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We have seen this story before. A ruling elite awakens to realize the people they have screwed for so long have just had it. At first they cannot imagine why the peasants and other poor schmoes are so unhappy. Do we not take good care of them? Does their welfare not depend on us? Then they see the mob with torches and pitchforks, and they understand they better do something fast. They do not panic, yet, but they have an emergency. They understand this anger could engulf them. They cannot ignore it, or let it subside on its own.

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.

Elites who fear Trump and the movement he represents are not good leaders, either, though they tell themselves 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 do not fool the people they screw. The screwed know their situation.

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.

When Trump first came on the scene, I found him entertaining, along with many others. Then I heard him talk.

Trump became the Republican nominee. Then he became president. Do you think the country can survive leadership from a man like him? He would be the third bad leader in a row, each one bad for different reasons. Countries that suffer poor leadership for a long period pay heavily. We have already paid heavily for Bush, Obama, and Trump. At this point, we may want to Constitution home from the national archives and use it to scrub down our bathroom floor. It has lost its authority; we may as well acknowledge it.

When Trump first came on the scene, I found him entertaining, along with many others. Then I heard him talk. I could not stand to listen to him. For all of his hard-edged, coarse language, he is flabby. He is flabby in his eyes, in his voice, in his persona. He wants to be a tough guy, but a true tough guys – as opposed to a bully – never swaggers. Swaggerers just put on a show. Trump’s public persona grows out of his substantial but flabby ego. A narcissist cannot accomplish anything. Someone once said, when you get wrapped up in yourself, you make a pretty small package.

Trump is the ultimate egotist.

Compare Trumpism with past populist movements for a moment. Think about the resentment that underlies some – not all, but some populist sentiments. A key resentment in this case, building for decades, stems from the way the feds impose high taxes, then spend the money so as to benefit themselves, not the people who send money to them. Ironically, the resentment leads to election of a president who sees no problem using his office to benefit himself and his family.

Also compare reactions to Trump with reactions to another populist, Ronald Reagan, in the years before Reagan won election in 1980. People said Reagan was a war mongering cowboy, an actor with no substance. Critics argued his election would bring war with the Soviet Union. They dwelt on their belief he was not intelligent enough to be president. They had many reasons to oppose Reagan’s candidacy, but they stressed two that were neither valid nor convincing.

Trump with Reagan are not comparable leaders, of course, but you can see an interesting similarity in the way people react to Trump. Whatever you think of Trump as a leader, his opponents seem unable to engage him politically. That seemed especially true among his Republican opponents during the primaries, and remains true among congressional leaders in both parties now.

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.

Trump loves to be a school yard bully. He loves aggression, taunts, and intimidation for their own sake. People let him pick fights at his pleasure. Like Joseph McCarthy, he threatens and insults anyone who does not suck up to him, and no one has the guts to stop him. People who ought to know better seem slack jawed, resigned, rather than determined or indignant.

When Trump says he and Kim Jong Un had good chemistry, what does that mean? It means Kim smiled, complimented Trump’s greatness and groomed Trump’s vanity, because Kim knew he could benefit back home if he did so. Especially sweet is Abby Huntsman’s Freudian slip on Fox and Friends:

“This is history,” Huntsman said. “Regardless of what happens in that meeting between the two dictators, what we are seeing right now ― this is history.”

Most dictators look foolish, because their followers hate them. If they don’t hate them, they fear them. If they don’t fear them, they laugh at them. No matter what, being a dicatator has perks, but they don’t amount to much when you are jailed, exiled, executed, or assassinated. Yet Trump is the ultimate egotist, which means he does not care how foolish he looks. We seem ready to let him be a twenty-first century Mussolini, or Kaiser Wilhelm. Il Duce came to a bad end. So did the kaiser. What will happen to Donald? So far, we only know what has happened to us.

If we could not perceive that Trump offered himself to us as a strongman before the election, we can now. What are the qualities of this kind of leader? A strongman says, or suggests:

  • I’ll take care of your problems – don’t trouble yourself too much about how I do it.
  • L’etat, c’est moi: The state, it is I. Or, “I myself am the nation.” That means when I say something, it’s the law.
  • 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 our troubles stem from the Slim Pickens option. You remember him, don’t you? 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 is so happy he got his bomb loose, he does not care about the consequences. One voter remarked that sending Donald Trump to the White House feels like that. Nothing else will work, so if we have to nuke Washington, let’s do it.

Related quotation from:

Dear Democratic Socialists Who Think You’re Having a Moment: It’s Me, a Libertarian, Who’s Been Through This.

As the libertarian-leaning Republican Rep. Thomas Massie told The Washington Examiner, he thought people that backed Ron and Rand Paul were voting for libertarian ideas; once these same voters turned to Trump, he realized they were not. “I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron and me in these primaries, they weren’t voting for libertarian ideas—they were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race,” said Massie. “And Donald Trump won best in class, as we had up until he came along.”

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Donald Trump’s claim that the presidential election is rigged

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An earlier version of this post appeared February 28, 2016.