Monday, February 01, 2016

February 1, 2016--The Emotional Culture of America

The day before the evening caucuses in Iowa--the first time in 2016 that actual votes will be counted--it feels timely to pause, reflect, and predict.

I'm being advised by some friends, including one of my best friends who is wicked smart and well informed, to stop paying so much attention to Donald TRUMP. The implication loud and clear is that by doing so--even with a critical or satiric edge to my writing--I am aiding and abetting his candidacy. That it's obvious he's dangerous and needs to be defeated.

Perhaps my friends are right. I should step back and think about what they are counseling. Not necessarily come to agree with them, but take seriously what they are saying.

We go back and forth for a few rounds and then someone claims that TRUMP is dangerous because of what they see to be his fascistic inclinations.

If TRUMP is a fascist, what else is there to say? Except that hopefully the America of 2016 is not the Italy of 1922.

All of this aside, as I pause to think about the current state of the presidential race, to wonder if I have been showing too much favor to TRUMP and his candidacy, I should ask myself how I think he and others are doing, what can be learned from that, and who am I inclined in November to support.

I have been arguing here that TRUMP has tapped deep chords in current American consciousness and has exploited or resonated with them (take your pick) with astonishing effect.

As a candidate he was initially thought of to be a "clown," an impostor, someone only interested in enhancing his "brand" and, once he accomplished that, he would drift away and return to his literally gilded tower.

But, unlike other Republican political comets, from Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain to Sarah Palin, he has not flamed out but has lingered at the top of the polls now for more than seven months. No other first-term candidate in 100 years has done so so consistently for this long. Not even ultimately popular candidates such as Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, or John F. Kennedy in 1960.

In the face of friends' criticisms I have tried to insist it's important to understand as fully as possible TRUMP's success, and successful he has been, so we can better root it out, defeat him, and--most important to me--learn as much as we can about what it means about today's America. To continue to mock him, write him off, assume he will implode will not get that job done. So, it has been my view that we had better be sure we do not continue to ignore the forces undergirding his appeal and energizing his candidacy and in that passive way be of unintended help to him..

As examples of these views, here are excerpts from a few of the emails I have sent to friends in an attempt to explain my posture--
TRUMP and the other spawn of reality TV, talk radio, and Fox News have seized control of the process. Maybe of reality.
And, they are no longer beholden to the forces that launched them or the people who bankrolled them . Interesting, isn't it, that we haven't heard much lately from the Koch Brothers or Sheldon from Las Vegas. 
What I mean to say is that politics is now operating in a parallel universe of its own. 
I am eager to see if (1) TRUMP maintains his refusal to participate in Fox's debate Thursday night and (2) if he doesn't show up what, if anything, will be the consequences. 
We can already hear the whiners saying that he's afraid of someone wearing a skirt (Megyn Kelly). How can someone who fears a WOMAN be trusted to stand up to really bad guys such as Putin, the Ayatollahs, or ISIS. (Roger Ailes of Fox News already said literally that.) 
It may be that Donald is a political Frankenstein, more powerful than his creators. And, to them, more dangerous. If so, they deserve him.
*  *  *
The case for TRUMP is that more conventional, better prepared and experienced candidates and presidents have been dangerous disasters. Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush come to mind. 
But it may be that he has just the right temperament for the job that now needs to be done. In my view, he is so threatening to the status quo that the array of forces, worried about their prerogatives, are lining up against him. From Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity at Fox News, to the Rush Limbaughs, to the Republican establishment Koch Brothers, to the Wall Streeters, to the professional bureaucrats, and of course all the liberals and movement conservatives. For me, this is an attractive list of opponents and enemies.
*  *  *
I'm concentrating now on both the process and on what what is happening reveals about the political and emotional culture of America. For that, for me, the TRUMP phenomenon is as important as it gets. I think there is a great deal to study and I'm trying to see and learn as much as I can. 
Next stage--after some dust settles (I think Hillary and TRUMP will win in Iowa, Bernie and TRUMP in NH, and then Hillary and TRUMP in SC, with Hillary and TRUMP then on inexorable paths to the nominations) for me then it will be time to try to understand what kind of presidents they might make.  
It may be true that TRUMP could be dangerous, but I do not until there is more actual evidence join in that feeling. And to me also, because Hillary is so full of personal ambition and inner demons, she also frightens me. 
My fantasy since I can't see myself voting for either TRUMP or Clinton-- 
Hillary gets indicted or censured for the email mess and Joe Biden and/or John Kerry enter the race. The Bernie people would go crazy, of course. But Biden and Kerry are the only two people I feel good about. To me either of them would be good presidents.
Otherwise, Hillary wins it all in a walk.

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