Monday, August 28, 2017

Caligula on the Hudson

Trump and the Erasure of the Republican Party

Like a child-king incapacitated from a lifetime of indulgence by bullied servants, Donald Trump is quickly ripping the Republican Party asunder. His sinister calculations, aimed by a coterie of crackpot advisers at being America’s own Duce—like the neocon Bush-clique fantasies of democratizing the oil patch for Yankee capital—has had its opposite effect. The party he commandeered through a hostile takeover during last year’s election follies has technically won both houses of the federal legislature and the executive branch; but contrary to capitalizing on that newfound power, it is metamorphosing into a political calamity.

We may well be witnessing the first stages of Republican bovine spongiform encephalopathy, first contracted when the Party of Lincoln chose, during the Kennedy-Johnson years, to eat the cannibal-meat of the infamous “Southern Strategy,” stealing the mantle of the Democrats as the nation’s premier “party of white supremacy”; now the disease is manifest, and the wasting has begun in earnest.

The long game of the Republican establishment, to leave the crown on the comb-over long enough to ram through another bolus of upward mobility for the rich by accelerating the vandalism of public services (then push him out when he outlived his utility), might now be fast-tracked. The problem with fast-tracking Trump's ouster, however, is that the party itself has begun to realize that it is caught between the Scylla of a newly-revitalized reactionary fraction of gun-nuts, would-be Wehrmacht, white “Christian” nationalists, and white suburban race-war fantasists, and the Charybdis of libertarians, constitutional conservatives, Republican neoliberals, conservative Latin@s, the military (which is 40 percent non-white), and small business owners, both fractions of whom now constitute an irreplaceable plurality within the party, and both of whom are quickly coming to revile one another.

Republican officials, especially those who are early in their careers are looking with trepidation at the fact that Clinton beat Trump among young adults by a margin of 55 to 37 percent, and Trump beat Clinton among the 65 and older crowd by 53 to 45 percent. As the old perish and new potential voters turn eighteen years old at an average of 11,000 a day, this polarity will shift further and further away from the reactionaries. White voters, who constitute the Republican core-base, were 88 percent of the electorate when Reagan ran in 1980. That number has dropped to 69 percent (63 percent by raw population) and falling. White non-Hispanic voters went Trump over Clinton by 58 to 37 percent in 2016, in a year when protest voters on both sides that had gestated during nine grinding years of economic anxiety challenged the Democratic Party establishment and successfully overthrew the Republican establishment. By 2020, 1.3 million of the over 65s will have crossed the River Styx, while more than 14 million 18-22 year-olds will have become eligible to vote. At a mere 30 percent turnout, this totals over 4.3 million 18-22s. Non-whites will have increased their share by at least an additional two percent. Hispano-Latina voters, who are around 12 percent of the total, and who voted 35 percent for Bush and 27 percent for Romney, with the exception of South Florida Cubans, have now effectively abandoned the Republican Party in response to Trump’s demonization of immigrants. (Statistics compiled from Pew Research, the CDC, and US Census reports)

Trump’s megalomania has surpassed even the expectations of his most reluctant former allies, as he tweets attacks from the green of the ninth hole on the “fake news” media, fired flunkies, leaders in both parties, actors, whistleblowers, Broadway shows, the IRS, judges, the Superbowl, union officials, department store chains, and other nations including their leaders. With each new offense, more and more Republicans fall more and more silent, sensing they are strapped to a chair and looking with trepidation at an ominously open door; and Trump fired one after another of his own servants, like a baby-Hitler squealing in his bunker, blaming his Generals, and shouting into the radio, "Jodl, is Paris burning?"

Trump has become the Ketamine Clown, the shit house rat, and as the people in suits drift away, he is left surrounded by more crazy white men, dressed in Cabela’s camouflage, with twitchy eyes and guns, talking about Jewish conspiracies and mongrelization. It's a painfully protracted moment of WTF for Republicans.

