I have intentionally avoided most of the many articles that have used the unsettling rise of Donald Trump as a Presidential contender to attack their favorite targets—talk radio, Republicans, Obama, the Tea Party, the “elites,” the news media, reality TV…it’s a long list. One of the few I did read was this one, by Peggy Noonan. Its main thesis:
“The unprotected came to think they owed the establishment—another word for the protected—nothing, no particular loyalty, no old allegiance. Mr. Trump came from that…What marks this political moment, in Europe and the U.S., is the rise of the unprotected. It is the rise of people who don’t have all that much against those who’ve been given many blessings and seem to believe they have them not because they’re fortunate but because they’re better….This is a terrible feature of our age—that we are governed by protected people who don’t seem to care that much about their unprotected fellow citizens. And a country really can’t continue this way.”
Yup. That’s how populist uprisings always start, and Noonan properly diagnosed this one. Still, it was neither pre-ordained nor necessary that the individual such a movement would unite around had to be such a dangerous, unstable and unworthy one, or that the citizens supporting him would display such complete absence of logic and responsibility.
Reading the debates between Trump supporters and detractors on various websites, I am reminded of the classic “Simpsons” episode where Springfield split into two warring factions, the Mensa group, and the anti-Mensa group. The latter was characterized by angry stupidity, and if a member made a logical and coherent argument against the astute and educated opposition, he would be instantly ejected with the cry, “You’re one of them!”
Herman Kahn, the futurist, used to say that even the best plans, organizations, and systems could be unsettled by “the 2% contingency of bad management or bad luck.” The United States has been very fortunate in its approximately 250 years’ experiment. Bismarck famously said that “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America,” and at times it has seemed that way. When the nation’s management failed, the U.S. has been astoundingly lucky. When it has been unlucky, brilliant leaders have been on hand to manage the problem. The Trump phenomenon illustrates the fact of existence that luck eventually runs out: so far, bad luck and bad management have joined forces to produce the threat of a Donald Trump presidency.
There are many people, groups and institutions responsible for Trump getting this far, and it is dishonest, incompetent and unfair to blame one without identifying the rest. Each was arguably essential to the chaotic mix, and thus nothing and no one deserves to be cited as “the” cause.
Here, in rough but not definitive particular order, are the main miscreants. I’ve limited myself to eleven, but the list could easily be longer.
1. Donald Trump: Trump’s candidacy itself was reckless and unethical. In 2011 I wrote why, and not one thing has changed in that time, except that in 2011 the other random catalysts that allowed him to thrive this time weren’t in place. Think of the United States political system as an individual with a compromised immunity system. When he was exposed to a disgusting fungus in 2011, he was healthy enough to throw it off, but now the fungus, in a second encounter, has run amok, infecting his brain and heart. Still, it is the same fungus. I wrote of it in 2011:
As the United States faces some of the most difficult challenges in its history, Trump has chosen to use the nation’s process of deciding on its leader for his own ego gratification and self-promotion, without preparation for the job, deference to fair campaign rhetoric, or acknowledgment of his own fatal flaws as a candidate. Exploiting his status as a media celebrity in a celebrity-besotted culture, as well as the news media’s lack of discipline or principle, he is opportunistically advancing his candidacy on the lack of credible GOP contenders, using tabloid headline tactics. …Ignoring the fact that the statements of high-profile presidential candidates have international consequences, his few policy positions have included reckless and irresponsible answers…Donald Trump is perfectly happy to make a mockery of the presidential nomination and election processes while distorting them too. If he manages to convince enough fools to vote for him, hell, sure…he’d have a blast running for President. If his run peters out, it’s still worth lots of publicity, and increases the value of the Trump “brand.” …[He]is intentionally appealing to the worst in 21st Century American character: fear, celebrity worship, ignorance, and materialism. Meanwhile, every second of attention his candidacy distracts from serious consideration of our nation’s leadership reduces the chances of the public doing its hardest and most important job carefully and competently.
2. Barack Obama: Presidents who abuse power typically cause the electorate pendulum to swing away from strong leadership, and the resulting weak leader reminds everyone that the United States does not do well under a flaccid, incompetent Chief Executive. Nixon begat Carter, who begat Reagan. Obama is as weak as Carter; a more incompetent manager, far more dishonest and divisive, and has had twice as much time to do serious damage to the country. The natural fear, anger and resentment such a poor (and arrogant) performance is bound to create in a large portion of the electorate has also been magnified by non-stop race-baiting from Obama’s party, supporters and the news media, all enabled and tacitly approved by Obama himself. It isn’t infuriating enough that the President can’t do his job and won’t make his appointees and subordinate do theirs—citizens, commentators and political figures who notice are called racists for doing so. Small wonder, then, that an uncivil boor who ignores basic dignity and will not shy from blunt assessments of political opponents has unusual appeal.
