One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes

By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, Democracy & Government, November 10, 2017 http://billmoyers.com/story/one-year-later-political-cancer-metastasizes/

America was never what it had purported to be.

Excerpt…There will come a time, no doubt, when professional historians look back on these times and assess what happened to America, and I don’t think the assessment will be pretty. They will think of it as a period of national derangement, a time when America lost its bearings.

One year ago, Donald Trump, through the vicissitudes of our bizarre electoral system, beat Hillary Clinton… Trump’s victory broke with the idealism in America’s history, traditions and values. There was a feeling in some quarters that those of us who felt that way were being alarmist… You could hope that the Americans who supported Trump would come to their senses and that those who opposed him would create a countermovement. Happily, to some degree, that has indeed happened. …Many voters … enthused over Trump’s promise to destroy America as they had come to know it, which was the America of civility and tolerance and diversity, but also the America of elites and economic inequality and condescension.

That promise, however, was predicated on something else: that having blown up the country, Trump’s demolition would rediscover the old America underneath…About the only thing he is likely to accomplish is a massive tax redistribution from the middle class to the upper classes, under the guise of “tax cuts,”…

After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade. No, America was never what it had purported to be. The idealism was always better in theory than in practice. We were always too self-congratulatory, too fixated on American exceptionalism, on ideas like The Greatest Generation, overlooking a fundamental fissure.

That fissure opened because the country was formed over conflicting concepts of freedom and equality. We like to think of ourselves as champions of equality: a tolerant, charitable, compassionate egalitarian people, showing one another respect and decency, and sometimes we are. This is, I believe, the very foundation of American liberalism. But we also like to think of ourselves as free from constraints, independent and self-sufficient, less concerned with compassion than with what we regard as personal justice. This, I believe, is the foundation of American conservatism.

Throughout our history, these two forces have continually vied with one another and at best tempered one another. The country operates in a kind of equilibrium between community and individualism, between sacrifice and self-interestedness. Trump has upset that equilibrium. By foreswearing equality entirely, he turned us from a community into, as many observers are now saying, a group of tribes, each focused only on its own prerogatives. Trump turned us against one another. He created a new, cold civil war between an expiring America where freedom was paramount and an ascending one where equality was paramount. He arrested history… His tweets are aimed squarely against immigrants and minorities who he believes have stolen the country away from the white Americans (white male Americans) who rightfully should control this country…. He has stressed might over morality. In short, his is the authoritarian playbook.

…. It is the single most radical political change, I believe, in the country’s history.

So the idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel…We cannot and should not ignore that nearly 40 percent of Americans — basically the entire Republican Party — will walk in lockstep with him wherever he leads. That should terrify us…. Trump, while no genius, certainly realizes how little he has to do to redeem himself just enough to keep his hate crusade afloat…That is also from the authoritarian playbook. Egomaniacs don’t care about other people’s lives.

I wrote here a year ago that there would be no coming back from this — that no matter what happened subsequently, we had crossed a threshold… the country is damaged, its values are damaged and repair will be a long time coming, if ever.

Trumpism now owns that dark and malignant strain in American life that has long sabotaged the ideals we prefer to celebrate ….White supremacists are not likely to forget that one of their hatemongers took the presidency…We can enjoy Tuesday’s triumphs as a rebuff to Trump, which they most certainly were. We can and must remain vigilant to contain the malignancy. Still, we cannot erase the fact that Trump’s rampage has left our country deeply wounded, perhaps fatally. He blew up America. A year later, there is no great old America underneath for the Trump-supporting nostalgists. There is instead rubble. And he is not done yet.

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One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, November 10, 2017

America was never what it had purported to be.

Exactly one day short of one year after the election of Donald Trump, the fog finally seemed to lift and the skies brightened. On Tuesday, voters rejected Trumpism in New Jersey and in Virginia, where establishment Republican Ed Gillespie embraced Trump’s racism and nativism, indicating how deeply the president’s poison has penetrated even the precincts of the party that should be vigorously in opposition to it.

In Maine, voters approved an expansion of Medicaid that their right-wing governor had rejected several times. In Washington state, Democrats won the upper house of the legislature. Meanwhile, GOP members of Congress are deserting the ship, one by one. As Steve Bannon marshals his “alt-right” forces to defeat mainstream Republicans, his primary candidates may be so far off the political spectrum next year that they could derail the Republicans’ Senate hopes. Across the board, Democratic prospects in 2018 look promising, if the Democrats don’t manage to screw things up, which is a very big if.

And yet, before anyone gets too sanguine, consider where we are. There will come a time, no doubt, when professional historians look back on these times and assess what happened to America, and I don’t think the assessment will be pretty. They will think of it as a period of national derangement, a time when America lost its bearings.

One year ago, Donald Trump, through the vicissitudes of our bizarre electoral system, beat Hillary Clinton, and one year ago I wrote a valedictory to the America I had known and loved, quoting lines from W.H. Auden’s September 1, 1939, in which he described the cataclysm of Hitler’s armies marching into Poland and launching World War II. America had flirted with disaster in the past, but we prided ourselves on not having succumbed to it, save with the Civil War. Somehow alleged good sense and solid institutions kept us from going over the precipice. Somehow.

And then, last Nov. 8, we did.

I wrote then of the peril the nation faced, of the way Trump’s victory broke with the idealism in America’s history, traditions and values. There was a feeling in some quarters that those of us who felt that way were being alarmist — that Trump would either normalize himself to fit the contours of our politics or that he would be normalized by the inhibitions of American democracy, where inertia exerts far more power than movement, especially since the great divide between the conservatives and liberals. You could hope that the disruption Trump represented would be mild, and it would be brief. You could hope that the Americans who supported Trump would come to their senses and that those who opposed him would create a countermovement.

Happily, to some degree, that has indeed happened. Even before Tuesday, recent polls showed a sense of buyer’s remorse. Many voters no doubt had felt glee at upending the applecart of modern America, and they enthused over Trump’s promise to destroy America as they had come to know it, which was the America of civility and tolerance and diversity, but also the America of elites and economic inequality and condescension.

After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade.

That promise, however, was predicated on something else: that having blown up the country, Trump’s demolition would rediscover the old America underneath. Trump was supposed to be a political archeologist, digging down to another epoch. He was supposed to restore America to a halcyon past of white supremacy, on the one hand, and populism, on the other.

But Trump has betrayed that promise, even as he continues to give lip service to it. About the only thing he is likely to accomplish is a massive tax redistribution from the middle class to the upper classes, under the guise of “tax cuts,” which is something any old establishment Republican could have accomplished. In short, as a policymaker, Trump is less than nil, and that probably wouldn’t matter much to his supporters, who really don’t give a damn about policy, if it weren’t for the fact that Trump sold himself as a doer, and he is also nil there.

