“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” Albert Camus liked to get down to the basics, so that’s how he opened his famous 1942 essay. The Myth of Sisyphus dismissed pretty much all of Western philosophy. What were these guys talking about? Everything they were saying could be disproved. It was absurd. The world was absurd – unintelligible and devoid of God – that “leap of faith” that Kierkegaard suggested was a copout. Eternal truths or values seem open to revision. So, does the realization of the absurd require suicide? “No. It requires revolt.”
That’s keeping it simple, and that’s where the myth comes in. Sisyphus defied the gods and put Death in chains so that no human needed to die. This ticked off the gods. That’s their thing. Death was soon liberated and the gods decided on Sisyphus’ punishment for all eternity. It was worse than death. He would have to push a rock up a mountain; and upon reaching the top, with the rock, the damned rock would roll down again, leaving Sisyphus to start over. That’s it, forever – and Camus saw Sisyphus as the absurd hero who lives life to the full, hates death, and is condemned to a meaningless task.
Yeah, well, life is like that. Push the rock up the mountain. It will roll down. Push it up again – it will roll down again. But don’t kid yourself that it means anything. Life’s a bitch, and no honest man turns to faith or fiction to make sense of it. Get down to basics. Embrace the absurdity and make your own meaning.
That’s easier said than done. Embracing absurdity seems wrong. Things have to make sense. Everything happens for a reason. Donald Trump will go away. He’s absurd.
He won’t go away. Donald Trump is the rock every political analyst in America has been pushing up the mountain all summer long. This is it. He’s done for – and then the rock rolls down the mountain again. Damn!
Ben Schreckinger at Politico covers the latest instance of this:
Donald Trump’s enemies have been waiting for his Sarah Palin moment. On Thursday night, they thought they had it.
Trump whiffed on a foreign policy query about the leaders of major terrorist organizations and of Iran’s Quds Force. His ignorance of General Qasem Suleimani and his inability to distinguish between the “Quds Force” and the Kurdish people immediately became the focus of the national conversation.
But then the event took a distinctly Trumpian turn: The candidate not only didn’t apologize or express any regret, he launched an attack on his questioner, conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt, as a “third-rate radio announcer.”
Everyone should have expected this:
After a bruising exchange over his use of derogatory terms like “fat pig” to describe women he didn’t like, Trump took heavy aim at his questioner, Megyn Kelly, and never looked back.
It didn’t bother him that Kelly and Hewitt are conservative icons; they were nagging members of the press, and he was forceful, unapologetic, and undeterred – a posture that seems to mean more to his supporters than the fact that he didn’t know the structure of Iran’s military or the basics of anti-terrorism policy, as Jeb Bush and other critics were quick to note.
Once again this didn’t matter:
“I’m not sure that anyone in America believes or has an expectation that Donald Trump knows who General Suleimani is or what the Quds force is,” said former John McCain adviser Steve Schmidt, who worked alongside Palin when she was the Arizona senator’s running mate. “The notion that Donald Trump isn’t knowledgeable on a range of issues is fairly self-evident, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting.”
“Did anyone think that Donald Trump had a certain grasp of this or that particular Jihadist Movement?” asked Michael Goldfarb, former Palin foreign policy adviser and a founder of the conservative publication the Washington Free Beacon, who added “I’d prefer he knew them.”
This sort of thing killed Sarah Palin, but Trump is not Palin:
Trump, for his part, breezily dismissed the question and his own lack of knowledge as irrelevant.
“And by the way, when you say Quds vs. Kurds, I thought he said Kurds, this third-rate radio announcer that I did the show [for],” Trump said Friday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It was like ‘gotcha, gotcha.’ Every question was, do I know this one and that one. You know, he worked hard on that. I thought he said Kurds. By the way, I do think the Kurds, while we’re on it, I do think the Kurds are not being utilized properly and not being treated properly by us.”
It was an extension of the deal-making persona that Trump showcases on “The Apprentice” – the refusal to show weakness that has won him many admirers. If his own confidence is undented, why should others lose confidence in him?
And his implication that the gaffe was meaningless, a trifle, played on voters’ perception that many of his competitors lack foreign policy know-how, as well.
While committing unforced errors – as Scott Walker did earlier this year when he compared pro-union protestors in Wisconsin to the Islamic State – is one thing, Schmidt said, he does not expect all candidates to be conversant in the minutiae of foreign policy this early in the primary process.
