July, fifteen months out from the 2016 presidential election, and everyone seems to agree that Donald Trump won’t be part of that. At this point he leads in all the polls on the Republican side of things, but he’s a buffoon who says increasingly more outrageous things. Sure, the base of the party is increasingly more outraged – the Supreme Court, which they had counted on as their own, ruled once again that Obamacare was just fine, legally, and that no state could ban gay marriage, as gays had a legal right to marry, just like everyone else. Then the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina, and it’s coming down everywhere. They lost their proud symbol of sticking it to big government – the one in Washington. Or that was about a proud heritage? What were they proud of – the Old South’s noble defense of white supremacy? That made for some uncomfortable moments. And abortion is still legal. And every time they call to complain about their cable service being out again, the disembodied voice says “Press 1 for English” – and that’s really irritating. The country is full of Mexicans. Most of them must be here illegally. They’re everywhere – in the schools, in the emergency rooms, in the streets. They’re taking over. Donald Trump says they’re rapists and murderers, or at least drug dealers. He understands the outrage about those folks and about everything else – and that explains why he’s doing so well. But not everyone in America is perpetually outraged, at least at these specific things. Cooler heads in the Republican Party will work to marginalize Trump in subtle ways, or wait for the outrage to burn itself out. They don’t want to lose a third presidential election because all they offer the nation is a loud temper tantrum. The smart money is on Jeb Bush. He understands the outrage that the base feels. He gets it. But he’s careful not to be a buffoon about any of it. America doesn’t elect buffoons.
It’s the same on the Democratic side of things. The smart money is on Hillary Clinton. Elizabeth Warren has been fiery about income inequality and economic justice and how the One Percent has taken our country away from the rest of us – but she won’t run. Bernie Sanders is running, who is equally fiery about the same things, but America may not be ready for a guy who has always called himself a democratic socialist and sees no reason not to now. Cooler heads in the Democratic Party will say nice things about him but make sure that Hillary is safe. They’ll remind her to say all the right things to acknowledge the equally intense outrage of the Democratic base, but they know Wall Street loves Hillary Clinton, and that swing voters won’t find her threatening – boring perhaps, and often irritating, but not someone who will change much of anything. Bernie Sanders raises the issues. She makes them nonthreatening. That will do just fine. The Democrats can win with that.
This is a bit disappointing. It’s as if the two parties want to bore us to death, and that may be why Donald Trump is doing so well. He may be a preposterous buffoon, but he’s not boring. What do the Democrats have? Bernie Sanders is all facts and figures and unrelenting devastating logic. That’s a bit much for some people. His intense focus puts them off, and if the idea is to fire up more and more folks, because that’s not really Hillary’s job, that simply won’t do. They need a bigger voice to be their Donald Trump, to grab the headlines with their issues – minus the buffoonery of course.
Luckily, they have the Pope:
His speeches can blend biblical fury with apocalyptic doom. Pope Francis does not just criticize the excesses of global capitalism. He compares them to the “dung of the devil.” He does not simply argue that systemic “greed for money” is a bad thing. He calls it a “subtle dictatorship” that “condemns and enslaves men and women.”
Take that Donald Trump, Mister One Percent! We should make you president because you’re really, really rich? Pope Francis thinks otherwise:
Having returned to his native Latin America, Francis has renewed his left-leaning critiques on the inequalities of capitalism, describing it as an underlying cause of global injustice, and a prime cause of climate change. Francis escalated that line last week when he made a historic apology for the crimes of the Roman Catholic Church during the period of Spanish colonialism – even as he called for a global movement against a “new colonialism” rooted in an inequitable economic order.
The Argentine pope seemed to be asking for a social revolution.
“This is not theology as usual; this is him shouting from the mountaintop,” said Stephen F. Schneck, the director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic studies at Catholic University of America in Washington.
