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The Radical Politics of Trump

The word radical comes from the Latin radix, and means basically to tear up by the root. While in a phrase regarding terrorism it may not be particularly apt (far as I am aware, jihadists aren’t radicals in the strict sense of the term, where something like fanatics or zealots or even blood-thirsty dipshits would better serve), it does fit at least some of Trump’s political stances. Note that I am not using the term radical pejoratively, but trying to look at which policies are accurately described that way.

Trump is a radical on many issues, both across political lines and within his party. A ban on Muslims immigrating would be a radical departure from the First Amendment to the Constitution, where the government has long held that religion is the individual’s business. Building a wall, while not radical in some circles, would be radical for national policy that has held that border protection requires more than mortar and brick.

On trade, in particular, a move toward an anti-trade stance, predicated on some bizarre notion of trade imbalances being detrimental rather than seeing the dire need for workforce enablement through policies that are compatible with trade, is radical. Same on dissolving the accord for blocking Iran from acquiring nuclear armaments, same for the notion that allies should gain nuclear armaments, same for the weakening of NATO, and so on.

The man literally wants to tear up some of our treaties and agreements, including commitments on climate protection. And his whole America First foreign policy, which suggests the idea that we would sell out our allies if it benefits us, is entirely radical and isolationist in an era where America has never entertained such ideas.

On the other hand, some of his policies are the epitome of the status quo. Take his stance on healthcare reform, for example. Repealing the Affordable Care Act may seem radical, but his policy recommendations mostly focus on minor tweaks to things like tax deductions and health savings accounts. In an area where we probably need more radical changes to actually move the needle, Trump is go-along-to-get-along.

So, the question is, is it fair to call Trump a radical? On some subjects, undoubtedly. But as I have pointed out before, Trump’s policies vary from the bizarre to the GOP party line (some of which overlaps the bizarre and radical, but a lot of which is just banal). The overarching policy of Trump isn’t radical as much as it is a reflection of his belief that America is diminished.

Usually that sort of mentality results in revivalism, the belief that return to earlier forms will restore the prestige and power. That can be seen in the slogan “Make America Great Again,” but very little in the policy and even less in the reality. Is America numero uno in all of the ways we could be? No. But none of Trump’s policies really address those things.

If Trump were an across-the-board radical, we would see policies on diet and exercise, on educational spending that would make our heads spin. We would see him calling for interstate-highway-system-scale initiatives on broadband and public transportation. Policies that could actually have long-term impacts on how we live. Instead, the crown jewel is a wall. The foreign policy and the trade policy are walls (figuratively).

The Latin for wall is murus, which would make his politics mural. Which probably fits. His policies are entirely two-dimensional artistic interpretations of realities meant to evoke emotional responses in the viewer.

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society

Veep Shopping with Trump

Donald Trump has to pick a good vice presidential running mate. It’s a tough decision, multilayered and vexing for the best, most well-positioned candidates. But it’s especially difficult for Trump.

For one thing, he’s got fewer options than the average candidate. The controversy of his candidacy places extra limits on what’s already a hard choice (for the presidential candidate, the potential veep, and others in the party). He probably cannot pick a governor, for example. It would be far too easy for the opponent to flatly state, ‘your running mate is much more qualified and experienced.’

Lots of folks that might be choices won’t want the job. It’s one thing to align with a presidential candidate on something like privatizing social security. It’s quite another to embrace mass-deportation, anti-religious causes, wall-building. Those positions will be the kind that stick to a candidate long-term.

The sorts of choices that would help to win-over alienated voters are also mostly off the table. They are exactly the sort of moderating voices that would have trouble aligning, but they also tend to be from states that would put their replacing them at risk if Trump won. It’s not as big of a risk as for the Democrats, who still hold an advantage going into the actual race, but it’s still there.

The campaign has claimed to reject out-of-hand a woman or a minority for the second spot, out of fears of it being seen as pandering. Trump has walked it back some, saying they won’t pick such a running mate just for that reason, but that should go without saying. No presidential candidate calls central casting and says, ‘send me a dark-skinned woman, please.’ That’s a preposterous notion.

In picking a vice presidential candidate, the first, main goal is to do no harm to the campaign. A bad pick is hard to recover from. But a bad pick takes many forms. Someone who will fall asleep during the veep debate? Someone who won’t keep on message? Can’t do an interview without coming across as sentient pet food?