Still, that is just policy. Trump’s real accomplishment goes far deeper and is far more destructive than his attempts to repeal Obamacare or revoke environmental protections or banking regulations or any of the other dozens of things he has tried to do and sometimes did. After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade. No, America was never what it had purported to be. The idealism was always better in theory than in practice. We were always too self-congratulatory, too fixated on American exceptionalism, on ideas like The Greatest Generation, overlooking a fundamental fissure.

That fissure opened because the country was formed over conflicting concepts of freedom and equality. We like to think of ourselves as champions of equality: a tolerant, charitable, compassionate egalitarian people, showing one another respect and decency, and sometimes we are. This is, I believe, the very foundation of American liberalism. But we also like to think of ourselves as free from constraints, independent and self-sufficient, less concerned with compassion than with what we regard as personal justice. This, I believe, is the foundation of American conservatism.

Throughout our history, these two forces have continually vied with one another and at best tempered one another. The country operates in a kind of equilibrium between community and individualism, between sacrifice and self-interestedness. Trump has upset that equilibrium. By foreswearing equality entirely, he turned us from a community into, as many observers are now saying, a group of tribes, each focused only on its own prerogatives. Trump turned us against one another. He created a new, cold civil war between an expiring America where freedom was paramount and an ascending one where equality was paramount. He arrested history.

When he is called the “divider-in-chief,” the label goes beyond his incendiary rhetoric to a zero-sum blame game. Whatever ails his supporters, he says, is the result of someone having taken something from them. His tweets are aimed squarely against immigrants and minorities who he believes have stolen the country away from the white Americans (white male Americans) who rightfully should control this country.

He nurses grievances, he advances conspiracy theories, he exacerbates angers, he scapegoats. He has opened wounds that had taken a century to begin to heal. And globally, he has given the middle finger to the rest of the world while lowering the nation’s standing and offending our allies while embracing our biggest enemy. He has stressed might over morality. In short, his is the authoritarian playbook.

The idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel.

A recent article in The Boston Globe looking at divisions in York, Pennsylvania, provides a powerful microcosm of how thoroughly Trump has splintered this country in only a year. He may not be the cause of this change, only its product. But no major candidate in any major party ever provided the opportunity he has to loose these divisions and ignite these hatreds.

I think of Trump’s America as a kind of Opposite Day — the game we played in grammar school where everything said was interpreted as the opposite. In a remarkably Orwellian fashion, Trump has taken whatever was good in this country and said and did the opposite. Nothing is what it used to be. Everything seems turned inside out. That is the country in which we now live. It is the single most radical political change, I believe, in the country’s history.

So the idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel. Those few who speak out against him, like Jeff Flake, only do so when they know they cannot win a primary against a Trump-backed candidate. Failure emboldens them. The others pretend to ignore him when it comes to legislation, but they know that while Trump is ignorant of and less than engaged with policy — all he wants are victories, regardless of policy — he is the electoral 800-pound gorilla in Republican primaries.

Rank-and-file Republicans still love him, not because of any ideological affinities but because of their emotional ones. We cannot and should not ignore that nearly 40 percent of Americans — basically the entire Republican Party — will walk in lockstep with him wherever he leads. That should terrify us.

Moreover, Trump, while no genius, certainly realizes how little he has to do to redeem himself just enough to keep his hate crusade afloat. We have already seen how the media practically canonized him for shooting some missiles at Syria, or how they gave him kudos for seeming to make a budget deal with Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Trump dread is so deep in most of the country that even his refraining from tweeting for a few days would raise his stock and elicit praise that he was now “presidential.” Similarly, as I have written here, a war against North Korea would make him a short-term hero in many quarters and would certainly rally much of the country behind him. That is also from the authoritarian playbook. Egomaniacs don’t care about other people’s lives.

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1 One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes
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5 Farewell, America

I wrote here a year ago that there would be no coming back from this — that no matter what happened subsequently, we had crossed a threshold. Once you know that those old institutions won’t inhibit a leader who hired Michael Flynn, a Russian acolyte, as his national security adviser (!), who threatens the press, who enriches himself in direct violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, who promotes white supremacism, who insults government professionals, including members of his own Cabinet, declaring, “I am the only one who matters,” or who… well, you know the litany. You also know that the country is damaged, its values are damaged and repair will be a long time coming, if ever.

Trumpism now owns that dark and malignant strain in American life that has long sabotaged the ideals we prefer to celebrate on the 4th of July, at Thanksgiving, and with stanzas of the national anthem and every salute of the flag. What we have learned this year is that Trumpism is now a permanent part of our polity. White supremacists are not likely to forget that one of their hatemongers took the presidency. This Trump cancer may be only a few aberrant cells, but it is a permanent feature of our body politic, threatening to metastasize, even if he is deposed.

We can enjoy Tuesday’s triumphs as a rebuff to Trump, which they most certainly were. We can and must remain vigilant to contain the malignancy. Still, we cannot erase the fact that Trump’s rampage has left our country deeply wounded, perhaps fatally. He blew up America. A year later, there is no great old America underneath for the Trump-supporting nostalgists. There is instead rubble. And he is not done yet.

The Banal Belligerence of Donald Trump

By Roger Cohen, New York Times, 1/24/17 

Americans will have to fight for their civilization and the right to ask why.

Trump’s outrageous claims have a purpose: to destroy rational thought. When Primo Levi arrived at Auschwitz he reached, in his thirst, for an icicle outside his window but a guard snatched it away. “Warum?” Levi asked (why?). To which the guard responded, “Hier ist kein warum” (here there is no why). As the great historian Fritz Stern observed, “This denial of ‘why’ was the authentic expression of all totalitarianism, revealing its deepest meaning, a negation of Western civilization.” Americans are going to have to fight for their civilization and the right to ask why against the banal belligerence of Trump.

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The soldiers, millions of them, came home from the war. They dispersed across the country, in big towns and small. It was not easy to recount what had happened to them, and for the dead it was impossible.

Something in the nature of their sacrifice was unsayable. The country was not especially interested. War had not brought the nation together but had divided it. The sudden flash, the boom, the acrid stench and utter randomness of death were as haunting as they were incommunicable.

This was war without victory, the kind that invites silence. For the soldiers, who fought in the belief that their cause was right and their nation just, the silence was humiliating. They bore their injuries, visible and invisible, with stoicism.

Resentments accumulated. The years went by, bringing only mediocrity. Glory and victory were forgotten words. Perhaps someone might mutter, “Thank you for your service.” That was it. There was no national memorial, for what would be memorialized?

