In the weeks leading up to the election I tried to offer several extra- or non-partisan reasons why Clinton would be a vastly superior choice to Trump (at my personal blog here). Now that Trump will go to the White House (during the week), it is important to keep vigilant about those reasons, which still stand. Let’s take the issue of freedom as an example. While people on the right like to corner the market on “eroding freedom” rhetoric, once we sit down together for an adult conversation about it, we can all freely admit that the right and left have different visions of what freedom amounts to and how best to encourage and protect it. In an election with a normal candidate to oppose Clinton, we could have then debated which freedoms are most under threat, which are most crucial to address right now, what the best way to do so is, etc. And if Clinton had lost such an election, we all could have accepted that one vision of freedom had won out for the time being, and that proponents of other visions would have to be content with seeking continued recognition of their concerns, as well as gearing up to improve their case for the next election.
Of course, Trump doesn’t have a coherent vision about much of anything, let alone freedom, but he threatens it in a far more terrifying way than Clinton is constitutionally capable of. For whether or not he has genuinely fascist designs, he has the charismatic charm of a would-be authoritarian leader that woos masses of people into frenzied loyalty, and subsequently convinces seemingly smart people that Trump must be smarter and more capable than he really is. (For the record, I think Trump has little in the way of “designs” beyond self-aggrandizement, and it happens that the best way he sees of doing that requires targeting particular groups of humans. But his style is uniquely suited to bringing about the following kind of scenario: monumental failures of foreign policy leading to some kind of unprecedented attack on our national security which Trump, due to his demagogic charm, is able to blame elsewhere. He then moves for the kind of “I alone” power he feverishly dreamed of in his RNC speech, and …… . How likely any point in the chain is to happen is partially dependent on whether the people around Trump are NOT like the advisor I discuss below). Alas, before I move to a foreboding development on this point, I can’t help recalling that Clinton is not charismatic even a smidgen, and she is exactly as smart as she is deservedly reputed to be.
The frightening example of Trump’s successful demagogic charm leading even the seemingly smart to lose their minds comes from this report of Stephen Moore addressing House GOP members. Moore, campaign economic advisor to Trump, is a long time conservative political insider (you know, part of the “swamp”) who began championing Reagaonomics and free trade in the 80’s, and didn’t stop until he somehow found himself aboard the Trump train. If what is reported is accurate, he is now drunk with victory and admiration for the victor. He claims to have been converted to economic populism by meeting those who suffer on the campaign trail (fat chance). His coercive rhetoric belies: Moore employs “mandate” babble to tell GOP Reps that “Reagan’s party is now Trump’s party” (!!!) and that if Trump says something (like build a wall!) it should get done. Simple as that.
I hope it doesn’t take more commentary to realize that the above calls for the following urgent reminders: YES, masses of “modern” democratic citizens can be wooed by a demagogue!; YES, seemingly smart people familiar with how limited power in democratic republics works can get swept up into “great movements” and aid the development of conditions ripe for tyranny!; YES, we know that outright tyranny can gradually but steadily grow under charismatic leadership! Especially when the people around the tyrant-in-embryo are dazzled by that leader’s surprising success!
Here are some more reminders. Trump’s only brilliance is for marketing. That combined with a craven, shameless willingness to exploit people’s weaknesses and fears. That’s it. His contribution to his “miraculous” victory, which also depended on some unique circumstances, is that combination of characteristics alone. There is no healthy movement here to rally around. There is no generally brilliant leader to follow, or clear-eyed vision to support. In the words of others who were clear-eyed: Trump remains a fraud, a phony, a con man. So don’t believe the hype. And don’t let your representatives believe it either.