We have seen this story before. A ruling elite wakes up and realizes the peasants they’ve been f**king for decades are fed up. At first they can’t figure out why the peasants are so angry. Don’t we take good care of them? Doesn’t their whole welfare depend on us? Then they realize they have a mob coming for them, with torches and pitchforks, and they had better do something fast. They don’t quite panic, but they do have an emergency. They understand this anger, spilling over, could engulf them.
When this kind of revolt has good leadership, it also has possibilities to yield good results. That is not the case with Donald Trump. He congratulates himself that disaffected voters like him. That’s about the extent of his vision: himself. As long as people keep voting for him, he doesn’t need to think. He says whatever comes into his head.
The elites who fear Trump and the movement he represents are not good leaders, either, though they tell themselves that they are. Good leaders actually look after the welfare of their followers. Poor leaders pretend to look after their followers’ welfare, when they actually look after themselves. They fool themselves pretty effectively, but they don’t fool the people they screw. Those people know profoundly how they are taken advantage of.
The revolt we see underway is not going to have a good outcome. One side runs on anger. The other plots defense. Neither side seems to grasp its own deficiencies. Elites want to keep their privileges, so they do what they can to protect established practice. Angry voters say, “We’ll do whatever it takes to turn you out.” Neither side has a plan to bring a good outcome from the crisis.
Trump could be the Republican nominee. Then he might become president. Do you think the country could survive leadership from a man like that? He would be the third bad leader in a row. No country can go down a path of poor leadership like that, without paying a huge price, we have already paid heavily for Bush and Obama. If we’re ready for Trump, we may as well take the Constitution home from the national archives and use it as high quality toilet paper. It’s already meaningless; we may as well treat it that way.
When Trump first came on the scene, I found him entertaining, along with many others. Then I heard him talk. I couldn’t stand to listen to him. For all of his hard-edged language, he is flabby. He is flabby in his eyes, in his voice. His public persona grows out of his substantial but flabby ego. The man has no core beyond himself. Someone once said, when you get wrapped up in yourself, you make a pretty small package.
Friday’s news that Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, endorsed Donald Trump for president reminds me of a lesson that seems to make itself plain again and again. You can spend a lifetime building a good reputation, and blow it away near the end with one mistake. Now you can say that the mistake just reflects the man’s character, a character that was always there, or you could say that I’m just too ready to respect a person while he has positive press. That’s all possible.
Yet Christie’s endorsement of Trump seems plainly opportunistic, as if he hopes to get something out of it, if only a little more time in the campaign limelight. Apparently the two are friends who go way back. It’s hard to say no to a friend you’ve known for a long time, and Trump courted Christie for his endorsement. Perhaps you can forgive Christie for giving in when you’re in circumstances like that. Yet Trump has proven himself a man of bad character, and people judge you by the company you keep. People will judge Christie by the company he keeps.
To people who want to make comparisons with past political movements, ignore those who like to ridicule any mention of Adolf Hitler. To rule Hitler out of all discussions of politics is crazy. The differences between Hitler and Trump are huge, but the movements they lead have some interesting similarities. Think about them for a bit and you will start to see them.
For the moment, move from the 1920s to the 1980s, and compare reactions to Trump with reactions to Reagan in the years before Reagan won election in 1980. People said he was a war mongering cowboy, an actor with no substance to him, and a temperament that would bring us to war with the Soviet Union. Opponents kept coming back to the argument that he was not intelligent enough to be president. There were many reasons to oppose Reagan’s candidacy, but that was not one of them.
The same kind of phenomenon seems to occur with Trump. Whatever you think of Trump’s intelligence, his opponents seem unable to engage him politically. He likes to be a school yard bully. It’s not only his persona but his core. People let him pick fights all over the place. Like Joseph McCarthy, he beats up on people all around him, and no one has the guts to stop him. We are just two days shy of Super Tuesday, and still some people in the Republican Party seem slack jawed, resigned, rather than determined or indignant. Like Christie, they seem to turn the value of opportunism over in their heads, before they make a decision about how to respond to Trump’s success.
Trump is the ultimate egotist. We seem ready to make him a twenty-first century Mussolini. To me, that is the closer comparison – not Adolf Hitler but Benito Mussolini. Il Duce came to a bad end, and so will the Donald. If Trump becomes president, his failures will come, surely enough. His failures will become the nation’s misery.
Coincidentally, the Donald retweeted a Mussolini quotation this weekend: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”
Well if we didn’t know Trump offered himself to us as a strongman before, we do now.
What are the qualities of a strongman? A strongman says, or suggests:
- I’ll take care of your problems – don’t trouble yourself too much about how I do it.
- There’s not really a difference between me and the state. What I say goes.
- If you don’t understand what I’m saying, maybe you’d like a punch in the face.
Don’t blame a surfeit of democracy for Trump’s success. Trumpism has spent a long time in the oven. Democratic politics are the least of our troubles.
Today I ran across the Slim Pickens option. You remember him, right? He’s the Texan bombardier in Stanley Kubrick’s Failsafe, who rides an atomic bomb all the way down from his plane to detonate the doomsday weapon. He waves his hat and whoops it up on the way down.
One voter remarked that supporting Donald Trump feels like that: nothing else will work, so if we have to nuke Washington, let’s do it. Things can’t get any worse.