Step aside Bernie Sanders. This guy is far better known and the whole world likes him. Let him do the heavy lifting:
Francis has defined the economic challenge of this era as the failure of global capitalism to create fairness, equity and dignified livelihoods for the poor – a social and religious agenda that coincides with a resurgence of the leftist thinking marginalized in the days of John Paul II. Francis’ increasingly sharp critique comes as much of humanity has never been so wealthy or well fed – yet rising inequality and repeated financial crises have unsettled voters, policy makers and economists. …
Left-wing populism is surging in countries immersed in economic turmoil, such as Spain, and, most notably, Greece. But even in the United States, where the economy has rebounded, widespread concern about inequality and corporate power are propelling the rise of liberals like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who, in turn, have pushed the Democratic Party presidential front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to the left.
Even some free-market champions are now reassessing the shortcomings of unfettered capitalism. George Soros, who made billions in the markets, and then spent a good part of it promoting the spread of free markets in Eastern Europe, now argues that the pendulum has swung too far the other way.
“I think the pope is singing to the music that’s already in the air,” said Robert A. Johnson, executive director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, which was financed with $50 million from Mr. Soros. “And that’s a good thing. That’s what artists do, and I think the pope is sensitive to the lack of legitimacy of the system.”
And Donald Trump isn’t the only one who can channel outrage, and get a fine counter-reaction:
In Bolivia, Francis praised cooperatives and other localized organizations that he said provide productive economies for the poor. “How different this is than the situation that results when those left behind by the formal market are exploited like slaves!” he said on Wednesday night.
It is this Old Testament-like rhetoric that some finding jarring, perhaps especially so in the United States, where Francis will visit in September. His environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” released last month, drew loud criticism from some American conservatives and from others who found his language deeply pessimistic. His right-leaning critics also argued that he was overreaching and straying dangerously beyond religion – while condemning capitalism with too broad a brush.
“I wish Francis would focus on positives, on how a free-market economy guided by an ethical framework, and the rule of law, can be a part of the solution for the poor – rather than just jumping from the reality of people’s misery to the analysis that a market economy is the problem,” said the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which advocates free-market economics.
Francis’ sharpest critics have accused him of being a Marxist or a Latin American communist, even as he opposed communism during his time in Argentina.
Let them accuse him of being a Marxist or a communist. It’ll take the heat off of Bernie Sanders, and the Pope can go further:
Inevitably, Francis’ critique can be read as a broadside against Pax Americana, the period of capitalism regulated by global institutions created largely by the United States. But even pillars of that system are shifting. The World Bank – which long promoted economic growth as an end in itself – is now increasingly focused on the distribution of gains after the Arab Spring revolts in some countries that the bank had held up as models. The latest generation of international trade agreements includes efforts to increase protections for workers and the environment.
Let’s all gang up on Mister One Percent:
The French economist Thomas Piketty argued last year in a surprising best-seller, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” that rising wealth inequality is a natural result of free-market policies, a direct challenge to the conventional view that economic inequalities shrink over time. The controversial implication drawn by Mr. Piketty is that governments should raise taxes on the wealthy.
Mr. Piketty roiled the debate among mainstream economists, yet Francis’ critique is more unnerving to some because he is not reframing inequality and poverty around a new economic theory but instead defining it in moral terms. “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy,” he said on Wednesday. “It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: It is a commandment.”
Bernie Sanders doesn’t talk like that. The unfettered pursuit of money is the “dung of the devil” – a steaming pile of Satan’s shit, a moral turd? Cue Rush Limbaugh:
Have you ever heard of unfettered communism? You ever heard of unfettered Marxism? What is this unfettered capitalism? It’s just more bastardization of language to denigrate the greatest economic system yet devised that creates prosperity for the most. And opportunity for everybody! And because it does that, it must be reviled, it must be impugned – it must be destroyed so you put the word unfettered in front of it. …
It has to be regulated, because capitalism is so unfair that it has to be regulated in order to make sure that the rich don’t just steal and take everything.
