Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bizarro America

For weeks now, months really, I've been trying to figure out what the hell is happening in this country of mine. I've looked to history and my own experiences and I can see a few ghostly similarities.

Trump vs. Cruz
I kind of get what mainstream Republicans are feeling. A quarter century ago in local politics I knew two similar politicians. Bob Filner, who was briefly mayor of San Diego before a sexual harassment scandal destroyed his career, was crass, selfish, ruthless and also a political ally. Peter Navarro was seen by many as a progressive hero. But people who knew him, I had worked on two campaigns with him, universally loathed him.

Filner was like Trump, an egoist who would take your side if you first capitulated to him. Navarro was Cruz, someone who wanted all the things you did but was so thoroughly disgusting you'd rather lose than see that bastard win.

Conclusion:  I oddly sympathize with the horror that Republican elites view their party's leading candidates where winning seems like a worse outcome than losing.

Republicans Who Think They Can Work With Trump
Recently, some establishment Republicans have been hinting that they could moderate Trump after he is elected. This parallels eerily what Germans thought about another racist nationalist populist. When Hitler lost the campaign for German president he still had the largest party in the country. The winner, Paul Von Hindenburg, invited Hitler into the government as Chancellor. His thinking was that with Hitler in the government Hindenburg could control and moderate the firebrand and prevent him from causing trouble. But Hitler would not be moderated and within months he had turned the chancellorship into a dictatorship.

Conclusion: Anyone who thinks they can control Trump after the election is a blind fool.

FOX Debate Debacle
The story of Trump boycotting the next debate is like a circus freak show, hilarious and creepy all at once. People are comparing it to a professional wrestling act where bizarre story lines turn debased spectacle into low entertainment. The historian in me sees something worse. Trump is succeeding in belittling not just his opponents but the political party he is seeking to lead. It is the kind of spectacle that the Roman Emperor Caligula would have used to debase his peers in the Roman Senate, like forcing senators to wear slave tunics.

Conclusion: The Republic primary is no longer a political campaign but performance art designed to ridicule the entire country.

Twitter Campaign
1924 - The first presidential campaign where radio was used to reach voters. It didn't have a major effect.
1960 - First televised presidential debates. Some say Kennedy's cool, handsome demeanor opposed to Nixon's sweaty five o'clock shadow tipped the race to JFK.
2008 - First election where the internet may have decided the race. President Obama's skilled use of online fundraising and voter outreach was a deciding factor in his winning the Democratic nomination.

And now, this is the first election where the press doesn't matter, radio doesn't matter, even television doesn't matter. Donald Trump's campaign is centered on Twitter. The media used by celebrities to trumpet their egos in 140 characters or less is now the main media for political discourse. Forget policy papers, if your political positions can't be shrunk down to the size and sense of a Kardashian quote then you have no chance.

Conclusion: We are all screwed.

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