Savings evaporated overnight in an economic meltdown engineered by financiers and facilitated by the abolishers of risk.

Democracy, the great diluter, slow and compromised, was inadequate for the expression of the soldiers’ emotions. Reasonable leaders with rational arguments could not assuage the loss. They seemed to belittle it with their parsing of every question and their half-decisions.

No, what was needed was a leader with answers, somebody to marshal a popular movement and cut through hesitations, a strongman who would put the nation first and mythologize its greatness, a figure ready to scapegoat without mercy, a unifier giving voice to the trampled masses, a man who could use democracy without being its slave.

Over 15 years national embitterment festered and yearning intensified. But which 15 years? Anyone these days may be forgiven for moments of disorientation. The 15 years from the devastating German defeat of 1918 to the electoral victory (with 43.9 percent of the vote) of Adolf Hitler in 1933? Or the 15 years from the devastating 9/11 attack on the United States to the electoral victory (with 46.1 percent of the vote) of Donald Trump in 2016?

National humiliation is long in gestation and violent in resolution.

German soldiers, two million of them killed in the Great War, came home to fractious and uneasy democratic politics, the ignominy of reparations, the hyperinflation of the early 1920s, the crash of 1929, and the paralysis of a political system held hostage by the extremes of left and right.

Some 2.7 million American soldiers came home to a country that had been shopping while they served in the Afghan and Iraqi wars, with 6,893 killed and more than 52,000 injured. They returned to an increasingly dysfunctional and polarized polity; to the financial disaster of 2008; to the mystery of what the spending of trillions of dollars in those wars had achieved; to stagnant incomes; to the steady diminishment of American uniqueness and the apparent erosion of its power.

Every American should look at the map in Kael Weston’s powerful book, “The Mirror Test.” It shows, with dots, the hometowns of U.S. service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. No state is spared. The map should be hung in classrooms across the country.

I have tried to tread carefully with analogies between the Fascist ideologies of 1930s Europe and Trump. American democracy is resilient. But the first days of the Trump presidency — whose roots of course lie in far more than the American military debacles since 9/11 — pushed me over the top. The president is playing with fire.

To say, as he did, that the elected representatives of American democracy are worthless and that the people are everything is to lay the foundations of totalitarianism. It is to say that democratic institutions are irrelevant and all that counts is the great leader and the masses he arouses. To speak of “American carnage” is to deploy the dangerous lexicon of blood, soil and nation. To boast of “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before” is to demonstrate consuming megalomania. To declaim “America first” and again, “America first,” is to recall the darkest clarion calls of nationalist dictators. To exalt protectionism is to risk a return to a world of barriers and confrontation. To utter falsehood after falsehood, directly or through a spokesman, is to foster the disorientation that makes crowds susceptible to the delusions of strongmen.

Trump’s outrageous claims have a purpose: to destroy rational thought. When Primo Levi arrived at Auschwitz he reached, in his thirst, for an icicle outside his window but a guard snatched it away. “Warum?” Levi asked (why?). To which the guard responded, “Hier ist kein warum” (here there is no why).

As the great historian Fritz Stern observed, “This denial of ‘why’ was the authentic expression of all totalitarianism, revealing its deepest meaning, a negation of Western civilization.”

Americans are going to have to fight for their civilization and the right to ask why against the banal belligerence of Trump.

 

The U.S. is the World’s Biggest Bully; And You Wonder Why Bully Trump Is Popular Among Some Americans

By Charles Derber and Yale Magrass, Truthout, Alternet, May 19, 2016

GOP leaders secretly admire and envy his power as a bully.

Donald Trump’s flagrant bullying — much denounced even by the Republican Party establishment, with both President Bushes refusing to endorse him – is no sign that he will lose the presidential nomination or election. The dirty secret is that GOP leaders secretly admire and envy his power as a bully. Worse, Trump’s bullying resonates not only with his hardcore supporters, but also to many in the elite classes and much of the population.

There has been endless elite and media bemoaning of Trump as a bully. Much of this misses the key point and is hypocritical, for Trump’s bullying is largely a reflection of the establishment’s own bullying and the centrality of bullying in our culture and society.

The mainstream media and party establishments say, “Isn’t it terrible that Trump is such a bully?” Many ordinary people say the same thing. But the truth is that Trump’s bullying is a deep part of US culture. If we look honestly in the mirror, we will likely see some reflection of Trump. This is especially true of the political and media establishments, who present themselves as being civil and anything but bullies.

The inconvenient truth is that bullying is embedded in our culture, our governing elites and our most powerful institutions: the military, the corporation and the state. Whatever our personal values, we all live in a bullying society — militarized capitalism — and must learn to play by its rules.

Many GOP leaders genuinely want to stop Trump. His threats of “riots,” his egging on of supporters to punch out protesters at rallies and the death threats by Trump’s most hardcore followers to wavering Republican delegates represent extreme bullying that is dangerous, because it threatens to expose the disguised bullying built into the Republican Party and the kind of capitalism and militarism it embraces.

The Republican Party’s neoconservative establishment embraces a global militarism that threatens and bullies all nations opposing US interests. And it embraces an unfettered, neoliberal capitalism with few restraints on corporations bullying workers and consumers. But these policies are packaged in moral ideals about preserving freedom and American exceptionalism. High-flown rhetoric hides the underlying GOP establishment’s commitment to institutionalized bullying. Although Trump preaches many of the same values, with a pledge to “make America great again,” he is embarrassingly explicit in his embrace of xenophobia, nativism and even torture.

Trump’s overt bullying threatens not just Republican leaders, but leaders of both party establishments because it draws attention to the subtler bullying that is commonplace within both parties. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, who could easily be described as the “Pentagon’s favorite Democrat,” is more hawkish than many generals. She favored the war in Iraq, the intervention in Libya, no-fly zones in Syria where Russian planes fly and more ground troops in the Middle East. She bullies domestically when she meets behind closed doors to raise millions of dollars from Wall Street and the oil industry, who need her support for fracking and oil drilling. The companies bully her in return, withdrawing funds if she interferes with their power and profit.

It is crucial to elites that their bullying be disguised as a legitimate practice that serves beneficent purposes. Faith in their rule can be maintained only if most of the population sees national militarism and corporate power not as bullying, but as “moral intervention” in the case of the military, and “protecting the good or efficient operation of the market” in the case of capitalism.

The common wisdom is that Trump’s bullying power is attractive only to his downwardly mobile and authoritarian white working-class male supporters. But when he makes bullying statements or threats toward women, people with disabilities, gay people, people of color, Muslims and whole countries, such as China and Mexico, he is saying what many within the elite — and many ordinary citizens — really think, but are hesitant to say publicly.

