Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mukul Kesavan: Waiting for the leader - Obama's presidency and the making of Donald Trump //Dan Roberts - #ThanksObama: president's greatest legacy may be Trumping of the GOP

... From Richard Nixon's 'southern strategy' onwards, the Grand Old Party had steadily devolved into a party of old, entitled, angry and fundamentalist white people. Its leaders worked at white consolidation; they dog-whistled their way through election campaigns, did their best to make it hard for blacks to vote, redistricted constituencies into unlikely shapes to create white pluralities and majorities and in this way, finessed the browning of America.

The challenge was to do this within the bounds of political respectability. George Bush and his son knew enough to make the right noises about race and faith ( aka blacks and Muslims), even as they brought in the harvest that Nixon had sown. They curated wars to mobilize constituencies that weren't available in peace time, and rode white panic into the White House. Their op-ed enablers, meanwhile, worked at preserving the illusion that the Republican Party represented an ideological conservatism based on Hayekian economics and small government politics when, in fact, it stood for an overlapping coalition of fundamentalist evangelicals, white retirees, southern states still nostalgic for the Confederacy and angry white working class communities stranded in deindustrialized towns, living out a rust-belt parody of the American dream and looking for someone to blame.

The electoral accident of 2000 that shoehorned George W. into office obscured the terminal decline of this truculent coalition; Bush's presidency was, if you like, the boor's last sigh. From this perspective, the war in Iraq was a diversionary manoeuvre in the service of a xenophobic nationalism that gave America not just the Patriot Act but a second Bush term. Bush's presidency is best seen as an aberration, an interregnum between Bill Clinton's presidency and Obama's eight years in office, a final Republican rearguard against demographic destiny.

If Hillary Clinton had won in 2008, the deranging of the GOP might have been deferred. As the wife of a president who moved the Democratic Party to the right, 'reformed' welfare and helped incarcerate ever larger numbers of African-Americans, Hillary's election might have passed for routine political alternation in a two-party system and disguised the secular decline of the Republican vote base. But she didn't; Obama did. The election of a black man called Barack with Hussein as his middle name, unhinged right-wing Americans.

The madness began with 'birtherism', the lunatic belief that Obama was a Muslim Manchurian candidate and not, in fact, American-born. 'Birtherism' was a species of white denial, a simple refusal to believe that a black man could have been legitimately elected president of the United States of America. It is not a coincidence that Donald Trump was a pioneering 'birther', a founding father of this ugly cult. Asked as late as 2013 about his absurd pursuit of Obama's birth certificate, he said, "I don't think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular... I do think I know what I'm doing." Given the nature of the Republican base and the current state of the primary race, he certainly does.

Eight years of Obama have stoked Republicans into such a white heat that dog-whistling doesn't do the trick any more: they are at a point when political authenticity comes with naming the enemy. Hence Trump. Pity Ted Cruz; this religious fanatic who has made a political career out of double-ticking every conservative box, languishes in the race as an insufficiently vile also-ran because he didn't have the nerve to call Mexicans rapists or ask for a complete ban on Muslims entering the country. Trump did.

Once he did, Cruz, Rubio, even Bush shuffled a few steps down that dark road, but as me-toos; the race to be the tribune of the angry, white, conservative people was over and Trump had won. He hasn't unloaded on blacks yet, but his constituency is ahead of him: according to the New York Times, YouGov data published in February this year showed that "[n]early 20 percent of Mr Trump's voters disagreed with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves in the Southern states during the Civil War."

Republican fellow travellers on op-ed pages are distraught. Deaf to the dog-whistling that had defined their preferred party's base for decades, they now wring their hands and excoriate Trump and accuse him of not being properly conservative... as if the Republican base were a constituency ordered by a set of ideological prescriptions untainted by racism.

Trump is a racist demagogue; ergo, his supporters - who are about to win him the Republican nomination - are racists or people happy to vote for a racist demagogue, which amounts to the same thing. We sometimes hesitate to call out the bigotry of a large bloc of voters because stigmatizing the many seems intolerant. It isn't; racism, like communal bigotry, is a temptation, not an inherited condition. People seduced by racist arguments are racists till they change their minds; to excuse their racism by gesturing at the complex life experiences that lead them to vote for the likes of Trump is to confuse understanding with absolution.

Obama didn't invent this constituency but his time as president was a standing provocation to a Republican base already enraged by economic decline, demographic diversity and a revolution in sexual mores. The sight of this charismatic but preternaturally calm black man persistently trying to change their country, turned a racially-tinged ressentiment into a rabid racism that was careless of political appearances and hungry for a leader who would channel it without dilution or apology. Enter Trump, tycoon, buffoon and stand-up bigot, urging the embittered rump of a once-great party to own its prejudices… Read more:

Trump’s shock ascendancy can be attributed to many factors. Obama himself likes to blame the celebrity-obsessed media. “This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show,” he chastised reporters on Friday. “This is a contest for the presidency of the United States.”

A self-flagellating Republican establishment accuses other candidates for the nomination of failing to take Trump’s populist threat seriously. “I think Donald Trump is going to places where very few people have gone and I’m not going with him,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, once a candidate himself, in the latest anti-Trump outburst to stretch party unity.

Yet one thing Trump supporters and Democrats agree on is the extent to which the party of Lincoln has been twisted out of recognition by its loathing for the current occupant of the White House. Amid bitter recriminations over Trump’s successful exploitation of this mood, many are wondering if the president’s greatest legacy may be the desolation of the Republican party, which did so much to frustrate his own time in office but may take decades to recover once he leaves...Read more: