base into voting for Clinton, an open booster of Wall Street who had long repudiated whatever liberal tradition had been associated with the party. (This, though professional white women set aside her complete absence of any agenda forward to see her as as “feminist.”)   Increasingly, the Democratic fear-mongering involved a nostaligic resurrection of the Cold War, warning that Putin and the Russians were trying to influence the elections in favor of Trump.

Trump simply could not have won the election based on the ballots of right-wing sociopaths, though there were enough of them behind him to be disturbing.  He had plenty of racists, misogynists, thugs, and the arrogantly ill-informed behind him.  Trump’s rants against Barrack Obama and Clinton reflected a strategy of maximizing his mobilization of those forces.  None of these represent new forces in American politics, and they generally always constitute a fifth to a quarter of the electorate.   The presence of such characters may be disturbing, but nothing in the Democratic agenda has aimed at changing any of this.

Indeed, the Democratic implementation of Jim Crow segregation in the late nineteenth century ensured African-American votes for the Republicans without requiring them to actually do anything for the black community.  So, too, the presence of a hyper-reactionary component of the Republican electoral base provides the Democrats with fearful voters without actually having to do anything remotely “liberal.”   (And the history of the past half century could scarcely be more clear on this.)

In the end, the failure of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party to mobilize voters who had earlier supported Obama–and the apparent crossover of hundreds of thousands of Obama voters to Trump in key states–gave victory to the Republicans.  Flanked by such worthies as Steve Bannon of the right-wing Breitbart News, the president-elect, the new president seemed to play his cards close to his chest, though many wondered if he had ever been playing with a full deck.   Still, after the election, those same “mainstream” “responsible” Democratic bosses who had started the fear drum circle and denounced anyone who didn’t support Clinton as closet reactionaries embraced Trump as “our president” or “the president of all of us.”

To their credit, many Democratic voters defiantly did not.

Trump disappointed none of his critics as his presidency hit the ground running.  What served him in running for the presidency translated into no particularly useful governing skills.   No incoming American president in recent times ever entered office with such low approval ratings and so poor a knack for improving them.  Traditional wisdom encouraged all new president to begin their administration by reaching out to all sides for whatever support might be possible.

Trump, though, continued to talk out of both sides of his mouth, maligning anyone who seems to stand in his way like a petulant child.   And nothing seemed to get Trump frothing at the mouth as thoroughly as Obama.  Indeed, Obama’s 2008 nomination seems to have pushed Trump out of the Democratic Party and nothing seemed to drive Trump intopublic displays of childishness and defensiveness so readily as his black predecessor.  He not only vilified Obama through the presidential campaign, but made a key point of promising to undo Obama’s greatest achievement, as paltry and pathetic as was his nationalization of Romneycare.  After giving an inaugural address that deigned to engage in the usual open-handed appeals for national unity, he picked an entirely an utterly unnecessary fight with the media over whether his inaugural crowd in 2017 was as big as Obama’s in 2009.

People participate in a Yemeni protest against President Donald Trump’s travel ban in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S. February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith – RTX2ZERU

Thereafter, Trump faced a remarkable series of failures, almost any one of which would have doomed the administration of his predecessors.  Having run on the promise of a Muslim ban, he tried to issue one (which he insisted was not a Muslim ban), only to be defeated in the courts.  He tried a second attempt at a Muslim ban, which came to a similar end.

Repealing and replacing Obama’s nationalized Romneycare became a hot potato fumbled back and forth between Trump and the Republican Congress like a hot potato.  After it was dropped, both sides blamed the other while publicly claiming that they weren’t blaming each other.  Trump also blamed the pathetically ineffectual Democrats.

Worse of all, though, Trump demonstrated what those who’ve covered him over the years had long recognized.  He is a seventy-year old toddler who never had to learn how to work with other people or to manage through anything other than his infantile bullying.  Part of this management style has allowed him the self-indulgence of ill-considered, inconsistent, and often simply stupid statements from the podium or through his twitter account.  Winning the election did nothing to moderate this habit.

This culminated in his tweet that Obama had tapped candidate Trump’s phone.  On one level, the bipartisan surveillance state established in the wake of 9-11 has effectively tapped everybody’s phone (and their email, etc.).  But this personalized charge against Trump’s designated nemesis has always resonated with much of his base.   This kind of deliberate, conscious lying reflects a systemic cynicism on the part of Trump and his circle . . . an inability to make anything great.

Then there was the drip, drip, drip of the Russian question . . .

Before the election was even over, the Democrats had begun to reenact their “Greatest Hits of the Cold War,” and, faster than you can say “Loyalty Oath,” the media seized upon this story of clandestine Russian involvement in shaping the U.S. election.  Any government on the planet that senses a stake in any other government that might have an impact on them, will try to influence and shape deliberations there.  Accusations range from a kind of nondescript breaking into Democratic email accounts to hacking into voting machines and changing the results.

The assumption that the U.S. could not protect the most well-heeled and well-protected users of technology might seemed far-fetched.

The White House almost immediately sought to interfere directly with the investigations of the Congress into Russian involvement in the elections.  But these represent but one scandal piled on others, any one of which would have been sufficient to torpedo another presidency.