There is a great deal of ambivalence in the general public. Many Americans have begun to embrace an anti-bullying culture. This counterculture is particularly strong among groups such as women, LGBTQ people and people of color, who are frequently subject to systemic bullying. And many teachers at all levels of the education system endorse the anti-bullying culture and critique bullying’s authoritarian undertones.

But even these Americans still have to live in the existing system and must abide by its rules. Generals and soldiers alike have to embrace the bullying code of the military, learning to view state violence as “moral heroism.” Likewise, workers and managers seeking to survive and succeed in a corporate culture — and even supervisors in schools — cannot be sentimental about the use and abuse of power. Threats to workers, competitors and colleagues are part of the game, and those who can’t live by bullying often lose out.

Trump’s extreme bullying offends large groups that he targets, but the power he wins and projects is secretly admired by many, even those who would never vote for him. The doublethink of the GOP establishment is present in various forms throughout much of the population. Trump is too extreme for the majority to openly accept, and many will never vote for him. But there is a barely concealed recognition and admiration of how he is openly playing out a hidden code of bullying embedded deep in our culture and our dominant national institutions.

January 2016 poll of 1,689 working-class voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania by Working America, a labor group, showed that Trump was the favored candidate, getting more support than Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders combined. The reasons were less related to his policies than what one respondent called his “pugnacious personality.”

The nation will be in danger of “Trumpism” until we change the system that the establishment runs. We need to build a new, more democratic economy, end militarism and reject the authoritarianism of a bullying culture. Trumpism is just the visible tip of the bullying that drives our core institutions and culture.

Through his unvarnished bullying, Trump inadvertently begins to reveal the “civil bullying” built into our national institutions and everyday life. When people and pundits ask why such a bully has won so much power and so many votes, it can open up a discussion about the real nature and roots of bullying.

That conversation could be transformative. If led by progressive teachers, media and social movements seeking to end systemic economic and political violence in all forms, it may help transform the nation’s hidden system of bullying.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

Charles Derber and Yale Magrass are authors of the just-published book, Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society.

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/us-worlds-biggest-bully-and-you-wonder-why-bully-trump-popular-among-some-americans?akid=14283.125622.btbpM9&rd=1&src=newsletter1056948&t=6

By Trying To Destroy President Obama, The GOP Ended-Up Destroying Itself

By Richard Wolffe, THE INTELLECTUALIST, The Guardian, August 10, 2016

Excerpt

…[President Barack Obama] can thank the freak show that is Donald Trump’s Republican party for restoring his stature as a unifying, national leader with a moderated and mature approach to a complex and unstable world.

Eight years ago, Obama represented an existential threat to the Republican party, and not just because he was going to lead the Democratic party to win the White House and Congress by large margins. No, Obama’s biggest threat was that he could realign American politics, shifting it fundamentally towards progressives for a generation…With his appeal to independents and moderate Republicans, Obama could break the Republican party as a national force. With his appeal to minority voters – a rapidly emerging majority across the country – he could lock in the fastest growing demographics that could turn red states blue.

So the GOP leadership chose to make Obama unacceptable, unpalatable and un-American. On the night of his first inauguration, House Republican leaders met at a Washington steakhouse to plot their path back to power. They would not reform their policies or consider the root cause of their defeat. Instead, they would oppose Obama on everything, well before he tried to pass a giant stimulus bill or healthcare reform.

They needed to deny him a reputation for bipartisanship and mainstream politics, and they succeeded…The party of Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Roger Ailes had turned him into their own kind of freak. Before he finished his second year in office, Obama was such an object of Republican loathing that the Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell could say – with impunity – that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” If your political priorities are the total defeat of a single politician – not the advancement of your own policies through debate or legislation – then you are already in pretty desperate shape. You render it impossible to compromise with your opponents, and you fan the flames of extremism that will burn anyone in the center.

You also look weak and foolish when you lose, surrendering the stage to someone who can vilify his opponents better than you. So don’t look dazed and confused at Donald Trump when he runs your playbook more convincingly than your own team. It’s too late to fret about endorsing his kooky positions … when they are only logical extensions of your own..

 

 

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It may seem too early to call, but we already have a winner in the 2016 election.

He’s someone the pundits wrote off long ago. An improbable outsider who rode an insurgent wave to snatch the nomination from the establishment. An unconventional politician whose raucous rallies underscored his appeal to voters far outside his party base.

His name is Barack Obama. And he can thank the freak show that is Donald Trump’s Republican party for restoring his [Barack Obama] stature as a unifying, national leader with a moderated and mature approach to a complex and unstable world.

Eight years ago, Obama represented an existential threat to the Republican party, and not just because he was going to lead the Democratic party to win the White House and Congress by large margins.

No, Obama’s biggest threat was that he could realign American politics, shifting it fundamentally towards progressives for a generation. He and his campaign aides talked privately of being the Reagan of the left: a transformative figure who would leave an indelible legislative mark at home and restore America’s position on the world stage.

With his appeal to independents and moderate Republicans, Obama could break the Republican party as a national force. With his appeal to minority voters – a rapidly emerging majority across the country – he could lock in the fastest growing demographics that could turn red states blue.

So the GOP leadership chose to make Obama unacceptable, unpalatable and un-American. On the night of his first inauguration, House Republican leaders met at a Washington steakhouse to plot their path back to power. They would not reform their policies or consider the root cause of their defeat. Instead, they would oppose Obama on everything, well before he tried to pass a giant stimulus bill or healthcare reform.

They needed to deny him a reputation for bipartisanship and mainstream politics, and they succeeded. He wasn’t reasonable; he was an ideologue. His vision of healthcare reform wasn’t a free-market system based on Republican plans; it was a socialist takeover that would destroy the American way of life. He was inviting terrorist attacks on the homeland, not hunting down Osama bin Laden. He was acting in unconstitutional ways because he wasn’t really American at all.

The party of Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Roger Ailes had turned him into their own kind of freak.

Before he finished his second year in office, Obama was such an object of Republican loathing that the Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell could say – with impunity – that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

If your political priorities are the total defeat of a single politician – not the advancement of your own policies through debate or legislation – then you are already in pretty desperate shape. You render it impossible to compromise with your opponents, and you fan the flames of extremism that will burn anyone in the center.

