Saturday, February 27, 2016

On Trumpenfreude

One of the problems with today's era of hyperpolarization is the temptation to take pleasure when one's political rivals are running around in a tizzy — even when said tizziness is caused by something that will ultimately cause you and your side pain as well.

Take Donald Trump.

Max Boot and Bill Kristol, in particular are two conservatives who never found a war they couldn't excitedly cheer on. Kristol, in particular, is known for simply being wrong on every great question that's faced the United States for the last few decades.

And today, they're both tweeting up a storm, trying — vainly, I suspect — to rally Republicans against Trump. The panic is manifest:

And so on. And admittedly, in the pit of my stomach, my instinctive response is this:

Tee hee! This is the world you guys helped make! Now you have to live in it! Tee hee!

It's the wrong response. The world in which Trump is conceivably the GOP nominee is a world where Trump is conceivably the president — and in any case, probably coarsens our culture a little further so that even if he fails, we're a little more complacent the next time a Trump-like figure runs.

Kevin Drum advises liberals to lay off the Trump love:

Trump would be a uniquely dangerous president. He's a serial liar. He's a demagogue. He's a racist and a xenophobe. He appeals to our worst natures. He'd blithely enact ruinous policies simply because his vanity makes him immune to advice and policy analysis. He'd appoint folks who make Michael Brown look like Jeff Bezos. He would deliberately alienate foreign countries for no good reason. He'd waste money on pet projects like border walls and huge military buildups that would likely have no appreciable effect. And while that volatile personality of his probably wouldn't cause him to nuke Denmark, you never know, do you?

Given our polarization, I'm not sure that a Trump victory in the Republican primaries would make it more likely for a Democratic nominee to win the general election. But it does make it more likely that, well, Trump would. So we liberals shouldn't be rooting for Republican self-destruction. If we care about our country — and I think we do — we should be rooting for our rivals to put their best selves forward to the country. And then try like hell to beat them with our best selves.

That said, I really, really want Republicans and conservatives to learn their lesson from the rise of Trump. Conor Friedersdorf gets at this over at The Atlantic:

For years, I’ve argued that talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and websites like pose a significant threat to movement conservatism. All movements are vulnerable to populist excesses and the self-destructive impulses of their core supporters. Good leaders can help to mitigate those pathologies. Bad leaders magnify them. 
Within movement conservatism, hugely popular intellectual leaders abandoned the most basic norms of decency, as when Mark Levin screamed at a caller that her husband should shoot himself; stoked racial tensions, as when Rush Limbaugh avowed that in President Obama’s America folks think white kids deserve to get beat up by black kids on busses; and indulged paranoid conspiracy theories, as when Roger Ailes aired month-after-month of Glenn Beck's chalk-board monologues. 
Erick Erickson now complains that many Republicans are supporting “a man of mountainous ego” who “preys on nationalistic, tribal tendencies.” But this is what happens when millions of people spend a decade with Bill O’Reilly in their living rooms each evening and Ann Coulter books on their nightstands for bedtime reading. Let’s not treat it as a mystery that their notion of what’s credible is out of whack.
Like I said: This is the world that the Republican-conservative establishment has created. If it was anybody else, I'd say what's going to happen would be a lesson to them. Only they're going to need more than one lesson. Let's just hope the rest of us don't pay the price along the way.


Allen said...

Do you think his success actually encourages more candidates in the future to follow his brazen model? I wonder if this unprecedented run has long lasting effects beyond just a possible presidency, but instead emboldens similar actors in the future.

Joel Mathis said...

Yes, unless the rejection is thorough and unmistakable. Even then: The 1964 election looked like a death knell for conservatism, and four years later we had Nixon, 16 we had Reagan. So.