[For a comparison between Trump’s twisted tribalism and the Saudi-Wahhabi ideology that is busy annihilating the Middle East, click here.
1. Character matters
2. The “problem” of women
3. The “problem” of minorities
4. The problem of policy
5. The problem of division
It’s been fun so far. The media have had an awesome run. They’ve made fortunes off of Trump (whose father changed his family name from the German “Drumpf”). “We the people” have enjoyed gossip, laughter, and dinner-table conversation fit for a sitcom. It’s all been a great reality show
, with occasional real chills down the spines of those among us who can see the probable effect of a counterfactual “what if . . .”
But, sooner or later, we’re all going to have to get real. The giddiness of a very early spring, brought to us by global warming, will pass. The silly season of a very hot summer—perhaps the hottest in human history—will pass.
Despite accelerating warming and sea-level rise, cold weather will come again. That’s the time when playful squirrels get serious about hoarding their nuts. It’s the time when cold reality strikes deep. It’s the season of the Crash of 1929, the Crash of 2008, and the Russian Revolution.
That time will come before our elections this year. It will force us to take the measure of the man. When we do, as a people, we Yanks will abandon both the fantasy of The Donald as an economic savior and the paranoid fantasy of The Clown as president and keeper of the Nuclear Codes.
Then we’ll do the right thing, as Churchill predicted. We Yanks always do, after exhausting all the alternatives. Here’s why we will again this time:
1. Character matters.
It’s a funny thing, really. You could have predicted the results of the last two presidential elections just by looking at character alone. John McCain was (and is) a loose cannon in foreign affairs. His knee-jerk reaction to any unanticipated foreign event is military overreaction, even war. No one would want his finger on The Button. Mitt Romney was (and is) a smart but hugely self-regarding super-salesman, willing and eager to tell anyone and everyone what he or she wants to hear. Each in his own way was a weathervane: unreliable, unpredictable and therefore dangerous.
In contrast, Barack Obama was (and is) steady, reliable, thoughtful, careful and prudent. Most of us saw through the distraction of his race to his reliable, cautious and comforting character. That’s why he’s the first president since Ike to have won the White House twice, fair and square, by clear popular majorities—and despite still-rampant racism.
Dubya’s two elections were a bit different, but along the same lines. He was (and is) honest, albeit incredibly stupid. Gore and Kerry were (and are) infinitely smarter. But both were (and are) stiffer, more formal and less approachable. Unlike Kerry, who was (and is) constitutionally incapable of praising or even defending himself, Gore had an oddly inflated self-image. (Remember who invented the Internet?) So “we, the people” went for the likeable guy who, at the time, seemed more modest and a good person to have a beer with. And in Gore’s case the Supreme Court gave Dubya a little boost.
The trouble is, Trump is not even close to being a likeable guy. He’s arrogant, egotistical, haughty, dismissive, capricious and impulsive. Often he’s downright nasty. If he weren’t so big physically, he might have been punched out enough in his long and tumultuous life to knock some of the rough edges off his character.
Trump’s empathy is a stunning negative. Sooner or later, we the people will pick up on this, and Trump and his political reality show will fall into the dustbin of history where they belong.
It could be a cliffhanger. It could take the whole spring and the summer. But it will happen. It may take all the brilliance of Madison Avenue and our current crop of distinguished “political operatives” to focus on Trump’s atrocious character, but it will out. No matter how angry you may be, Herr Drumpf is not a man you want to invite into your living room for a whole summer, let alone four years.
2. The “problem” of women.
Despite his consistent failure to predict Trump’s success so far, David Brooks is still the dean of GOP-leaning pundits. He was, for example, the one who dimmed the ghastly prospect of Harriet Miers sitting on the Supreme Court. He did so by describing her writing, accurately, as a “relentless march of vapid abstractions.”
Here’s how Brooks described Trump’s attitude toward women, not two days ago:
“[Trump] does have, over the course of his life, a consistent misogynistic view of women as arm candy, as pieces of meat. It’s a consistent attitude toward women which is the stuff of a diseased adolescent. . . . [E]ven his misogyny is a childish misogyny.”