“He’s not the only candidate up on the debate stage that can’t tell the difference between a Sunni, a Shiite and a Kangaroo,” said Schmidt.
Schreckinger isn’t convinced:
Tolerance for ignorance has its limits, as Rick Perry learned when his first presidential bid collapsed after he failed to name the three federal agencies he planned to axe in a 2011 debate. And the tough questions will keep coming, said, Robert O’Brien, a foreign policy adviser to Walker. “That interview should be a wakeup call for anybody who’s preparing for the [upcoming] debate in Simi Valley at the Reagan Library”
Keven Drum sees it slightly differently:
I think the reason Donald Trump will eventually flame out is because people will get tired of his act. This is the downside of getting lots of media attention: when you recycle the same sentence fragments over and over, people eventually figure out that you have nothing more to say. His supporters get bored. The press gets bored. The whole country gets bored. And while the endless insults might be amusing for a while, eventually even his fans will conclude that he sounds an awful lot like a fourth grader, not a president. In the end, Trump will end not with a bang, but a whimper.
And then Drum adds this:
Today’s headlines are all about Trump’s “struggles,” “stumbles,” and “gaffes.” That’s all totally fair, but why did it take this interview to suddenly wake everyone up? Trump has been responding to questions this way for the entire campaign. Ask him about China, and he says he’ll send Carl Icahn over. Ask him how he’ll get Mexico to pay for a wall, and he says “management.” Ask him about taxes and he says he’ll be great for the middle class. Ask him for his favorite Bible verse and he claims that’s too personal to share.
This has been his MO all along. His ignorance – and his shameless lack of interest in fixing it – has always been obvious. He doesn’t even try to hide it. He’ll hire good people. He’ll delegate. He’ll learn it when he needs to. He’s entirely up front about not knowing squat, and it’s barely even caused a ripple… until now. Suddenly everyone is shocked to learn that Trump doesn’t know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah.
I guess it was bound to happen sometime.
Yes, it happened, or it didn’t. This rock may roll down the mountain again. Refuse to show weakness and it will all go away. Don’t do what rick Perry did. Don’t say oops. Don’t do what Sarah Palin did. Don’t say you know stuff because you can see Russia from your front door or whatever. Make the political pundits push that rock up that mountain again.
But Trump did sign that Republican “loyalty pledge” he refused at the first debate in Cleveland. He’s now ruling out a scenario that terrified the Republican establishment, that he would launch a third-party bid and almost certainly deny Republicans the White House. No one expected this, and Josh Green asked a Trump adviser why Trump did this, and was told this:
He’s leading in the polls, so there’s no harm. It might even help him.
This will deprive opponents like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush of an obvious line of attack: that Trump’s only in the race for his own aggrandizement.
This inoculates Trump against his own history of supporting liberal candidates and policies. He can say, “Look, I signed the Republican pledge.”
This ratifies Trump’s “alpha male” status because Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was set to come to Trump Tower with the pledge, rather than the other way around.
Green isn’t buying this idea that Trump signing the pledge helps:
First, it shatters the independent image that is the key to Trump’s appeal, the idea that he isn’t beholden to anyone or anything, and will make a “great” president precisely because of this. Recall that Trump gave the Fox News moderators a giant middle finger when they opened the Cleveland debate by asking him to pledge his fealty to the Republican Party. Trump refused and, as he will happily inform you, still won that debate going away.
Second, rather than quiet the attacks against him, this gives the GOP license to amplify them tremendously without fear of repercussion down the road. A Trump third-party bid, if perhaps unlikely, was a possibility that Priebus had to take seriously. He doesn’t anymore. Everyone can, and probably will, start wailing away on Trump, secure in the knowledge that when he slips from first place he won’t have an obvious recourse for revenge. …
Third, by signing the Republican pledge, Trump invites everyone to judge him by that standard. But it’s not a standard that favors him. Trump espouses all sorts of Republican apostasies, from supporting higher taxes on hedge fund managers to opposing cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Until now, his political image was that of someone larger than either party, who had some appealingly heterodox views. After today, he’ll be easier to attack as a Republican who won’t get with the program.
