Friday, February 26, 2016
Trump And Sanders–Emotional, Visceral Politics At Its Very Best
The Establishment hates Donald Trump. The National Review, the standard-bearer for American conservatism, has begun an all-out, no-holds-barred campaign against The Donald. This is a first for the magazine which has always been in lockstep with Republicans. Although the editors may have had their issues with some candidates and preferred others, they have felt that a Republican victory at the polls would always be preferable to a Democratic one.
That has all changed, and the journal’s true colors – conservative, traditional conservatism – are showing. The National Review, no more than liberal Democrats, knows what to do with Donald Trump; and their editorial board and publisher – not to say traditional Republicans everywhere - are very worried about their fifty-year protected empire.
In most campaign years the conservative Establishment could count on big money for support. Candidates all hewed to the same low-tax, reduced spending, big military, private sector platforms so valued by business. Whether they were evangelicals, economic hardliners, or social disciplinarians, they could be counted on to promote a conservative economic agenda.
Trump on the other hand wants to deport all illegal immigrants, the labor that business depends on for low prices and high profits. Even the harshest critics of open borders understand that food prices would soar, lawns would never get mown, houses would crack and peel, restaurants would close, and women would have to leave work for childcare. Draconian anti-immigration policies are anti-business, and since we all like cheap lettuce, anti-American.
Secondly, Donald Trump is an embarrassment to the conservative establishment. The likes of old William Buckley, Ronald Reagan, William Kristol, and George Will bridle at Trump’s circus antics. He is a clown, a vaudevillian, a huckster, and an evangelical preacher (sans God) all rolled into one. He is a dervish, a comedian, and a rambunctious hell-raiser. He is a son of Hollywood and Las Vegas not Wall Street and K Street. These Old Guard Republicans are flummoxed.
The vitriolic reaction against Trump by The National Review is very telling, because it reveals both the increasingly shaky foundations of traditional conservatism and angry populist sentiments never before expressed so enthusiastically.
What Trump understands and conservative commentators do not is that today’s voters do not care about issues (if they ever did), but about sentiment, emotion, passion, and conviction. In a recent article on the election in Current Affairs, Nathan Robinson said, “If Trump does have to speak about the issues, he makes himself sound foolish, because he doesn’t know very much.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Trump is no dummy, and he and his advisors could easily write a series of white papers on everything from Syria to tax reform. He stays with bombast, theatricality, outrage, and personal attacks because that is exactly what the electorate wants.
Trump speaks in a language of icon and image. Of course no one takes him seriously when he says that he will round up all illegal immigrants and deport them; or when he says that he will build an impenetrable wall across our southern border, or that he will deny visas to all Muslims. The message is clear – A Trump presidency will be tough on illegal immigration.
When he throws political correctness to the wind, no one believes that he is racist or sexist; but the message is clear. The liberal gulag will be dismantled. All lives matter. Free speech back. Individualism – free speech, free enterprise, freedom of religion, and the enshrined American right to say anything at anytime – is back.
The traditional Left is equally threatened by Bernie Sanders who is very much like Trump in his unalloyed progressive neo-socialism. His supporters do not care about how he will manage such radical transfers of wealth, Wall Street’s reaction to punitive taxes and legislation, or the depletion of already meager government treasuries. They only care about his calls for justice, equality, compassion, communalism, and a new respect for the real people of America, not the fat cat capitalist, one percenters who gouge, exploit, and humiliate the poor.
Hillary Clinton and her advisors are particularly troubled, for she – opaque, with a history of questionable ethics, chameleon positions, sense of entitlement, and an obvious and exploitive ‘electoral feminism’ – is the anti-Bernie. For all his impractical, out-of-date, and impossible policies, he is at least honest. He has held his socialist principles for decades, put his voting record on the line, and has rarely deviated from his positions for expediency or political convenience.
Of course he cannot transform the profoundly and resistently capitalist system of America. The powers that be are no different today than they were in the Reconstruction South. There was no way that wealthy plantation owners would ever buckle under to Radical Republicanism; and in a few short decades, the plantation system was almost as productive, functional and intact as it was before the war. None but the most idealistic and dreamy of Bernie’s supporters believe that anything he does can possibly neuter entrenched, historical centers of power. Most will vote for him because of his ideals, his vision and his honest sense of purpose.
Trump is an outsized star, full of ego, style, image, and theatrics. He is untamed, uncowed, aggressive, and combative. He has made billions and flaunts it, dated bimbos, spent lavishly and without taste. He loves money, power, acclaim, attention, and beautiful women. Who says that he does not represent America?
Sanders believes profoundly in human progress. If only we try harder, he says, show more compassion and understanding, and fight against injustice and corrupt concentrations of power and authority, America and the human race will be better off. Government is the solution to the country’s problem because despite its shortcomings, it represents the people and is the sworn caretaker of their interests. Democracy is enshrined in collective enterprise, not individualism, and together we can make a better world. Who said that his socialist spirit of commonality, shared interests, compassion, and social harmony is not American?
No wonder Hillary is bamboozled. “I am doing everything right”, she says while Sanders increases in popularity. She cannot believe that a former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and a woman could possible fade in popularity and lose traction against an old socialist.
We have read her position papers and carefully-crafted pronouncements on women’s rights, gay marriage, income inequality, social justice, and all the rest; but we see no blood spilled, no tears shed, no passion, emotion, or anything even resembling principle. The American voter wants passion and principle, not position papers.
If we are lucky, the presidential election will be between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, for it will mean an end to the stale, predictable, money-ruled, insider trading politics of the past. The curtain will finally be pulled back on the corruption of the American political system. Most importantly, the election will allow us for once to revel in what we are good at – image, stardom, and unbounded idealism.