In the wake of Donald Trump’s nomination, Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi gleefully tramps the dirt down on the Grand Old Party. “Th[e] avalanche of verbose disgust on the part of conservative intellectuals toward the Trump voter, who until very recently was the Republican voter, tells us everything we need to know about what actually happened in 2016.”
At this point, the world doesn’t need any more bloviating and/or hot takes about the 2016 horse race — it’s already a cottage industry. And my hope going forward, in the “be-the-change-you-want-to-see-in-the-world” sense, is that GitM political posts will focus on policies over personalities. But, in the interest of old times and catching up on recent events, let me make a few points about that ubiquitous carnival bunker, reality TV buffoon, and now Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.
Don’t get me twisted here: A Donald Trump presidency would be a catastrophic disaster for America. However liberal he was until very recently, he has made the calculated decision to run as an openly racist authoritarian, and exploit white anxiety like he’s the second coming of George Wallace. And, true, even if he isn’t a Fascist himself, he’s got white nationalists all happy and energized, and would do until the trouble gets here. But an actual, honest-to-goodness Fascist? No, not really.
Why make this distinction and even try to defend a jackass like the Donald on this point? Because I think it’s important to recognize that:
In other words, Trump is basically just pitching what the GOP’s always been selling — he’s the evolutionary Pat Buchanan. “Frankenstein’s monster” isn’t quite the right analogy here, because the Republicans didn’t “create” Trump, exactly. Rather, Trump is a con man who, seeing the grift at work over the years, decided to execute a hostile takeover of the GOP’s flim-flam operation.
Let’s take Trump’s open racism, which is vile, indefensible, repugnant…and pretty much par for the course from the GOP. Ever hear of the Southern Strategy? Or consider Saint Reagan. In 1976, the Gipper ran on reining in “welfare queens” and in 1980, he sang the praises of “state’s rights” (wink, wink) within spitting distance of the 1964 Chaney-Schwerner-Goodman murders. His successor, George H.W. Bush — the nice, statesmanlike Bush — won his election mainly by threatening a black rapist on every block under Dukakis. Just last cycle, those compassionate conservatives Romney and Ryan were happily dogwhistling about “takers,” “makers”, and the 47%.
(Dems aren’t immune to this sort of pitch either, of course. It wasn’t for nothing that, when he wanted to show he was a different kind of Democrat in 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned at a prison on Stone Mountain of all places. This picture from that event explains the optics of that ridiculousness all too well.)
Same goes for the authoritarianism. For a good half-century now, Republicans have gone out of their way to paint themselves as strongmen father figures who keep ‘Murica safe, and Democrats as bleeding-heart, touchy-feely wimps that are soft on communism, crime, and/or terror. We all remember George W. Bush strutting around an aircraft carrier in military fatigues while his campaign had John Kerry windsurfing like a brie-eating, Swift Boat surrender monkey. When his dad H.W. wasn’t race-baiting with Willie Horton in 1988 election, he was insinuating his opponent looked like a girly-man in a tank. Just this year, we had sneering Ted Cruz promising he would “carpet-bomb” Syria “back to the stone age.”
The point being, racism, authoritarian brow-beating, and catering to white grievance has been the GOP’s bread-and-butter for decades. Trump’s brand of evil is their brand of evil. The Donald just gave up the dogwhistle.
But that’s not all he gave up, and this is where the Trump candidacy gets interesting, and where he may spell doom for the GOP as currently constituted.
Instead, the GOP base seems to be motivated by Buchananism these days: the (correct) sense that the system has been rigged against them — stagnant wages, blue-collar jobs getting outsourced/downsized, the rich getting away scot-free with everything from not paying taxes to destroying the American economy — and the (deeply incorrect) feeling this is the fault of minorities and outsiders. On one hand, as the saying goes, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” which is why so many white people whine ridiculously about reverse racism. On the other hand, they are being screwed over, just like everybody else, by rampant inequality, a disappearing middle-class, and an eroding social safety net. Some (though by no means all) Trump supporters are feeling that pressure particularly acutely.
In any event, like southern Populists of old (Tom Watson comes to mind), Trump wrestled power away from the GOP Bourbons by tapping into the economic and racial grievances of angry whites, but then chose to blame minorities for those problems. It’s an age-old trick that got him through the white-people-only primaries, but, as I’ll get to in a moment, it will be his downfall in November.