When Trump attacked Mitch McConnell, Tennessee Senator and Darth Vader of the party, the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation’s CEO, Michael Needham, as well as Sarah Chamberlain, head of the Republican Main Stream Partnership, declared the party leaderless. The Buckleyite National Review, hoary standard-bearer of the conservative intelligentsia, has launched serial attacks on Trump, its senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru lamenting, ““You’d have to say the Republican Party is in about as bad of shape as you can be while holding the White House, the House, the Senate, most governorships and most state legislatures,” adding that Trump “doesn’t have a political philosophy. He has a collection of impulses.” In response, Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime sycophant, called Trump’s critics “quislings,” and declared that Trump is now “bigger than the Republican Party.” Politico’s Susan Glasser has characterized this division as “civil war in the Republican Party.”

It didn’t begin in Charlottesville, but it crystallized there. It began in earnest when Republicans, who had run against Obama (because Obama is black, let’s face it—Obama’s actual policies were both militaristic and conservative), i.e., “Obamacare,” themselves ran into pushback from constituents who suddenly realized what throwing more than 32 million people off the health insurance rolls was about to do. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act was to be the easiest, most popular demonstration of unified Republican political hegemony. The effort sputtered out, and the first big fissures between Trump and the Republican establishment began to widen.

Republicans already knew that Trump has changed party affiliations the way some people change cars; and his follow-on attacks let them know that Trump identifies his fortunes with Trump. He would gladly set the whole house ablaze if it furthered his wet-dream of becoming America’s toy-Mussolini. Chagrined Florida Republican consultant Rick Wilson said “I've seen this as the inevitable outcome for some time now. Trump was never a Republican to begin with; the GOP was a flag of convenience.” Then the shit just got whackier.

The tweeted policy to remove transgenders from the military and his nuclear saber-rattling over North Korea made him appear even more unhinged. By now, his attacks on McConnell and on Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona had cost each of them around 60 percent of their support, as they were abandoned by the macho-men of gun-nuttery militiadom and half-senile white men muttering in their Barcaloungers against feminists, “Mexicans,” race-mixing, and Jewry. The latest flap was between Trump and Republican lawmakers over funding his Wall Against Mexico, another nitwitted campaign banner.

The Republican Party was being hoisted on its own petard. After dog-whistling on gender and race to rural and suburban white Americans, nearly ten percent of the country was willing—with the encouragement of Trump—to openly support the white-male supremacy of one form or another of something akin to fascism. Nine percent of Americans polled declared their sympathy with these views in a Washington Post poll, around 22 million people. The Republican party establishment, who had calculated they could shift gradually and adapt to cultural changes as the demographics shifted, was confronted with the punctuation in that equilibrium when Trump enlivened this bitter base for a coup against the Republican establishment. They were not all of Trump’s supporters (most Trump supporters, like most Americans, know very little about politics beyond what they see on TV), but they were enough to secure him his victory when many protest-voted for no better reason than that they felt generally pissed off.

After Trump’s electoral victory, there was a spike in hate-attacks, but they never reached the critical mass fantasized by the loon-reactionaries or (possibly) by Trump himself. As his presidency stalled coming out of the gate, and the spike in hate-attacks failed to translate into a general neofascist mobilization, Trump careened from one news cycle to the next with his signature buffoonery, and the so-called “alt-right” neofascists decided to become even more provocative.


After weeks of intense nationwide organizing, much of it sub rosa on the dark web, they managed to cobble together fewer than 500 of their ilk, albeit a good number of them showing up armed to the teeth. Putting this into perspective, on August 18th in Durham, North Carolina, based on a police rumor that the KKK was about to demonstrate, and with less than 12 hours notice, about 2,000 counter-protesters showed up and converted the counter-demo (the KKK never materialized) into a massive dance party. Counter-demonstrations and demonstrations against white supremacy since then, in cities across the country, have been so large that the neofascists have serially cancelled planned events. The ink followed confrontations between the loon-reactionaries and a handful of “antifa” anti-fascists who came prepared for violent confrontation, which—as a number of dark web downloads from neofascist  planning sessions show—is exactly what the neofascists wanted to provoke. But the truth is, the neofascist uprising has proven dead on arrival. Trump and his followers were fantasizing about a confluence in history that was not meant to be.

