Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Donald Trump in Greensboro: An American Demagogue and Pied Piper of Lies and Hate

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I have an instinctive dislike for the style of essay writing that begins with insert a definition, apply it to an example of said definition, and then offer up a commentary or analysis. In the case of Donald Trump, American Il Duce, and presumptive Republican 2016 presidential nominee, I will have to break that rule.

Donald Trump is a demagogue. As explained by Merriam-Webster, a demagogue is:
a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason
The Atlantic magazine offers this historical context:
“Demagogue,” as a term—“demos,” the people, and “agogos,” leader—is pretty much as old as democracy is. It was born, like so many others of our most effective insults, in ancient Athens. And despite its anodyne etymology, it almost instantly took on a negative connotation: In Greece, the demagogue was not just a leader of people, but a leader who led, specifically, by bullying/cajoling/converting charisma into influence. He was a populist who appealed, in particular, to the lower classes. As Aristotle wrote of Cleon, a tanner, “He was the first who shouted on the public platform, who used abusive language and who spoke with his cloak girt around him, while all the others used to speak in proper dress and manner.”
In response to the Orlando massacre, Trump has demonstrated these traits to the extreme. On Monday, he gave a frightening speech--even by his proto fascist standards--where he basically "declared war' on American Muslims. At a rally in Greensboro, North Carolina on Tuesday, Trump continued to spew his conspiratorial, bigoted, nativist, lies before a fawning and enraptured audience of racial resentful and blood thirsty Trumpthuglicans. Writing at the New Republic, Jared Sexton documented his experience at this most recent Donald Trump political rodeo:
By the end of Trump’s speech, everything had been touched: His successes in the polls. ISIS and illegal immigrants in the same breath. Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren. The “dishonest” media and Trump’s revocation of the Washington Post’s press credentials, during which my section chanted “Kill them all / kill them all.” 
He’d rambled until he couldn’t ramble anymore and seemed spent. He’d exhausted yelling “Shut up, you SILLY WOMAN!” during an odd, misplaced poem that compared immigrants to snakes. At another point, a boy interrupted with “We all bleed red” and was dragged out by security as Trump sarcastically called, “Don’t hurt him! Please don’t hurt that person!” and the crowd replied, “Hurt him! / Hurt him!” As he was led to the doors, a small pack of supporters broke off from the throng and followed as if they meant to pummel him just past the exit. 
Outside, the lot was filled with more vendors and beyond them cars and trucks with Confederate Flag bumper stickers, decals, license plates, and actual Confederate Flags. In the shadow of one I watched a dad spank his child heatedly, as if the man needed somewhere to focus all his anger. 
On everybody’s lips were strange non-sequiturs of hate. 
“You can’t trust Latinos. Some maybe, but not most.”
“Immigrants aren’t people, honey.”
“You know them crazy black girls, how they are.”
Sexton's experience is similar to what I personally witnessed at Donald Trump's "no show" rally in Chicago several months ago.

Recent polling data suggests that Donald Trump is disliked by a majority of the American people--and has even lost support among the "working class" white voters who comprise his base. Trump's demonstrated lack of presidential "comportment" and leadership qualities in the aftermath of the Orlando Massacre (and his discussions of terrorism and international relations, more broadly) are also hurting the Republican Party's "national security" brand. While I still believe that Donald Trump will be much more competitive with Hillary Clinton than the chattering classes are predicting, it is more likely than not that Trump will be defeated in November. Donald Trump is a political con man and carnival barker. He will simply leave the political battlefield. Trump's foot soldiers will be left without a leader.

The question then becomes, what will happen to the millions of angry, alienated, and aroused mass of proto fascist authoritarians who Donald Trump has summoned to his banner? What political entrepreneur(s) will step into that breach?

One of the most important and little discussed stories of the rise of Trumpmania is how his angry, racially resentful, and bigoted supporters are learning to think in explicit ways about "white identity" and "white group interests". Of course, protecting the wages of whiteness has been foundational to American politics, life, society, and culture since the country's founding. Trump's "innovation" has been his naked and obvious use of the primordial forces of white nationalism and identity politics in an era where such energies were thought to have been largely dissipated.

In all, it is no coincidence that white nationalists and white supremacists have flocked to Donald Trump. They view him as good for their cause.

America's political institutions and culture are strong. They will survive Trump's candidacy--or God forbid, his tenure as President. But as Jared Sexton warns us at the New Republic:
Trump can be defeated, and most likely he will be, but elections cannot cure this disease. It’s always been here and perhaps it always will be. Trump’s narcissistic quest to “Make America Great Again” has only drawn the insects to the surface, and there’s plenty of room to wonder whether he’s driving the movement or if it’s driving him.
We the people must be vigilant, strong, and ready to stomp out such vermin.

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