Still, even after he gets his hat handed to him in a few months, Trump’s ascension could well mean a very different GOP from now on — less “conservative”, more nationalistic. While the freak show types who obsess over public bathrooms will always have a home in their little tent, there may well be less talk of Big Guvmint going forward, and more railing against free trade and outsiders. (But, if they maintain their current trajectory, even that will likely only buy them a decade or two.)
And, of course, Trump gamed the broken fourth estate like there’s no tomorrow, garnering $2 billion in free media as of March 2016 simply by being a loudmouth, racist, (and thus click-baity) douchebag. (Ten Dumb Things Trump Said Today – You Won’t Believe Number 4!) CNN in particular has been covering him like he’s the OJ trial unfolding on a missing Malaysian plane. And now that he’s the actual, honest-to-goodness nominee, the media will normalize every nonsense thing that comes out of his mouth — even flagrantly racist bunkum — all in the spirit of Fair and Balanced.
As I said back in 2011 of Trump and at various other times, this is what our broken, High Broderian “both sides” punditocracy does. It’s the same reason we have Paul Ryan, easily as much of a huckster as the Donald, among us these days, and why we get stories like (I kid you not) “Paul Ryan’s Greatest Weakness: Is He Too Smart To Be President?” Er, no, J.R., he’s not.
Anyway, the real upshot here, after the next several months of sturm und drang, is that:
Graham is right. The Californication I talked about after the 2010 midterms is, at least in presidential years, becoming inexorable. Last time around, Mitt Romney won white people by 20 points (59-39)…and still lost handily. The electorate is even less white now than it was then, and will only grow more so. Even Karl Rove concedes that white people alone can’t get it done anymore.
So, what did the GOP do? Their only possible chance in 2016 was to open the party to people of color — maybe a Rubio or Cruz could’ve gained some headway there, tho’ I doubt it. Instead, like alcoholics to the bottle, they chose to double down yet again on angry white people. Donald Trump is the inevitable result of their demographic implosion.
In any case, to be elected president in November, Trump would have to perform even better among whites than Romney did. That doesn’t seem likely. Trump’s numbers are horrible with women. He doesn’t seem to believe in using 21st century GOTV efforts. He’s extraordinarily thin-skinned and always one or two steps away from a campaign meltdown. And, if anything, his constant racism will energize Latinos and other minorities to come out against him in force.
I’ll go ahead and lay down a marker: This election is not going to be close. In fact, it’s going to be a shellacking. There’s only two conceivable ways, as I see it, that Trump could eke it out. There could be some sort of catastrophic event leading up to the election — a major terrorist attack or financial collapse or somesuch. Or the Democrats, for some reason, decide to choose a really, really unpopular candidate to run against him. And neither of those are going to happ…
(Nah, he’s still going to lose.)
Another reason I’ve been stepping away from the politics posts – the estimable Charlie Pierce has this beat covered. Here he eviscerates the Politico-Industrial complex’s continued infatuation with gasbag Newt Gingrich. “Not to stick up for Karl Rove but, Jesus H. Christ on a special episode of Blossom, there is no serious comparison to be made.” Naturally, CNN — home of Serious People™ like David Gergen — has recently picked him up as a political correspondent.
Still, the Republicans’ recent intemperate rhetoric aside, one could argue we’re seeing the slow-motion devolution of a movement that began over a half-century ago, with Goldwater in 1964. Since then, Nixon notwithstanding, the Republicans have moved continually to the right, engaging in putsch after putsch to retain the purity of their conservatism (to say nothing of the precious bodily fluids.) Even the much-beloved Ronald Reagan, pretty far right for his day, would be considered a pinko by the standards of the contemporary Tea Partier, as would, in many corners, the Muslim-coddling Dubya.
And so, here we are at the end of the rainbow. The snake is eating itself. Not for nothing is Newt Gingrich, once the Robespierre of this particular Revolution, now frantically swimming right to save his own head — He doesn’t want to end up like Rove. (Speaking of which, Presidents Collins and Snowe, take note: There is no room for you at this table anymore.)
