Monthly Archives: July 2017

Trump: Bring Back the Fifties

In March of 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump was asked: “Your slogan is ‘Make America Great Again,’ When was America actually great?”  Trump responded that America was last great in the late forties and the fifties.  Sorry Donald; I remember that period and it wasn’t great.

Trump explained that after World War II: “We were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody… we were pretty much doing what we had to do.”  (http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/26/politics/donald-trump-when-america-was-great/index.html)  Most Trump voters agree with this sentiment (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/make-the-sixties-great-again/481167/), but their response is influenced by when they were born — for example, Trump supporters born in the sixties think the eighties were great.

As to be expected, Trump’s recollection of the fifties is way off.  He recalls, “We were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody…”  But this was the era of the Cold War with Russia (U.S.S.R.).  Trump conveniently forgets the “Iron Curtain” and the threat of nuclear war.  (Many of us, who lived through that period, remember “duck and cover” exercises where students prepared for a Russian nuclear attack.)  The fifties era was dominated by anti-communist rhetoric.  There was a “Red scare” led by anti-communist zealots such as Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Now Trump wants to normalize relations with Russia and replace the Cold War, in the public consciousness, with the threat of a global war with terrorists. Trump has combined this dangerous image with his vision of an invasion by undocumented immigrants; Trump’s obsession with building a wall along the southern border stems in large part from his obsession with these immigrants.  Thus Trump would replace the “Red scare” of the fifties with a new “brown scare.”

Trump recalls the fifties as a period where, “we were pretty much doing what we had to do.”  He’s ignoring the fact that a huge portion of the world — the USSR and mainland China — was “off limits” to Americans.  Nonetheless, during the fifties US corporations dominated trade in “the free world.”  (We came out of World War II with a robust economy whereas the economies of most of our allies had been decimated by the war.)  It’s understandable that Trump, and his supporters, long for a simpler time when the US economy ran the world and and American companies dominated trade.  Realistically, that time is long gone.  We now live in a much different, global economy.

One way to interpret Trump’s comments, “We were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody,” is that he is referring to the United States.  Another way to interpret this remark is that he is referring to white folks, white men in particular.  Indeed, the fifties represents the zenith of what UC professor George Lakoff has described as the “strict father” morality:  “In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says… This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth.”  In many regards, from a cultural standpoint, the fifties was the last decade where white men reigned supreme.

Obviously, Trump ignores the fact that the late forties and early fifties witnessed a resurgence of white supremacy — which had been somewhat muted during the war years.  After the end of World War II, “Jim Crow” laws were strictly enforced in most parts of the country and many people of color were forced to use segregated facilities.  (The initial battle against segregation began in 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott and culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)  In general, the late forties and early fifties was a period of unfettered racism and sexism.  (Until the Trump era, this was the last period where hate and bigotry were considered politically correct.)

So, when Trump says he want to “Make America Great Again,” he’s calling for a return to the mentality of the fifties.  In terms of foreign policy, he wants America to be the top dog, to once again be the world’s policeman.  And in terms of domestic policy, he’s calling for a return to the era of white supremacy, to the period where straight protestant white males ruled American cultural life.  Trump is calling for an end to “political correctness” and, indeed, for an end to everyday decency.

Trump doesn’t actually want to “Make America Great Again,” his intention is to “Make America Hate Again.”

As Trump Decompensates, GOP Disintegrates

We’re sailing in uncharted presidential waters.  Donald Trump has moved beyond incompetency to the designation: “a danger to himself and others.”  One small solace, before Trump blows up the planet he’ll probably first destroy the Republican Party.

Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-killing-the-republican-party/2017/07/16/048056dc-68c4-11e7-a1d7-9a32c91c6f40_story.html?) recently wrote that Trump is “killing” the GOP: “the wreckage [caused by Trump] will break the Republican Party into pieces.”

In the movie, Annie Hall, Woody Allen told an old joke:

This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy, he thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, ‘Well why don’t you turn him in?’ and the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’

The joke captures the essence of the GOP conundrum: most Washington-based Republicans know that Trump is crazy but they’re afraid to “turn him in” because they “need the eggs.”  They’re afraid of alienating Trump voters.

