Monday, October 10, 2016

Steve Bannon's night.

The Tweet:  Forget Trump and Hil, Sunday was Steve Bannon's night. He signed up to launch a war within the GOP, and this weekend they fired the first shot.

For those who wondered what Steve Bannon has been doing to earn his keep atop the Trump campaign, we found out on Sunday. Bannon, widely viewed as the intellectual godfather of the "alt right" movement---the ├╝ber right wing alliance of white nationalist, anti-semitic, anti-whatever groups--was the big winner in Sunday's second Presidential debate.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each did what they needed to do on Sunday. Trump was successful in stopping the bleeding in his campaign, which seemed to be on the brink of collapse, and he has made it nearly impossible for more members of Congress to pull back their endorsements of his candidacy. But he did nothing to advance his chances to win in November. For her part, Hillary Clinton was steady and unremarkable. She performed like someone trying to protect her lead, and she did.

But for Steve Bannon and the hard core Trump supporters of the ascendant alt-right, Sunday night was a night for the ages. Gone was the Donald Trump trying to make nice with moderate GOP and independent voters, or to soften his appeal to reach out to Republican woman. Instead, on Sunday night, we saw Donald Trump in full-on attack mode. He might have looked unhinged to the rest of us, but to his hard core base, his relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton and on the entire Clinton era were a soothing balm for their long-festering rage.

Trump channeled that rage, and did it well. And in doing so he dealt a severe blow to Republicans who for the previous 48 hours had been defecting from his ranks. Those Republicans--in particular the senators and House members who are on the ballot four weeks from tomorrow--thought Trump was cratering and they had an opportunity to improve their standing with voters by disavowing their endorsement. Instead, they now face the prospect of being strung up by Trump supporters for their perfidy.

Cuck is the term that the armies of the alt-right will sling at Republicans who chose to cut and run rather than standing by Donald Trump. Cuckservatives--cuck for short--is derived from cuckhold. It has become the term of venomous disdain from the alt-right toward conservative and mainstream Republicans who submit to the niceties of polite society, who lose their will and bow before the power of the mainstream media. And who could be a greater cuck than a Congressman who withdrew his support for Donald Trump because of some decade-old audio recording that was little more than crude, locker room male banter.

Trump voters have reason to be vindictive. For decades now working class white voters have marched in lockstep in support of whatever candidate the GOP put before them. They have supported GOP tax cuts, wars and the free trade agenda that would ultimately destroy their communities. Those voters, it turns out, are neither conservative nor small government Republicans. It is government that they want to see fix their problems, and Donald Trump has promised to do exactly that.


Trump voters have had enough with blind loyalty to a party and a DC establishment that has taken their support for decades and offered little in return.  Now, with those communities laid bare as manufacturing plants disappeared to Mexico and China, and the less educated white working class left in an economic and psychological depression, they have found their savior in Donald Trump. If the Party abandons Trump, those voters will turn on those that turned on their man, and will do so with a vengeance.

The GOP without Trump is a political party that offers little or nothing for the economically ravaged communities whose residents have flocked to the New York billionaire. When Paul Ryan was asked two weeks ago if he would support Trump's ambitious infrastructure investment plans, Ryan just laughed, and suggested that Trump's plan was not part of Ryan's conservative "A Better Way" agenda that seeks to radically reduce domestic spending. Suffice it to say, Trump voters are not interested in being told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They want their old lives back, and Donald Trump has promised to get it for them. Paul Ryan and his prissy fiscal conservatism do nothing for them.

We are now seeing in real time the beginning of the civil war in the Republican Party that was supposed to break out sometime after Election Day, or perhaps four years from now in the 2020 primaries. Finding himself with his back against the wall, Donald Trump--ably abetted by Steve Bannon--fired the first volley this weekend. 

Several dozen members of Congress outed themselves in the wake of the Access Hollywood video. As those members abandoned Trump--and began loud, public discussions about how to push him off the ticket--they forgot the essential rule of palace uprisings: "You come at the king, you best not miss." On Sunday night, as Donald Trump threw red meat to his followers, he reminded those members and the rest of the GOP that his voters--who comprise a third or more of the GOP electorate--are loyal to him, and him alone.

For Steve Bannon, the events of the weekend leading up to Sunday's debate could not have gone better. It was almost as though he leaked the Access Hollywood video himself, just to smoke out the weak and disloyal, and force them into the open, where his armies in the alt-right media can have a field day taking them down. He does not care one whit whether it costs Republicans the Senate or the House. His war is with the Republican establishment, and he is playing for keeps.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The essential shaming of Donald Trump.

Really, why are people so surprised? Everyone knows that Donald Trump has been a serial philanderer, that much has been a running saga in the New York Daily News for decades now. The guy has a thing for models and beauty pageants. There have been any number of civil suits related to his unwanted sexual advances. The videotape was sickening in demonstrating his narcissistic entitlement born of power and celebrity to sexually assault women of his choosing, but are people really surprised?

