by Akim Reinhardt
Back in August, here at this very site, I published a piece dismissive of Donald Trump's chances of gaining the White House. I called those who feared he would become our next president “worry warts.”
My basic contention was that Trump is involved in a quadrennial rite: announcing his presidential candidacy as a way of garnering free publicity. Furthermore, pursuing attention isn't just a way to soothe his massive ego. Publicity is very important to him because at this point he's a commercial pitchman much more than he is a real estate developer, and the brand he mostly sells is himself. In this way, he's fundamentally no different than Michael Jordan or Kim Kardashian. It also helps explain why he has previously “run” for president in 1988, 2000, 2004, and 2012, along with short-lived efforts to run for New York state governor in and 2006 and 2014. Free publicity.
In that August essay, I also asserted that most of his supporters, which really aren't that many when you crunch the numbers, don't actually agree with his vague platform. They're just buying his brash brand. He'll start to fade by the end of the year, I said. He'll be done for good in February or March of 2016, I said.
Well, it's mid-December, ie. the end of the year, and Trump's shadowy specter has not faded from our watery eyes. Indeed, his numbers are up. Furthermore, as he remains on the political scene, his political statements get more and more outlandish, leading many to brand him a fascist.
So now Donald Trump's a fascist, and he's going to be our next president.
Golly gee willikers, Batman! That sounds dastardly. I sure hope he doesn't pick The Joker as his V.P.!
But hold on a second. Before we shoot that Bat Signal floodlight into the nighttime sky, as if we're engulfed in some comic book version of the burning of the Reichstag, let's think about it rationally.
Is Donald Trump actually a fascist? No. And anyone who says Yes doesn't know what fascism is.
Can Donald Trump be the next president? Wait, let me stop chuckling. Okay . . . No.
To understand why not, and what's going on, let's break it down. First, I'll address why The Donald isn't the second coming of Il Duce, and then I'll expand on earlier points about why he won't be the next president.
I could spend a lot of space explaining why Trump is not a fascist. Instead, let me just point you to a nice piece from Dylan Matthews over at Vox in which he interviews five scholars of fascism, all of whom make it clear that while Trump might be a racist, sexist, xenophobic prick, he's not actually a fascist. It really is pretty straightforward. Trump is not a fascist.
In fact, fascism is largely defunct in modern politics, Greece's Golden Dawn movement providing a notable exception, and the United Kingdom's Independence Party offering a less notable example. But the word “fascist” probably won't go away anytime soon because it's one of the most misused words in politics, serving as a kind of a catchall insult for politicians and political movements. And so when people mislabel Trump as a fascist, they're just continuing the long tradition of misusing the word to smear someone they don't like, particularly if they're on the right.
So what is Donald Trump? I mean, aside from a colossal narcissist and relentless self-promoter? He is, at the moment, a right wing populist.
Trump is giving voice to some of the anger, fears, and frustrations that can be found in much of the United States, and which resonate most loudly on the right. And the voice he gives to them is largely unique, as other Republican presidential would-be's stick much more closely to the established party line. And thus Trump finds his eager audiences, people on the right who are happy to hear someone acknowledge, validate, and champion their anger, fears, an frustrations in a way that no other big name American politician is.
In particular, Trump has struck a chord on the issues of immigration and terrorism. He began by insulting Mexicans, insisting we immediately ship 11,000,000 of them back to Mexico, and that we build a wall to keep anymore from entering the United States. More recently, he's gained traction by insulting Muslims and demanding that we not let any of them enter the United States.
Let's start with immigration, since he did.
During the last quarter century, the United States as witnessed an unprecedented wave of immigration. Anyone who made it through basic U.S. history knows about the first big wave of the 1840s and 1850s that resulted from the Irish famine and the European revolutions, as well as the really massive wave of 1880-1920, when some 23,000,000 immigrants arrived on America's shores.
What most Americans don't realize is that the 1880-1920 wave, which was until recently the largest migration in human history, has been easily eclipsed in more recent times. In the thirty years since major immigration reform in 1965, 18,000,000 immigrants came to the United States. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, millions more arrived. By 2010, nearly 13% of Americans were foreign born, the highest percentage of the national population since 1920.
In short, the United States has been profoundly reshaped by immigration during the past half-century, with a surge having taken place during the past two decades. And while a lot of wonderful things have come about as a result, it also creates tension. To deny this or to attribute it merely to racism and xenophobia is intellectually shoddy.
The simple fact is, large swaths of the United States, most notably the Southwest stretching from southern California to Texas, have been deeply affected by immigration. This in turn creates many complications as people watch their neighborhoods change, their economies and labor markets transform, their local cultures morph, and their social norms are challenged.
Of course, for better and for worse, it's all very complicated. But if you have seen certain aspects of your life deteriorate, or simply fear the prospect of that happening, and you want simple answers to these complex issues, then the easy (and ignorant) answer is: Those goddamn immigrants are fucking up the country.
And here's Donald Trump to give a national voice to your anger, fears and frustrations.
Then there's Islamic terrorism.
Of course the word “terrorism” is fraught with complications and simplifications, and is as much a red herring as it is an accurate term to describe the violence being waged by Islamic fundamentalist organizations like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Nonetheless, one of the major goals of such violence is to inflict fear in civilian populations. That's why, for example, you shoot up an administrative center instead of a military or police installation.
So no wonder that people are scared by such acts of horrid violence. That's kind of the point. And yes, it's a very complex issue. But once again, if you want a simple answer, people like Donald Trump scream “Muslims!” I mean, people who are supposedly much smarter than Trump, like celebrity atheist Sam Harris, do much the same thing. But they're not running for president.
