Saturday, July 18, 2015

Moving Through Some Changes

So what I think is, this whole Donald Trump presidency thing, it's important.  It means something.

I think we can all take it as read that Trump is a buffoon.  The thought of him being President of even a local bingo league is horrifying in extremis.  According to current polls, however, he is--if not actually leading in the Republican primaries--then at least near the top.

If you haven't been following his candidacy--and if that's the case, then I'm sorry for you, because it's been excellent--the highlights are too many and too uproarious to even name.  I'd urge you all to go to the Jon Stewart homepage and watch some of his dissections of Trump's various appearances and media hits.  They're very excellent.

In brief, he's already stated that most, if not all, Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists; that John McCain, by virtue of being captured during Vietnam, and not having escaped, is not only not a war hero, but maybe a coward; and that, despite having a surefire, secret plan to defeat ISIS utterly, he can't tell us what that plan is, in case someone steals it.

Oh, and also, that he's very very smart.  That comes up a lot.  And also, that he's very rich.

What interests me about Trump is that he represents a sort of reductio ad absurdum of a certain growing strain of Republicanism.  I'd call it Fox News Republicanism.  Which is, essentially, the strain of Republicanism which believes that being conservative means being "free-thinking," and that being free-thinking means denouncing, as idiots, anyone else who's been in power.  Mostly, that means saying that Democrats are corrupt and venial idiots, but if a certain stripe of Republican gets close to public office--Mitt Romney, John McCain, Jeb Bush--they can be defamed as well.

The logic, such as it is, goes like this: most politicians are stupid.  Therefore most of their ideas are stupid.  Therefore, most of the ideas and laws we've been given are useless.  Therefore we need all-new ideas and all-new laws!

The emotion at the core of this view is anger.  But the assumption at its core is that the world, despite is apparent complexity, is in fact very simple.   Right and wrong are easy to differentiate, and [candidate in question] is able to do without any problems.

The Fox News aspect of this view lies in its inherent TV-friendliness.  It's a view that's ready-made for television.  It's a view that trades in controversy.  It's a view that thinks in sound-bites.  It's a view that loves the immediate and the simple, that rejects complexity or subtly as the province of liars and Europeans.  All candidates have to kowtow to this way of thinking, of acting, to an extent, but Trump's genius, such as it is, has been to locate it at the center of his campaign/

And here's the interesting paradox.  Fox News is clearly the organization, above all others, that should and does love Donald Trump.  He is a never-ending goldmine of bullet-point discussion topics.  Are all immigrants criminals?  Why are our politicians so stupid?  Why does (that whinging moderate) McCain get treated with such kid gloves?  Where are our leaders?

And yet, even as he gives them, on a day-to-day level, everything the network needs, he is, obviously, a toxic poison to the Republican party.  Can you imagine how happy Hillary Clinton would be to have Trump as her opponent?  (I actually heard a serious roundtable radio discussion yesterday in which a number of people opined that Trump had been paid off by the Clintons to wreck the Republican nominating process).

So what does Fox News do?  On the one hand, Trump makes great copy.  He's far and above the most TV-friendly candidate.  A whole network dedicated entirely to what he did and said could probably not only survive, but make real money.  And yet, he's a death-wish for the party as a whole.  So what does Fox News do?  Continue to stoke the fires of extremism, which stoking has made them so rich over so many years?  Or develop some kind of patriotic conscience, and try to purge the party of a known toxin?

It will be interesting to track.


Saxo Philologus said...

Can we see through this mask of uncertainty? Surely now...

I have many thoughts on this post, but I will try to be concise.

1) Trump and Fox News are not all that similar. On his signature issue of illegal immigration, for example, Trump is completely at odds with News Corp and Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, etc. Fox News is itself very pro-immigration, though some of its talent have brought on Ann Coulter to discuss her new book. Trump resonates on this issue at least because while the vast majority of Americans (see Mickey Kaus on the polling) recognize the immigration system for the corrupt, disastrous, boondoggle that it is, and want less legal immigration and a lot less illegal immigration, neither party listens to them. Trump is a buffoon, of course, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. If the Republicans are smart they will run as immigration restrictionists. Jeb is of course polling at Mitt Romney levels among hispanics even in spite of his position on immigration. The Republican party should purge Trump because he's a bloviating moron (who supported Hillary Clinton!), not because he's wrong on illegal immigration (though he is to some degree).

2) Jon Stewart is a smug, loathsome twit. I'm sorry. I'll just leave it at that.

3) 'The logic, such as it is, goes like this: most politicians are stupid. Therefore most of their ideas are stupid.' I'm not so sure. You might be right, but I think Fox news viewers recognize that the federal government is wasteful and occasionally corrupt, and not very good at doing anything except fighting wars.