The legitimate dimension of these questions has to do with Trump’s investments.  These raise the Constitutional prohibition against using Federal office for personal profit from relations with foreign states and the legislative strictures against conflicts of interests.  However, one can hardly expect this to be the focus for Democratic members of the top 1%, such as Nancy Pelosi whose family rakes in millions from the same sort of investments abroad.

The Democrats have been moving this direction since the Clintons and others sought to reorient the party to compete successfully for the kind of campaign contributions that assured Nixon’s victory in 1972.   We have seen the Democrats predictably fold on every issue where taking a strong position would have threatened the one base they share with the Republicans–those big donors.

The Democrats have hardly twitched a finger to stop rampant Republican violations of the Constitution and the law.  In the 1970s, they pressed the investigation of Nixon’s Watergate crimes only to the point where it persuaded Nixon to step down inn 1974.  The Iran-Contra affair of 1985-87 outstripped the kind of activities that had destroyed the Watergate scandal, but the response of the Democratic majority in Congress proved so feeble and cloying that Ronald Reagan left office amidst a serious discussion among the pundits of whether to put his mug on Mount Rushmore.

George W. Bush’s bulldozing Constitutional defenses of individual liberties became bipartisan and his administration’s lying about Weapons of Mass Destruction did not merit even a pro form investigation when the Democrats gained charge of the Congress in 2006 and of the White House in 2008 that any move to investigate Bush’s war.  (For a review of this pathetic history, see Wiki’s Efforts to Impeach George W. Bush.)

Aside from the Democratic failures to fulfill its sworn obligations, the party has adopted absolutely nothing over these years in policy initiatives that indicate a reversal of the consistent Democratic drift to the right alongside the Republicans, as both parties chased corporate donors.  Simply put, Trump would not have won the nomination had the Republican Party been functioning the way it claims it does.  And, if he had, he would not have won the election if the two-party system worked the way its defenders have always claimed.  The corporate deregulation of the media and the monetization of politics has also locked both parties into this dynamic, locking the Democrats into a particular institutional uselessness as an opposition force.

The presence of figures such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Maxine Waters–notwithstanding their tendency to make excellent, reasonable observations about the Trump presidency–means nothing in terms of the party as a whole.  For a while, it even seemed that Senator Chuck Schumer was going to take point from Pelosi and wage a more coherent opposition than Pelosi.  However, the large vaudeville hook seems to have pulled him back.  And it’s drawn Waters away from her once prominent talk of impeachment.

Coverage has highlighted what they describe as the bright generationally new leading lights of the party . . . such as the openly gay Mayor Peter Buttigieg of South Bend, a consultant specializing in running Democratic elections and the unsuccessful candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee.  Over recent weeks, special Congressional elections has bounded the media attention to James Thompson, the war veteran and attorney in the Kansas Fourth and Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s Sixth, the owner of a business whose parents each own their own companies and a former national security specialist for a Democratic Congressman.  Like Sanders, Warren and Waters, Ossoff actually takes progressive positions, though his emphasis has been on courting “moderate” voters by emphasizing his desire to for a business-friendly environment to coax jobs into the district.  As Florida Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy explained, none of this had to do with Bernie’s much-touted “revolution” to change the party.  The Vietnam-born businesswoman and national security specialist explained to NPR that hopes to rebuild the Democratic Party required being “moderate” and competing for the white suburban voters.

There exists a Democratic consensus to leave the functionally disenfranchised out of the picture in favor of vying with the Republicans for the same fearful conservatively-inclined part of the electorate.

This is why the Democrats even now strive to translate their disputes with Trump into issues that do not aim at changing the relations of power.  Democratic bosses strive to shoehorn that broad range of issues around his conflict of interests into the release of his tax information.  The polls have long indicated that the public wants a fair health care coverage of everybody, which Democrats now translate into nationalized Romneycare.  The public doesn’t generally want more and wider wars, so the Democrats offer more and wider wars, arguing that it would be wider and more numerous under the Republicans.

If Trump recalls the schoollyard bully, the Democrats are like the kid whose dog always seems to have eaten his homework.

2016 elected no ordinary president, but he represented the product of a systemic changes not their instigator.  Half a century ago, the photogenic John F. Kennedy edged out Richard Nixon heir apparent largely because he handled himself better on television.  Nixon transformed himself into the media-savvy “New Nixon,” who not only understood the media but increasingly arranged for his own self-coverage.  Reagan brought a glamour of the silver screen to politics in a way that the media genuinely loved.  All of these, however, became officeholders before taking office.

Nobody before Trump went straight from being a celebrity to the White House.  This alone speaks volumes on the cultural hegemony of corporate power in the U.S.  (See George Monbiot, “Celebrity isn’t just harmless fun – it’s the smiling face of the corporate machine,” Opinion in the Guardian, December 20, 2016.)

Trump actually proclaimed the essence of his political importance when he announced his candidacy.  While he later used the slogan to “Make America Great Again,” his announcement was very specific.  “We need somebody that can take the brand of the United States and make it great again.”  (See “Here’s Donald Trump’s Presidential Announcement Speech,” Time Staff June 16, 2015.)  This poses a unique standard of success and failure to the point where he can stand in the ruins of broken promises and failed initiatives, while proclaiming his the most successful presidency ever.

None of this–his very presidency and his prominence as a public figure–would be note be possible without his most powerful base of support, the so-called “Liberal Media.”

 

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