Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Ugly Societal Antecedents That Gave Rise to Trump

Much as is occurring in France under the toxic candidacy of Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump rose to power from a combination of factors, including some of the long standing undercurrents in American society and the failure of America's political process to unmask an amoral, narcissistic, charlatan/ carnival barker  for what he is in fact.  The media with its misdirected desire for "balance" and false equivalency mindset bears much of the blame for the latter element of Trump's rise.  Of course, so too do the countless Republican "leaders" who put opportunism ahead of principle, morality and decency. As for the former element, it in many ways relates back to currents long present in America's history: racism and hatred toward those who are different be it in terms of skin color, sexual orientation, religion or national origin.  Sadly, "traditional American values" carry many elements that are dangerous and repellent to anyone who truly believes in the Gospel message.   Many do not want to face this truth - e.g., I was lambasted on Facebook for calling out the ugliness and hypocrisy of Christian Fundamentalists - due to either (i) their own prejudices or (ii) their lack of knowledge of accurate history.  A column in The Atlantic looks at both the historic antecedents of Trump and the need to correctly identify the elements of his rise to protect against it going forward.  Here are excerpts;
Perlstein’s three books—about Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan—depicted an American right that was morally and intellectually repellent: reactionary, racist, and rapacious. The election of Donald Trump, however, forced Perlstein to rethink and to realize that he had dangerously understated the case, and that the truth was even more appalling than anything he had yet dared to think or write.
I quote intermittently and in some cases a little out of context, but the cumulative effect gives an idea:
·        "America’s anti-liberal traditions were far more deeply rooted in the past, and far angrier, than most historians would acknowledge.”
·        "By reaching back to the reactionary traditions of the 1920s, we might better understand the alliance between the “alt-right” figures that emerged as fervent Trump supporters during last year’s election and the ascendant far-right nativist political parties in Europe.”
·        “Far-right vigilantism and outright fascism routinely infiltrated the mainstream of American life.”
·        “'Fascism had a very real presence in the U.S.A., comparable to that on continental Europe.”
Perlstein does himself one injustice in his essay. It’s not quite right that the rise of Donald Trump jolted him into a new appreciation of the Republican Party’s underlying fascism. He has been edging toward that accusation for years, to the increasing consternation of those who praised his first book.
It’s certainly true that the United States has noteworthy traditions of illiberalism and political violence. The 1920s suffered terrorist violence not only at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, but also those of anarchist bombers who maimed and killed hundreds of people from 1919 to 1921. From the Civil War to World War II, American labor relations were more violent than those of most other industrialized countries. Four presidents have been assassinated; four others—Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan—only narrowly survived or escaped a bullet. Race riots have ripped apart American cities for almost as long as there have been American cities.
Donald Trump’s campaign for president certainly drew much energy from this long tradition of political violence. . . . . So Perlstein is talking about something real. 
When conservatives want to rebut accusations of racism, they often deploy the talking point: The Ku Klux Klan—meaning the Klan of the 1860s and 1870s—was founded by Democrats. Rand Paul built a speech at Howard University on the claim; Dinesh D’Souza produced an entire documentary to illustrate it.
The “Democrats founded the Klan” talking point is, of course, literally true. But it’s not deployed in the service of truth. It’s designed as an excuse and an attack, not an explanation.
It’s an important question whether the success of Donald Trump—and the rise of similar authoritarian populists in France and elsewhere in Europe—is the recrudescence of something old or the appearance of something new. The more worried you are about Trump and Trumpism, the more urgent this question should be to you—because only the correct answer will lead to a wise response. . . . There’s little question that inter-ethnic animosity explains much about the 2016 vote. But it seems simply blind to pretend that these animosities straightforwardly carry over into 2016 the attitudes and patterns of almost a century ago.
The Second Klan of the 1920s originated in the Deep South, then rapidly spread after 1919 into the then most dynamic regions of the country: New York and Long Island; Detroit and Pittsburgh: Philadelphia and the anthracite Belt; the Pacific Northwest and Los Angeles. The Trump vote, by contrast, is concentrated in the least dynamic areas of the country. The 2,600 counties won by Trump produce only about one-third of America’s wealth. Trump did well where people suffer most from diabetes, and where opiate overdoses take most lives. The Second Klan offered a defiant cultural counter-revolution; the Trump vote could be seen as the despair of defeated people—something more like the William Jennings Bryan candidacies.
If this analysis is correct, then the appropriate source of concern for the American future is not Trump’s duped voters, but the politician who did the duping—and the story to tell is not that of the remorseless rise of fascism in the people, but the failure of popular institutions to resist and contain the ambitions and impulses of a charismatic authoritarian without a popular mandate.

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