Currently a major talking point of the pro-Trump Right is that everyone is ignoring Hillary’s egregious faults because Trump “says mean things”. Or you will hear, “He isn’t a totalitarian… He is simply a jerk.”
While it’s certainly an effective media message (as is seen by its rapid proliferation through the social media posts and political cartoons of Trump sympathizers) is it reality?
To say Trump is “simply a jerk” seems to illustrate a deep confusion or ignorance about who Trump is:
- Here he is complimenting Putin.
- Here he is complimenting China on it’s brutal suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests
- Here he is complimenting Saddam Hussein
- Here he is complimenting Kim Jong Un
- Here he is stating he wants to attack and kill women and children
- Here he is saying we should torture people regardless of whether it produces actionable intelligence
- Here he is promising he can get the US military to commit war crimes
- Here he is threatening to try US citizens in military tribunals
- Here he is threatening to making it easier to sue news outlets
- Here he is blacklisting media outlets
- Here he is threatening Jeff Bezos with government action over coverage by the Washington Post
- Here he is wanting to register all members of a religious group in a tracking database
- Here he is encouraging his supporters to beat up protesters
- Here he is promoting torture again
- Here he is refusing to denounce supporters after they attacked a homeless Hispanic man in Boston
I obviously could go on, but it’s just not a credible position to dismiss Trump’s abhorrent beliefs and behavior as those of “simply a jerk”. I’ll admit there may still be legitimate arguments for supporting him (I do actually believe he is the lesser of the evils the major parties have presented as their nominees), but let’s be honest about who the Republicans have nominated. This isn’t a Steve Martin movie, this is a candidate for President of the United States of America.
Further, I find it quite hard to support the flat assertion that, “he isn’t a totalitarian“.
I have sincerely and charitably, tried to analyze who I think he is and the type of president he would be. I have to work to be objective here, because my heart just doesn’t want to believe that he possibly could do the things he is saying and proposing. It’s because I’m hard-wired to see the good in Republicans, to give them every benefit of the doubt.
I think there are three factual bases on which to develop an objective understanding of The Donald:
- What has he said?
- What does his history tell us?
- What’s the ability of principled Conservatives to guide him?
Regarding #1: His statements and policy proclamations are consistently racist/totalitarian/violent or have clear racist/totalitarian/violent leanings/implications (see above). That doesn’t mean I universally disagree with him. He said the world would be safer if Hussein and Gaddafi were still in power. I agree. He said the Constitution doesn’t guarantee birthright citizenship. I agree with that too. But I could pick out things that I agree with Hillary on as well. The question is what does the body of his message say? The answer is that it proclaims the virtues of strongmen and strongman govt. I can’t just dismiss that message because I really wish it wasn’t so.
Regarding #2: His history is clear, he is a thuggish, autocratic, crude, crony capitalist and fraudster who is known to push to and past any legal limits in pursuit of his primary business model, celebrity brand building. I think this is in exact accordance with his farcical run for the presidency and unfortunately far too many Republicans have fallen for his con game. How must I reasonably believe he will act when inside the Oval Office, the legal shackles basically removed, and the full opportunity for a true political cult of personality laid before him?
Regarding #3: It is doubtful (to the extreme) that principled small government Republicans have any say on his campaign now or will influence his administration later. Months ago I said how skeptical I was that he would turn towards more moderate positions and he hasn’t. But I wasn’t prognosticating, his behavior with Judge Curiel after securing the nomination made it obvious that he wouldn’t take wise guidance. Even his own named advisors have admitted they don’t really know what he’s going to do (e.g. Steven Moore on economics) and just today we got this news.
Is there some evidence or argument I missed? I would honestly love to hear it.
But even if I haven’t missed anything, what if I still grant the premise? That he isn’t actually a racist/isolationist/totalitarian strong man at heart.
He has still chosen to build a racist/isolationist/totalitarian coalition, thus who he is is substantively irrelevant. Politicians act as their coalitions dictate (or at least within fairly tight margins of what their coalitions dictate). Trump’s too egotistical to not want reelection, so whatever his personal beliefs or inclinations, he will act generally in line with what he needs to keep his base secure. This is Poli-Sci 101. Trump has more than clearly conveyed how he will govern and he feeds the same red meat to his supporters in every speech. These are the promises he’s made to the coalition: Expansionary warfare, trade isolationism, religious discrimination, threats against his political enemies, on and on.
So… He says he is an authoritarian thug. I see no evidence in his past that he isn’t an authoritarian thug. There is no evidence that anyone can constrain his authoritarian thuggishness. And he has built a coalition who support him because he is an authoritarian thug.
I’m happy to have a conversation about whether El Trumpo should be the next president, but “Trump just says mean things” and “He isn’t a totalitarian… He is simply a jerk” just aren’t the basis for an honest conversation. The statement is out of line with the available facts of the past 14 months of campaigning and his 70 years of life and work. I’d be thrilled to have my facts corrected/amended or, barring that, to have a conversation on the basis of, “He is an authoritarian thug… but still better than Hillary.” I think a case may be made for the latter claim. The former though, seems untenable.
I do think there is possibly one other basis on which to claim “he isn’t a totalitarian”, a faith in the basic decency of Americans that proclaims “No one, regardless of their rhetoric, is actually a totalitarian.” Unfortunately, the history of political power does not weigh in favor of this blind belief. If it looks like a pig, and smells like a pig, and sounds like a pig… It’s probably a pig. And given the opportunity of massive political power, those who would otherwise have been constrained by the rules and laws of civil society, will show not their best side, but too often their worst.
P.S. I would like to apologize to my pig readership. The equivalence I described above is certainly unfair and possibly libelous. The honorable pig should never be equated to the depravity of many political office seekers. Politicians are the real swine… Agh! Did it again!