 

 

 

 

 

Elections 2016

It’s so much worse than Trump: The history of the modern GOP is a history of racism, bigotry and dog whistles By Phillip Cryan, salon.com,  Apr 5, 2016 The party of Lincoln? Sure, in 1858. Today’s GOP wants to pretend Trump is an outlier. They should look in a mirror…The denunciations are piling in. Not just Democrats and independents but countless Republican elected officials, pundits and party activists have announced their opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy for president in loud, clear, impassioned terms. It’s about time. Without question, Trump’s rise represents a frightening development in U.S. politics. While there are many reasons to fear a Trump presidency, the one most frequently cited, and rightly so, is his – and more importantly, his millions of supporters’ – embrace of open bigotry and misogyny…

It’s Time for a Second American Revolution by Jill Stein, Counterpunch.org, July 4, 2016 http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/04/its-time-for-a-second-american-revolution/…The 2016 Presidential election provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to win independence from the rule of the 1%. …A movement for democracy and justice is sweeping the planet – from Occupy Wall Street to anti-austerity uprisings and the Black Lives Matter movement. People are rising up to halt the neoliberal assault, calling for an America and a world that works for all of us….People are realizing that if we want to fix the rigged economy, the rigged racial injustice system, the rigged energy system and more, we must also fix the rigged political system….It is long past time to extend the concept of democracy to our economy. The economic dictatorship of the wealth-owning class needs to be replaced with an economic democracy where the people making up the economy decide how the economy works…

The Eight Causes of Trumpism

by Norm Ornstein, The Atlantic, Jan 4, 2016

Excerpt

However the Republican presidential primary turns out, the conditions that fostered the mogul’s rise have left their mark on the party—and America….In some ways, the most interesting political story of 2015 was not Donald Trump but the widespread pundit reaction to Trump… …But who is responsible for the rise of Trumpism? What caused the crippling migraine headaches now afflicting the toughly pragmatic conservative-establishment wing of the GOP? Here are the people and institutions who played a role—however deliberate, unwitting, or inadvertent—in laying the groundwork for Trumpism to flourish in America:… The willful suspension of disbelief by so many political professionals and analysts had multiple roots… Those roots remain resilient in the punditocracy and political community. They were and are wrong. Both Trump and a broader phenomenon—call it Trumpism—are stronger and deeper than most veteran political analysts realized or were willing to acknowledge. They are neither immediate nor transitory phenomena. The disdain for the status quo, for authority figures of both parties and other institutions, and the anger at inexorable changes in society, are real, enduring, and especially deep on the Republican side. Ideology forms a significant part of that anger, but it transcends much of the predictable divide between liberals conservatives….

Full text

However the Republican presidential primary turns out, the conditions that fostered the mogul’s rise have left their mark on the party—and America.

In some ways, the most interesting political story of 2015 was not Donald Trump but the widespread pundit reaction to Trump. Throughout the year, until a different conclusion became unavoidable, the expert consensus was that Trump was a single day or one inflammatory statement away from self-destruction, that his ceiling of support was 25 percent of Republicans at most, and even that was transitory. Another theme was that once Republican primary and caucus voters saw that Trump was anything but a true conservative—given his past support for a single-payer health-care system, his insistence on taxing the rich, and his contributions to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton—he would collapse.

The willful suspension of disbelief by so many political professionals and analysts had multiple roots. One part was a deep belief that history rules—since rogue and inexperienced candidates had always faltered before, it followed that it would happen again. Another was that nothing has changed in a meaningful way in American politics—there has not been real polarization, only natural “sorting,” and the establishment will rule, as it always does. A third was that there are certain characteristics expected of a president—prudence, civility, expertise—that would eventually cause Trump and the other outsiders like Carson, Cruz, and Fiorina to fall by the wayside.

Those roots remain resilient in the punditocracy and political community. They were and are wrong. Both Trump and a broader phenomenon—call it Trumpism—are stronger and deeper than most veteran political analysts realized or were willing to acknowledge. They are neither immediate nor transitory phenomena. The disdain for the status quo, for authority figures of both parties and other institutions, and the anger at inexorable changes in society, are real, enduring, and especially deep on the Republican side. Ideology forms a significant part of that anger, but it transcends much of the predictable divide between liberals conservatives. And even if neither Trump nor Cruz—who also channels much of the Trumpist message and approach—win a presidential nomination, it will persist, and contend for primacy in the GOP, well beyond 2016.

For the past several months, every poll has shown outsider candidates, either those vigorously attacking their own leaders and other societal elites or those having no experience at all in politics or governance, garnering over 60 percent support from Republican voters. The main insider, establishment figures hover at around 20 percent support. And of course, the most outsider, populist, and bombastic among them, Donald Trump, has led the field in the vast majority of national polls—and in most state polls, as well.

At the same time, Freedom Caucus members, the most conservative in Congress, were attacked from the right for supporting Paul Ryan as speaker—a man who is by far the most conservative speaker of the House in history. And probably the second most conservative speaker, John Boehner, was hounded from office for not being radical and tough enough.

But who is responsible for the rise of Trumpism? What caused the crippling migraine headaches now afflicting the toughly pragmatic conservative-establishment wing of the GOP? Here are the people and institutions who played a role—however deliberate, unwitting, or inadvertent—in laying the groundwork for Trumpism to flourish in America:

Newt Gingrich

From the day he arrived in Washington following his election to the House in 1978, Newt Gingrich had a strategy to create a Republican majority in the House—something that had not happened since 1954. His strategy eventually worked. Unfortunately, it also wrought immense collateral damage. Newt worked to nationalize congressional elections to reduce the advantage enjoyed by individual incumbents—and to create a climate in which Americans would be so disgusted with Congress that they would say, collectively, “Anything would be better than this.” He wanted them to throw the In Party out and bring the Out Party in.

That meant a long campaign to delegitimize Congress, politics, and politicians, and to provoke the Democratic majority to overreact, thereby alienating even moderate Republicans in Congress and uniting them against the evil Democrats. A series of scandals, real and not-so-real, including the House Bank and post office, helped. His campaign included using ethics charges as a political weapon, resulting in the resignation of Speaker Jim Wright, reinforcing the image of a scandal-ridden, insular and out-of-touch majority.

It took 16 years for Gingrich to succeed. A Democratic president provided his key. For Bill Clinton’s first two years, Gingrich and his allies worked to demonize and delegitimize Clinton, and at the same time helped House Republicans coalesce into a unified opposition from the beginning to the Clinton agenda. That made Clinton’s policy efforts a huge strain, eventually killing his signature health-reform plan. The bitter messiness—government as a scandal-plagued partisan mud battle—set up Republicans for a huge midterm election in 1994. Newt won and became speaker, although Democrats almost brought him down with a set of ethics charges that evoked those he had used against Jim Wright. Along the way, his strategy also brought with it a deeply damaged image of Congress and alienation from government, sharply enhanced partisan enmity and rancor, and tribalized politics. Gingrich assumed that when he became speaker, he could co-opt the radical outsiders he brought with him to Washington. It never happened. Their disdain for Washington, government, and Congress continued, even during their majority status. And, as Sean Theriault writes in The Gingrich Senators, many of them migrated to the Senate, making its culture more partisan and combative.

