THINGS FALL APART; THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD / MERE ANARCHY IS LOOSED, AND EVERYWHERE / THE CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE IS DROWNED / THE BEST LACK ALL CONVICTION, WHILE THE WORST / ARE FULL OF PASSIONATE INTENSITY.SURELY SOME REVELATION IS AT HAND / SURELY THE SECOND COMING IS AT HAND / THE SECOND COMING! HARDLY ARE THESE WORDS OUT / WHEN A VAST IMAGE OUT OF SPIRITUS MUNDI / TROUBLES MY SIGHT: SOMEWHERE IN THE SANDS OF THE DESERT / A SHAPE WITH LION'S BODY AND THE HEAD OF A MAN.
~ W.B. YEATS, From "The Second Coming"
And so it is September, summer is over and the presidential race heats up from a simmer to a boil.
But wait! It's September 2015, the "real" campaign for the White House won't begin for a year under the time-honored presidential election cycle, and Election Day itself is a distant 14 months away, a mere speck at the edge of our solar system. Yet there was nothing time honored, let alone simmery, about the summer just past. Indeed, it was a season of deep political discontent when things fell seriously apart and the center didn't hold.
We'll motor past how the brilliant Yeats, as prescient as he could be, foresaw this season and the coming of Donald Trump nearly 100 years ago in his classic dirge for the decline of civilization, but today even the best in the overcrowded Republican field seem to lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity, and surely some revelation is at hand. Or so we should fear.
YES, O.J. DID IT
A highlight -- or lowlight is more accurate -- of my long career in journalism was covering the O.J. Simpson case from the murders in Brentwood through the Trial of the Century, which of course concluded with the Verdict of the Century. Beyond the experience of burning brain cells at an alarming rate, I learned something important during my 18-month-long slog through the digestive tract of Hollywood celebrity and SoCal culture: Everyone who touched the third rail of the Simpson case ended up being diminished by it. So it is too with Donald Trump.
The wake churned up as Trump tacked, yawed and scare mongered across those boiling political seas of summer revealed (or in many cases merely further confirmed) the dubious accuracy of public-opinion polls, the fecklessness of the news media and its mutually backscratching relationship with the political class, the crass idiocy of the punditocracy, our infatuation with people who have nothing to offer beyond Botoxed good looks, an occasional flash of talent, big houses and fast cars, as well as heaps of money. Oh, and our political system is so crook that scary numbers of people believe that a man about whom nothing beyond his lion's mane of orangutan-colored hair is real is, in fact, real.
Did I say that things have seriously fallen apart and the center didn't hold?
WHEN INEVITABLE BECOMES EVITABLE
There I was lahdidahing along, not taking The Donald seriously while trying to sound serious myself, when Eugene Robinson, a WaPo columnist who often gets it right, dropped this bomb:
"It has dawned on the Republican presidential field that Donald Trump's inevitable self-destruction might be, gulp, evitable. Waiting for the unlikely front-runner to beat himself is starting to look like a plan, as Trump might put it, for total losers."
My New Year's resolution for 2015 was to swear off schadenfreude. I have largely succeeded while keeping my weight down, exercising regularly, eating well and getting closer to being able to make the perfect shrimp quesadilla. (The secrets are cumin and lime juice.) But I had a relapse when Trump came out of the first presidential debate with the wind at his back, propelled by the gales of protest from the other Republican candidates that he was being unfair and not playing "by the rules," and a party establishment on whom it was just beginning to dawn that they had been jobbed by a foul-mouthed cretin. Farce had suddenly become force, the moron a magician, and the carnival side show a man-lion who understands with the prescience of an experienced dowser prospecting for gemstones that his best path to (choke, choke) the nomination is to exploit what the GOP has worked determinedly to become.
Trump is so wildly popular because not because he is the Anti-Hillary, but because he is the ideal Republican candidate for 2016, a tabloid headline man with a plan although he has no plan, and so divinely unserious and unpresidential, so unwilling to dog whistle like his code-talking opponents, so opposed to what passes for GOP orthodoxy, that he is the antidote for what ails the many people drawn to him: Xenophobic, racist and conspiracy freakish white males -- and awful lot of woman folk, too -- who are neither policy oriented nor particularly ideologically inclined, and whose very American-ness is being challenged by fears over immigrants (and by inference blacks and other minorities), income disparity, the power of the elites, and a demographic tide that is fast running out on them.