Limbaugh goes on to say that the real problem is any sort of regulations on business, environmental or whatever:
Well, there isn’t any unfettered capitalism. And there hasn’t been any unfettered capitalism, in I don’t know how long, if ever! But we do not have capital – capitalism is not why the United States is in a quagmire… Barack Obama and the policies of his and the Democrat Party are why this country is stagnating right now.
Dodd-Frank! The EPA! That new consumer protection bureau! These things ruin everything, and then he goes on to say that Obama is “not a capitalist” and was only elected because he is African-American. So the Pope is a fool. With a Pope as popular as this one, the Democrats are smiling:
Roman Catholic leaders in the early voting state of Iowa will call Thursday on candidates for president to follow the teachings of Pope Francis and focus as much on the environment and income inequality in 2016 as they have in past elections on opposing gay marriage and abortion.
The vocal pivot from such traditional social issues will mark the first time a U.S. Catholic bishop has publicly asked those seeking the White House to heed the admonitions of Francis’ June encyclical, said Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines.
In that major teaching document, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics called for a “bold sweeping revolution” to correct what he sees as a “structurally perverse” economic system that allows the rich to exploit the poor and has turned the Earth into an “immense pile of filth.”
“The goal of the pope is to raise the questions with all the candidates,” Pates said. “It’s a moral issue, our relationship with creation, our relationship with each other.”
The push from Pates and other bishops in Iowa threatens to disrupt the historically reliable alliance of evangelical Christians and conservative Roman Catholic voters, putting pressure on Republicans who have leaned on their religious faith to guide them on social issues.
And note this:
It will also focus attention on how the six Roman Catholic seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination – former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former New York Gov. George Pataki, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – will wrestle with a pope’s teachings on economics and climate change that clash with traditional Republican ideology.
Each of these guys can easily dismiss Bernie Sanders, the Brooklyn-born left-wing Jewish radical who came of age in the sixties – that says it all – but this is their own Pope. John Boehner also asked Pope Francis to address a joint session of Congress in September. This is going to be fun, if you’re a Democrat.
Meanwhile, Zeke Miller reports from Phoenix:
Casting himself as more than a billionaire real-estate magnate and reality television star on his bid for the White House, Trump claimed Saturday to speak for a “silent majority” of Americans who are frustrated with the direction of the country.
Rather that deterred, he appeared energized by the pushback his candidacy has received from the Republican Party and his primary opponents after suggesting weeks ago that many who have entered into the U.S. illegally are “rapists.” In a rambling speech to a crowd of thousands in the Phoenix Convention Center, he struck a potent combination of populist and protectionist policies, designed to tap into the undercurrent of unease within American society.
“The silent majority is back, and we’re going to take the country back,” he said, referencing former President Richard Nixon’s famous speech reaching out to Americans who were opposed to protests of the Vietnam War. “We’re going to make America great again.”
And he has a plan:
Trump promised to fine Mexico $100,000 for every person crossing into the U.S. illegally, pledged to tax imports by American-owned businesses that have shipped jobs overseas, and said he could destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria [ISIS] with overwhelming force. “I would take them out so fast,” he said.
But he did nod to the Pope:
He knocked traditional conservatives for not being committed to taking care of the poor. “I know this doesn’t sound very conservative, but we’ve got to take care of everyone, not just the people up there,” he said, motioning to the ceiling, as the crowd roared and whistled.
Later, they’ll think about what he just said, but the rest was the expected:
The speech was rife with Trump’s signature over-the-top flourishes and free-associations. “I went to the Wharton School of Business,” he said at one point “I’m, like, a really smart person.”
“The press are liars. They’re terrible people. Terrible,” he said, pointing at the assembled cameras and scribes. “Not all of them, but many of them.”
“ISIS right now is building a hotel in Iraq,” he said. “They’re competing with me.”
“How can I be tied with this guy, he’s terrible,” he added of Jeb Bush, referencing recent surveys showing them neck-and-neck among Republican voters. “I’m killing everybody on jobs,” he said of his poll numbers. “I’m killing everybody on leadership.”