Finally, Trump seems not to understand the dynamics of the Republican primary process. The fact that he’s leading in the polls, while plainly gratifying to his ego, doesn’t mean very much. Anti-Trump sentiment among GOP voters is actually quite strong. The reason this isn’t more obvious is that it’s spread among the 16 other candidates… At some still-to-be-determined point in the future, when candidates begin dropping out and the field narrows, Trump’s 22 or 23 percent support will no longer be sufficient to put him in first place.
Green says Trump is over now:
At that point he’s stuck. He can’t broaden his appeal. He can’t run as an independent. And because he signed the Republican pledge, he’ll be expected to act like a good Republican and get behind the nominee. He can throw a tantrum, if he likes. But all that will do is cost him a speaking slot at the convention – which, if you’re Reince Priebus, was part of the plan all along.
That’s a clever plan, but how many times has everyone said Donald Trump is over? The next day they’re pushing the same rock up the same mountain again.
There’s been a misunderstanding here. One must account for the absurd, in a simple unified theory of Trump, and that’s what Michael Lind does here:
“Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that.”
“As far as single payer [health care] it works in Canada, it works incredibly well in Scotland. … You can’t let the people in this country, the people without the money and resources, to go without healthcare.”
“People as they make more and more money can pay a higher percentage” of taxes.
Only one of two conclusions can be drawn here. Either the Tea Party base – which the media would have us think mainly consists of angry libertarians inveighing against taxes and runaway big government – hasn’t really been listening to Donald Trump, who made all the above statements, or, alternatively, most of the media have read the Tea Party and its true aims and ambitions entirely wrong.
Lind sees the latter:
The success of Trump’s campaign has, if nothing else, exposed the Tea Party for what it really is; Trump’s popularity is, in effect, final proof of what some of us have been arguing for years: that the Tea Party is less a libertarian movement than a right-wing version of populism. Think William Jennings Bryan or Huey Long, not Ayn Rand. Tea Partiers are less upset about the size of government overall than they are that so much of it is going to other people, especially immigrants and nonwhites. They are for government for them and against government for Not-Them.
This is what explains a lot of what’s going on now. After all, according to the commentariat, the Summer of Trump was supposed to have been the Summer of Rand Paul. It seems like only yesterday that the media were interpreting the rise of the Tea Party as a triumph of anti-statism and predicting that Paul, with his libertarian views on national security and data privacy, represented the future of the American right.
But Paul has all but disappeared from view, polling in the low single digits, while Trump has soared into the lead, and nothing he says, no matter how outrageous, seems to sour the right-wing base on him.
This is the simple explanation:
Trump is no libertarian; quite the opposite. He is a classic populist of the right who peddles suspicion of foreigners – it’s no accident that he was the country’s leading “birther” raising questions about Barack Obama’s citizenship – combined with a kind of “producerism.” In populist ideology, society is divided not among rich and poor but among producers and parasites.
There’s a lot of that talk, about the forty-seven percent, without the specific percent of course, and it comes down to this:
Populists are suspicious of unearned wealth, including the interest charged by bankers who manipulate “other people’s money” (to use the phrase of Louis Brandeis). And populists the world over are hostile to the idle or undeserving poor who allegedly live on welfare at the expense of productive workers and capitalists. Populists tend to attribute the existence of large numbers of the idle rich and the idle poor to government corruption. In the words of the 1892 People’s Party platform: “From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes – tramps and millionaires.”
To anyone paying attention, it should have been clear from the 2010 elections onward that Tea Party voters were at odds with the libertarians in the Republican donor class and Beltway think tanks.
So this was inevitable:
The hostility of the Republican right to illegal immigration is usually attributed by establishment pundits to pure racism, no doubt correctly in many cases. After all, according to traditional free-market libertarianism, open borders are good (“There shall be open borders,” was the mantra of the late Robert Bartley of the Wall Street Journal, summarizing the credo of the free-market right). But in the moral universe of populists, illegal immigrants of any race are classic “parasites” preying on hard-working producers. To begin with, they are all cheaters by definition, violating U.S. immigration laws, unlike legal immigrants who obey the law and wait in line for limited quotas. In addition, according to recent data, 51 percent of immigrant households receive some kind of welfare, compared with 30 percent for native-led households. Reflecting differences in education and income, welfare use is much higher for immigrants from Latin America than from South Asia, East Asia and Europe. Inasmuch as the populist right in the U.K. is galvanized in part by opposition to “Polish plumbers,” it is a mistake to attribute the opposition of populists solely to racism. Populist fears that the country is becoming a welfare magnet for the foreign-born poor also play a part.
