Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Trump is a Fascist Demagogue, and Also Could Be the Best GOP Nominee in Decades

I've made it pretty clear that I have a lot of very serious issues with Donald Trump. In fact, I've singled him out for criticism--partly since he's been the Republican frontrunner for months, but also partly just because he seems to engage in the most conspicuously reprehensible behavior. He's immature, barely makes any attempts to hide his racism, has endorsed mob violence, and just sounds like the least presidential person in the room most of the time. He pulls that off even in a room of religious crackpots and establishment lackeys that show up for the sad spectacles they try to con us into believing are "debates."

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Because of that, it's very tempting to label him the worst candidate--well, next to the creepy-looking televangelist slimeball Ted Cruz. But it just seems obvious that Trump is worse than Rubio or Bush (when he was in the race) or any of the establishment choices. They just sound so much nicer, and cleaner, and saner. They don't retweet neo-Nazis, or cheer on their supporters when they brutalize protesters, or talk about Mexican rapists invading our country. They're civil. And so, despite policy indications to the contrary, I tried to maintain in my head the idea that a Rubio or a Bush was better than Trump, despite the fact that the policies seemed to say otherwise.

But there's no point in pretending. It's an ugly fact to say that an angry troglodyte like Trump could be the best nominee the Republicans have offered in decades. It's not politically correct, that's for sure. The mainstream liberal consensus seems to have a special venom for Trump (with the unusual exception of my favorite target Allen Clifton, who actually wrote an insightful article arguing that Trump is the best of the then-frontrunners in the GOP primary), but that ultimately only reflects what mainstream liberalism is--a shallow, skin-deep ideology that applauds a corporate yes-man like Barack Obama as a champion of the downtrodden; an ideology in which words speak louder than actions.

What is it that supposedly makes Trump so awful? His attitude toward Muslims? The Republican Party has been bad news for Muslims for years. Muslims suffered at home and abroad under Bush and Cheney, dying in vast numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's what makes it such a cruel farce when Dick Cheney or Lindsey Graham tries to criticize Trump for what he's said and proposed about Muslims. Do those condemnations help any of the likely hundreds of thousands killed in the war they still defend to this day? Or any of the people who would die if we took their advice when it came to Syria or Iraq today?

Trump has done us the favor of being obvious when it comes to a tenet that Republicans have quietly embraced since at least the Bush years: Muslim lives are unimportant. That was the clear message that was sent when Bush and Cheney invaded a country that posed no threat to us, lusting after its oil. At least Trump barely tries to pretend he wants to help Muslims; Bush and Cheney tried to sell us the lie we were doing the Iraqis a favor by occupying their country and killing anyone who fought back.

When Trump has talked about killing terrorists' entire families or shooting Muslim militants to death with bullets dipped in pig's blood, he's certainly been unabashedly psychopathic. But there's nothing less psychopathic we've seen from the policies embraced by Bush, McCain, Romney: that in the name of furthering the "national interest," we can bomb, invade, destroy, slaughter. Trump's proposals are at least intended to deal with terrorism, if one takes them seriously. No one can argue the Iraq war was a serious attempt to reduce the terrorist threat--it increased it, even.

And while Trump shows no interest in helping any of the illegal immigrants who have come from Mexico or Latin America, we have not just Republican, but bipartisan, policies to blame for why many of them are here: trade deals like NAFTA, the drug war, our record of terrorism against Latin American countries; was any of that sensitive to the needs of the Mexicans and Latin Americans? Can the sort of candidates who are fine with, even supportive of, those policies really claim to be compassionate as they agree to let some immigrants stay here and remain cheap sources of labor to be exploited?

As for blacks and women, who have also been victims of Trump's vitriol and dishonesty, it's a sick joke to think the Republicans have wanted to do anything for them for years. They've taken joy in assaulting women's health, trying to federally defund Planned Parenthood even when no federal money is going toward abortions; and our neoliberal and mass incarceration policies (again, not just a Republican, but a bipartisan legacy) have left black people poor and in jail.