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/months-record-low-trump-troubles-russia-health-care/story?) found Trump with record low approval ratings (36 percent).  Nonetheless, 82 percent of Republican voters approve of his job performance.  The Republican rank-and-file hold fast to a President whom the rest of the electorate regards as certifiable.

Writing in the New York Times Magazine Mark Leibovich (http://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/magazine/washington-dc-politics-trump-this-town-melts-down.html?) observed, “Trump got elected…by portraying and revealing [Republican] politicians to be feckless weenies — and many of them went out and reinforced this view by displaying their… unwillingness to stand up to him in office.”  That’s the number one reason why Trump is killing the GOP, he’s turned a set of weak leaders (Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan) into quivering lumps of Jello.

That wouldn’t be a problem, if Trump was a strong leader with a well-defined policy agenda but that’s not the case.  Trump’s crazy.  His only consistent behavior is unpredictability.  As a consequence, the Trump Administration has no consistency.  The only unifying themes are incoherence and fear.

Mark Leibovich writes that many Republican congress members live in “fear of mean tweets.”  They are afraid to oppose Trump because they fear the potential backlash.

When Trump ran for President, some voters mistakenly identified him as a “successful businessman” and, therefore, believed that he would provide a steady hand on the ship of state; that is, provide both a clear strategy and a seasoned ability to get things done.  But Trump wasn’t a successful businessman in the usual sense of that phrase; he’s a successful media personality.  Trump doesn’t have a clear strategy but rather a collection of campaign phrases: “build the wall,” “lock her up,” “repeal and replace Obamacare,” and (of course) “make America great again.”  From the standpoint of saving the Republican Party, Trump doesn’t have a good record of getting things done.  He’s not a hands-on manager who badgers his subordinates until his objectives are accomplished; Trump lends his general support to initiatives and then disappears.  Since occupying the White House, Trump has been disengaged from GOP congressional initiatives.  Some observers say he spends more time watching Fox News than he does interacting with Republican leaders.

The failure of the Republican initiative to replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) illustrates Trump’s desultory management style.  All of the heavy healthcare lifting was done by GOP leaders such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell (aka “feckless weenies”).  On a day-to-day basis, Trump was not involved and often seemed out-of-step with GOP leaders — as when he characterized the House version of Trumpcare as “mean.”

Buzzfeed (http://www.buzzfeed.com/tariniparti/trump-is-showing-the-world-what-a-weak-american-presidency?) observed: “The premise of the value proposition that voters bought into was: [Trump] knew about the art of the deal and that he could break through ‘Washington,’ break through political norms, and get things done.”  Trump mislead his base; he doesn’t know how to get things done.

Trump’s evocative promise to “make America great again” was based upon three loose narratives: repeal Obamacare and replace it with something “terrific;” negotiate better trade deals that would (magically) bring back manufacturing jobs with decent wages; and build a border wall that would keep out immigrants and “protect American lives and jobs.”  While these were never detailed policy prescriptions, Trump’s promises had a powerful hold on his base.

Now the Trump triad is in trouble.  The GOP is incapable of repealing and replacing Obamacare.   Trump hasn’t displayed his ballyhooed prowess as a deal maker; for example, he promises to renegotiate NAFTA but, so far, nothing has come of this.  Finally, Trump has no plan to build the wall.

Nonetheless, Trump voters hold tight to the belief that he’s going to turn it all around, “get things done.”  Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/think-trumps-poll-numbers-are-bad-just-wait-till-his-backers-realize-theyve-been-had/2017/07/17/80415204-6b3e-11e7-96ab-5f38140b38cc_story.html?) explains that Trump supporters believe he can manage the economy, in general, and specifically bring back manufacturing jobs.  Milbank notes, “manufacturing employment hit a record low last month of 8.47 percent of overall employment… Manufacturing wages rose less than the overall private sector.”  Milbank asks, “what happens [when] Trump’s core backers discover that they’ve been had… manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back and a Trump-ignited trade war is hurting U.S. exports?”