There was another Gingrich effect. One of Newt’s first acts as speaker was to get rid of the highly professional, nonpartisan Office of Technology Assessment, Congress’s scientists who could use their expertise to inform lawmakers and adjudicate differences based on scientific fact and data. The elimination of OTA was the death knell for nonpartisan respect for science in the political arena, both changing the debate and discourse on issues like climate change, and also helping show in the contemporary era of “truthiness,” in which repeated assertion trumps facts.

Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Jim Wright, William Rehnquist, and Newt Gingrich (Again)

Newt’s effort got a big boost in 1988 and 1989. Outgoing President Ronald Reagan, incoming President George H.W. Bush, every congressional leader (including Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich), and the leaders of the judiciary, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, supported a sizable pay raise for lawmakers, top executive officials, and judges. The raise was recommended by a blue-ribbon panel to make up for a long period with no pay increase, but it came at a time of economic stagnation and enraged the public.

Nearly every Trump rally is covered in real time; every outrageous Trump statement or action gets blanket attention.

The pay raise brought a populist uprising, from Ralph Nader on the left to Pat Buchanan on the right, covered amply by press outlets like Newsweek, which portrayed Congress as a collection of pampered and rich elites more like Marie Antoinette than working Americans, with chandeliered dining rooms providing posh free meals, a first-class spa, and other services, all available to lawmakers at taxpayers’ expense.

Rush Limbaugh had been a minor talk radio host in Sacramento, just moved to New York before the pay raise brouhaha and ready to establish a bigger career thanks to the demise, a short while beforehand, of the FCC’s fairness doctrine. No doubt, Limbaugh, an immensely talented entertainer, would have been a success regardless. But the pay raise gave him a huge boost. He jumped on it, and it became the vehicle for his national rise and celebrity—and the blossoming of conservative talk radio as a major political phenomenon. Limbaugh, of course, has been joined by Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, and a host of others who have built huge audiences by attacking not just evil Democrats but their own establishment leaders. Among them is Alex Jones, whose wild conspiracy theories, including that the U.S. government was involved in both the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks, and that the president, the military, and others are conspiring to take people’s guns and property and create a dictatorship, have helped generate an atmosphere of distrust that plays right into the hands of Trump. Trump, of course, went on Jones’s show and praised his “amazing reputation,” while Jones said his listeners agreed with 90 percent of what Trump stands for.

Roger Ailes

Talk radio is its own phenomenon. Cable news is another, reinforcing the impact in a different media. For years following its creation in 1980, CNN dominated cable news. Sixteen years later, Rupert Murdoch created Fox News Channel and named Roger Ailes as its head. It started with a tiny fraction of households, with no outlets in New York or Los Angeles. But Ailes transformed it into the overwhelming leader in the cable news world and the most profitable element of the vast Murdoch empire. Along the way, Ailes changed the worlds of news and politics. He did so by creating a new business model, using fast pacing and graphics, and charismatic and talented hosts. But mostly it was a model based on luring an audience of staunch conservatives who felt neglected by other television news outlets, treated with contempt for their views by a liberal mainstream media. Ailes used the slogan “Fair and Balanced” to appeal to this audience, but of course the content was neither; Fox adopted a sharp partisan and ideological viewpoint, and attracted a consistently robust audience of more than 2 million viewers of the right demographic for advertisers at any given time, which made it a highly profitable operation.

But Fox’s impact went way beyond its core audience. It became an opinion leader and agenda setter for conservatives and Republicans. It is a core source of news for Republicans. Much of the anger at Barack Obama, at Obamacare, at attempts to deal with climate change and the scientists supporting them, and even at immigration, has been fueled by Fox shows and Fox hosts. It is not omnipotent; when Trump went after host Megyn Kelly in misogynistic terms, it did not hurt his standing at all—indeed, Fox’s very success meant that many of Trump’s supporters saw it as another part of the establishment attacking their anti-establishment hero, who responded by punching back, hard. But it has had much to do with the way many other outlets, including radio, bloggers, magazines, and internet news aggregators, have organized their business models, catering to apocalyptic forces, fueling fear and anger, contributing mightily to the partisan tribalization that helps Trumpism flourish.

CNN and MSNBC

Fox’s dominance of cable news has left its main rivals, CNN and MSNBC, floundering for business models and audiences. MSNBC has tried to emulate Fox on the left, but has adjusted to doing so only in prime time hours, trying straight news during the day. CNN has tried, without notable success, to hold to a middle ground. But both have seized on Trumpmania as a way of luring viewers. Nearly every Trump rally is covered in real time; every outrageous Trump statement or action gets blanket attention. Meanwhile, equally outrageous statements by other candidates—Ben Carson saying a Muslim shouldn’t be president, Mike Huckabee saying God’s law trumps the Constitution, Chris Christie threatening to go to Defcon 1 against Russia—barely get mentioned. Trump thrives on attention, good or bad.

To be sure, there are many co-conspirators here. Network Sunday news shows like Meet the Press apply different rules to Trump, allowing him to be interviewed by telephone, something they would not do for other candidates. Eyeballs count, on TV and on websites, and since Trump provides eyeballs, the rules of journalism go out the window.

Trump can say anything, and fact-check organizations showing that his statements are false are ridiculed and attacked by those who support him.

CNN has had another, broader impact on discourse. Its longstanding attempt to be straightforward has meant that its shows either follow the Crossfire model—someone from the left edge of the spectrum yelling at someone from the right edge, or a spinner from the Democratic side facing off against a GOP spinner—or insist on bringing in “experts” from both sides to discuss or debate issues. By creating a sense that discourse is all one extreme against the other or one cynic against another, CNN has added to the corrosive cynicism that permeates politics, fertile ground for a Trump. And by having every discussion of climate change include one scientist who says it is real and manmade against another who denies it, CNN has contributed to an atmosphere where “facts” are not real—you can find an expert anywhere to deny them.

Tim Berners-Lee

What could an Englishman with no connection whatsoever to American politics have to do with Trumpism? The answer, of course, is that Tim Berners-Lee is widely credited with inventing the Internet. It has brought wondrous changes to the world—I can now sit at my desk and have immediate access to more information than the entire U.S. government, with all its resources and supercomputers, could have had in the pre-Internet days. I can watch events in the world unfold in real time. And thanks to the social media that followed, I can connect and interact instantly with multiple communities, of friends, kin, and interests.