You also have to do what’s best for the party. That means weaving around candidates with risky districts, picking someone who might want to run in the future and who is seen as having a shot in that event, and so on.

But strategy is important, too. You want someone who balances the ticket, something the Trump campaign claims they’re looking to actively avoid. The campaign will try to claim his pick shows him ready to take the oath of office, but the fact that his pick will inevitably be some Trump acolyte that has to stand next to him and nod along to such draconian views of the world will probably refute that.

We all know whom he wants to pick (besides Oprah): Donald Trump. But you can’t do that, as I’m sure his handlers have had to tell him at least a couple of times by now. This is always a thread-the-needle pick, and it will be a surprise if Trump manages to do it in a way that actually helps his odds for the general.

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society

Donald Trump Buys a Car

Donald Trump is the owner of this shiny new car, the Republican nomination. But he’s going to drive it like all the others would have. He’s hiring pollsters. He’s taking bundled money. He’s buying red meat by the truckload. He’s driving the car as a Republican.

Meanwhile, he’s got the right-wing talk radio blaring from the speakers. He’s left the emergency brake on with regard to his tax returns. He’s got a Palin-wing Tea Party bumper sticker on the rear bumper. He’s disabled the clean burn program and ripped off the particulate filter so he can spew dark gray clouds out behind him. But he’s driving like a Republican: safe, following the GPS voice of the mega-donors.

Trump bought the damn thing with the dream of wind in his hair with the top down, but now he’s saying to himself, “I could drive this thing into the White House. Better slow down a bit.” The Republican Party is divided, but so is the candidate himself. He’s trying to figure out if he sticks to his script or if he goes mainstream. Even the struggles within his own campaign reflect that.

His surrogates and he himself try to backtrack on things a bit. “Just a suggestion” one day, then slamming Clinton for her opposition to unconstitutionally banning Muslim immigration (refugee or otherwise!). A surrogate says they won’t build any wall, most likely, but has to add that Trump will contradict him. Putting one guy in charge of the campaign, then that guy saying Trump’s in charge.

Maybe they should throw a Student Driver topper over top the Make America Great Again roof-paint. Let people know he’s still trying to figure out who he wants to be as a candidate. He’s stopping every five miles to top-off the tank and wipe the windshield.

In 2008 Senator John McCain made it official by slapping the Palin sticker on the bumper, and now Trump’s got his own bobblehead stuck on the dashboard. But while the GOP is largely embracing Trump, Trump may not be capable of reciprocating. He’s far too unsure as a person. He’ll go along as long as he gets his way (whatever it is, minute to minute), but as soon as he feels slighted, he will lash out at so-called allies and party-members. And then he’ll make doe-eyes at the reconciliation interview, just as with that Megyn Kelly interview.

So, yes, Trump will drive mostly like a Republican, but that ride is a minute-to-minute rollercoaster where you’re not sure if you’ll crash, take flight, or arrive safely. Or maybe you’re still parked in the driveway, and he’s just making vroom-vroom noises, pretending like he’s tooling down the strip.

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society

Trump’s Political History is a Broken Record

He said the nation’s economic policy could be vastly improved by following one simple rule: “Whatever Japan wants, do the opposite.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer: 23 October 1987: “‘Draft Trump’ Committee In N.h. Gets Visit From The Non-candidate”

“Tax” these wealthy nations, not America. End our huge deficits, reduce our taxes, and let America’s economy grow unencumbered by the cost of defending those who can easily afford to pay us for the defense of their freedom. Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.

— Donald Trump, from DocFoc: facsimile of The Washington Post, 2 September 1987, p. A9, advertisement “An open letter from Donald J. Trump”

“Country-wide, we have serious problems,” he said. “So many countries are whipping America . . . making billions and stripping the United States of economic dignity. I respect the Japanese, but we have to fight back.”

— Donald Trump, from The Morning Call: 6 June 1988: “Donald Trump Warns Lehigh Graduates About Aids And Foreign Competitors”

28 years later, and it seems like Trump still has the same problems. All that has changed is which country is doing the bulk of the whipping.

Plus, I think there’s a great lack of spirit in this country. You know, what happened over the last four years is disgusting, and I just think there’s a tremendous lack of spirit, and I think the spirit has to be brought back.

— Donald Trump, from CNN: 8 October 1999: Larry King Live

Oprah, I love Oprah. Oprah would always be my first choice.

