Friday, July 24, 2015

Triumph of the Trump

I'm traveling again, and staying in a motel, so I'm seeing more TV news than usual.  The Donald Trump campaign has been getting a lot of attention.  Even the Chinese restaurant in my home town had their TVs tuned to Fox News, featuring Trump at the border, trying to look like a regular guy in a baseball cap.

I liked what Amanda Marcotte had to say about the whole depressing spectacle.
At this point, there is no doubt that the ongoing love for Donald Trump on display by the Republican base really says something about said base. Certainly, it makes it that much harder to buy the generous argument that the conservative base is a bunch of white people who have been manipulated through genius trickery into voting against their own economic interests, and makes it clear that we’re looking at bullies who would rather burn the country to the ground than share it with people they hate for utterly irrational reasons.
This gave me something to think about, however:
[Trump] is saying “forbidden” things that the “liberal elite” hates. Indeed, that structure pushes their buttons so hard that the actual content of the “forbidden” things hardly matters. All that matter is the “liberal elite” hates them and that other Republicans—deemed cowards—speak out against him. He could be screeching incoherent nonsense and as long as it seemed hateful and the “liberal elite” hates it, the base will love him.
It occurred to me, and not for the first time, that if the "liberal elite" really wanted to frustrate Trump, let alone to counter him, the sensible thing would be not to react to him as they do.  Oh, how can you say such awful things!?  is a perfectly stupid way for liberals, or anyone, to respond to right-wing provocations.  In the first place, it's just the reaction that Trump, Coulter, O'Reilly, and their ilk hope to inspire; why give them what they want?  If liberals are as much smarter than right-wingers as they love to believe they are, why not come up with clever retorts that will frustrate them, instead of gratifying them?  (There is, of course, a whole line of posts in the liberal blogosphere that tout someone giving some dumb Republican his comeuppance -- Person X Shreds / Destroys / Disembowels Conservative Y With One Well-Chosen Word -- but the ones I've seen don't amount to much.  But even if they were better, my point is that that's how liberals should always respond.)

In the second place, I think that liberals like reacting as they do.  It lets them feel morally superior to the awful, awful, conservatives.  And then there's the satisfying, soul-cleansing rush of the ragegasm, an addiction of many all over the political spectrum.  I don't mean to rule out emotion altogether, but throwing a tantrum -- especially a tantrum that delights your opponents because it's what they hoped to produce, as proof that they're right -- is not a constructive, let alone intelligent or rational, way to deal with conflict.

In the third place, I suspect that one reason for the emotional reaction is that many liberals, deep down inside, are attracted by people like Trump and Reagan and Bush and Goldwater. It was instructive, right after Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, to see how many liberals used him as a human shield, moving toward the right and saying that it was okay because they weren't as bad as Reagan, but you had to admit that some of what he said made sense. Which it didn't, of course.  There was some of the same self-congratulatory pleasure in (believing that they were) going against the grain, boldly defying the (supposedly) conventional wisdom about war, poverty, race, feminism, reproductive rights, gay people, and so on.  Which is why, when Bill Clinton became president in 1992, he could implement Reaganite policies as a Democrat.  Obama is another example of the syndrome.

About 90% of what I see about Trump from my liberal and progressive friends on Facebook is in that vein: He's so awful! He's so stupid!  His hair is stupid! Though they aren't quite sure why he's awful and stupid.  Wouldn't it be nice if there was a Democratic candidate equivalent to Trump -- and I don't mean the cautious and moderate Bernie Sanders -- who could perform the same service for liberals?  Is there a significant segment of the Democratic base that would go wild for a clown who called for stringing up capitalists and priests from every lamppost?  And would the corporate media give as much attention to such a person as they give to Donald Trump?