Authoritarian Siren Song Will Play On

I was always a big fan of the Twilight Zone TV show, so I haven’t been as dismayed by the 2016 presidential campaign as many people. But as the surreal extravaganza winds down, some very troubling thoughts come to mind.

Halloween Fright Fest

Halloween Fright Fest

First we should at least briefly consider the obscene waste of time, energy and money that this country expends on electing a president, not every four years but on an ongoing basis. Obscene is the word, when you consider how little else we have had in the news for a good two years now. No minutia is too minute to receive stacks of print or hours of time on the tube if it concerns the presidential race. All other considerations are left to starve for attention. Then, if it’s the Democrat who wins, that president will be abandoned to an obstructionist Congress in the mid-term elections. Democratic voters can’t be bothered to vote for anything other than the presidential race.

I’m a Democrat and I will vote for Clinton in 2016, but she was not my first choice. In fact, I never really got a first choice. By the time the 2016 presidential race came onto the radar the prohibitive favorite was Hillary. I always thought she carried so much baggage, deserved and undeserved, from the Bill Clinton years that it would be better to have somebody new. When she introduced Tim Kaine as her running mate, and he was being described as this very popular governor and senator, I thought – Why isn’t he the candidate? Or some other Democratic governor or senator?

She has been accused of a lot over the decades, but it is so striking to me how none of it ever seems to stand up well enough to result in a court case. She is routinely called a “liar.” Well, if she lied about something consequential there is a little thing called a perjury charge. But we never see that happen. Her more fanatical opponents ascribe this to larger and larger and ever larger conspiracy theories. Maybe the reality is that it is just easier to spew hot air on AM radio than to prove a case in court.

As for her orange-tinted opponent, there is little I can add to what has saturated the airwaves for years, but I will say this. He was right when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters. That is probably true. And that is as good a working definition of a cult as any I can think of.

The situation gets worse as you realize that the unreasoning, anti-intellectual, emotion-based mentality was here long before Trump, and will be here poisoning society long after he goes away. The immediate predecessor to Trump was Chris Christie, who was immensely popular due entirely to his readiness to bellow insults at anyone and everyone. This made Christie a “strong leader” to America’s right-wing. Nobody outside of New Jersey had any idea what his actual policies as president would be when he first hit the big time as the GOP front runner. They knew only that he hurled insults and abuse. That’s “strength,” and that’s good enough. The parallel with Trump is hard to miss.

At this time (nearly the end of the campaign) Trump has offered fewer specifics on anything than any other candidate in history. Clinton’s web site has easily twice as much information on what she actually intends to do in office.

fortune-trumpIn an earlier blog I examined Trump’s idea for building a wall across Mexico, and found it to be an engineering non-starter. Forget the politics of it, or even who pays. Trump’s Wall would be one of the biggest constructions in human history, taking decades to build and costing untold billions. It would require three times the concrete of Hoover Dam. It would dwarf Boston’s Big Dig project. And now consider that the wave of immigrants crossing the Mexican border is a trickle compared to what it has been for the past thirty years. Mr. Trump has never addressed any of these objections, because that would require going into some specifics. Trump’s Wall, in reality, is a stupefying boondoggle that would never be attempted. It exists as an idea only, and then only to radiate hatred of foreigners.

This brings us back to the consumers of the vitriol, Trump’s “base,” which was also George W. Bush’s base. The same people make up both voting blocs. George W. Bush was the right-wingers’ one-time super-hero who now cannot show his face at Republican National Conventions, though oddly Dick Cheney can. If you listen to these voters express their reason for supporting such reactionary politicians you get an idea of the problem this country faces with them. As a Trump TV commercial puts it, they want to turn the government “upside-down.”

“A bull in the china shop is what I want,” said a Trump voter on the radio, “I want him to go into Washington and bust it up.”

“Drain the swamp” is another, older, phrase that is back again. It has been used by both sides over the years, but the Trump camp seems to envision something beyond merely throwing bums out. To hear these people talk gives the impression of an authoritarian revolution – an American version of fascism.  

It won’t be ended merely by Trump losing an election, which he continues to imply is rigged against him. The big new up-and-coming thing on the American right is the “convention of states.” This would be, quite simply, a rewrite of the United States Constitution.

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