This is not to say that these forces should not be confronted. They should be (I do not under any circumstances believe violent confrontation will be anything except counterproductive), and they will continue to be. Not only have counter-fascist actions been crucial in blunting this lunacy, they are part of a process of consolidating an emergent left-wing in American politics that hasn’t been seen since the Wallace campaign for the Vice Presidency in 1944. Donald Trump and his most reactionary followers have been, at a cost to us all, a gift to the American left. Already ascendant in the surprising strength of the Sanders campaign, within the past few weeks, the Democratic Socialists of America, as a major examplehave grown into the largest self-declared socialist organization in the US since the beginning of World War II.

What neither Trump nor his white supremacist followers understood is that for the last fifty years, white supremacy, in its most declarative forms, has been effectively marginalized (structurally, it perseveres). Not only ideologically, but practically. Since 1970, the number of self-identified multi-racial persons has risen from one to ten percent. Interracial marriage was around three percent in 1967, and it is now more than seventeen percent of marriages. School integration, cultural production, even the military (with the highest rates of interracial marriage and the closest sustained contact between differing ethnic backgrounds)—while neither resolving the system of white supremacy nor contextualizing it effectively within other power structures—has made more and more people stakeholders in a partially-integrated culture. Marriage and children are not fully indicative of the scope of this shift, because grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, friends, et al, are situating even those who are not married or born into multi-ethnicity to learn acceptance and even active, conscious, political support. Advertizers and media, in particular, are not known to be social mavericks; but we now consistently see images and narratives portrayed in both that run directly counter to the narrative of the neofascists.

Certainly, this phenomenon halts and starts and is still rife with contradictions, but the overall “arc of history,” as it were, is bent against the Trump/reactionary, whitemale outburst. Trump’s election itself was anomalous. Most will acknowledge, for example, that Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate, herself out of sync with historical developments, and that Sanders would have handily defeated Trump. The reactionary/protest surge on behalf of Trump failed to match Clinton’s popular vote, and constituted only 26 percent of eligible voters. Obama’s own electoral success were the result of his charismatic public persona (unlike Clinton’s obviously stage-managed and wooden performances) and the fact that he represented a tremendous breakthrough—however symbolic—for African Americans, who failed to show up in like numbers for Clinton. Likewise, young people voted for Obama in substantially higher numbers than they did for Clinton. The angry surge that put Trump past the finish line found its breaching point in 2016; but it did not translate into the Great White Uprising. On the contrary, it has outed the far right in a spectacular way, and sent many former political allies running for the hills. And more will follow.

The only thing that might blunt the rise of the left in this conjuncture is a leftist adventurism that tries to match rightist adventurism.  Given the general balance of political forces in the country right now, the majority is still sitting on a fence unsure of what exactly is happening. The Democratic establishment is scheming to assist the fracture of the Republicans, and frankly the left ought to join forces with them to accomplish it; but the Democratic long game is to emerge as a kind of hegemonic party apparatus, not unlike the equally corrupt PRI in Mexico. While the left urgently needs to join forces with them to isolate and nullify the far right in the short term, in the electoral arena especially, the left—if they remain active and ethical within the various social movements—can work with establishment types in corralling the reactionaries, and at the same time challenge establishment Democrats (within and without the party, depending on local circumstances) for elected positions. (The demographics are on the side of the left against the Democratic establishment, too.)

Trump equivocated on the white supremacists in Charlottesville, then summarily pardoned the racist bully-cop and criminal, Joe Arpaio. Blub, blub, blub. As the Republican ship’s leaks expand and it lists to starboard, that will mean putting pressure on Republicans precisely because they are faced with choosing now between the future-doomed, demographically-impossible reactionaries and their less loony, less authoritarian libertarians and constitutional conservatives. This fracture will ultimately result in enough self-interested elected Republicans assisting the overthrow of Trump to make that happen. Yes, Pence will take over, and he is bad; but that is a bridge that has to be crossed later with a different set of strategic orientations. People on the left have an unfortunate tendency to overthink things. (See this piece on tactical agility.)

Meanwhile, the task of the left must be to win over and consolidate more of the “center.” The immediate task is to continue to isolate the right—through strengthened solidarity with social movements, which also consolidates the left base—and push the Republicans toward the break with Trump. The intermediate task—the most important in the long view—is growing the left. That, by the way, cannot be accomplished by shaming and name-calling, or by sectarianism. For this, patient persuasion and good will are the name of the game.


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