3. Hillary Clinton: The cynical emergence of one of the most unqualified, corrupt and dishonest candidates ever to have a strong chance of winning the White House, through the illogical but typical workings of human nature, made a repulsive candidate like Trump seem far less outrageous than he should have. She is the ultimate insider, and the ultimate ethics corrupter. Her invalid rationale for gaining power is built on a foundation of group identification regardless of proven ability—the formula that elected Obama—nepotism, in that her husband was, by comparison to his two successors, a skilled if disgraced leader (but disgraced in a way that progressive ideology deems acceptable), and cognitive dissonance run amuck: Obama’s reign has so ratcheted up the demonization of conservatives and Republicans that the mere fact of their fervent opposition, for they are uncharacteristically clear-eyed about Hillary Clinton’s deficits as a leader and a human being, makes her more attractive. Faced with the prospect of a compulsive liar and corrupt politician nor only becoming President but dragging the man who single-handedly made blow jobs “not sex” in junior high schools across America, many conservatives found their responsible objections to Trump subsumed by a Satanic bargain that holds that anyone is preferable to the lesser Clinton, and a Republican candidate most offensive to corrupted Clinton supporters may be the best way to defeat her. She has done nothing in her awful campaign to disprove this theory either.
4. Democrats. The party has spent almost eight years not merely opposing but denigrating and vilifying men, gun rights supporters, whites, law enforcement, the military, opponents of President Obama’s policies, college students, religious objection to abortion and gay marriage, the wealthy and successful, believers in American exceptionalism, and opponents of open borders and benefits for the children of illegal immigrants. It has used the news media, political correctness and indoctrination in schools and campuses to stifle free expression and political speech. Again, this opened the door for a loud-mouthed, intemperate boor like Trump, who appeared to be fighting for basic respect and fairness against a government and a progressive culture that was tending toward totalitarian controls.
5. Illegal immigration advocates. Without the long-running, inexcusable mendacity and mutual abdication of duty by both Republicans and Democrats regarding the U.S.’s suicidal, expensive, incompetent and unethical suspension of immigration laws and principles resulting in 12 million illegal residents who should not be here but cannot be removed, there would be no Donald Trump candidacy, even if all the other eleven factors were in play. I am tempted to write that if Trump did nothing else but stop the flow of illegals from Mexico and killed the odious “Dream Acts” which make law-breaking by Mexican parents appear to be a noble act of love, it would be worth putting up with all the other horribles a Trump Presidency would visit on our nation and culture. Sadly, it would be a bad bargain. Still, look at this story from the Los Angeles Times over the weekend:
A career smuggler nabbed while guiding four immigrants through the Otay Mountains last year was sentenced Friday to five years in prison.U.S. Border Patrol agents had caught Efrain Delgado Rosales with undocumented immigrants 23 times in less than 17 years, according to the U.S. attorney’s office….Federal prosecutors said agents have apprehended Delgado 24 times since 1999, and in all but one instance, he was found with at least two and up to 46 undocumented immigrants…
And if you have a problem with this, well, you’re just a xenophobic racist, that’s all. This is the refrain from the Obama administration, Democratic “sanctuary cities,” Hispanic-American activists and almost all of the news media. When I think about it, I can just feel my lizard brain trying to take control and make me support the one candidate who unequivocally opposes this conspiracy.
6. The Republican Party. For purely pragmatic reasons—you know, votes—the Republican Party has avoided open rejection of its dark side, which has become angrier and more active thanks to being poked in the eyes repeatedly by the stick of Obama’s arrogant policies and speeches. Oh, the Democrats have their dark side too—they are called anti-male feminists, militant gays, black racists, pacifists, isolationists, radical environmentalists, United States of America haters, classists, socialists and communists, but somehow the GOP loonies seem uglier, or at least are portrayed that way, since most journalists are progressives and Democratic Party apologists. They include anti-intellectuals, racists, white supremacists, bigots, misogynists, Christian extremists, theocrats, out-of-touch seniors who long for the moral standards of the Fifties and a lot of stupid people. They have always been lurking out there, but nobody thought a single candidate would get them all excited at once.