What will happen is that the Trump base will turn against Trump.  And, the Republican Party.  Winter is coming for the GOP.

The Resistance Bookshelf

If you’re part of the Trump resistance, here are four books you should add to your summer reading list.

Strangers in Their Own Land (2016):  Most of us are perplexed by Trump voters.  My first two suggestions clarify the underlying psycho-political dynamics.  In Strangers in Their Own Land, U.C. Berkeley Professor Arlie Hochschild elaborates the “deep story” of Louisiana Trump voters:

You are standing in a long line leading up a hill, as in a pilgrimage.  You are situated in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, and predominantly male… Just over the brow of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line.  Most in the back of the line are people of color… Look!  You see people cutting in line ahead of you!  You’re following the rules.  They aren’t.  As they cut in, it feels like you are being moved back… Who are they?  Women, immigrants, refugees, public sector workers — where will it end?

Hochschild wrote, “the far right felt… there was a false PC over-up of [their] story… So it was with joyous belief that many heard a Donald Trump who seemed to be wildly, omnipotently, magically free of all PC constraint.”  The interviewees believe Trump, and big business in general, will provide the solutions to their (many) problems.

Moral Politics (2016, Third Edition): Reading Hochschild’s book, it’s natural to ask, “Why do these voters buy Trump’s lies?” That question is addressed by the research of U.C. Berkeley Professor George Lakoff:

Political values tend to arise from the fact that we are all first governed in our families, and so the way that your ideal family is governed is a model for the ideal form of government… conservative moral values arise from the values of the strict father family.

Lakoff writes that conservatives typically subscribe to a “strict father” morality, while liberals operate with a “nurturant parent” morality.

In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says… They are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world.

This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you… You are responsible for yourself, not for others.

Hochschild’s interviewees are living in a monolithic strict father family culture.  They see their failures as their own fault.  They look to a strict father, Trump, to improve their lives.

Indivisible A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda (2016):  If you’re wondering what to do about Trump, here are two books with practical suggestions.  Written at the end of 2016, The Indivisible Guide has become a cultural phenomenon.  (https://www.indivisibleguide.com/guide/)

We believe that protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting… resistance to the Trump agenda… a resistance built
on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness.

To this end, the following chapters offer a step-by-step guide for individuals, groups, and organizations looking to replicate the Tea Party’s success in getting Congress to listen to a small, vocal, dedicated group of constituents. The guide is intended to be equally useful for stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.

The Indivisible Guide spurred the formation of approximately 6000 Indivisible Groups — at least two in every Congressional district. (If after reading The Indivisible Guide, you decide to form your own group, I recommend that you watch the Marshall Ganz video: How to Structure and Build Capacity for Action:[ https://www.resistanceschool.com/session-three-1/]. )

No is Not Enough (2017):  The Indivisible Guide is has been criticized because it focuses on resistance to the Trump Administration; it does not spell out what the resistance is fighting for.  In this regard, Canadian journalist Naomi Klein has written the perfect companion piece. No is Not Enough contains both an erudite analysis of how we got here, why Trump won, and a prescription for what to do next: The Leap Manifesto.

Klein sees Trump as the logical consequence of the rise of the dominant  economic philosophy, Neoliberalism:

If there is a single, overarching lesson to be drawn from the foul mood rising around the world, it may be this: we should never, ever underestimate the power of hate… Especially during times of economic hardship, when a great many people have reason to fear that the jobs that can support a decent life are disappearing for good.  Trump speaks directly to that economic panic, and, simultaneously, to the resentment felt by a large segment of white America about the changing face of their country..

So many of the crises we are facing are symptoms of the same underlying sickness: a dominance-based logic that treats so many people, and the earth itself, as disposable.

Klein’s answer is The Leap Manifesto (https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/#manifesto-content), a document created to deal with the 2015 Canadian economic crises, but a manifesto that is applicable to the current situation in the United States: “An attempt… to show how to replace an economy built on destruction with an economy built on love.”

Klein’s book encourages us to move beyond resistance.