Donald Trump is today's best self-promoter and professional opportunist.
The Republican field of presumptive candidates for president is lame.
But neither of these, nor even both together, can adequately explain what's going on. We can't even turn for supplemental help to subtheories that emphasize the rise of celebreality culture, the fall of Sarah Palin, or The Continuing Story of Bungling Barry. These variables all appear somewhere in the equation that has produced the Trump phenomenon. But none of them explain it.
Trump is suddenly "winning" as a political figure because the political class has failed. The authority of our political institutions is weak and getting weaker; it's not that Americans 'lack trust' in them, as blue ribbon pundits and sociologists often lament, so much as they lack respect for the people inside them.
There is a lot of crazy surrounding the Trump phenomenon -- some excellent, some embarrassing. But the massive fact dominating it all is that never before has such a famous outsider jumped into national politics with such an aggressive critique of a sitting president and the direction of the country -- and never before has the response been so immediate and positive.
For now, that's good news and bad news -- as anyone knows who's acquainted with Churchill's dictum about eagles and parrots. No amount of His Trumpness can renew or replace American political authority. Republicans make a dangerous mistake when they think of politics as a pathological farce that can only be cured by a business worldview that sees economics as the master science. Even though, as Tocqueville observes, money really is more important in democratic times, money is not the measure of all things. We -- we Republicans, we Democrats, we Americans -- still need politicians who can rule wisely, bravely, and well. Look at what's behind the huge novelty of Trump's rise, and you find a venerable truth. There is no substitute for statesmen.
In Wisconsin and around our country, the American Dream is under fierce attack. On Saturday, February 26, at noon local time, Rally to Save the American Dream is organizing rallies in front of every statehouse and in every major city to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin. Please join your fellow union members, the AFL-CIO and other supporters for a rally at LA City Hall.
The fate of the American Dream, we are to understand, now depends entirely on the ability of government workers to get unionized and stay that way. I don't throw around the word 'unamerican' casually. But what we have here is exactly what I predicted and feared -- a successful attempt to mobilize the grassroots left around a category mistake. Liberals are now in a fateful position perhaps best described by Alan Wolfe, a man of the left, whose Future of Liberalism is more relevant today than it was when it hit shelves two years ago.
Wolfe denies that "Progressivism shares something in common with twentieth-century fascism," yet he set this claim within a sobering critique: "The curse the state visits upon liberalism is Progressivism." The "progressive urge," he warns, "does constitute a warning for liberals that too much reliance on government to achieve its objectives can stand in tension with other long-established liberal values [...]." What would Wolfe make of today's spectacle -- a left that not only relies on government but defines reliance on government as the essence of the American Dream? Even from the standpoint of liberalism, Wolfe's critique suggests, what we have here is not its essence but its inversion -- unamerican in the way 7Up once billed itself as the uncola.
The language of "tough choices" threatens to make a mockery of the reckoning we face today. Not because we don't face tough choices in the way elected officials mean that we do. And not because, a level down from policymaking, flesh and blood human beings -- liberal, conservative, other -- are going to have to bear the consequences of policy in their daily lives. No, the real reckoning is with each other. We can see that happening already in Wisconsin. This kind of fury -- I almost said 'divisiveness' -- is going to get worse before it gets better, because the true stakes of our reckoning are only going to grow clearer.
The clarity is going to hit simultaneously at the level of principle and of practicality. As talk turns to the 'new class war', the concept of a class defined not so much by its net worth or tax bracket as by its economic (and therefore political) dependence on government will sharpen step for step with the reality of this class, which will be hitting home in all its gruesome implications for those outside and inside it.
So already we can see a reactionary confusion setting in on the left. Because Republicans are going after the government class as an idea and a reality, liberals and progressives are under intense pressure to follow Roger Ebert's lead in responding this way:
My dad was right. "The Republican Party is against the working man."
Anyone who responds to the current crisis by anointing unionized employees of the government as the epitome of 'the working man' is placing themselves, and I really do not say this lightly, at the mercy of socialism -- not just as an intellectual theory, but as an emotional promise of happiness. There has never been a viable, durable Labor Party in the US. But neither has the government class ever been so big or faced such an existential threat.
Morning fun: exercise the elementary reasoning skills of our evildoing enemies and see if you can predict the following development:
Britain is facing a new Al Qaeda terror threat from suicide ‘body bombers’ with explosives surgically inserted inside them. [...] But an operation by MI5 has uncovered evidence that Al Qaeda is planning a new stage in its terror campaign by inserting ‘surgical bombs’ inside people for the first time.
Security services believe the move has been prompted by the recent introduction at airports of body scanners, which are designed to catch terrorists before they board flights.
My problem with what's unfolding at our nation's airports runs a lot deeper than the misfortune of genital encroachment. My problem is that we're racing down an inherently absurd road. Set aside for a moment the dismaying way in which every new advance in security measures involves a retreat for civil liberties and traditional definitons of decency. Our logic of escalation appears to mean that every new solution actually creates a new and dramatically worse problem -- one which calls, of course, for dramatically more invasive and comprehensive countermeasures.
Where does it end? As a matter of logic, it ends with a free people dehumanizing themselves in a way their own enemies cannot quite manage to do. Fortunately, we are not prisoners of logic. But the awful thing about terrorism is that it very well might keep us prisoner to fear.
[...] a lot of people are beginning to understand that to be a freak is an honorable way to go. This is the real point: that we are not really freaks at all -- not in the literal sense -- but the twisted realities of the world we are trying to live in have somehow combined to make us feel like freaks. We argue, we protest, we petition -- but nothing changes.
So now [...] a handful of 'freaks' are running a final, perhaps atavistic experiment with the idea of forcing change by voting. -- Campaign wallposter, Hunter S. Thompson for Sheriff (1970)
The times, they have a-changed. Only a fool can deny the deep resonances between Thompson's Southwestern libertarianism and the Nick-Gillespie-chronicled Tea Party longing to restore America's honor while keeping America weird. Yes, the hotbed of classical American political activity stirred up by the Tea Party -- fanaticism, careerism, opportunism, quixoticism -- can make matters confusing. No, the typical tea partier would not huff ether or eat LSD, not even to prove a point about how messed up American priorities have become. But the Tea-centered confluence of 'freak power' and 'rube power' -- to use those terms not much more or less ironically than Thompson would -- reflects a momentous, gathering realignment of once-disparate, and even opposed, constituencies.
To date, only one thing stands in the way: the smearing of the tea party as a movement of crazies. Not just freaks, rubes, or weirdos, mind you, but kooks -- unjustifiable diehards for unpopular causes, professional losers, fast-talking swindlers, cranks who live off of campaign donations and speak to the press as if reading aloud from The Big Book of Mind-Rotting Catchphrases.
Indeed, anti-tea-party voices are already congealing around the narrative that the Tea Party is powered by these people -- that a vote for Tea is a vote for Crazy, and that any decent American freak or rube had better throw in with the liberal sex vote in the first case and follow union orders in the second.
This is clever, in the way that a cornered rat is clever, but it is wrong. The great untold story coming out of the O'Donnell upset is that, right now, a bean and cheese burrito could win a GOP primary by running as a Tea Party candidate. The presence of a few suboptimal candidates reveals the colossal strength and momentum of the tea partiers, not some cankered weakness or ugly truth. It is the natural consequence of any precipitous success -- whether in music, sports, or entertainment, whether in national-level politics or the criminal underworld...