From a competence perspective, the Republican Party chose poorly by assuming that Trump would be a flashy attraction to get the party’s debates ratings and nothing more. Their approach could have “worked,” but because of all the other randomly colliding factors, didn’t. i will point out again, however, that I suggested at the very beginning that the party need to assert its integrity by formally rejecting Trump’s candidacy, as they could then with minimal mess. Now the party has to do it at the convention, if at all.
7. The Republican presidential candidates. It was not inevitable that none of the other candidates would be able to best Trump and emerge from the pack. They all made individual tactical decisions that combined to work to Trump’s advantage. Jeb Bush’s candidacy wasted time, attention and money. Marco Rubio, who had all the apparent ingredients of a successful challenger, proved that he lacked the character, determination, judgment and strength to be President. Chris Christie had the skills and credibility to eviscerate Trump in the debates, but chose to use those skills on Rubio instead. Bush, Trump’s main target initially, looked weak, and made Trump look strong. I pointed out—I would say “maintained,” except that I was right— in September of last year, when Trump was just rising, that a well-executed Joseph Welch-style take-down of Trump ( “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”) was necessary, and indeed mandatory. “If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are smart enough to be President,” I wrote.
8. The celebrity culture. This has been a progressive cancer on the American mind and in our culture for too long to track, but at some point it began doing irrevocable damage, with Trump being the first sharp pain of a maybe operable brain tumor. Reagan took advantage of it, and the two “rock star” Democratic Presidents, Clinton and Obama. Hillary’s much vaunted run as “the most admired woman” in polls has been entirely based on her celebrity and fame, not on anything she has done. American children grow up idolizing singers, actors and sports stars, and politicians decided that blurring the lines between their occupations and the glamorous ones was in their best interest. Was the Tipping point Tip O’Neil breaking with tradition and doing a commercial for luggage? Was it Bill Clinton playing the sax on Arsenio’s show? Congress calling actresses who played farmers to testify about farmers’ issues? Michelle Obama cavorting like Madonna with Jimmy Fallon? Fox and MSCBC creating a new revolving door between careers in politics and careers as TV show hosts? Was it Arnold? Was it reality TV? Maybe the Democratic smear that Ronald Reagan was “just an actor” (despite the fact that he was an experienced politician and two-term governor of California) backfired on everybody, with Reagan proving that “an actor” could be a successful and transformative leader too.
Whatever it was, today too many Americans see fame as virtue and celebrity as a proof of ability.
9. The liberal news media. You can google this topic and find endless indictments from the right and the left, all with some truths contained. Here are some recent ones from Esquire, New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Salon. Even these don’t properly hold the news media accountable for its complicity in creating the environment that has nourished Trump, in demonizing Obama critics, its biased reporting on illegal immigration (and its dishonest use of “immigration” to blur the vital distinction between the legal and illegal varieties), and other factors I have already noted.
First the news media gave Trump constant coverage and free exposure and publicity for being outrageous (Ratings!), then it used false equivalencies to minimize the substantive distinctions between him and his legitimate GOP opponents (since journalists regard one Republican as bad as another), and finally it was soft on Trump because liberal journalists see going through him as Hillary’s easiest path to power. None of this is ethical journalism, of course, but since 2008, the U.S. news media has become increasingly estranged from basic ethical principles like objectivity, fairness, competence, diligence, and integrity, especially during election cycles.
10. The conservative news media. Fox and especially conservative radio talk show hosts have been fueling resentment and anger against the political establishment in increasingly ugly and excessive terms for years, nurturing Trump’s core without suspecting whom it would rally behind. Sean Hannity regularly gave Trump fawning interviews; Mark Levin conditioned his audience with exactly the same kind of boorish, uncivil, low-brow hateful rhetoric that Trump revels in. Rush Limbaugh, to his undying shame, has chuckled over Trump’s rise upsetting “the drive-by media” and breaking through political correctness barriers, while refusing to condemn his obviously irresponsible and destructive candidacy.
Some of these same demagogues who have accused Barack Obama of trying to destroy the nation are rooting for Trump to destroy the Republican Party and the institution of the Presidency, because the current system didn’t block gay marriage, won’t deport 12 million illegals, and can’t seem to cut the budget. They are not the primary ingredients of the poison Trump cake, but they are the most sickening.
11. The education system. Our schools do not teach values; they do not teach history; they do not graduate students who understand the balance of powers, what a President does, or how to assess a potential leader. Civic and historical literacy aren’t even considered important goals. Donald Trump’s reasoning is almost always a rationalization, almost never a valid assessemnt of right and wrong, and our schools don’t teach critical thinking sufficiently for the average voter to know the difference. We have allowed the public to become too ignorant, lazy and stupid for democracy to function.