But these remarkable advances have also brought unintended consequences, including a dramatic deterioration of civil discourse and social standards. A world with a massive cacophony of voices and sources engenders efforts to grab attention, which means shouting and shocking. On cable television, talk radio, blogs, video games, Internet comment pages and chat rooms, nothing is too coarse or off limits anymore—whether it is calling the president a “half-breed mongrel” or a monkey, or saying Mexicans are rapists and thousands of American Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks. It is not just politics. Violence and graphic sex are everywhere, further deadening reaction to violations of societal standards. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan had an incisive term: “Defining Deviancy Down.” It surely applies here.

Conspiracy theories, demagoguery, and anti-elitism are rooted in American culture, as the historian Richard Hofstadter ably documented in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. But when Hofstadter wrote, in the 1950s and 1960s, the collection of individuals deeply receptive to those appeals were fragmented and had limited opportunities to communicate together, form communities of interest, or engage in collective action, except via face-to-face meetings in localities. The web and social media have changed all that.

The web and its adjuncts have also changed the way people get and process information. Americans are less likely to share a common body of facts received passively via a small, collective set of sources like three television networks and one or two daily metropolitan newspapers. Now they can all actively seek out the information sources they want—and actively avoid those that provide dissonant information. And that has created a set of closed information loops for large numbers of people, supplying them with “facts” that may or may not be true. And often those “facts” are shared more widely via email and social media like Facebook and Twitter. Thus, 23 percent of Americans in 2014 did not believe that Barack Obama was born in the U.S., and an additional 17 percent were not sure. When “mainstream” media sources point out that “facts” are fiction, those who believe simply discount the mainstream sources. So Donald Trump can say anything, and fact-check organizations showing that his statements are false are ridiculed and attacked by those who support him and believe him no matter what.

Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers

There is no doubt that without direct and swift government intervention, the financial crisis in the fall of 2008 would very likely have led to a global credit freeze, and a resulting depression that would have eclipsed the 1930s. To their great credit, George W. Bush, Hank Paulson, congressional leaders of both parties, and the two presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, endorsed that swift action. But in a major warning sign, their package created a populist backlash among House Republicans, who at first rejected the package, before a precipitous drop in the Dow brought enough around to get it passed.

The effect of the bailout package was huge and still reverberates today—even more because of the actions and inactions of the Obama administration’s economic team in the still-shaky economic turmoil that followed Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. Both Paulson and his successor, Tim Geithner, focused on saving major agents in the financial system, but refused to countenance any actions to punish, or at least bring to the dock, any of the miscreants who had caused the collapse. What Americans saw was elites conspiring to protect their fellow elites—who got off scot-free, along with bonuses, while the rest of the country suffered, losing homes or seeing their home values drop precipitously, losing jobs and nest eggs. No one went to jail. In the meantime, the Obama administration put forth a tepid plan to protect homeowners from foreclosure, which was not fully implemented, and put no significant pressure on banks to free up the huge amount of capital they held in reserve to help out middle-class homeowners.

No surprise: It produced a huge populist surge. The Tea Party movement blossomed on the right, and Occupy Wall Street exploded on the left. Bernie Sanders’s strength in the Democratic presidential nomination battle is one reflection of that anger. But the Tea Party has been much stronger and more organized. Its immense support from talk radio hosts like Limbaugh, Ingraham, and Levin and from bloggers like Erickson, has helped it to defeat powerful House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary, push Speaker John Boehner out of office, and block his designated successor, Kevin McCarthy. It has also fueled the anti-establishment mood that has enabled Donald Trump to flourish.

The Young Guns: Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan

Speaking of Cantor and McCarthy, they, along with Paul Ryan, leapt to the forefront after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. The three wrote a book called “Young Guns,” heralding a new strategy, starting on or before Obama’s Inauguration, to regain Republican majorities in Congress and sweep him out of office after one term. One part of that strategy was to get Republicans to unite in opposition to anything and everything Barack Obama wanted, just as Gingrich had done to such great effect against Bill Clinton. Drawing another page from the Gingrich playbook, the Young Guns also fanned out across the country recruiting Tea Party populists to run for Congress in the midterm elections.

As with Gingrich, the Young Guns assumed they could co-opt the new radicals. As with Gingrich, it did not work.

Their playbook started with the debt ceiling—the Young Guns instructed their recruits to use it in their campaigns, an easy vehicle to show commitment to keeping the debt in check by vowing never to support an increase in the debt limit. Along with that was a promise to use the debt ceiling as a hostage, to force Obama to his knees by making him give up his key policy goals and accomplishments to prevent economic catastrophe via a breach in the debt ceiling. Thus, a new Republican majority could force repeal of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, and make the president support dramatic cutbacks in domestic government and spending.

The Young Guns told their recruits that they would act even before the debt ceiling was reached, promising a good-faith down payment on the conservative revolution to eliminate most government by immediately cutting spending by $100 billion after the new Republican majority was sworn in.

The tactics worked at the polls; Republicans won historic victories in the midterms, and achieved a robust majority in the House. But right after they arrived, the budget-cutting icon Paul Ryan was dispatched to give them bad news. They actually could not cut spending immediately by $100 billion. Ryan used “budgetspeak” to explain that the fiscal year had started well before the election, and they had to pro-rate the amount, and take into account the timetable of the budget process, so they could only achieve about a third of what they had promised. The Republican leaders staved off a revolt, but set in motion a distrust that encompassed traditional and older leaders like John Boehner but also the Young Guns themselves. As with Gingrich, the Young Guns assumed they could co-opt the new radicals. As with Gingrich, it did not work.

In the end, of course, the Republican majority in the House achieved none of its big promised goals—not the repeal of Obamacare or Dodd-Frank, not the elimination of Obama after one term, not the end of a single government agency. They were, however, able to bring to a halt any major new advances in Obama’s third and fourth years, and through the sequester cuts across-the-board in government, to sharply retard the growth of domestic programs. But those achievements meant little to a group of lawmakers and their activist supporters who had been promised the moon and were given a single slice of cheese instead.

At the same time, the promises to use debt ceiling and budget brinksmanship to bring Obama to heel resulted inevitably in Republican leaders backing down; the one time the government was actually shut down, briefly, in 2013 got them nothing in return. Added to the sense of promises unkept was a perception by conservatives of spinelessness on the part of Republican leaders—and a desire for someone who would not cave, who would respond to every slight or pushback not by reasoning or bargaining but by punching the other guys in the nose.