As for the evening’s big winner, well, obviously I think O’Donnell is frighteningly wrong on just about everything, from creationism to onanism, and she’d be an absolute disaster in the Senate. (Good thing she seems unelectable.) Still, however much we disagree, I have to confess a soft spot for anyone who takes their Tolkien seriously.
I don’t mean to be too harsh — There’s nothing terribly wrong with this edutainment-y attempt to explain de-Baathification, highly dubious detainee procedures, and most notably the faked WMD casus belli to disinterested laypersons by way of action-thriller. And, in a way, I sorta admire the gutsiness of the the attempt. But, if you were already well aware of these grim developments, and I assume most GitM readers are, then it’s hard to escape the sensation that one is mainly just being talked down to for two hours. Wait, there were no WMD in Iraq? You’re kidding me, right? And, while I’m a great fan of Greengrass’ previous output — I said over and over again in this space that I wish he had stuck with Watchmen, and on the Top 100 films of last decade list, Bloody Sunday was #84, his two Bournes were at #49, and the exemplary United 93 was at #6 — The Green Zone feels quite a bit more leaden than usual.
As with the political edutainment project Greengrass aspired to here, I like the idea of fusing his highly visceral action work (the Bournes) with his fly-on-the-wall discursions into recent history (Sunday, ’93)…on paper. But The Green Zone gets lost somewhere in the interstice, and lacks the gripping power of either of these previous Greengrass grooves. Instead, Zone ends up mostly being two grainy hours of watching Matt Damon run around at night, as he tries to uncover an insidious government plot that our nation has been fully aware of for years…and has chosen to greet with a yawn.
More on that depressing problem in a bit, but, first, to bring y’all up to speed: Loosely based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a non-fiction examination of Dubyaite imbecility and excess in post-war Baghdad, Green Zone begins with a brief sequence set amid the original Shock-and-Awe period of the war, followed by, a few weeks later, a tense raid on a possible WMD storehouse by American soldiers. Led by Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon), this crack MW2-ish assault ends up finding, well, bupkis, just like the time before and the time before that.
To Chief Miller, the problem here is obvious — the intel must be rotten. But, when he brings this up at the next briefing for high-level military muckety-mucks, he is basically told to shut up and do his job. Nonetheless, events soon conspire to introduce Miller to the “Jack of Clubs” in the Dubya deck, a Baathist general (Yigal Naor) with a still-clearly extant power base in Baghdad. And, when our hero digs deeper to figure out how this Jack might know “Magellan,” the top-secret source of all this lousy intel, he soon finds himself trapped — along with a very Judith Miller-y reporter (Amy Ryan) — in a power play between a slimy executive branch bureaucrat (Greg Kinnear, stuck no more) and a grizzled CIA hand (Brendan Gleeson), one that might just end up getting Miller fragged by the creepy Special Forces guy (Jason Isaacs, with great accent) who keeps popping up…
Along the way, there’s a digression into a detainee facility with all the makings of an Abu Ghraib waiting to happen, the tearful homecoming of the administration’s hand-picked Iraqi stooge (re: Ahmed Chalabi), some rather pained attempts to make the decision to de-Baathify an action beat…In other words, Green Zone is basically an attempt to dramatize the Iraq war for people who, for whatever reason, weren’t paying much attention the first time ’round. And, to be fair, it’s done with solid acting all around (including several folks recognizable from United 93), quality production values, and a reasonable degree of versimilitude throughout. (Note also the brief Paul Rieckhoff cameo, which should nip any IAVA whining about dramatic license right in the bud.)
But, for all its edutainmenty truths to tell, Green Zone still ends up feeling rather fake and film-ish to me, perhaps in part because — unlike Greengrass’ other recent histories — it seems to subscribe to a very movie-like All the President’s Men view of things, where, once word of misdeed gets out, justice will be done tho’ the heavens fall. Not to get all Debbie Downer up in here, but that’s not really the way the world works anymore, is it? One of the saddest and scariest moments in the recent and very worthwhile Daniel Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man in America is when Ellsberg explains how he thought everything would change once the Pentagon Papers got out…and then he finds that, in the face of clear and irrefutable evidence of government wrongdoing, most people just shrugged.