And they really want Washington to get off their effing backs.
Even more worrisome for the party's own elites is that Trump continues to lead by double-digit margins in most polls, Iowa being the most conspicuous among them at the moment. This is a double whammy: The notion that I, among others, have posited that his lead would diminish as the field sorts itself out and the clunker candidates sink to the bottom of the pack is proving to be untrue, and the notion that I have scoffed at from the jump that his appeal is too limited for the long haul because his campaign is more personality than policy based is proving to be very true.
BE SCARED, BE VERY SCARED
But while Donald Trump may be a big rock candy mountain to a lot of people, he is a petty demagogue. Like demagogues in the mold of Huey Long who breathe deeply of the oxygen of power, he is very dangerous. And like Long, he is a populist in drag.
The abjectly punitive nature of Trump's immigration plan is horrifying. It does not call for deporting unauthorized immigrants en masse, but instead is geared to make the lives of these 11 million people miserable (never mind 4.5 million suddenly disenfranchised birthright children), so miserable that they will "self deport," a strategy that Mitt Romney advocated in his train wreck of a 2012 presidential campaign that as built upon by Trump horrifyingly brings to mind the early phases of the Nazi pogrom to rid Germany of Jews by making them so unwelcome that they would flee the Third Reich. Heil mein Trümp.
To which added Chris Christie, one of the politician wannabes who are desperately trying to out-crazy non-politician Trump while being being steamrolled by him: Why not scan 'em and track 'em like FedEx parcels? Scott Walker enjoined, saying why stop with Mexico? Build a wall at the Canadian border, as well. To which the feckless former colossus known as Jeb! added in so many words, I'm not really trying to insult Hispanics about anchor babies, but Asians are another matter. So much for tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
While Trump is not the son of immigrants, unless his father's move from the Bronx to Manhattan qualifies, several other wannabes are, including Ted Cruz (born in Canada) and Indian-American anchor baby Bobby Jindal (whose given name is Piyush). At least no one has suggested deporting Megyn Kelly. Yet.
And so with Trump looking evitable, the jabberwocky that comes out of his pie hole has taken on a soma-like quality because like Aldous Huxley's pleasure drug in Brave New World, it is so comforting to so many people. Having blown past the prediction of pundits that Trump would fall on his sword, piddle on his tassel loafers, fire himself or otherwise immolate, how is he going to be stopped short of Reince Priebus putting out a contract on him? After all, that loyalty oath he signed is a big fat joke and a multi-million dollar TV ad offensive underwritten by surrogates for aggrieved competitors that targets a man who has done so well because of free publicity, never mind if it's negative, is likely to backfire. Then there's that hard-hitting new TV ad from Jeb! that lambastes Trump for . . . get this, being from Gomorrah . . . er, New York.
AN ASTERISK, PARAGRAPH OR MORE?
Historians of American politics are in the asterisk business, and I suppose I am too since I try to bring some perspective to my musings beyond what happened at a Chik-Fil-A takeout joint in New Hampshire the other day when Little Ricky Santorum put in a campaign appearance to decry Donald Trump's focus on the Mexicans who are raping our gringo daughters and selling crack to our gringo sons when there are plenty of gays to bash.
Among presidential candidates in the last century meriting not a whole lot more than asterisks are Ross Perot, John Anderson, George Wallace, Henry Wallace and Robert A. LaFollette. Will Trump get an asterisk? Maybe a whole paragraph? A made-for-television movie? Or even more? Yup. Because even if Trump may be nearing his ceiling of support, which I kind of doubt because of his gravity-defying abilities, he has landed a mighty blow to the wheelhouse of the Republican Party.
The likelihood of Trump or whoever the Republican nominee will be of winning next year was slim to begin with and remains so despite Hillary Clinton's inherent weaknesses and self-destructive tendencies. But the backlash all Republican candidates -- nativist or otherwise -- will suffer from Trump's stand on immigration alone guarantee that will be so, and usher in an era of Democratic presidential hegemony not seen in 80 years while marking the culmination of a half century effort by the GOP to tear down its big tent.
Did I say that things have seriously fallen apart and the center didn't hold?
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.