EDITOR’S NOTE: Part three of a five-part series examining the ease with which all the we hold dear can be hijacked and turned against us in the blink of an eye. Today we look at The Donald’s long game, the undermining of all things democratic. A staple in the creation of any authoritarian government, the would-be dictator has to practice addition through subtraction and in doing so, cause his faithful to question its established leaders as well as themselves.
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Act Three: Undermine the Fate of the Masses
and their Leaders
When springtime came to Trumplandia, The Donald was dancing a “yuge” celebratory jig out of his private jet and into Air Force One. However, it was his ability to undermine the democratic process during the campaign that served as the basic building block for his presidency and birthed the authoritarian style of governing that is making America great again.
If we can give Trump any degree of credit, we must at least admit that he was one busy dude during his campaign. While he was rising through the ranks during the Republican primary like some evil reality show contestant, he was also eroding the very foundation of our political system. It was hardly a new approach, but one rediscovered by Trump as he stumbled into his improbable rise as the presidential candidate for the Grand Old Party (GOP).
In those dog days of the campaign, debates became less scripted and issues-oriented. Where debates had once been a showcase for Robert’s Rules of Order and buttoned-down political etiquette, Trump’s bullying tactics turned them into a filthy game of “The Dozens.” Trump knew his brawling style would lead his fans to place their fate into his own tiny hands, but also that it would cause them to question the system itself, thus making it easier to topple.
Right-wing pundits and the media dismissed his approach as amateurish. Those who were offended by the xenophobic and misogynistic themes of his campaign gave him no support and thought he had little chance to win. Meanwhile, those Republicans who supported traditional candidates vowed to never support Trump and mused about what the outsider was doing to the image of the country’s oldest political party.
But for the growing base of Trump supporters, the contrast in styles and Orangey-one-Kenobi’s disregard for convention seemed to suggest that the old rules no longer applied, and that established candidates were out of touch with reality and incapable of charting a path to victory.
Trump’s style worked to devalue the frontrunners in the race, and convinced Americans who were merely existing in a lukewarm economic climate that the sky was falling, and that the solutions proposed by people who had lost the last two elections were for losers.
Following in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and other authoritarians who rose to power in the 1930s, Trump swooped in with the plot line that everything was messed up in Washington and only he could be trusted to fix it.
Trump’s deconstruction of democracy was less systematic than that of Hitler and more anecdotal.
Without the aid of brawling, brown-shirted thugs to beat his opponents to death or at least threaten them into hiding, Trump employed more overt methods for eroding the confidence of his followers in their government or its leaders in a short period of time.
Trump, a disciple of Roy Cohn, the vicious legal pit bull at the side of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy, it was impossible to know if what we were seeing was a completely calculated, manufactured item out of the laboratory of the evil genius who birthed the Red Scare or something else.
In the end, Trump’s attack style seemed a mash up of American Populism, married with New York snarkiness and some of what Uncle Adolf was cooking.
He built a Populist narrative among his followers that was so openly counter culture that it seemed to conjure up the everyman concepts embraced by Democratic Louisiana Governor and presidential candidate Huey P. Long, Jr., while reviving some of the separatist, white supremacist jargon of another Democrat, Alabama Governor and Dixiecrat/Independent George Wallace.
Trump proceeded to roll through the entire field of GOP candidates with a mixture of his abhorrent political tactics and one-liners that undermined all of the traditional leaders and in doing so, the entire political process.
2008 GOP Presidential Candidate and Senator John McCain became a “loser” for being captured and made a war prisoner in Vietnam. Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential loser was characterized as “a stiff” and a “catastrophe.”
Marco Rubio became “Little Marco Rubio.”
Jeb Bush became “Low Energy Jeb.”
Ted Cruz became “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” and at one point his wife’s looks and his father’s background were recklessly brought into a smear campaign without any basis or points of fact.
Other fringe members running against Trump became walking punchlines. Carly Fiorina’s looks were lampooned, Chris Christie was said to have known about closed lanes at the George Washington Bridge, and Ben Carson’s tough Detroit upbringing was questioned and mocked.
Trump’s circus turned the American political process into a farce, and in doing so, undermined not just the Republican Party, but also the very process by which it had governed since the time of Dwight Eisenhower.
Rebellion against the establishment wasn’t confined to the Republican Party or the right wing. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders on the left fought not only against GOP fanatics, but also with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her supporters.
By the time Trump vanquished his Republican foes and launched into “Crooked Hillary” and Obama — whose birthplace he’d openly questioned for years — he was rolling, and instead of good sense reining him in, his supporters were starting to say all the things they’d been afraid to say for years. They even marched against their own best interests in the case of healthcare, buying in fully as their hero spun yarn after yarn about lowering their taxes, bringing back American jobs, and not touching Medicaid and Medicare.
He told them that their precious democracy had been taken over by liberal, leftwing hacks who had made bad deals, sent jobs overseas and given away the identity of their country. He also pointed to the Republican Party, which he complained did not respect the legitimacy of his rise and therefore also could not be trusted.
Trump questioned the polls that said he could never win, and during the primary process, not only threatened to take his ball and go home, but also called for protests and riots if he did not win the nomination.
Trump supporters had been disenchanted with government for almost a decade, so the push to his super skeptical and distrustful point of view only required a small nudge. On Election Day, though he lost the majority vote, Trump was able to win in the Electoral College and became the spokesman for all of the “forgotten” white voters who blamed big government for their plight following the Great Recession of 2008.
It was at this time that greed and pandering took over to finish the undermining of democracy.
Once Trump secured the nomination, former critics like Christie begged to lead the transition team, while Romney, who had led the search for an alternative Republican candidate just weeks before, now dined with The Donald in hope of being considered for a Cabinet post.
By the time President-elect Trump was ready to take the oath of office, his clamoring supporters were certain that having a lying, hateful, strongman in the Oval Office would be no different or worse than any other candidate. The combination of disenchantment on both sides tore our system to shreds, and like Brexit in England, caused a political implosion that allowed Pop to eat itself.
By the springtime, many of the fine points were blissful memories, like the morning after a huge house party when you’re standing in the middle of a trash-strewn living room and wondering, “Why did this happen and who is to blame?”
Be it a creation of 1930s Germany, the brainchild of former Trump mentor Cohn, or someplace far colder and more diabolical, the Trump attack on our democracy was unexpected and unprecedented, and appears to have undermined all we stood for as Americans.
Because he was elected by a plurality and not a mob, it appears that the fault really does not lie in the stars, but with ourselves.
“Uncle Adolf” must be proud.