IF YOU PLANT ICE YOU'RE GONNA HARVEST WIND ~ Robert Hunter
It is disingenuous to blame Republicans for the xenophobic and racist white male as a force in American presidential politics. Democrats also must share the blame, and a societal malaise larger than politics is the cauldron for this toxic brew. But the Republican Party alone is responsible for calculatedly harnessing bigotry and hate as political weapons, and consequentially for the emergence of Donald Trump as someone to be reckoned with despite his celebrity clownhood, a man whose very unfitness for the presidency is a significant factor in his popularity, as well as made the GOP's quest to retake the White House into a mockery.
Mockery is actually a pretty good word to describe the state of the Grand Old Party, which has ignored the best advice of its best minds to plot a course in the last 10 or so years that in the service of short-term gains -- and to hell with the future -- built on Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, an unabashed appeal to racism that fed off of the alienation of whites in the South and elsewhere following LBJ's landmark civil rights initiatives. And then there was the party's great conservative god, Ronald Reagan, who embraced the Southern Strategy under the moniker of "state's rights," at least when he was campaigning in the South.
And so we have headlines like this one in the New York Times:
Trump's Appeal? G.O.P. Is Puzzled, But His Fans Aren't
Puzzled? Not really, it's just those short-term gain chickens coming home to roost. Of course not all of the 15 (and counting) other Republican presidential candidates think like Trump, or even agree with him, but the pushback against the celebrity gadzillionaire has been painfully slow in coming and tepid, at best, because of fears that those xenophobic and racist white males who pretty much are the party's base will have their feelings hurt. (That began to change on Saturday when Trump dissed Senator John McCain's war record, but more about that in a moment.)
Make no mistake about it: As Democrats showed racists the door, the GOP welcomed them and their fellow travelers with open arms, which is why it also is the party of creationists, gun nuts, anti-abortion wackos, immigrant haters, homophobes and has become known for what opposes, not what it proposes.
Trump is not the first Republican candidate of stature in recent years to dog whistle their appeal to that base; he's merely the loudest and most obnoxious. There was Sarah Palin, who was described by her zealous supporters in the same glowing terms as Trump before she burned out, and Senator Ted Cruz, a presidential wannabe who skirts the edges of racial demagoguery when it suits his purposes and has praised Trump for his "truthfulness." (I could only come up with a single Democrat of even vaguely similar inclination, the long-retired Zell Miller, in looking for Democratic comparables in the last quarter century, and then even further back to Lester Maddox and George Wallace some 40 and 50 years ago.)
But Trump takes the cake as he barnstorms the country to shouts of "USA! USA!".
It is one thing to declare that the American Dream is dead, its leaders are stupid, and that "his country" is being stolen from him, which is exactly how Charleston church terrorist and white supremacist Dylann Roof feels. Or that George Bush should have invaded Mexico and not Iraq. Trump's appeal to xenophobic and racist whites is visceral as he surrounds himself at his rallies with "true Americans" whose relatives were killed by illegal immigrants and invites people like the man whose son was crushed under the car of an undocumented immigrant to share their stories with his audiences.
"The illegals come in, and the illegals killed their children," he said recently. "They never tell you what nationality they are. . . . Most of them are Mexican."
Never mind that Trump is ahead in some national polls. As a fringe candidate, and he still is despite his vocal following and standing in the polls, what goes up must come down in the cruel physics of politics.
Trump's beyond-the-pale attack on McCain in declaring "he's not a war hero" for being captured during the Vietnam War, never mind that he was held prisoner for five and a half years in Hanoi and refused early release despite being repeatedly beaten, quickly became the excuse the other candidates were praying for (the execrable Cruz excepted) to lock, load and lash back, and the news media needed to stop acting like it was intimidated by Trump and begin piling on. Or at least do some serious vetting.
Predictably, one of the first post-McCain slander reports concerned Trump being evasive and seemingly embarrassed about why he never served in the military at the height of the war McCain volunteered for despite having a medical deferment he has described as being only "short term." Next up were stories that he is a closet liberal who has donated more of his fortune to Democrats than Republicans, including Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. He also has supported universal health care and was pro-choice until recently. And then came stories about his seat-of-the-pants operation: That he's a less than serious candidate who brags he only spends about half his time campaigning, hasn't bothered to assemble much of a staff, one of whom is a former The Apprentice contestant, and doesn't take advice from anyone who isn't The Donald.
Meanwhile, the Huffington Post is making a big deal about moving its Trump coverage to its Entertainment section. As value judgments go, that seems pretty stupid, no? And Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, whose record of getting things wrong is unrivaled in the conservative media and was Sarah Palin's most ardent supporter, told ABC's This Week that Trump would make a better president than Hillary Clinton but criticized him for swiftboating McCain. Charles Krauthammer, of all people, actually was making sense: "This is the strongest field of Republican candidates in 35 years," he told Fox News. "You could pick a dozen of them at random and have the strongest Cabinet America's had in our lifetime, and instead all of our time is spent discussing this rodeo clown."
According to a corollary law of political physics, Trump's poll numbers should begin dropping now that it's open season on him. We shall see.
Lost in the firestorm over Trump's attack on McCain (for which he has not really apologized) is that fellow Republican candidates have been comfortable, for the most part, with Trump's politics of fear. His declarations that Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers is okay, but impugning a white guy's war record is out of bounds if the vet is a Republican and not John Kerry, Tammy Duckworth or Max Cleland. And while Trump may begin to founder sooner than later and eventually will fall, it will take a very long time to wash away the stain of the Republican Party's shame.
A LEAGUE OF HIS OWN
President Obama may be on the verge of making history: Unlike virtually every president before him, his second term may turn out to be better than his first.
It took some effort to get my head around that notion, and when you consider that Obama's first term was pretty damned good in many respects, the accomplishments this time around are pretty impressive: Supreme Court decisions upholding his landmark health care plan and the right of gay Americans to marry, passage of fast-track Asian trade authority, normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, and leading the international effort to curtail Iran's nuclear weapons program. Then there is the way he has taken command of events, notably his extraordinary eulogy for the victims of the Charleston church massacre.
"Obama is not a modest man," writes Todd Purdum in Politico, "But when it comes to assessing his or any president's place in the long American story, he has been heard to say, 'We just try to get our paragraph right.' Yet the way a raft of recent events have broken sharply in his favor, Obama suddenly seems well on his way to writing a whole page—or at least a big, fat passage—in the history books."
There is a rather significant irony beyond the fact the chattering classes were writing Obama off as a dead duck -- as opposed to a lame duck -- not that long ago: His fellow Democrats may prove to be as big an obstacle as those bitterly partisan Republicans in the last 18 months of his presidency, witness Democratic opposition to the trade pact, which eventually passed with largely Republican support.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR. USED WITH PERMISSION.