Keep posting the Yes videos!

ANCIANT said...

Is the government good at fighting wars? Recent history would suggest otherwise.

I'll respond to the others after more mulling.

Dezmond said...

Saxo is right. (Well, our government hasn't been great at fighting, or more accurately, finishing wars). But what frustrates people like Saxo and myself, those of us on the right side of politics and history, is that while the conservative philosophy and message is the right prescription for America, the messengers make us cringe. There are reactionary, low information partisans on both sides. But I am talking about a reasonable, and sometimes flexible, moderate conservatism that would see this country through if we could just stay on that course. But clowns like Trump and Ted Cruz are more dangerous to workable conservatism than any Clinton ever could be.

ANCIANT said...


Your ad hominem attacks on Stewart notwithstanding (does being a smug twit preclude one from having insight? You followed and admired Jonah Goldberg for years. Surely his personality is no more objectionable than Stewart's?), his takes on the Trump candidacy are worth viewing, if only because they're so funny. Trump is obviously an easy target, but I wonder if you've actually ever SEEN the man interviewed since he announced his candidacy? Or, better, did you watch any part of that announcement? At one point he began detailing all of the properties he owned, with a view to making sure everyone in the audience knew exactly how rich he was. Great stuff.

My point about Fox News is not that they are similar to Trump; it's that he presents them with an interesting dilemma. Ailes et. al are smart enough to know that Trump's bad for the party in the long-run, but they also run a conservative television network. Since Trump's brand of bombastic demagoguery is ideally suited for television--Bill O'Reilly's already had him on a half-dozen times--the Fox honchos are going to have to decide if they want to advance the aims of their network or of the party which their network (ostensibly) serves. My contention is, they'll throw the party over and choose the network--putting Trump on television at every chance they get, and thus, wittingly or not, hastening their own destruction.

To your point about Fox viewers recognizing that the government is wasteful and corrupt--you may be right. I'd just point out that under Bush the younger both the debt and the deficit ballooned to an all-time high. It's shrunk considerably during the Obama presidency.

On immigration: the issue is too large and complex for me to believe I have an informed opinion. Obviously there are all sorts of problems. I don't think anyone would suggest that the immigration system, as currently set-up, comes close to the ideal.

Trump's contention, however, that illegal immigrations increases crime has been disproven repeatedly. I can send you some links if you want; in general, though, neighborhoods settled by recent immigrants (legal and non) tend to be less criminal than the national average. Which does not mean immigration (illegal) doesn't pose all sorts of other problems. It does. But the crime issue is, by and large, a fallacy.

ANCIANT said...

Does the fact that no good messengers can be found to carry the conservative message suggest to you, perhaps, that the message itself is flawed? I ask that question non-ironically. It's genuinely something I wonder about.

I think the last intelligent messenger of conservatism was probably McCain. If he could have run as the reasonable moderate (that I believe) he truly is, he might have stood a chance. But his party forced him to the right, and that--along with the Palin nomination--wrecked his chances. At least, that's how I see it.

Saxo Philologus said...

A few points:

1) Our military is unparalleled at completely obliterating its enemies, which it is virtually never allowed to do. If we did to the Taliban or ISIS what the Sri Lankans just did to the Tamil Tigers, we could probably clean these problems up with some dispatch

2) In re: Jon Stewart, you are right. To quote the excellent 'Knocked Up': 'Perhaps I responded unfavorably.' I give him major credit for setting up an animal sanctuary in New Jersey, which is more than I have ever done. What annoys me about him is that he presents himself as a truth seeker outraged by the evident hypocrisy all around, but the only oxen he gores are slightly clueless middle-aged white people. Just once it would have been nice to see him take on a non-pc issue like public sector union corruption, black criminality, the insanity of the immigration system, etc. Instead, he shows clips of James Inhofe saying something ridiculous and awaits a laugh from his audience. He is/was smart and funny, but he squandered his pulpit preaching to the converted.

3) on immigration, you are partially right. First generation immigrants (legal ones, and possibly illegal, but this is uncertain) commit crimes at below the average rate. But the second generation of hispanic immigrants (most of whose parents came here illegally) have depressingly high rates of teen pregnancy, drop-out rates, criminality, etc. I yield to no one in my admiration for the vast majority of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America. But immigration is a policy, and the policy needs to be set by looking at cold, hard facts, without regard to feel-good stories.

Saxo Philologus said...

How about, for example, a complete moratorium on immigration from Muslim countries for five years (save for those Afghans and Iraqis who helped our troops and should all be given citizenship)? This seems reasonable to me, given what we've just seen in Tennessee. My man Rand Paul may actually propose something to that effect.