Republicans who committed to Trump have watched one outrage after another for months now. Yet here they are, like the proverbial frog that found itself in a pot of boiling water and wondered why it did not get out before things got so hot. This weekend, Donald Trump has given them all a gift. It is the deal of a lifetime, but it has a short expiration date. He has given them an out. They all knew who he was when they got into bed with him, but like Peter Lorre in Casablanca, they get to express their outrage, and, if they are smart, get out.

Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of the notably Republican Wall Street Journal editorial board, summed it up succinctly last week in her op-ed endorsement of Hillary Clinton, entitled Hillary-Hatred Derangement Syndrome. Republicans have marketed Hillary hatred for decades now, and by the time Trump rolled around, he was the beneficiary of their derangement. Republicans across the political spectrum--from Tea Party firebrand Steve King on the right, to the more reasonable Deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole (R-OK), to GOP wise man Vin Weber--each poo-pooed the rabid anti-Hillary rhetoric around the time of the Republican convention as campaign bluster, suggesting that Hillary could be fine to work with if she won, but apparently many across the GOP never got the memo. Instead, Republicans, pumped up by years of well-stoked hatreds, flocked like lemmings to Trump's banner, ignoring the myriad warning lights flashing red along the way.

But the thing is, the video was not even Donald Trump's worst offense this week. It was not even the second worst. Lost in the explosion of indignant outrage over a video in which Donald Trump sounded exactly how one imagined Donald Trump would sound, were two even more disqualifying outbursts. First, at a rally in Florida, Trump expressed outrage at the exoneration of the Central Park 5. Trump has been involved with the case since it roiled New York City in 1989. Five young men were wrongfully convicted and served full sentences for raping a young woman, before being exonerated and having their convictions vacated in the wake of the confession of a man whose guilt was confirmed by DNA evidence. Trump has used the case to garner attention to himself over the years by stirring up racial animus--a precursor to his Birther movement--and did so again this week in Florida.

Then, at a meeting with a union representing border patrol agents, Trump returned to the narrative that the election is being rigged against him, which has served him well since his loss in the Wisconsin primary. Then it was the GOP primary system that was rigged, now it is the integrity of our entire electoral system, as he accused the Obama administration of opening the border to allow undocumented immigrants with criminal records to "pour into the country so they can go ahead and vote."

As bad as the newly released video of Donald Trump is, it runs a distant third to these two events, which each wantonly seek to undermine public confidence in institutions of civil society that are essential to our democracy. Yes, in that video, Trump glories in his lecherous behavior and brags of criminal sexual conduct--and whether it was ten years ago or last year, it should disgust the electorate.

But as bad as Trump's conduct on the video is, it does not begin to touch the damage that he has done and continues to do in undermining the public faith in our core democratic institutions. But this time next month, or perhaps even next week, Trump will be gone, but the damage that he has inflicted and continues to inflict by undermining public confidence in those institutions will live on. In his attacks on Judge Curiel, Trump began his assault on the credibility of the judiciary--melding his racial, anti-immigrant narrative with his own legal interests. In his attack on the Central Park 5, he went several steps farther. This time, his attack went beyond being racial and personal, to a direct assault on the credibility of the justice system, for his own political advantage. Nor does the video touch the damage his continued rigged election narrative does in encouraging his followers to doubt the integrity of our electoral system.

The video displayed Donald Trump's personal behavior, however egregious. The other two incidents displayed his blatant disregard for the institutional fabric of the nation that he presumes to want to lead. A large share of his core voters, perhaps 40% of the GOP, will believe what he says. They will conclude from his words that in New York City, corrupt officials exonerated five guilty men, facts be damned. They will conclude that corrupt Obama administration officials are letting undocumented immigrants flood across the border vote for Hillary Clinton, facts be damned.

The political landscape is littered with people who predicted that Donald Trump had gone too far, only to see him move past the affront of the moment, gather himself together and move on to new heights. Each time, some group of recalcitrant Republicans did what they swore they could never do, and got on board. Now, with four weeks to go, Trump has offered them all a chance to get out. He is going to lose, and it is going to be ugly.

It will not be enough for Trump to lose, he needs to lose badly. He has repeatedly sought to undermine essential institutions of our civil society for his own advancement. Confidence in the independence of the judiciary and integrity of electoral systems are as essential here as they are in any democracy across the globe. Yet, once again this week, Donald Trump has proven that he is willing to undermine those precious elements of our free society for his own advancement. He needs to be shamed and discredited, not just because he is a lecher indicted by his own words captured on a hot mike, but because he has no respect or regard for our national institutions. It is--as he has proven time and time again--all about him.

The video may not have been the worst Trump story this week, but it is the one that Republicans can turn to. They have a chance to get out. It is the last chance they will get.


Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.