The deepening sense that Republican establishment leaders, inside Congress and out, were more concerned with winning and holding office than achieving policy goals, rankled and then enraged the conservative ideologues in the House. They grew unsatisfied enough even with the long-time right-wing caucus called the Republican Study Committee that they created their own rump Freedom Caucus. When most of the members of the even-more-right-wing-than-the right-wing caucus supported Paul Ryan for speaker, they were attacked—from the right. And Ryan’s masterful ability to strike a spending and tax deal with congressional Democrats and Obama itself was hit by many conservatives. Indeed, The Hill reported, “Conservative pundit Ann Coulter says Ryan, just seven weeks on the job, is ripe for a primary challenge. ‘Paul Ryan Betrays America,’ blared a headline on the conservative site Breibart.com. And Twitter is littered with references to the Wisconsin Republican’s new ‘Muslim beard.’”

But the disgruntlement went well beyond conservative ideologues, as David Frum described so well for The Atlantic. The resolve of Republican congressional leaders to strike deals with Obama to preserve tax breaks for the ultra-rich was not well-received by working-class white voters otherwise attracted to a Republican, anti-Obama message. It prepared the ground for an outsider populist alternative like Trump.

Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Mitch McConnell

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a huge victory for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, an ardent opponent of all campaign-finance regulation who had been thwarted in 2002 when the Court upheld the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act known popularly as McCain-Feingold. Abandoning his pledge during his confirmation hearing to respect stare decisis and decide cases as narrowly as possible, Chief Justice John Roberts moved early in his tenure to take a narrow case and blow it open to a major one that challenged many decades of established law and Supreme Court decisions. Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion and provided the decisive fifth vote.

Citizens United alone did not eviscerate the campaign-finance regimen. But it, along with succeeding cases like Speech Now and McCutcheon, and the resolve of McConnell’s hand-picked members of the Federal Election Commission to block all regulations and enforcement of campaign laws and Court-endorsed disclosure requirements, turned the campaign-money system into an enhanced version of the Gilded Age, one in which limits were almost meaningless and a small number of oligarchs could dominate politics and politicians.

Interestingly, populists on the left and the right rebelled against this new order. The Freedom Caucus, for example, blocked McConnell’s attempt to remove even more limits on parties’ fundraising. So when Donald Trump condemned the role of big money, confessing that he had actively participated in buying and selling politicians but thought it was bad, attacking all his rivals for their Super PACs and billionaire sugar daddies, it drew to him even more populist support.

Barack Obama

There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Republicans do not like Barack Obama, to put it mildly. The partisan gap on presidential approval is the largest ever, and the Republican narrative on the Obama presidency is relentlessly negative. He is at once imperial and overbearing, using executive authority to run roughshod over the Constitution and trample his opponents, and weak and feckless when it comes to facing ISIS, al Qaeda, Putin, and America’s enemies. And of course, the failure of Republican establishment leaders to punch back and bring him to heel is a core part of the anger fueling Trumpism.

Obama as an illegitimate president was a theme pursued from the moment of his inauguration by ruthlessly pragmatic Republican leaders, much as they had done against Bill Clinton, as a tactical maneuver. But reinforced by tribal and social media, from Fox to Glenn Beck and Alex Jones, by “birthers” in Congress and around the country—including, famously, Donald Trump—the campaign to delegitimize Obama as a Kenyan-born socialist was more relentless and widespread. Campaigns that suggested Obama was going to seize Americans’ guns, reinforced on social media and talk radio, or plotting to advance a military coup to remain as president, advanced by Alex Jones and others as the Jade Helm conspiracy, and not repudiated by Texas Governor Greg Abbott or Senator Ted Cruz, added to the fire.

As social mores changed rapidly, the sense of frustration over a world where the social order was turning upside down became ripe for exploitation.

Race was not all of it, but it was undeniably a part, including comments like Ted Nugent’s that Obama is a “half-breed mongrel,” and Ann Coulter’s, on Fox News’s Sean Hannity Show, that the president was a “monkey” for Vladimir Putin.

Obama’s race, in many respects, became a symbol for a range of changes occurring in American society. Large numbers of working-class white Americans felt deeply unsettled as they struggled through a sluggish economy and the continuing aftereffects of the 2008 collapse—even as the 1 percent thrived more than ever. As social mores changed rapidly, including acceptance of same-sex marriage and the protests against police killings of unarmed civilians, and as social movements like Black Lives Matter emerged, the sense of frustration over a world where the social order was turning upside down became ripe for exploitation by Trump, Cruz, Huckabee, and others.

The immigration issue has been a symbol of all this change. Trump exploded as a factor on the scene when he adopted a position on immigration more extreme than other candidates—and in sharp contrast to the efforts by the Republican establishment, from Reince Priebus on down, to try to find a way to soften the rhetoric on the issue, and find a legislative solution that would give their party traction with Hispanic voters. The sharp tangle between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio over the issue—Rubio trying to “taint” Cruz by suggesting he has supported a path to legalization, Cruz emphasizing Rubio’s key role in brokering a comprehensive plan for immigration reform in the Senate—is a measure of the issue’s importance as a dividing line between insiders and outsiders, at a time when outsider status is more valuable.

Consider a world where partisan tribalism—the sense that the other party is a threat to the country, the enemy, not just an adversary—is conjoined with race, one party becoming overwhelmingly white, the other largely non-white. The challenge for national unity will be much sharper than it has been in over a century.

To be sure, many elements of this saga—raging populism; coarsened culture; bitter, invective-laced politics; demagoguery and nativism inside and outside the political world; partisan media; and an intertwining of race and politics—are not new at all in American history. The news is more about the amplified impact of these factors in a corrosive witches brew, in a modern world of new technology. The stakes are high. Comparable challenges and crises, say in the early days of the new republic, in the hyper-populism of the 1820s, in the Civil War era, and in the 1890s into the first decade-plus of the 20th century, took a decade or more to work through and return to some semblance of normalcy and national unity. It is not clear we have any more the luxury of time. When I wrote an essay for Foreign Policy a few years ago that the editors titled, “Worst. Congress. Ever.” I got a lot of feedback saying, “Come on, is it worse than the period leading up to the Civil War?” I responded, “You’re right. Isn’t it comforting to be compared to the period right before the Civil War?”

Of course, the first real contest for the nomination is still weeks away, and it might well be that Trump, Cruz, and Trumpism will falter, leaving a path open for a more traditional establishment nominee. But the factors that created this dynamic will not fade even if Trump and Cruz do. The face of American politics, and especially of the Republican Party, will be different from what most pundits have experienced or expected, for a long time to come. And the dysfunction of American politics won’t disappear or abate with a single election, or two, or three.

Norm Ornstein is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal, and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/the-eight-causes-of-trumpism/422427/