— Donald Trump, when asked who he had in mind for a vice presidential candidate, from the Larry King source above

I think that too many people are flowing into the country. We have to take care of our own first. We must take care of our own.

— Donald Trump, from Votesmart.org: 24 October 1999: Meet the Press with Tim Russert: Interview with Donald Trump

Trump’s basic platform isn’t new. While he may have changed on some issues, the core of his message is basically the same: America is tarnished. America needs to be restored. In the Larry King piece he also talks about how Reagan was great not for any policy reasons, but for the basic image he projected about America. Of course, Trump may not believe Reagan was great at all: it was during the waning years of Reagan’s presidency that Trump took out the advertisement and had already criticized the trade policies.

But we can tell from the comment on Reagan that when Trump raises the slogan MAGA, Make America Great Again, he isn’t talking about doing anything at all. He’s talking about simply pretending. He’s talking about the bottle of anti-ghost spray (tap water) you tell your daughter will keep her bedroom ghost-free. He’s talking about superstition and confidence.

In the 1988 cycle, Trump had a minor consideration for running, as well as supposedly being considered as a vice presidential possibility by George H.W. Bush. In the 2000 cycle, he went so far as to starting a run for the Reform Party nomination, even putting up a campaign website (long-defunct and apparently unarchived: donaldjtrump2000-dot-com). If you go to the tape, via C-SPAN (C-SPAN.org: 28 November 1999: Washington Journal: Interview/Call-in with Roger Stone), the first caller even asks about Trump’s tendency for name-calling (and whether he would support the Reform Party nominee whether if he lost). Trump called it quits before the first primaries.

Point is, looking back, Trump is Trump, and his major policies are unchanged. Trade protectionism, protect entitlements, block immigration, insult people, and a restoration for the quixotic ideal of America (probably including renaming the country Trumpland and putting giant gold letters on the walls and coasts). On the other hand, on some of those issues, America is America. Our general drift on trade, entitlements, and immigration haven’t really changed. At least not to the point where Trump would need new rhetoric.

Trump’s policies are the equivalent of a smoker’s cough, because the politicians from the 80s to now have failed to kick the habits that allow him to fester. He’s a broken record largely because America is a broken record on so many of these issues. We have been in a long-term equilibrium where things need changing, but the deterioration is slow enough to be patched or ignored. But sooner or later the equilibrium breaks down, and the question is whether Trump has his timing right.

People say of Trump that nobody expected him to get this far. But the general election is far different from getting the nomination. A presidential bid is a lot like the baseball-football crossover athletes (or basketball-baseball in the case of Michael Jordan). You have to compete in two vary different arenas, successfully, to win the office. Trump has shown himself capable in one contest, but for the other only time will tell.

It certainly doesn’t look likely, given the demographics, the tone of things. Trump’s current chances for victory in November are minimal. But the type of person, the form of Trump? The old saying, “Use it or lose it,” applies to political trust and power, too. If the politicians, escaping a Trump presidency in November, fail to begin to exercise a bit more power and regain some trust, Trump or some other figure will eventually take power with predictably bad consequences.

A word of caution, though. If I was correct back when I wrote “May the Funnest Man Win?” (diehealthy.org: 29 September 2012: “May the Funnest Man Win?”), it may be that the Trump supporters in America are like those kids in the Aerosmith video for “Livin’ on the Edge” (YouTube: Aerosmith: “Livin’ on the Edge”) who steal the car to crash it into a truck.

It’s possible that the funnest-man-rule doesn’t apply to Hillary, being a woman. She may break the jinx, or maybe people will see her as a fun enough choice in her own right, or maybe there’s a corollary that says there’s also such a thing as Too Much Fun (like the tummy pains from over-spoiling your dinner on a sweets binge). But if not, if Trump pushes the fun buttons, even in a “what does airbag deployment feel like?” sort of way, we may be in for trouble.

There is, however, at least one other explanation than fun. While Trump may want to be the sugar pill for greatness, the Republican electorate may be seeking him out as an emetic. They have found themselves poisoned by too much tea-partying and lethargy, and they are seeking to expel the poison in the best way possible: by puking their guts out with Trump. In this case, Trump will not get far in November, and his nosedive will induce airsickness in the GOP, causing them to really liberate their lunches, freedom-fighter style.

Anyway, enough words for today. Lots of time to waste on better things before we will see if Trump has legs.