Sunday, August 07, 2016

Dire consequences.

The Tweet: @realDonaldTrump willing to tear down public confidence in democracy itself if it serves his own interests. Shameful!

A friend from Tennessee wrote to me this morning:

As I continue to experience what might be described as "the recurring bad dream about a Trump presidency," I can now say that it his statements about NATO and our role and obligations to it that worry me the most.  The reason is that should he pull out or decline to fulfill our treaty obligations as he has threatened, there could be an irreversible multi-legged collapse in world order.  That outcome coupled with his itchy nuclear trigger-finger could spell disaster, comparable to any sequence of events in past history.

... I truly fear that Trump's bravado, his blinding ego, and his ignorance could be a bad, bad mixed cocktail for the U.S. and the world.

My friend's words left me musing about what it is about Trump that worries me most. There are certainly options here. There is the wall, the rapists rhetoric, and the Muslim ban. There is the facile enchantment with Vladimir Putin and indifference to Europe. There is the short tempered man with his finger on the trigger. And then there is all of that rhetoric taken together, and its impact on the rest of the world looking on with trepidation and wondering what is happening here.

So many of us have family that came here from elsewhere. My grandparents traveled by foot and boat for four years, leaving Russia during the turmoil of the Revolution and World War I--landing for a while in Turkey and Moldova before making their way here. My grandmother came illegally, as it turns out, as she feigned being her brother's wife, as he had papers and she did not. For all the criticism that one can easily be cast toward the United States--corporatism and cowboy capitalism come to mind--it remains an essential country in the world, one that other nations turn to when all else fails. But more to the point, it remains the country that people strive to get to, when time comes to vote with their feet.

But all of Donald Trump's most egregious rhetoric pales compared to his most recent foray into preemptive election nullification. At the Republican National Convention, the theme of election nullification lay barely below the surface of all of the anti-Hillary diatribes. After a couple of days of lock her up chants, it seemed only a matter of time before one Trump advisor, Al Baldasaro, concluded that Hillary's conduct constituted treason, and that "anyone that commits treason should be shot."

This week, faced with declining poll performance, Trump pronounced his belief that the election was being rigged against him. When things have been looking down, Trump has used the rigged game narrative to great effect. It was after his loss to Ted Cruz in the Wisconsin primary, when the Senator from Texas seemed on the verge of making a serious challenge to the Trump campaign, that Trump rolled out the rigged game rhetoric to great affect. In that iteration, the rigged game was about the economic decline of the American middle class, and the perfidy of American--and Republican--elites that had rigged the system against the working man. And it worked. From that low moment, Donald Trump regained his mojo, and never looked back.

But now, this rigged game that Donald Trump sees is American democracy itself. Trump cannot reconcile his decline in the polls with the continued enthusiasm of the crowds that flock to hear him every day. And no doubt, many of those who flock to see him cannot imagine how Trump could be foundering if not by the nefarious efforts of the media and those same elites who have rigged the economic system against them.

But Donald Trump is not a man who walks through any serious social critique or analysis to arrive at his conclusions about the rigging of the system. Trump is all about tactics, and he fully expects that his new rigged election narrative will drive the passions of his base, and his comments over the past few days that the impact of the Supreme Court striking down voter suppression laws over the past few weeks will have the effect of allowing people in some states--people who are not Trump supporters--to vote as many as ten times on Election Day.

There is a tradition in Delaware called Return Day, that dates back to colonial times. Two days after Election Day, the winners and losers march together in a parade through the streets of Georgetown, DE. This photograph from Return Day 2010 shows U.S. Senator Chris Coons and his Tea Party backed campaign rival Christine O'Donnell a they literally "bury the hatchet," to put the animosities of the recently ended campaign. Return day is not about the candidates, but it is about the public, and the importance of all candidates bringing their supporters along to accept the validity of the results of the campaign that has just ended. A democracy in which the supporters of the losing candidates do not accept the validity of the results will not long endure.

I have great fears about the ease with which Donald Trump uses language to his own ends. As he said to the New York Times editorial board, building a wall along the Mexico border was not something he had given any thought to, he only brought it up because he was losing his audience and needed something new to amp up the energy and excitement. So it was with the rigged system in the wake of his loss in Wisconsin, and so it was again this week with the rigged election in the wake of his declining poll numbers. As he found himself back on his heels--losing ground in the wake of the Khan family confrontation and new defections amount Republican leaders--his new rigged election rhetoric changed the focus of media attention, and communicated a new sense of urgency to his base.

The outcome in the fall election is expected to depend in large measure on how effective each campaign is in turning our their base. Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher suggested at a symposium during the Democratic convention in Philly that--notwithstanding the recent attention to white suburban woman--the presidential election will hinge on overall white voter turnout. If white voter turnout is 70% of the total, Trump cannot win. If white voter turnout is 74%, he likely will win. Based on this summation of the election, the Clinton campaign is right to be concerned about enthusiasm and turnout among its Black and Latino base--particularly in the wake of the selection of Tim Keane as her partner on the ticket--while Donald Trump is making a sound tactical decision if he can turn the heat up under his base by asserting that the election is being rigged against them--and him.

My friend from Tennessee is right to be concerned that Trump's bravado, his blinding ego, and his ignorance could be a toxic combination for the U.S. and for the world in a commander-in-chief. But that presumes that he wins. My greater concern is for the damage that Donald Trump is fully prepared to do to undermine public support for our democratic institutions, if, in doing so he believes he can advance his own interests. That is damage that he is prepared and capable of doing, whether he wins or loses, and that may have even more dire consequences for our nation in the wake of a Trump loss that it would in the increasingly unlikely event that he wins.

Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at

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