Monday, October 15, 2018

BTRTN: Beating Trump by Becoming Trump... Should Progressives Do Rage?

It’s The New York Times' moral dilemma of the week. Michelle Obama’s “high road” doesn’t seem to have taken us to a very good place, while Trump’s “low roadies” celebrate his “best week ever.” Is it time for progressives to take on Trumpian tactics… if only to save the world from Trump?

Assaulted by headlines that the last ten days had been “one of the best periods for the Trump Presidency,” progressives have been recently sighted wandering aimlessly in the moonlight, muttering through clenched jaws about the sheer lunacy of it all. The very concept of a “good period for the Trump presidency” is inherently terrifying and vaguely nauseating – sort of like an article about “Jeffrey Dahmer’s favorite recipes." There is only one thing certain about a world in which everything is going Donald Trump's way... it is sure to be awful for the rest of us.

Therein lies the puzzle: it's hard to see how the last ten days add up to marvelous. Yeah, Trump rammed Kavanaugh home, but this merely ensured that the Supreme Court now has more sexual predators than African-Americans or Hispanics. And he got a new name for NAFTA, a triumph of imagery over substance... sort of like when the cable company develops a new logo on the hope that you will think their service has improved. 

But in this same “good” ten day period, The New York Times ran a multi-page story that chronicled generations of rampant tax fraud on the part of the Trump family and revealed the sham of Trump’s rags to nouveau riche narrative. Trump found plenty of time to host raging stadium rallies while many of his poorer, rural supporters struggled to cope with the rage of a category five landfall. Trump waited just a bit too long to express outrage at the possible violent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, perhaps because Fox News was slow to provide instructions on how he should react. Hey, we probably shouldn’t complain: the other option was for Trump to get his crisis diplomacy advice from Kanye West, who dropped by the Oval Office apparently after vacationing at the Crab Nebula. He was just that weird.
Finally, in this same allegedly fabulous week, Trump used the very public forum of one of his stadium rallies to openly ridicule and mock the public testimony of a sexual assault victim. In so doing, he lied about the testimony Ms. Blasey Ford had made to Congress, portraying her as unable to remember details that she had recalled vividly under oath. By the end of the week, Trump had labeled Dr. Blasey Ford’s entire story a “hoax.”

There you have it: one of the very best weeks of the Trump presidency. Many would rank the public mocking of a sexual assault victim right down there on a par with Charlottesville and shitholes, but Donald Trump probably thought those were pretty great weeks, too. No wonder progressives are meandering out in the darkness, victims of post-Trumpatic stress disorder, unable to cope.

Also small wonder that The New York Times ran a front page story under the headline “Democrats Debate if High Road in Politics is Leading Anywhere,” posing the progressive dilemma. Trump appears effective because he takes the “low road:” lying, cheating, stealing, screaming, manipulating, dividing, claiming undeserved credit and offloading deserved blame, all while constantly looking out for Trump and for party rather than country. Democrats, on the other hand, are increasingly skeptical of the value of Michelle Obama’s “high road.” The Dems often appear ineffective because – certainly relative to Trump – they opt for our better angels. Amidst the madness, Democrats still seem to care about civility, honesty, common good, our national reputation, our sense of integrity and moral principle, and for pledging allegiance to the United States of America rather than to party. The article framed the essential question: would the Dems would be better off being more like Trump?

What, exactly, would that entail? One answer lies in the disturbing quote reported by filmmaker Michael Moore, who interviewed Steve Bannon as part of his research for his new film, Fahrenheit 11/9. Moore asked Bannon how he was able to engineer the defeat of a seemingly invincible Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election campaign, and his answer was as chilling as it was succinct: 

“Look, it’s very simple — we go for the head wound and your side has pillow fights. The head wound will always win over the pillow fight.”

For those raised in the generation scarred by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Bannon’s words were particularly sickening. No one who has ever seen the grainy 8-millimenter Zapruder film image of Kennedy’s head exploding as a bullet shattered his cranium will ever hear the words “head wound” again without thinking about the cold-blooded savagery of that day in Dallas. 

