Saturday, June 18, 2016

Bob Garfield: We’ve Lost

Let’s start with the inconvenient fact that 13,300,472 Americans cast their primary votes for Donald Trump. Notwithstanding his recent popularity plunge, if polls are correct and the election were held today he’d still collect 40 percent of the vote. Which is in the neighborhood of 50 million. 

Fifty million — pulling the lever for a pathological liar, peddler of vile racist, misogynist, xenophobic ravings and sneering trampler of our most fundamental American values. Not to mention the Constitution, with which he seems unfamiliar. Not to mention a personality I’d call infantile

Taking heart at Donald Trump’s plummeting favorability numbers? You think he maybe finally jumped the shark by taking a victory lap over the Orlando massacre? You think the Republic is now safe? It isn’t. The Republic is already sick. It’s like we had a bad clam — a steady diet of bad clams - and the convulsions aren’t likely to stop soon.

Whether or not a particular martinet ignoramus wins the presidency in November, America and our idealized notion of it have been sullied forever. We thought we were sooooo special. e pluribus unum. “Give me your tired, your poor...” Equal protection under the law. The American Way. How we flaunted our exceptionalism and condescended to the lesser democracies, with their ugly nationalism and crappy militaries but our KFCs.

Old-world losers. Look at us! We’ve got ethnic news anchors and rainbow bumper stickers and chief diversity officers and female CEOs of dying tech companies. We’re practically a Benetton ad! Aren’t we something. Yes, we are something. We are self-deluding on a grand scale.

Let’s start with the inconvenient fact that 13,300,472 Americans cast their primary votes for Donald Trump. Notwithstanding his recent popularity plunge, if polls are correct and the election were held today he’d still collect 40 percent of the vote. Which is in the neighborhood of 50 million.

Fifty million — pulling the lever for a pathological liar, peddler of vile racist, misogynist, xenophobic ravings and sneering trampler of our most fundamental American values. Not to mention the Constitution, with which he seems unfamiliar. Not to mention a personality I’d call infantile, if I weren’t afraid of insulting infants. And tiles.

Fifty million Americans are for that. If you took those voters and laid them end to end around the circumference of Mars, you’d get no argument from me. Because to support Trump is to spit on the American flag and all it stands for.

But let’s just pretend for a moment that the 50 million number is deceiving, that just as there’s a structural unemployment rate that will never entirely vanish, there’s a structural disenchantment rate — ordinarily populated by the dumbest, the most gullible, the most irritable, the meanest, the hurtingest, the most selfish Americans — whose numbers swell during certain frightening moments in history. Such as war, economic recession, globalization and inequitable concentration of wealth along Gilded Age lines.

That’s the narrative we’re hearing in the press. The problem is, what’s happening now isn’t some transitory blip; it’s the culmination of a 40-year campaign, an incessant drumbeat of grievance against minority rights, gun control, same-sex marriage, secularization, tax-and-spend Big Government, climate hoax, “job killing” regulation, feminism and the rest of a sinister Liberal Agenda that amounts, of course, to tyranny.

Yes, Trump is riding a wave of resentment, but this isn’t a natural ocean, it’s a wave pool at a bizarro theme park, operated by the Heritage Foundation, the American Family Association, Fox News Channel, the NRA, Mark Levin, the Club for Growth, the American Enterprise Institute, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Breitbart and the Tea Party. Trump’s calumnies are little more than a “Best of” collection from the Great Rightwing Conspiracy.

Go back to 2012 and the last set of Republican primary candidates. Newt Gingrich called for the arrest of federal judges for “activist” decisions. Michele Bachmann denied the separation of church and state. Ron Paul said the United Nations was going to usurp American sovereignty and take away our guns, property and rights. Gingrich called the Obama administration “socialist” and Bachmann called it “gangster government. Rick Santorum said Obama “has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions.”

Sound familiar at all? It’s a never ending chorus, Ted Nugent-style.

Creeping extremism has defined deviancy way, way down. Remember 2004 when the Howard Dean caucus night “scream” got him painted as too excitable and undignified for high national office? Six years later, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle won 45 percent of the vote in her U.S. Senate race against Majority Leader Harry Reid, despite musing about armed insurrection against the government.

“I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”

In fairness, she did make her case for violent sedition in a pleasant, measured tone of voice.
And many of her Tea Party confederates, dog whistling similar sentiments, actually won their elections. What used to be the lunatic fringe is now called the House of Representatives. And what used to be at least controversial is now the mainstream. Today, today, three days after Trump painted the president as a terrorist conspirator, the chairman of the Republican National Committee tweeted this:

Flying to Dallas now with @realDonaldTrump...Reports of discord are pure fiction. Great events lined up all over Texas. Rs will win in Nov!

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, endorses Trump. His predecessor John Boehner endorses Trump. His former nomination rivals Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul endorse him. Senators John McCain, Orrin Hatch, and John Cornyn endorse him. Rupert Murdoch and the Wall Street Journal editorial page endorse him. Jerry Falwell Jr., the pastor of the Gospel, endorses him.

The penalty for inflaming the masses with hatred and lies turns out to be the blind loyalty of the very conservative establishment Trump loathes. (Sorry, fellas. Take a number.) The Party of No sees no evil, hears no evil. Meanwhile, his followers flock to his rallies, ecstatic in his thrall, and to the internet, portraying his political opponent as an anti-Christ. Because they fear for their American identity, because they fear for their sovereignty, because they fear for their majority, because they fear for their security and because someone must be blamed. Such as immigrants, women, Latinos, gays, experts, black presidents and the media.

Yes, like demagogues before him, he is making America grate again. Never mind that e pluribus unum and the Bill of Rights and the Pledge of Fucking Allegiance argue otherwise.

Twentieth century history, of course, teaches us the toll of scapegoating, from Nazi Germany to the Indian partition to Rwanda to ex-Yugoslavia. Pay attention. Today, just as Reince Priebus was tweeting his support of Donald Trump’s vision for America, a British member of parliament was being murdered for opposing Brexit, by a man who reportedly screamed “Britain first!” — because he too feared for his country’s identity, sovereignty, security and the rest.

Well, we can no longer cluck about those foreigners and their tribal hatreds. The melting pot has been turned down to simmer, and entrenched political powers are cultivating a seething army of nationalists. Tens of millions of them, and — because we are so exceptional — no doubt the best, angriest, most resentful nationalists in the world!

With access to 300 million guns. What will they do to make America great? Sharron Angle had some thoughts on that. So did Charleston Church shooter, the Kansas Jewish Center shooter, the Sikh Temple shooter, the Gabby Gifford shooter, the Planned Parenthood shooter and the Oklahoma City bombers.

Mind you, I am not predicting helter skelter. What I am saying is that I’m heartsick and ashamed to be forced to even contemplate it. But contemplate it we must, because the body politic has been poisoned and these nativist forces unleashed.

Maybe Trump will be humiliated in the general election. Maybe the quisling GOP will go down with him. But have no fear of that American society will be lowered in the process. That descent is long since underway.


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