At one point he bragged about the number of lobbyists he has employed and donations he has made to political candidates of all stripes, but promised he would be incorruptible. “I don’t need money,” he said, adding that if people wanted to donate to his campaign, he wouldn’t turn them away.
Trump also warned that Bush would be a poor negotiator on the international stage, and criticized him for his flip-flopping answer on whether he would have invaded Iraq.
And there was this:
Trump also maintained his aim on the Mexican government, accusing its leaders of being “totally” in control of Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, which ditched broadcasting his Miss Universe pageant amid the furor over his immigration comments. “They’re killing us at the border, and they’re killing us in trade,” he said of Mexico. “They’re killing us.”
As a small group of protestors scuffled with Trump supporters and security as they tried to hold up a banner, Trump quipped, “I wonder if the Mexican government sent them over here, I think so. We’ll take our country back.”
Get rid of the riff-raff. What the hell is this Pope talking about? If Donald Trump were to meet Pope Francis he’d laugh in his face. How rich are you, big guy? You’re fired!
No other Republican candidate will say that, but they won’t say much about Trump either, and Randall J. Stephens notes there’s nothing new here:
In the early 1950s President Dwight Eisenhower had his own Trump troubles in the hot mess of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Unshaven, disheveled and toting around a dirty briefcase with a whiskey bottle in it, McCarthy took his anti-communist crusading on the road and onto the new medium of television. Along the way he ruined numerous careers, made a mockery of the justice system, and proved that proof was irrelevant.
Through it all President Eisenhower refused to take a firm public stand against the rabble-rousing red-baiter. Always careful about his public image and not wanting to lose important political capital in a fight with the controversial crusader, Ike laid low. The former general angrily said that he didn’t want to face a back alley brawler like McCarthy or “get into a pissing contest with that skunk.” Lucky for the president, the Wisconsin senator finally met his demise. The Senate censured him for his recklessness and utter lack of ethics. Three years later he died as a result of his raging alcoholism.
Picking up where Tailgunner Joe left off, the anti-communist John Birch Society fought mightily in the early 1960s to get America out of the UN. They also accused Ike of being a communist, and posited more conspiracy theories than JFK had mistresses. The wide-eyed Birchers were out in full force at the 1964 Republican Convention held at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. When moderate Republican Nelson Rockefeller called for some restraint he was met with boos from the JBS crowd and fellow right-wingers. “Rocky” might not have been a commie, but he was a paragon of the elitist Eastern establishment, which was bad enough. In 1964, with Birchers running amok in the Cow Palace, many delegates zipped their lips rather than cast aspersions on the party’s far right fringe. Barry Goldwater, who won the nomination in San Francisco, did little to distance his party from the hordes of treason screamers of the radical right. Goldwater lost in one of the largest landslides in U.S. history.
Four years later the former Alabama governor and arch segregationist candidate George Wallace fought for the presidency as an ardent culture warrior. Wallace sunk to new depths of populist demagoguery. Once known as the Fighting Little Judge for his exploits in the boxing ring, Wallace would prove to rednecks everywhere that they were the true victims. Liberals and minorities were destroying this great nation, Wallace shouted on the hustings. He famously said if protesting, unwashed hippies lay down in front of his car, he’d have his chauffeur flatten them like pancakes. Only a fiercely maintained law and order would set things right.
Republican candidates – perhaps in awe of Wallace’s tub-thumping – said little against the tiny former Golden Gloves champ.
So here we go again:
As long as a large portion of conservative voters cheer with delight at Donald Trump’s grotesque, bigoted rants, the GOP will have to keep tacking to the right, or at least find some way to steal a little of Trump’s wind. The front-runners might not add new sections to their speeches on raping, pimping and drug-pushing Mexicans, but they’ll tread carefully so as to not offend all those voters who see a criminal in every immigrant.
That’s because this election is developing in an odd way. In November, 2016, it will probably be Jeb versus Hillary, but it will really be Donald versus the Pope. It already is.