Yet to Steve Bannon, it was all just so much common sense. Republicans take out the blunt axe and execute the violent kill, while Democrats retaliate with slightly raised voices, high-minded outrage, dripping contempt, and shocked indignation. 

In short, it is a battle of AK-15s vs. weapons of mass conversation. Who do you think is going to win?

Donald Trump did not invent this behavioral contrast -- Republicans have always been more willing to go for the kill than their well-mannered adversaries. In the famously contested 2000 Presidential election, Al Gore and his negotiators were outmaneuvered by the far more ruthless James Baker, who advocated for Dubya.

But Donald Trump is taking this long-standing behavioral dichotomy and pushing it to asymptotic extremes, with his stadium show attack on Dr. Blasey Ford defining a new low. Thirty-six years after Ford was physically assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump went to the proverbial bedroom to take his turn.

Publicly mimicking, mocking, and degrading a victim of sexual assault ought to be viewed as every bit as physically brutal an attack as actually pinning her down and holding a hand over her mouth. Announcing to a stadium crowd that the woman who is “one hundred percent certain” of the identity of her assailant is perpetrating a “hoax” is a good example of going for the head wound.  Perhaps it is not head trauma in the manner that Lee Oswald fired a physical object into Kennedy’s brain, but Trump launched a verbal missile intended to wound all sexual assault victims psychologically, aiming to make them feel that their suffering is not real and that their allegations are inherently unjustified unless, of course, there just happened to be multiple credible, sober, and respected eyewitnesses who simply stood by and watched the attack and were available to corroborate.

Republicans go for the head wound.

How, indeed, should Democrats respond?

Do Democrats need to become more like Trump in order to rid the country of the plague of Trump? The New York Times seemed to dodge this question, concluding their article with a seeming cop-out. Beto O'Roarke, they gushed, is going high ground, and he's the most exciting Dem out there. Then again, the Times points out, Beto is trailing Ted Cruz, perhaps the only guy in the country who might be able to find a still lower road than Donald Trump.

So the Times punted on the answer. We will give it a try. 

I hate to say this, but the answer is yes. Democrats need to start behaving more like Trump. 

No, this does not mean that Democrats need to start telling huge, bloated lies to provide support for positions that have no basis in fact. Nor do Democrats need to engage the Russian government to assist their campaign efforts. No, Dems do not to make up cruel nicknames for their political opponents. Democrats don’t need to include racist and misogynist dog whistles in their stump speeches. And Democrats do not need to openly question the honesty and motivations of sexual assault victims. 

But Democrats in general – and each of us, specifically, as individuals – need to become more like Trump in two ways. 

Trump does a great job of scaring the crap out of his base about the immediate dangers they will face if the opposition wins. 

And he does an effective job of motivating his base to act.

Let’s think about those stadium shows. 

You say they make you sick to your stomach, with all the lying, the divisiveness, the anger, the chants of “lock her up,” and now the open ridicule of a sexual assault victim? 

It is time to stop viewing Trump’s road shows as purely self-indulgent escapes from the woes of Washington by an egomaniac starved for adoration. Perhaps it is more instructive to compare them to those televangelist preachers in mega-churches who enter into a profoundly symbiotic relationship with their flock for money, the semblance of meaning, mass mutual affirmation, and not just a little bit of entertainment. In Trump’s road shows, he is the traveling minister bringing the word to the faithful. You may think he is telling lies, but the uninformed and unmoored souls in those crowds simply want to be told what to think. They want to know that it is perfectly o.k. to believe those things they believe. Broadcast in whole or in tasty video clips on Pravda and Friends, Trump’s mega-church is Richter-scale bigger than the guys who at least profess to be doing God’s work. Shared on Facebook and complemented by a twitter feed that serves as a modern day St. Paul, Trump’s reach dwarfs all news networks combined. 

