Ken’s Take on the World


Dog Whistles and Trumpeteers

The rise of Donald Trump to become the leading front-runner for the Republican nomination to be President of the United States has been surprising to me.  At least upon first glance.  When one looks deeper, this success should actually not be too surprising for anyone to recognize.  Not only has his elevation and, apparent success, in the polls continued to surprise me, it has also filled me with a sense of disappointment and sadness.  I am not saddened by his success, after all, how can anyone be made sad by witnessing the success of another person.  I am saddened, however, by what his current success in the Republican primaries is premised on.

 

Mr. Trump has been a successful businessman.  Yes, like all great business people, he has had his failures.  His initial wealth was inherited which I do not fault him for.  There are many great people who also inherited great wealth.  I believe he exploits others for his personal gain and that makes him unethical and a poor role model.  Prior to his current entry into politics, I would have never guessed that he would be considered by anyone, let alone describe himself, as a, “conservative.”  The only casual link I can identify between a conservative philosophy and Mr. Trump is that he is a business person and I have always tended to think that responsible, self-made, business people trend somewhat conservative, at least financially.  Mr. Trump does not fit the mold that I imagine of the conservative business person.  He is extravagant, opulent, boisterous, and brash.  None of these are qualities I would associate with a truly conservative persona.

 

Donald Trump has increased his personal fortune through real estate, gambling establishments, and other businesses.  He has owned an airline, hotels, casinos, and has had his name attached to steaks, water, and other consumer products.  He has experienced successes and failures with these operations.  When his businesses were failing he sought out bankruptcy protections.  These are completely legal processes, however, they are inconsistent with a conservative philosophy of personal responsibility.  Bankruptcy is generally harmful to creditors and, when it involves a business, it is always harmful to the workers.  A President Trump cannot take the United States of America through bankruptcy court.  His economic ideas, he has not advanced any specific policies, are not fiscally-conservative by any means.

 

His personal life makes it even more unfathomable that he would consider himself a conservative and even less likely that he should have the support of those who consider themselves to be, “social-conservatives.”  He has been married multiple times, engaged in affairs, made crude references towards women and to male and female genitalia.  Things that I would have automatically assumed would disgust evangelical Christians and other religiously devout individuals.  I am not judging him, mind you, I am only at a loss to comprehend his support from those who have expressed condemnation of adultery, divorce, non-monogamy, and homosexuality.  On other areas of social conflict, including abortion, I did not even think Mr. Trump had expressed a position.  In fact, I would have laid money on the idea that he was not opposed to abortion, homosexuality, or infidelity.

 

What is it, then, that fuels Mr. Trump’s rise among the Republican base?  It is not his fiscal constraint nor his fiscal responsibility.  It is not his social mores.  And, yet, a large percentage of his supporters in the primary elections are those who claim to be fiscally-conservative and/or socially-conservative.  It would appear that he is the antithesis of a candidate that these individuals would coalesce behind.  The answer must lie deeper.  It is within these deeper layers that we begin to see the origins of Donald Trump’s rise, and more importantly, of the reasons underlying his support.  The Republican establishment and those who serve in Washington understand, all too well, where this support comes from and they are suddenly afraid of being exposed for this dark philosophy as well.

 

The truth is much darker, and much uglier, than anyone could imagine.  It harkens back to the days of slavery and the effectiveness with which Mr. Trump promotes this ugliness the more likely it becomes that the Grand Old Party is at a crucial junction in its existence.

 

From the mid-1950’s, through today, the Republican Party has promoted a philosophy that trends socially-regressive.  It is based on the promotion of fear and anxiety.  From the racial segregation and anti-Communist policies of the 1950’s to the continuing opposition to equality for women since the 1970’s, to the opposition to homosexuality, including non-discrimination and marriage equality, and into recent battles over transgender equality and immigration, the GOP has incorporated the language of fear and increasingly narrowed its base to disaffected white, heterosexual, poorly-educated, Christians.  From the end of slavery, conservatives have used innuendo like a dog whistle to create scapegoats of minority groups in order to advance a white agenda that opposes equality for anyone else.  The Republican Party began to capitalize upon this idea in the 1950’s by promoting fear over reason.  By the 1980’s the Grand Old Party solidified its base of white, Christian, males. The stoking of fear of the, “others” is what has created a, mostly, homogenous base of Republican voters.  The GOP has mastered the art of, “Us versus Them” in politics.  If you are different, in any way, you are not, “Us.”  It is this sense of fear or anxiety that allows the Republican Party to recruit poor whites, who are most harmed by Republican economic policies.  It is for this reason that a candidate like Donald Trump has had the ability to rise so rapidly up the hierarchy of Republican politics to, possibly, become its official standard-bearer.  In light of this, it is really not so surprising that Mr. Trump has emerged as a viable candidate for the Republican Party.  The Republican establishment has employed the use of fear-based rhetoric like a dog whistle for so long that the trumpeting of such dialogue would naturally draw certain supporters out from hiding.

