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Getting Meta with the Donald

It’s been a few decades since I last had to take a standardized test, so I don’t know if they still use those word-ratio questions that took something like this standard form —

auto  :  steering wheel  =  sailboat  :  ?

You’d select a word from the multiple choices that best completed the ratio, in the above example perhaps “tiller”.

A variant of the same word problem could be —

raven  :  ?  =  ?  :  writing desk

where the answer would be one word  that, inserted into each side of the equation, formed a consistent and logical word association.

If you haven’t seen viral footage from Donald Trump’s first attempt at a Town Hall with his supporters in New Hampshire, you can check it out here.  It was all over the news tonight, and after I’d seen it a couple of times the idea struck me that one of the meanings of that encounter could be simply expressed as a word ratio of the second type —

Asshole at Trump rally  :  ?  =  ?  :  Republican Party

Let me explain why the correct answer is “Trump”.

In varying proportions of glee and tut-tutting, the talking heads on the shows I watched were doing their best to hang this Islamophobe’s point of view on the Donald himself, and old soufflé-top didn’t do himself any favors by taking the “I’ll look into that” route when asked when we can get rid of all the Muslims.  After all, John McCain set the gold standard on responses to this type of question all the way back in ’08.

To my eye, the Donald was embarrassed as soon as he understood where this guy was going, first trying to get the crowd’s support to laugh it off before putting on his serious face and dodging the question.  I think he was genuinely surprised and thrown a little off balance by such a naked exposure of his base’s id.  When another question in the same vein popped up a little later, you could see him realize that the best part of valor would be to get the hell out of Dodge City.  And he did, cutting off the Q&A after only a few minutes.

My point is that for the first time in this campaign, the Donald found himself in a relationship with his base that mirrors what the Republican party has been going through with him —  shock, denial, apprehension, more denial — as they realize that this demon they’ve summoned is going to be their public face.  And tonight their out-of-control monster came face-to-face with the monster he’s loosed.

The Donald has made it respectable to bray lies, insults, and barely-veiled racist and misogynist appeals in the public square, to never take back or apologize.  His acolytes are following his example, but without enough of his sophistication to mask the malice and the implied threat of violence in their hate speech.

We’re all heading for interesting times.

Nuremberg in Dallas

Looking for my daily news fix, I caught the Trump rally in Dallas on the tube last night.  It wasn’t hard to find, in fact it was hard to avoid, as all the cable news channels seem to be in All-Trump-All-the-Time mode.

What I saw started out as boilerplate Trump — he’s the greatest winner and the smartest guy with the highest ratings and everyone else are chumps and losers, yadda, yadda, yadda — but when he swung into the immigration policy section of the uncensored stream of consciousness that passes for his stump speech, the mood changed from ugly and stupid to ugly and frightening.

It’s not that there’s anything new in the Donald’s appeal to paranoid nativism.  He memorably opened his candidacy with a crude attack on Mexican immigrants and so far immigration is the only policy area where he’s made specific proposals — build the classiest wall in the world along the southern border with a beautiful door where the good ones will be allowed in, mount a legal attack on the Constitution to eliminate citizenship as a birthright, deport every undocumented immigrant and every American citizen unlucky enough to be born to the wrong kind of parents.  What struck me watching and listening last night was the full-throated roars of approval from the audience, and the way consummate showman Trump ratcheted up his rhetoric to match the wave, to catch it and ride it as far as it could take him.

The lies and distortions, the coded and uncoded racism, the callouts to ignorance and fear, these normally raise in me feelings of anger and sorrow.  But last night I felt like a witness to one of those Nuremberg rallies we see in the old newsreels from the 1930s — the flamboyant speaker with studied skill at emotional manipulation through rhetorical flourish, the worshipful crowd responding enthusiastically to each confirmation of their darkest prejudices.  Substitute “Juden” for “Mexicans”, the message is the same — the Other is stealing your country, the solution is to just get rid of them all.

It’s not just the tribalist appeal, though that’s already creating dangerous consequences — attacks on harmless Latino-looking people in Trump’s name, violent responses to peaceful protestors at Trump rallies, at least one physical assault, caught on video, by a Trump bodyguard on a non-violent opponent.  More worrisome is Trump’s whole shtick of the strong man who answers to no one, the omnipotent fearless leader whose every word and whim will automatically have the force of law.  He acknowledges no constraint of law or custom on his will.  We’ve seen this movie before, we already know how badly it ends.

America is not Weimar, Trump isn’t Hitler, or even Mussolini.  It isn’t Trump that scares me, it’s the crowds that believe his message, that scream approval, that find ratification of their paranoia, their malice, their hunger for an iron fist to smite their enemies.  I saw them and heard them in Dallas last night, and they frighten me.

The racists, the Confederate deadenders, the religious fanatics, the know-nothings, these people believe America belongs to them, and they’ve found a leader, however feckless, to give political respectability to their hateful and violent fantasies.  Men with semi-automatic weapons are showing up in Ferguson, in Kentucky’s Rowan County, on the Bundy ranch, parading their armed strength to support their claim to be exclusive inheritors and guardians of their version of Americans’ rights and freedoms.  Camo is their brown shirt, and if Trump isn’t the guy who can make America theirs again, there are others waiting to pick up his mantle.

It’s huge and beautiful and it’ll happen so fast it’ll make your head spin.

Backers and Bundlers and Donors, Oh My

Earlier this week Washington Post national political correspondent Karen Tumulty was on Rachel Maddow’s show discussing the buzz around Joe Biden’s possible entry into the Democratic primary campaign, and she brought up the point that, according to her sources, Biden was getting encouragement from many of the same big money boys who backed Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton in ’08.

The question that immediately popped into my head:  what do these guys expect to get from an investment in Biden that they wouldn’t get from Clinton?

I see a few broad possibilities here.

First, maybe they’ve just never really liked Hillary, even though she spent eight years as the senator from Wall Street, and along with  hubby Bill has been closely identified for her whole political career with the Democratic Leadership Council, you know, the guys who think the Democrats’ biggest problem is that they’re not enough like Republicans, and who’ve been having their way with the national party for the last thirty years.  They clearly got what they wanted from Obama — no strings attached to the taxpayer-funded bailout, a get-out-of-jail-free card not only for the massive frauds that brought down the economy but also for ongoing crimes like interest rate manipulations, money laundering for smugglers and terrorists, and theft from securities transactions, and a wink and a nod for the further concentration of the finance system into even bigger too-big-to-fail institutions.  But couldn’t they have gotten the same deal from Hilary?

Another possibility is that they’re seeing Clinton tacking left, at least rhetorically, on a lot of the economic justice issues that have fueled the rise of the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders wing of the party, and they see a Biden candidacy as a way to apply offsetting pressure from her right, though to me it’s hard to see where the votes are on that side of the Democratic base.  The so-called Reagan Democrats have largely melted into the Tea Party and morphed into Trumpeteers.

What seems more likely to me than either of the above scenarios is that Bernie is making them jumpy, and they see good ol’ Joe, friend of the working man, as a vehicle to siphon off votes from the grass-roots revolution.  There’s never been a Roosevelt dime’s worth of difference between Joe and Hillary on policy, but a third candidate in the primaries who’s capable of drawing a percentage of the vote above single digits would go a long way to eliminating the possibility that Bernie could show up at the convention with enough delegates to force a restoration of the party to its mid-20th century social democrat roots.

Follow the money.