Strong words, no?
Women are no minority group. They are the
majority group—a majority of the total population and a majority of voters.
It may take time for the accuracy of Brooks’ reference to “pieces of meat” to sink in. It may take magnification and repetition in innumerable attack ads.
But it will prevail. It will prevail not because it’s a clever or original turn of phrase, but because Brooks is a male and the leading GOP pundit, and his phrase is a penetratingly accurate description of Trump’s attitude toward women—an attitude that every woman has seen far too many times.
3. The “problem” of minorities.
A few years ago, demographers predicted when our nation would become a “majority-minority” nation, i.e., mostly non-white. The canonical date was 2043.
Most demographers think it’s closer than that now. But even if you take that original, memorable date, it’s now only 27 years away—not even one and a half generations. Even today, and even with vastly lower-than-white registration rates, minority voters likely will account for more than 30% of the total this fall.
Trump has offended almost all of them. He’s offended African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Muslim-Americans and (by implication, if not directly) most other non-white Americans.
Sure, he’s sometimes pulled his punches, just a bit. For example, here’s the real quote from his rant against Mexican immigrants
: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Fox’ morons can go on all day about how the last sentence proves that Trump is no bigot. But no one of Mexican descent—let alone any recent Mexican immigrant—will believe a word of it.
You can’t be a bigot in one phrase and a healer in the very next. Life just doesn’t work that way. Nor do the actual objects of bigotry feel or think that way. Even most of us whites recognize the lame self-justification “some of my best friends are [insert objects of bigory]” for what it is.
So, let’s see now. Trump has alienated 51% of the voting population, namely women. He has alienated the 30%-plus that are minorities. Subtract the 15% of minorities who are also women (to avoid double counting) and that’s a total of 66% of the electorate. That leaves 34% of old, angry white men who might follow Herr Drumpf into Hell.
How does that lead to an electoral majority? And we haven’t even subtracted out the vast majority of youth who would rather follow Bernie into democratic socialism, getting a free higher education and a chance at decent health insurance. Are any of them really going to vote for Trump?
4. The problem of policy.
So far, you may have noticed, we haven’t even begun to discuss policy. It’s all been about bad character, fear, hate and bigotry, Trump’s stocks in trade. He lacks Dubya’s moronic disingenuousness. But if Trump ever said “I’m a uniter, not a divider,” all but his core group of aging white male bigots would burst into uncontrollable laughter.
Yet, sooner or later, the general-election campaign will have to move on from the gravy of gossip about bigotry to the meat and vegetables of policy. It will have to address the hollowing out of our industries and the gross inequality in our economy. And there Herr Drumpf will fail big time.
Why has Trump “outperformed” all reasonable expectations so far? There are two obvious reasons. First, he has climbed aboard the juggernaut of racial and ethnic resentment that Fox and the GOP have inflamed for a generation, and that our first “black” president has (through no fault of his own) brought to the boiling point.
Trump has dropped the code words and dog whistles and made it all explicit, down to failing to disown David Duke and the KKK. That awful stuff is never going to win a national majority, but it sure will incite enthusiasm in some regions and among both open and closet bigots.
The second reason for Trump’s success is even more important. Just like Bernie, he tells the truth about the fundamental practical reason for angst among white male breadwinners.
Our own political and business elite have thoughtlessly, carelessly and selfishly thrown their means of winning good bread away. They’ve replaced 60,000 US factories with foreign ones, mostly using American capital and American technology. And they’ve done it all, heedless of displaced workers, for their own personal enrichment and the enrichment of their social class. After all, it was all about “shareholder value.”
Not too put too fine a point on it, our American business and political elite have sold our Yankee industrial infrastructure abroad for thirty pieces of silver. And Trump, as a turncoat Democrat, can’t say exactly that because his newly-adopted political party has been a co-conspirator all along.
So if reasons of logic and self-interest prevent Trump from telling us who done it, at least he can suggest solutions, can’t he? Unfortunately, no. That’s where Trump fails utterly, just as he has in most of his businesses.