With that in mind, Trump's crassness, immaturity, undisguised bigotry all seem appropriate. Why dress up vicious and malevolent policies in nice clothes and nice language? It doesn't mitigate their damage; it just adds a layer of hypocrisy, a smiling mask on the face of a predator.

But when it comes down to it, Trump's virtue isn't just in his lack of subtlety. In many respects, he could take us to new lows as president--in terms of domestic policies toward Muslims, illegal immigrants, and so forth. His hateful rhetoric has helped Stormfront get enough traffic to have to upgrade their servers, after all. Maybe America would look even more like a police state than ever with a President Trump.

But in a lot of important areas, Trump has embraced policies or ideas that are genuinely good. He's a vociferous critic of the Iraq War, and has been for a good while. He's also strongly spoken out against our intervention in Libya back in 2011--and while, early on in both cases, he was in support of intervention, he turned against it well before it was clear the disaster it had created, and was actually prescient in predicting the terror that was to come.

And now, Trump speaks out against trying to topple Assad in Syria. He speaks out against creating an unnecessary conflict with Russia. Patrick Cockburn--an expert on the Middle East--has written an article defending Trump's views about American interventionism. Some would argue that Trump will say anything to get elected, and I believe that. But he's been speaking out against our wars in Iraq and Libya for years now, well before he was running for office--and going all "Bush lied, people died" isn't generally a great right-wing talking point. If there's one issue to believe him on, it could well be the Middle East.

Trump has also spoken out against NAFTA, saying it was a bad deal. And he's right--it was bad for American workers and bad for Mexicans. He's vehemently against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, "NAFTA on steroids," to use Robert Reich's phrase. Meanwhile, he's talked about how we can't let people die on the street for lack of proper healthcare, and defended the idea that Planned Parenthood does "wonderful things." He's running as an anti-neocon, and an anti-neoliberal, rejecting both of the two toxic ideologies that were ultimately embraced by every Republican nominee for president in the new millennium.

This is not me endorsing Trump or trying to whitewash the many totally hideous aspects of his campaign. But the fact is, if I had to choose between Trump and the candidates the Republicans have nominated in every election since 2000--Bush, McCain, and Romney--I wouldn't hesitate to pick Trump. And between Cruz, Rubio, and Trump, the choice is even more obvious for me. In fact, while I could never vote for Donald Trump in the general election, given his many totally reprehensible stances, if Hillary Clinton is the alternative, it will be hard for me to pick a neoliberal neocon over Trump, who's positioned himself against both of those deadly traditions. Maybe the fear of environmental destruction will drive me to do it, given that Trump holds the typical Republican view that we're not causing climate change and seems to have little to offer when it comes to saving us from eco-catastrophe.

But regardless, on the whole, Trump could well be a significant improvement for the Republicans. Sure, he's "unpresidential," and lacks the temperament you'd look for in someone leading the world's most powerful country, but that's far less threatening than a "presidential," well-disciplined leader with a set of enormously destructive policies on their agenda. You can argue, like Ezra Klein did, that Trump's lust for power and his lack of loyalty to any institutions make him more dangerous than an Establishment candidate, but the institutions we have are doing nothing to serve us, and we're better off with someone who's looking out for their own popularity and power over an ideologue or a servant to the Establishment interests. Bush destroyed himself serving the neocons and the oil companies and the big businesses--maybe if he'd been a little more focused on his own personal gain, he could have been smart enough to not start a needless war that would drag on and become increasingly unpopular, as well as killing massive numbers of people.

Trump has all the makings of a dictator, without a doubt. But his dictatorship could well be more benevolent than the oligarchy we currently have. It's much more comfortable, much more PC, much less stomach-churning to think of Trump as the biggest threat, given his lack of experience, adolescent temperament, authoritarianism, and willingness to say terrible things. But the facts don't bear it out.

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