Both issues, immigration and terrorism, have destabilizing effects on society. Sometimes when people endure social, economic, and cultural destabilization, they seek comfort in the simplistic viewpoints that reinforce their fears instead of challenging them. In short, a terrorized population is susceptible to populist appeals.
Build a wall. Don't let in any Mexicans or Muslims. Vote for Trump.
But will people actually vote for Trump? Some. But not nearly enough. I promise. And here are the reasons why.
• Opposition from his own party
• America's political Duopoly makes it difficult for extremists to succeed
• Becoming president's not actually his goal (publicity)
• He's a fucking clown
Republican Party leaders realize Donald Trump has almost no chance of winning a general election. That is one of several reasons why they will do whatever they can to prevent him from winning the GOP nomination. We're still well over a month away from the first primaries and there's already rumors of party big wigs brokering the Republican convention next summer to keep him from gaining enough delegates to win.
I don't think it will come to that. But the mere rumor-mongering is important because it's an example of serious party forces aligning against him. And that is very, very difficult to overcome.
The Democrats and Republicans have had a monopoly (or rather, a duopoly) on every facet of U.S. politics for over 150 years. Thus, the way those two parties function is very important. And if the party you're aligned with is functioning to keep you down, you're probably not going anywhere. Which brings us to the second point.
The duopoly works hard to prevent smaller parties like the Socialist, People's, and Progressive parties from the turn of the 20th century, or more recently the Green and Libertarian parties, from emerging as serious contenders. They have many tricks they use to accomplish this neutering of smaller parties. One tried and true tactic is to co-opt their issues.
That, for example, is how the Democrats, instead of the Socialists, became the party of labor.
This dynamic then leads the major parties to pander to their various base constituencies during primaries, and then run back to the center during general elections. The usual result is that those constituencies are gravely disappointed by the people they voted for. Witness in recent times Liberals complaining about Obama and Conservatives complaining about George W. Bush.
Thus, Republicans are more apt to co-opt right wing populist politicians than turn the party over to them. It can happen, to be sure. But if that's going to happen to the Grand Old Party any time soon, it will be through the Tea Party movement, not through Donny Hairpie.
But even if by some miracle Trump gets the GOP nomination next summer, he'd be savaged in the general election. As of right now, almost two-thirds of American voters are concerned about or actually scared by the prospect of a Trump presidency. Meanwhile, barely a third of Americans approve of his keep-the-Muslims out populism, while a clear majority of Americans oppose it. Do the math. This won't work.
Anyway, Trump isn't doing all this to be president. Oh, sure, his Macy's Thanksgiving Parade balloon of an ego relishes it. He probably fantasizes about it quite a bit. But this whole campaign is really little more than a promotional blitz for his day job: blowhard-shitbag-pitchman who makes a ton of cash whoring himself out.
We've seen it all before in the prior “campaigns” he ran for president and governor. This time, for reasons noted above, he's caught a little lightening in a bottle. But that won't last. Why? Because of the last factor.
Donald Trump is a fucking clown.
Add it all up, and he'll be done by the Ides of March. Here's how I think it plays out.
Trump loses the Iowa caucuses. The Iowa caucuses on the Republican side are a haven for fringe Christian fundamentalists. The last two winners are Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. 2016's poster child for the religious right, Ted Cruz, already has a 10 point lead there. Donald Trump, who kinda believes in abortion or whatever, is not winning Iowa.
New Hampshire? Maybe. Their Republicans tend to like outsider candidates too, but of the Libertarian stripe more than the religious. It could happen. Right now he's the clear favorite.
After that, the GOP field will be significantly thinned. Instead of a dozen or so candidates, it'll probably be down to half that. Things will start to firm up, and this is where it will get very tough for someone like him without much political organization or fund raising mechanisms. You know. All that hard work people put in to win an election that he hasn't bothered with.
After New Hampshire it's on to South Carolina, where Trump currently has a surprising lead. However, I'm confident that will change. Again, religious issues like abortion, not to mention his history of supporting gun control, will come back to haunt him.
Nevada? Yeah, Trump might win that, if his losses in Iowa and South Carolina haven't wobbled him too much, which they might. But on March 1st it's Super Tuesday: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia.
Seven of those twelve states are Southern. Big hit. Four days later, it's Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. More conservative homelands that care about abortions and guns. He's done. If he's made it this far. Which I don't think he will.
Since this is a big self-promotion scheme, the one thing Donald Trump doesn't want to do is end up looking like a loser. It's all about being a winner.
So how do you paint yourself as a winner if you're not going to ultimately win? You walk away on your own terms, something he does consistently.
Before it gets too nasty, too dirty, too hardball, before he is subjected to wave after wave after wave of negative ads funded by both candidates and outsider groups with deep pockets, before he watches his reputation get shit on as countless hundreds of millions of dollars flow into television and radio stations and funnel back out as vicious attack ads, Donald Trump will step down from the race, while he can still sing his own praises and use this entire fiasco to burnish his image.
That's how it ends. Mark my words.
Then a year or two from now he'll be spouting crap like: “I could have been president. The people wanted me to be president. But I decided not to do it because there are other things I want to focus on. Like selling you this!”
And if I'm wrong? If Donald Trump really does become the 45th president of the United States? Then I'll let all the 3QD readers tie me up and place me on the altar as the sacrificial offering needed to satiate their tyrannical new overlord who, technically, is not a fascist.
Akim Reinhardt's website is ThePublicProfessor.com