Trump’s “solution” is crude protectionism, specifically anti-Chinese tariffs
. They would be an absolute disaster. Not only would they cause instant, uncontrollable inflation. They would cause shortages of the many goods now made in China, Mexico and Vietnam that we Yanks no longer make for ourselves, or don’t make enough of. Finally, tariffs would cause instant retaliation from our trading partners, especially China.
The result would be collapse of the global postwar economic order, a monumental trade war and perhaps a global depression. The trade war might even provoke a real war, as it did World War II.
Perhaps the trade war would be localized, as China sought to entrench its dominance of Southeast and East Asia. Think mighty China, with the world’s largest standing army and nuclear weapons and missiles, might make more of a go of it than Japan’s prewar “East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”? Do we really want to find out?
Of course the angry white male bigots who are Trump’s base don’t really
want to find out, either. They would be the shock troops asked to defend our “way of life” in the South China Sea. But right now, all they want is a “solution” that sounds plausible, a way to express their anger and find some hope.
It would be easy enough to debunk Trump’s nonsense with single attack ad. Just play some voice recordings of Smoot and Hawley imposing tariffs on Japan, followed by images of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the nuking of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and then images of modern H-bombs exploding at Bikini. That would make the point.
No, when the time comes it won’t be hard to paint Herr Drumpf as the lifelong loser he is—at everything but self-promotion and casinos, where the sucker-customers always lose. The fact that the GOP elite have let this clown continue for so long is a testament to their self-regarding cluelessness, confusion, disarray, and division.
In theory, Republicans are supposed to have the most disciplined and organized party. Will Rogers once quipped, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” But today the GOP has led an orgy of disorganized, undisciplined, wishful thinking, from global-warming denial to the notion that we as a nation can subsist on services alone, perhaps giving each other haircuts and suing each other. Herr Drumpf is just the logical conclusion of that trend—an undisciplined, impulsive man who pretends that economic and foreign policy are just talk shows, and (so far) gets away with doing so.
5. The problem of division.
The most basic fact of this coming election is that the GOP is divided. It’s not just split down the middle. It’s splintered.
The main reason is a consistent pattern and practice of deception, delusion and distraction, followed for nearly two generations. We are seeing, before our very eyes, a practical demonstration of the famous adage attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
There are several categories of deception, too many to recount here. But by far the most important is the notion that placing our nation’s fate in the hands of a rich and self-interested elite promotes the general welfare.
Of course that’s nonsense on its face. It’s so even when the ambit of selfishness extends downward into the middle class. Selfishness is not a plan
. It’s a vice.
Our Founders didn’t build this nation on selfishness but on community values, plus careful thinking about cause and effect in the use and balancing of political power. They sought not to aggrandize and laud selfishness, as the GOP since Reagan have done, but to suppress its evil consequences with checks and balances. In contrast, the GOP’s recent prescription of ever-lower taxes, ever-reduced regulation and ever-greater “freedom” (for the powerful, who exploit it most) produces ever-greater oppression of ordinary, working people and ever-rising inequality. Big surprise.
That’s where we are now. The ordinary people most adversely affected are just beginning to take it all on board. The Donald has captured some of them, in their still-groggy state, but they are not yet fully awakened. And the Dem
propaganda machine hasn’t even begun to churn.
Lacking multi-sided internecine warfare—let alone junior-high-school chop contests of the kind recently passing for GOP “debates”—the Dems’ have largely kept their powder dry for the real contest to come. As the silly season turns into serious fall, they will have every resource and every incentive to show voters precisely who and what are responsible for our currently insecure economic prospects.
The second most important deception is the notion that we can return to a white-majority, white-supremacy state. That first became impossible a century and a half ago, when we freed our “black” slaves. The massive waves of immigration that followed in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries sealed our collective future. We Yanks will succeed as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, or we will fail, perhaps spectacularly. If we fail, we might take the rest of our species with us, whether in nuclear fire or runaway global warming.