ANCIANT said...

I tend to agree with you, by and large, about Jon Stewart. His self-righteous sanctimoniousness is hard to take in large doses. And it's also true that probably 80% tends to be of the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel variety. Once in a while, though, he does bring up interesting issues. On the subject on animal cruelty--which is one his big subjects, as you note--are you knowledge about the Chris Christie/hogpen story? I was not. And it's pretty terrible. And Christie, in my opinion, is a pretty terrible dude. Not only because he's willing to torture animals, essentially, in order to suck up to Iowa kingmakers. But that's one of the reasons.

John Oliver's show, on the other hand, has gone after much more interestingly complex issues. He did a piece on the problems with the bail system in America a few weeks ago which was great. And last week, he did something on the corruption inherent in the public funding for sports stadiums which I loved. He tends to do larger exposes on more complex issues--usually devoting half of each show to one big story. I recommend it.

As I said earlier, I'm too under-informed about immigration in this country to have any opinions worth taking note of. As a practical matter, however, the Republican party obviously has a big problem with Hispanic voters (which voters seem increasingly to be the key swing bloc for American presidential elections). Rhetoric like Trump's is only worsening that problem.

ANCIANT said...

I apologize, btw, for the vast quantity of typos in my last post. Am writing without proofing, in a bit of a hurry. More Yes videos to watch!

Dezmond said...

No, i don't think classic conservative principles are flawed. Well, no philosophy is perfect, which is why i always caution moderation and compromise, but it is the least flawed. It best promotes our founding principles, which are still the best out there.

I'm not sure there is such a struggle for Fox. I don't think Fox wants Republicans to win any more than Rush Limbaugh does. Fox and Limbaugh thrive the most on outsider Conservative rage. Limbaugh and Fox have much more to talk about and a more fired up viewership when Obama is in office than if Jeb Bush is.

Dezmond said...

See Trump's latest? Lindsay Graham called Trump a "jackass" and Trump gave out Graham's personal cell number. Trump also said Perry started to wear his glasses "to make him look intelligent." Trump a Clinton operative? Yes

JMW said...

I agree with much of your post, ANCIANT, but the important thing that's going unsaid in this comments thread is that somewhere in that Yes clip, scientists have discovered the exact chemical makeup of anti-soul. That is the nerdiest nerd-rock that ever nerded.

Dezmond said...

It is actually NerdSoul. And as a specimen of NerdSoul, it is unsurpassed.

ANCIANT said...

Dez is right. Yes is NerdSoul. Anti-Soul can be found in the music of Rush. It's an important distinction.

ANCIANT said...

Also, Dez, your comment about Fox being like Rush Limbaugh really gets to the nub of the matter. I have always--naively perhaps--imagined that they actually wanted to elect Republicans to office. But you may be right. They may prefer to stand in outraged opposition. It makes for much better television.

JMW said...

Yes makes Rush sound like Otis Redding.

Dezmond said...

That must be a typo. Please review your post before posting. I think you meant to say that Rush makes Yes sound like Otis.

JMW said...

I would say they make each other sound like Atari 2600s.

Dezmond said...

You gotta problem with Atari?

Cartooniste said...

I actually agree with Trump about Perry's eyeglasses.

Dezmond said...

In today's political climate, I could take your statement above and reprint it as: Cartooniste declares "I actually agree with Trump."

ANCIANT said...

One thing I meant to add to my original post: the assumption on the part of a large part of the GOP establishment seems to be that Trump is an amusing (or not) diversion who will flame out in a few months and leave the field (by choice or not) to the grown-ups. I'm not at all convinced of this. It seems to me that Trump is in this for the long haul, and that the party lacks the willpower, ability, and sober rationality, at this point, to force him out. I think he'll still be in the mix come spring, and may even be a force into the summer and fall. The inmates have taken over the asylum, you could say, in the GOP--that's my take.

Dezmond said...

Completely agree. It has been funny these past months. Pundits have been predicting Trump's demise with every shocking thing he says, and he ends up with more support than before. Trump has two powerful weapons that will not go away. Lots of money and a fascinated press.

He has latched on to a strong strain of discontent. And his celebrity and cash gives him almost complete freedom. And he's no idiot. Did you see the interview on CNN? Trump manhandled Anderson Cooper. Totally controlled the interview. I'm saying the substance of what he said in the interview was right, but that doesn't matter. He was in charge, did not allow CNN or the Republican Party push him around.

And he has the nuclear option. He can run as an independent and assure a Democratic victory. He really holds all of the cards and holds the Republican Party hostage right now.

Funny. What if we end up with Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders? We get what we deserve, i guess.

Dezmond said...

"Not" saying the substance of what he said