Trump Talk

1. At last night’s debate, Trump said of Rubio, “And he referred to my hands—if they are small, something else must be small—I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee you.” Lest you think we’re tumbling down a new rabbit hole here, it’s important to remember that once upon a time, the king’s body and the body politic were one and the same. Trump’s reference is more pre-modern than post-modern. Ernst Kantorowicz’s classic book on the topic, The King’s Two Bodies, was subtitled “A Study in Medieval Political Theology.”

In any event, I’d rather hear Trump’s opinions about his penis than his views on Muslims and Mexicans.

2. The rhetorical brutality of Trump is unprecedented. Never before have we seen a candidate so cruel.

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Nor have we ever had a leading politician who so shamelessly, if rhetorically, flirted with violence.

3. Speaking of precedents, I don’t deny that there are differences between Trump and conservatives and Republicans past (I am in fact writing about those differences as we speak!) But the notion that you can tell a story of qualitative devolution, that you could look back upon the Golden Days of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon as some kind of sharp counterpoint to the brutality of the man and his movement today, is delusional.

A few days ago, the Washington Post even had the chutzpah (or amnesia) to suggest that Trump’s embrace of torture and dirty tricks mark him as some new dangerous force.

Mr. Trump gives ample reason to fear that he would not respect traditional limits on executive authority. He promotes actions that would be illegal, such as torture. He intimates that he would use government to attack those who displease him.

The Post compares Trump to Putin and Chávez but not to the two American presidents in recent memory who did torture and who did use government to attack those who displeased them.

Even if you’re only referring to the ambient thuggery that surrounds the man, it’s helpful to remember that Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Cheney, Goodman, and Schwerner were murdered. And that, when debating his Republican opponents, was just as interested in establishing full spectrum dominance.

All of which reminds me that in the waning days of George W. Bush’s regime, I mischievously, facetiously, predicted that some day, some establishment pundit like Brooks or Broder (he was alive then) would hold up W as a man of honor and integrity—in contrast to whatever future combination of clown and criminal happened to be ruling the day. That’s the one prediction I’ve ever made—tongue-in-cheek no less—that has come true.

So now I’ll make another prediction, less tongue-in-cheek. If, God forbid, Trump is elected, some day, assuming we’re all still alive, we’ll be having a conversation in which we look back fondly, as we survey the even more desultory state of political play, on the impish character of Donald Trump. As Andrew March said to me on Facebook, we’ll say something like: What a jokester he was. Didn’t mean it at all. But, boy, could he cut a deal.

4. Various Republicans and conservative elites and intellectuals have been saying that if Trump gets the nomination, they’ll not support him. If they keep their word, this election could look an awful lot like 1972, when a fair number of Democrats backed Nixon against McGovern. With perhaps similar results.

Here’s the classic ad (h/t William Adler) that Democrats for Nixon (a front group, Rick Perlstein informs me) ran.

Interestingly, today it’s national security types who are once again leading the fight against a candidate perceived to be too extreme for the party.

Of course, the only way this scenario actually works is if Clinton gets the Democratic nomination. With Sanders, I’ve little doubt that every Republican and conservative would quickly—and happily—line up behind Trump. It’s only because Clinton does not pose a threat to core GOP commitments that these apostates from Trump can even think about straying from the fold. In the same way that it was only because Nixon didn’t fundamentally threaten core New Deal commitments—for all the backlash that he spawned, he wasn’t willing to fully repudiate the New Deal or the Great Society (indeed, he pushed for wage and price controls and created the EPA)—neither does Clinton fundamentally threaten core Reaganite commitments. When she attacks Sanders for possibly increasing the size of government by 40%, she’s still reading from the Reagan playbook.

So, to play out the scenario: against Trump, Clinton gets elected, like Nixon got elected against McGovern in 1972. And we all know what happened next.

5. When Hannah Arendt set out to understand fascism, she looked back to Europe’s history of continental racism and extra-continental imperialism. The working title of “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” in fact, was “Race Imperialism.” Today, journalists and pundits like to claim Trump is a fascist or flirts with fascism. But while commentators will talk about his connections to racism, nativism, and Islamophobia, they seldom mention his connections to imperialism. (Jamelle Bouie even claimed that George W. Bush, who more than anyone took American imperialism into the stratosphere, was just the kind of sober-minded establishment voice to put an end to Trump-ish exploits. Arendt would have had a field day with that one.) For these liberal-minded commentators, it’s easier to talk about red-blooded bigots in the sticks than blue bloods in the war machine.

Adam Smith said it best:

In countries where great crimes frequently pass unpunished, the most atrocious actions become almost familiar, and cease to impress the people with that horror which is universally felt in countries where an exact administration of justice takes place.

And then we get Donald Trump.



  1. xenon2 March 4, 2016 at 6:26 pm | #

    I’ll admit, Trump is hard to take.When he says he believes in torture, I think he imagines he’ll be such a fine ‘negotiator’, there won’t be any need for torture.But, when he got to Snowden, I almost lost it. He knew he was a spy from the beginning, but that is the same position of #nonhillary. Only she knows better, knows there is no defense against espionage.Either you did it, or you didn’t.Period.Others Republican candidates are unthinkable.

    Move to Canada? The days of 1960’s are over.Trudeau is an alumnus of McGill and he won’t allow students to form clubs or groups.’Places’ are not longer places.The internet has replaced them.

    I don’t think Sanders has a FP that much different than #nohillary.

    Rather than ‘Dump Trump’, I think we need to do something else.
    Influence him.

  2. I'm with stupid March 4, 2016 at 7:36 pm | #

    “No American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.” – Richard M. Nixon

  3. xenon2 March 4, 2016 at 7:48 pm | #

    In that same debate, Trump praised Planned Parenthood.He said millions of women
    get their health care there, including contraception, pap smears, mammograms, etc.
    This is true in my state.

  4. Roqeuntin March 5, 2016 at 3:23 am | #

    The best takedown of Reagan I ever read was John Dolan’s piece from a long time ago in the eXile, “Reagan’s Chersire Snarl.”

    That pretty much sums it up.

    • David Green March 9, 2016 at 11:01 am | #

      Thank you for the link. Growing up in West LA in the 1950s and attending UCLA in the late 60s, this resonates in many ways.

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