In retrospect, we can see that Nixon’s rotten “Southern Strategy” was a Hail Mary pass—a desperate expedient fated to fall far out of bounds. Betting on the most bigoted, backward, sectarian, authoritarian and provincial region of our nation, and on the least educated, developed, and industrialized, was an inevitable loser. Now the catatonic obstructionist from Kentucky is trying to hold back the tides of history and the ordinary business of our Supreme Court; two-thirds of our people despise him for doing so.
All this was destined to fail from the very beginning. Anyone with the slightest acquaintance with history or ability to foresee cause and effect would know that.
Self-interest is a powerful motivator. And timing matters. In the interim since Nixon’s pathetic V-sign, as he took his final helicopter ride into well-deserved political oblivion, two generations of selfish leaders have rode the train of lies into obscenely rich and powerful lives. They got theirs while the getting was good.
But now the track downward is coming to an end. The train of lies has to stop. Likely the GOP will die with it. Lacking workable policy, ideas, and fundamental decency—let alone admirable leaders—the divided and dispirited Republicans are grasping at straws and false saviors like Herr Drumpf.
It’s only a matter of time before they go the way of the Whigs. When that happens, the Dems will retake our country, likely all three branches. The South will cease trying to rise again and will join the rest of us, or it will be crushed by in-migration and long-thwarted but overwhelming political power. And we Yanks will retake the moral leadership of our species, not by misused and mismanaged military power, but through example and diplomacy.
If all this doesn’t happen this fall, it will happen in two or four more years. The only real question is how long thereafter it will take to reconstruct an opposition party with the openness, tolerance, frugality, decency, pragmatism and caution abroad that the Party of Lincoln once had. There is little evidence so far that the GOP leaders and elite, let alone its rich backers, have even begun to think about that process. Most just wish they had thought of taking their two-generation reality show as far as Trump has.
Tribalism Gone Wild
Donald Trump’s tribalism, discussed in the post above, is fierce enough to extend to gender. Apparently he thinks women are a different and inferior species.
But as bad as that is, the Saudis Princes have gone even further beyond the pale. According to the New York Times
, their officially sanctioned brand of “Wahhabi” Islam makes new tribes out of subtle flavors of belief
. If you don’t adhere precisely to the official brand of Wahhabi Islam, you are an “infidel.” And we all know what that means to Islamic extremists.
Not surprisingly, the Saudi Princes’ subjects
have taken up the cudgel of tribalism with a vengeance. They started with Al Qaeda, which justified the killing of fellow Muslims similarly. If you don’t believe in Islam exactly as they do, you are an “infidel.” So you are excluded from religious sympathy and protection and become an object of jihad and wanton murder.
Welcome to the bizarre logic that has made the Middle East such a lovely place to live! After 9/11, to which some 80 Muslims were victims, Al Qaeda’s “great philosophers” even gave this doctrine a name: “takfir
It doesn’t take a trained logician to see its natural consequences. Any
difference of opinion, no matter how small or insignificant, can be an excuse for enmity, jihad and murder. Not only that. It can be an excuse for totalitarian oppression, as in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria, or violent revolution, as in Syria, or perhaps soon in Saudi Arabia itself.
It’s bad enough that members of our species, whose DNA is 98% identical, have sorted themselves out tribally into races, ethnicities, and nationalities. That really couldn’t be helped. Differences in biological evolution, due mostly to geography, were unavoidable. Think it’s an accident that Scandinavians are pale and blond and lack melanin, while people who live in the tropics are brown or “black” and better protected against the Sun?
So we have races, mostly based on geography and derived from biological evolution. Next we developed ethnicities and nationalities, also based largely on geography, but in this case more on social
than biological evolution.
These tribes are natural products of our biological and social evolution. They have been the basis of nearly all the tribal wars in human history.
But not quite. The so-called “Western” world has nearly forgotten the ugly religious wars between Catholics and Protestants that raged, on and off, for over three centuries. These wars easily crossed racial and ethnic lines. Among other things, they pitted Englishman against Englishman, Frenchman against Frenchman, and German against German.