Trump spends his ninety rambling minutes in those road shows with one goal and one goal only: to scare the crap out of his true believers about what might happen if Republicans are not elected in the mid-terms. They will come after your guns, your religion, your jobs, your factories, your money, and now your poor menfolk, who are ever more vulnerable to the delusional sexual allegations of deranged liberal women.  Why, if you let those left wing liberals get into office, you might even lose Trump… because Mueller, the FBI, and the Deep State are all out to get me.
All the while, Trump peppers his remarks with the greatest this, the most successful that, the best deal ever, the smartest foreign policy, reflecting the sunny contentedness of a self-assured winner. 

When Trump decided that he was not going to skip a stadium rally because of Hurricane Michael, he explained that cancelling the show would have been a huge disappointment to the people who had come out to see him. It sounded so lame and transparent, but hey, you just don’t get it. You’ve never been a messiah, have you?

You can look upon it all with scorn, but Donald Trump is two steps ahead of you. He knows where he needs to spend his time right now… stoking the base, scaring them off to the polls. Worried that Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton are stale villains, Trump found a fresh new target in Dr. Blasey Ford. That's how Republicans do rage: they go for the head wound.

What are Democrats doing?

Right now feels just a little too much like October 7, 2016. That’s when the Access Hollywood videotape exploded across the internet, and millions stared at the Trump campaign’s EKG and saw an irreversible flatline straight through to election day. Three lazy, overconfident, and relaxed Democratic weeks later, Trump was President-elect.

Right now, progressives seem to think things look really good for the mid-terms. Makes you nervous, doesn’t it?

I hope so. Now is the time for Democrats to express their rage. Now, more than ever.

If you are unsure whether progressives should do rage, or simply don’t know the right way to do it, think about this. 

We assume you are going to vote. But if the only thing you plan on doing is voting, you are not expressing rage.

Voting is so basic. To face the circumstances we face today and content yourself with merely voting is to define your personal ability to influence the outcome of this election as narrowly as possible. Voting is not rage. Do you really want to do progressive rage?

You have to do what Donald Trump is doing. Find people who may not be committed enough to vote. Convince them that the stakes are too high and the risk is too high not too. And then personally get them to the polls. 

The fact is that a shockingly high percentage of Americans do not vote. Only 56% of persons of voting age went to the polls in 2016. The United States ranks 26th out of 32 developed nations in voter participation.

Help get people out to vote.

Are your millennial children and their friends just too disgusted with the whole scene to bother? Now is the time to sit them down and explain, one-to-one, just what is at stake. Make them vote. Drive them to the polls. 

Dare to talk about the election at the next cocktail party, the next soccer game, or at the next Zumba class. Ask people if they are going to vote. Persuade them to vote. Drive them to the polls.

Contact your local Democratic Party organization. Ask how can you help.

Read the last column of BTRTN. We offered a host of suggestions for how you can make an impact in this election.

And yes, send checks to Democratic candidates. Lots of checks. Money can have a huge impact.

Do you want to know how to do progressive rage? The true head wound to the Republican Party would be to destroy the myth of the invincible Trump among his own faithful. They listen to him at the mega-church and they believe him because they think he is their winner and their champion. He tells them that he is responsible for everything that is good, and that the Democrats are responsible for all that they fear, all that is evil, and all that is threatening. He divides the earth into light and darkness. And they believe that he is the powerful winner that protects them.

Progressive rage means dealing a head wound to this travesty of a Presidency. 

Regaining the House is good, but it is not head trauma. Head trauma is a devastating election disaster that forces Trump’s faithful to finally peer behind the curtain. To finally see that Trump's divisiveness, deceit, and self-involvement is actually destroying their own party.

The plain truth is that it will take years – perhaps decades – to fix our government, revise the exploitable gaps in our Constitution, improve our educational system, eliminate the gerrymandering, get rid of the electoral college, change the process for choosing Supreme Court Justices, unclog the gridlock in Congress, heal the malevolent polarization that threatens our very union, and once again make our government work for its people. 

But every day under this President, these problems get worse.

We have three weeks.

It is time for all hands on deck. It is time for progressive rage. 

We need you in the fight.

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