This is the uncomfortable horror that Green Zone almost seems willfully designed not to recognize. The whole premise of the movie seems to be that, if We the People knew what really went down in Iraq (or could just be taught via action-movie), we would be totally livid about the corruption involved. But, is the problem really that the American people don’t know what happened in the build-up to Iraq? Or is it that we know pretty well what happened and don’t much seem to care?
Just as with our indefensible dabbling in torture and indefinite detention in recent years, we have known about the lies and incompetence that fueled the Iraq fiasco for awhile now. And, alas, nothing ever happened. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the whole awful, lying lot are still deemed Serious People with Serious Opinions by the nation’s domesticated media watchdogs, who, by the way, have also been studiously ignoring the Blair hearings overseas. Our current president, elected with the largest mandate for change in a generation, has deemed all of this just the sins of the past and refused to “look backward” (or worse, made himself complicit in these Dubya-era crimes.) And life continues, much as it has this past age, with no sense of reckoning whatsoever for the Big Lies that were told.
One of the main reasons Bloody Sunday and United 93 work so well is that they offer complex, nuanced portraits of complicated times. But, as Green Zone moves along, it just ended up feeling more and more like a cartoon to me, and one predicated mainly on wishful thinking. Like I said, I guess I admire what Paul Greengrass & co. were trying do here, but Green Zone as an action film feels flat and mostly uninvolving. And Green Zone as a political enterprise — Iraq War: The Movie!, basically — often seems at best condescending and at worst dangerously naive.
“Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to “dam the runoff” and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee’s mouth…[T]o keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.“
But it’s not torture or anything: Recently-released CIA documents explain exactly how we went about waterboarding suspects during the Dubya era. “‘It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water,’ Nance wrote in the New York Daily News. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning.“
Update: Oh, by the way, Karl Rove is “proud” of these despicable acts.
“That Rove and so much of the Punditburo refuse to acknowledge this reality and instead forward this fantastical story about today’s elections being a pro-Republican ‘bellweather’ is to be expected. More and more of the political prognostication industry has been taken over by biased shills who are wielding a partisan axe. But the objective truth is clear: Democrats certainly have some weaknesses and problems, but the fact that Democrats are even competing in these supposedly “key” races suggests Republicans have their own – and arguably far bigger – weaknesses and problems as well.“
Happy Election Day everyone, particularly those of you in Virginia (Deeds), New Jersey (Corzine), NY-23 (Owens), and Maine (No on 1.) Looks like we Dems will have a bad night of it, all in all, but as Open Left‘s David Sirota notes above, let’s keep things in perspective. Given the still-woeful state of the economy and particularly the job markets, it’s an anti-incumbent mood out there right now, and sitting GOP governors like Schwarzenegger or Charlie Crist would be in a world of hurt if they were on the ballot today as well.
Plus, as Frank Rich pointed out over the weekend, the weird wild fight in NY-23, which saw the GOP candidate drop out and endorse the Dem, signifies a party in full self-immolation mode: “The battle for upstate New York confirms just how swiftly the right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama…Who exactly is the third-party maverick arousing such ardor? Hoffman doesn’t even live in the district.” Burn, baby, burn.
Update: “All worried that ACORN was going to show up in the district, or even at the Biden event — a paranoia that led to some minor awkwardness when an African-American Hoffman worker walked by. ‘This guy’s with ACORN,’ said Dewitt. ‘Definitely, not from around here,’ said businessman Erik Dunk.” The Washington Independent‘s Dave Weigel reports in from the ground on NY-23.
Following in the footsteps of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and Press Secretary Scott McClellan, former Department of Homeland Security head Tom Ridge becomes the latest ex-Bushie to pen a troubling tell-all: The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege…and How We Can Be Safe Again.
According to US News: “Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was ‘blindsided’ by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.” Good of you to bring this all up years down the pike, Gov. Ridge — truly a profile in courage.
So…are political firings and lying to Congress still against the law these days, or is the plan to treat these particular criminal offenses like we do torture? In the meantime, I’d expect Rove is on the phone right this very moment, imploring his good friends at FreedomWorks and the like to dial up the crazies for the next few news cycles.
Update: More comes to light on Harriet Miers’ involvement as well.