This utterly unnecessary mayhem was a purely human invention, dictated neither by biological nor by social evolution. It was a new means of justifying mass murder, at a time when our species did not yet require population control. Now, today, we have the Islamic world reveling in it, in the Nuclear Age, at a time when two nearby nuclear powers—Israel and Pakistan—are teetering on the edge of theocracy.
No doctrine ever conceived by the human mind is as dangerous to our species’ ultimate survival and success as Al Qaeda’s doctrine of takfir
and the similar Saudi-Wahhabi doctrine that spawned it. No other doctrine teaches that anyone who disagrees with you is an “infidel” and an enemy, subject to jihad and liquidation at will.
No other doctrine runs as contrary to the thrust and trend of human social evolution. None. Not Soviet Communism at its height: all it wanted to do was prove its superiority by converting others’ social-economic systems. Not even German Nazism was as bad: it did
liquidate a lot of people toward the end, but it mostly wanted to make them slaves. It was more a return to the Pharaohs’ Egypt than a plunge into a nightmare world in which every man (and woman!) is potentially every other’s enemy.
Fanatics now have begun using this abomination
to justify killing the Saudi Princes’ defenders, even the fanatics’ own relatives. Some may see poetic justice in the predatory chickens that the Saudis have raised coming home to roost. But there is no justice, poetic or otherwise, in a doctrine that turns man against man based only on an individual’s thinking. No other doctrine could be so destructive of individualism, original thinking, freedom of conscience, and modern civilization.
Tribalism is a fact of human life and evolution, both biological and social. Whether a ploy of Donald Trump’s, the Saudi Princes’ or “Bibi” Netanyahu’s, it is something our species must overcome in order to realize the full potential of our dual nature as collective and individual beings. If every difference in individual thinking, belief and conscience becomes an excuse for collective war, our species will surely extinguish itself.
The logic is inescapable. And any other intelligent species out there, which might be watching us, would only heave a sigh of relief.
To avoid that unhappy outcome, we must all do our parts. We Yanks must dispose of Donald Trump—not by declaring him an “infidel” and killing him, but by putting him out to pasture among his casinos, hotels and reality shows, where his tribalist tantrums can cause no great harm.
The Saudi Princes must also do their parts. They must recognize the logical consequences of their Faustian bargain with Wahhabism and repudiate it. If they don’t, they will surely fall its victims. If that happens, no one else—let alone in the West—will mourn them.
There is nothing inherently wrong with rich people controlling a lot of oil. At least there are a lot of them in the world, including the Koch Brothers here at home. What is wrong is rich Princes using their oil wealth to spread an ideology that is self-evidently dangerous to our species’ health.
In his recent must-read analysis of President Obama’s foreign policy
, Jeffrey Goldberg described the President as “clearly irritated that foreign-policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally.” When Australia’s prime minister asked him, “Aren’t the Saudis your friends?,” the President replied, “It’s complicated.”
It certainly is. Once we depended on the Saudis for a reliable supply of oil. Now we have fracking, and electric cars are coming of age. We no longer have a strong economic incentive to support and protect a regime responsible for spreading an ideology that could easily extinguish our species, let alone annihilate the entire Middle East. We no longer have to kow-tow to a regime whose “religion” encourages every imam to start his own personal holy war. That’s exactly what some self-appointed imams have done, including Americans killed by drones abroad.
The ideology of takfir
and its Wahhabi parent are our entire species’ mortal enemies. We must extirpate them from human governance and thinking, root and branch, relentlessly and remorselessly.
Besides runaway global warming, there is no greater known threat to our species’ ultimate survival. These twisted ideologies are what gives nuclear proliferation its sting: if nations only used nuclear weapons to deter direct attacks on their own territory, and not to intimidate, kill or punish “infidels,” nukes would be stabilizing forces and “accurate weapons
.” As it is, we must use other accurate weapons
, such as drones, ninjas and special forces, to kill takfiris
before they kill us.
We Yanks will do our part, starting with putting The Donald out to pasture. Will the Saudis and Middle Eastern fanatics do theirs? The world is waiting for an answer, as is the President of the United States.