Refuse To Give In To The Darkness

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

BENZONIA — Will Americans give in to the darkness and elect Donald Trump? The disturbing answer at this point, just as it was in the late spring, is that enough of his supporters say yes, and too many of his opponents are not sure.

There has never been a presidential election like this one in my lifetime, though ample numbers of similarly dangerous men elevated themselves to head of state in other countries. Mussolini’s rise to power as a dictator in Italy in the early 20th century comes to mind. Mussolini marketed a narrative of decay and dissolution, framed his own comic book cult hero persona, and lied and exaggerated, and evaded responsibility for mistakes and flaws for two decades.

Trump has shown himself to be masterful at none of the skills needed to manage a complex nation. He is intemperate, undisciplined, careless, not thoughtful, not truthful, not inquisitive, and desperately self-involved. Just the sort of guy you want with the nuclear codes, or in a trade dispute with China. How American crop producers support Trump is beyond me. China is our largest buyer of soybeans.

Trump has displayed, though, a near flawless expertise in sales. It’s the Procter & Gamble consumer market culture applied to politics. Procter & Gamble convinced Americans of the inherent decay and bacterial danger of their bodies, their clothes, and their homes. Then the company sold consumer antiseptics — soaps, detergents, cleaners.

Trump now presents a global narrative of ideological danger, decay, chaos and despair. He cites the episodic evidence of criminal outbreaks — police deaths in Dallas and Baton Rouge, ISIS-related massacres in California and Florida. He offers Hillary Clinton as the source of the vortex of violence. And he presents himself as the remedy.

Without a national campaign staff, a real campaign plan, or any modesty in temperament or behavior, he nevertheless keeps attention riveted on himself through one unexpected, often outlandish statement, after another. Yesterday, for instance, after assuring the nation of the “love” and “unity” gained at a Cleveland Republican convention that achieved neither, Trump criticized Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse him, calling the Texas Senator “dishonorable,” and suggesting as he did in the spring that Cruz’s father was an intimate of Lee Harvey Oswald. His source: The National Enquirer, which Trump called “a magazine that, in many respects, is respected.”

The madness that is Donald Trump, whose outsize ego and ruthless business strategy was well-known to New Yorkers for two generations, almost perfectly reflects what happens following 30 years of dogma that have unhinged the values and principles of an ideologically fixated Republican Party. Republican orthodoxy has come to represent lingering racism, dangerous suspicion of science, obstructionism, heed to the rich over the middle class, allegiance to dirty fuel, mindless “no new taxes” austerity, and rejection of public investments for public purposes.

Trump’s convention promoted much of that and especially of hate – of immigrants, of ISIS, of Hillary Clinton, of the idea that stable government is an asset. Trump’s execution of the convention showed sloppiness, poor planning, lack of energy, weak discipline. He portrayed himself as bellicose and flawless. He stoked fear among his supporters and his opponents.

His case, no matter from which side it’s viewed, is disturbing. Could he really win?

— Keith Schneider

Obama, His Shorthand, Energy, and the Frustration of Self-Interest

SAN FRANCISCO — A couple of people I know out here in the Bay Area attended one of the San Francisco fundraisers more than a week ago, during which Barack Obama talked about white working class Americans in Pennsylvania and the Midwest who “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

The comment attracted no attention at all among the liberal, well-heeled Democratic donors gathered in the  handsome homes near the Pacific where Senator Obama posed for pictures with guests. The reason is that Senator Obama, taking a page from the Republican handbook, was speaking in shorthand. Guns, religion, and “antipathy,” an Ivy League word meant to describe racial fear and prejudice, form the contours of a certain kind of voter that utterly baffles wealthy liberals. A voter that puts his or her economic interests second to moral, social, and cultural interests.

San Francisco and its suburbs, after all, are a great showcase of the value of public interest idealism and investment. Decisions to tear down an urban freeway and replace it with modern rapid transit have helped spur billions of dollars in new housing and business construction. The great universities here, funded all or in part with public money, produce an astonishing assortment of well-educated and qualified job applicants. The digital revolution continues apace. Environmental protections and land use policies have cleaned the air and water and surrounded the region with a green belt of mountains, forests, and scenic open spaces. Salaries are high. Housing is higher. Opportunity is everywhere.  People embrace the notion that government has a role to play in ensuring prosperity.

Senator Obama talked a lot in San Francisco about his economic plan and especially the energy strategy he’s fashioned with the help of the Apollo Alliance, where I now work. It calls for 25 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and for 30 percent of the federal government’s electricity to come from renewables by 2020. He also proposed investing $150 billion over 10 years in renewable energy and biofuels, efficiency, and developing technology to burn coal more efficiently and with far less carbon pollution.

It’s an economic development strategy that will produce millions of new green-collar jobs to replace those high-paying manufacturing jobs lost in Pennsylvania and the Midwest.

But there are all these other voters in California and elsewhere, people not nearly as well-off, many who’ve been displaced, who aren’t listening. They’ve allied themselves with the wealthy to form a Republican governing coalition that has ruled America since 1980. And though they support certain liberal ideas — mass transit, open space conservation, clean air and water, Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment compensation come quickly to mind — most would never vote for a Democrat, regardless of whether his economic and energy strategy made sense.

Some of my friends and most of my wife’s family from northern Michigan fall into this camp. They’re lovely people. The ideas and candidates they support for state and national office just don’t make much sense to me.

It’s those voters that Senator Obama characterized as “bitter” and clinging. I’m not sure he used the right words. “Resigned” is how I’d put it. Regardless, though, neither he nor Senator Hilary Clinton are likely to get more than a smattering of their votes. It’s not that he’s African American or she’s a woman. It’s that they’re Democrats and those bitter, clinging, resigned white working class voters don’t cast their ballots for the  Donkey party.