 

It is extremely disturbing, however, that a candidate, from any political party, seeking to be a candidate to become President of the United States would actively support, or tacitly endorse, such un-American values.  It is not that any person should be so naïve as to deny the existence of prejudice in this nation.  Neither, should one be surprised that there are some people in 2016 who are bigots or racists.  I am more troubled by the fact that there is such widespread support for the ugliness of racism, bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and Islamophobia within this great nation.  This has become even more apparent immediately after the election, in 2008, of President Barack Obama as Republicans immediately expressed genuine hope that he would fail.  It is the extent to which these attitudes pervade our nation that is most alarming to me.  This is something that is genuinely surprising and bothersome.  I find this disgusting and would never support a political candidate that condones such vile attitudes.

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The “Others!!”

Watching Mr. Donald Trump win three of the first four Republican Presidential primary contests has been a frustrating, and troubling, experience for this self-identified progressive, independent American.  Political pundits have been explaining for the past several months there is no way Mr. Trump could possibly earn the GOP nomination to be President.  In the past few weeks, this narrative has changed to an assessment of how the Republican establishment has failed to contain the damage he has wrought on their party.  The sad and very tragic truth is that what we are seeing in America has not been introduced by the reality show star, real estate mogul, and entertainer, but by decades of intentional actions by the Republican Party establishment.

 

As a result of increasing social disapproval of racial discrimination, especially in more populous and northern states, throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, and particularly fueled by the overturning of Jim Crow laws that had existed since the period of Reconstruction following the US Civil War, and the adoption of the Voting Rights Act and the US Civil Rights Act, the Republican Party made a purposeful attempt to draw poor, and working class Democrats (who had traditionally voted Democrat) into the fold.  There was a general appeal to these voter’s conservative economic views and the rampant poverty that existed throughout the South.  There was, also, a much more insidious, and covert, appeal to appeal to the racial prejudices that did not fade away following enforced desegregation of public accommodations, including schools and retail establishments.  Social norms began to evolve and overt racism declined only to be replaced by a shadowy, hidden form of racism that continued below the surface of society.

 

With the support of Southern Democrats, Barry Goldwater won the states of the Deep South in the Presidential election of 1964.  These states, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina.  These states were all a part of the Confederacy during the US Civil War.  While this was not enough to propel Mr. Goldwater into the White House, they served as a foundation for which Richard Nixon would add Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, again, Confederate States during the Civil War, in order to become the 38th President of the United States.  The realignment of the Republican Party was nearly complete based on the racial prejudices that were motivated during this time.  In the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s Republicans also appealed to religious conservatives in order to increase their support which was eroding as a result of increased tolerance of racial differences.  However, there was a continuing appeal to the racial biases of poor, poorly-educated, working class white voters.

 

The rise of the Moral Majority in the very late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, was sufficient to propel Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood actor and former Governor of California, into the White House after the 1980 election.  The Moral Majority railed against women’s right, gay rights, equal pay, the minimum wage, and for a stronger military in order to prepare for a Christian Holy War against Islam.  It probably did not help that President Carter had a very lackluster Presidency noted for the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  There was an increasing anti-Muslim undercurrent present during this election which bears some similarity to today’s electoral climate.  Republican economic policies introduced throughout the 1980’s served to foster increased economic disparities.  As societal attitudes changed, the influence of the Moral Majority faded, somewhat, throughout the 1990’s and through today, although the promotion of hot button issues, including abortion and LGBT equality, has continued to bring out certain religious voting blocs during election cycles.

 

The election of President Obama in 2008 served as a catalyst for racist groups to increase their public rhetoric which, in turn, helped to fuel the establishment of the Tea Party as a significant political influence within the Republican Party.  The 2010 midterm elections saw a number of Tea Party-backed candidates elected into Congress including Senator Marco Rubio.  Senator Ted Cruz joined him in the US Senate in 2012 with significant Tea Party support.  The 2010 midterm elections began to expose the developing rifts between the Republican establishment and its base.  In light of a Federal government that appeared to be unresponsive to the desires of a Libertarian-leaning base that promoted to an extremely weak Federal government and expressing a, “States-Rights,” mantra, the Tea Party managed to increase gains in Congress during the 2012 election cycle.  Failure of Tea Party candidates to produce desired outcomes saw a bit of a pullback during the 2014 midterm elections.

 

President Obama’s election in 2008 came on the heels of the greatest economic downturn since the 1920’s and 1930’s.  While all economic groups suffered as a result of the collapse of economic powerhouses including banking, housing, and manufacturing, the recovery was most beneficial for those at the upper ends of the economic strata.  This has fueled the frustration of middle-class and working-class folks who believe government is not working for them.  The Republican Party has capitalized upon this by diverting attention away from three decades of failed economic policies and re-directing this frustration against immigrants and the poor.   Don’t blame government, we (Republicans) have been saying government cannot do anything.  It is, “The Others,” that are to blame for your economic and social status in life.  It is the gays who are responsible for the moral decay of our nation.  It is the immigrants who are responsible for low pay for your hard work.  It is the Muslims who are responsible for all terrorism.  It is not the fault of the wealthy that you are unable to advance economically and accumulate wealth, it is the fault of the poor who waste your tax dollars through food-stamp programs and, “Obama phones!!”

 

Mr. Trump, has capitalized on this message of using, “The Others” as a rallying cry for his poor and working class white supporters.  This ugly message of division, as untrue as it is, is remarkable for its effectiveness.  The American people, who should be too smart to fall for this message from a candidate such as, “The Donald” have reverted to an emotional response to fear.  This is what has become so perplexing about the Trump campaign.  Mr. Trump has not waged a political campaign on a single substantive idea.  He is not a conservative in any sense of the word.  He is not a moral man nor does he demonstrate fiscal responsibility.  And, yet, he has garnered support from evangelical Christians and a Libertarian base that supports lower taxes and smaller government.  He promises to spend more on increasing the size of our military and an incredible amount to build a wall separating the United States from Mexico.  Mr. Trump says that he will make Mexico pay for such a wall to the delight of his supporters who surely must know this is an impossibility.  He insults and threatens anyone who disagrees or opposes him.  He has insulted war heroes, journalists, women, Muslims, Jews, LGBT people, our current military personnel, first responders, and people who do not possess college degrees.  These things, alone, should have been enough to doom his campaign earlier in this election cycle.  Instead, his racially-tinged, misogynistic, bigoted, and Islamophobic, comments have drawn some of the biggest applause lines at his campaign rallies.  This is all inexplicable but for one thing.  His promotion of white, Christian, heterosexual, people as being better than others has actually increased his support among people who should know better, but are giving in to the emotions of anger, fear, and hatred.

 

While I still do not believe Mr. Trump has the ability to win a general election (I still have faith in the American people) the fact that he has used differences to successfully pit Americans against one another, and against others, is seriously troubling.  I do not believe Mr. Trump even believes much of what he is promoting, he is an entertainer, after all, but the fact that many Americans support the message lays bare a certain ugliness that is more than simply troubling.  That there exists, within Americans, animosity towards others based on their skin color, their religion, their heritage, or their gender is quite disgusting.  It would be naïve to ever think these attitudes did not exist in 2016, however, the prevalence of these attitudes is bothersome.

 

It should be noted that this concept of, “others” is not unique to the Republican Party.  The Democrats have also promoted a philosophy of others.  The difference between Democrats is that they frame this issue as one of a small group of ultra-wealthy Americans versus the rest of America.  The candidates on the Democrat side point out that the wealthiest of Americans are harming the rest of Americans.  In this battle, we are all Americans, first!!

 

Another difference between the two main political parties that has become evident to me over the past several election cycles is that the Democrat Party promotes an overall message of optimism and hope while the Republican Party markets a message of pessimism and fear.  Fear and anxiety are very powerful motivators, particularly for individuals who are insecure with themselves.  Take Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan:  “Make America Great, Again!!”  Yeah!!  Wait.  This slogan implies that America is no longer great.  I reject this suggestion completely.  The United States IS a great nation!!  It can be made even greater with the proper guidance and leadership, however, to insinuate that, at some point, America has lost her greatness is a reprehensible message to put forth!!

 

The message that must be heard by every person is that we are ALL Americans, first and foremost!!  We must reject the idea that there are, “others,” completely!!  This November, it is critical that we, as Americans, get out and vote.  Vote to reject the notion of, “others.”  Vote to KEEP America great by continuing to promote our ideals of justice, fairness, equality, and opportunity!!  YOU can keep America the greatest nation on Earth!!