Enter The Donald:
Trump has catered to these fears while alienating the Republican establishment by delivering xenophobic putdowns of Mexicans and saying he wants to build a wall along the Mexican border: “I want it to be so beautiful because some day they’re going to call it the Trump wall.” When it comes to trade, Trump is an economic nationalist who has called for tariffs on imports from China and Mexico.
In domestic policy, Trump’s rejection of orthodox conservatism is just as dramatic. The establishment right supports cuts in Social Security and the voucherization of Medicare; Trump does not. No apostasy on Trump’s part is more unforgiveable to the conservative elite than his heresy on taxes. Conservative orthodoxy holds that the rich – no matter how they make their money – are by definition “wealth creators” and “job creators” and that the best way to grow the economy is to lower their taxes further. Trump, however, favors progressive taxation and despises “paper-pushers” on Wall Street: “The hedge fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky… But a lot of them – they are paper-pushers. They make a fortune. They pay no tax. It’s ridiculous, okay?”
He is a populist, and we were due for one:
It was the Great Recession that catalyzed the contemporary Tea Party movement. Like Occupy Wall Street activists, but from the right, Tea Party conservatives objected to the federal government’s bailouts of what they perceived as the rich parasites of the financial sector.
The famous on-air rant on February 19, 2009, by Rick Santelli of CNBC that helped to inspire the movement targeted a second group of parasites or moochers or takers – the potential beneficiaries of a proposal to bail out some homeowners threatened with losing their homes because of their inability to pay their mortgages. In classic producerist fashion, Santelli denounced the unfairness of bailing out “losers” while other hard-working Americans had to struggle to make their mortgage payments…
A further clue to the values of the Tea Party right was provided by Representative Rob Inglis (R-S.C.), who was reportedly told by a constituent, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” This was widely interpreted by snobbish progressives to indicate that Tea Partiers are too stupid to understand that Medicare is a government benefit. But in fact Tea Party populists are being consistent, if selfish, in favoring universal, earned benefits that benefit people like them, while opposing means-tested welfare, which they suspect is encouraging laziness among the “idle poor.”
So it’s time to rethink this:
Trump’s establishment rivals, like Jeb Bush, accuse him of not being a true conservative. That is true, if conservatism is defined by the beliefs of the Republican Party’s elite donors and the think-tank experts whom they subsidize. But if conservatism is defined by what the voters who make up the conservative base actually believe, then it is the deviations of the GOP establishment from right-wing populist orthodoxy that must be explained.
For years the Republican elite has gotten away with promoting policies about trade and entitlements that are the exact opposites of the policies favored by much of their electoral base. Populist conservatives who want to end illegal immigration, tax the rich, protect Social Security and Medicare, and fight fewer foreign wars have been there all along. It’s just that mainstream pundits and journalists, searching for a libertarian right more to their liking (and comprehension), refused to see them before the Summer of Trump.
Heather Parton adds this:
It may seem odd that populists would choose a bombastic billionaire to express their concerns but it must be noted that unlike any of the rest of the GOP field he has supported tax hikes on the wealthy, gone after hedge funds, and picked a big fight with the Club for Growth.
Even still, let’s be real: The focus of American right wing populism is generally aimed downward at immigrants and poor people, not upward at the wealthy. The Republican base may have an abstract beef with “bail-outs” for the rich but they are utterly convinced that the government’s primary mission is to take their hard earned money and give it to lazy undeserving people who refuse to work.
They’ve found their man in Donald Trump:
He is the ultimate Tea Party candidate, with a strong anti-Washington, anti-immigration, nationalist message combined with his assiduous cultivation of the religious right. And the fact that his followers don’t all identify as members of the Tea Party doesn’t mean anything because the movement itself was never really a discrete political faction but rather a reaction to the loss of the presidency to an African American Democrat, the embarrassment of George W. Bush’s massive failure and the usual sense of grievance that has characterized the right wing of the Republican Party for decades. The Tea Party was simply a re-branding of the conservative movement after a catastrophic market failure.
Is the conservative movement populist? Yes, in many respects. But it’s also nationalistic, theocratic and libertarian which is exactly how Donald Trump is packaging his campaign as a conservative movement hero.
Perhaps this clarifies things. This guy is not a conservative of the Goldwater-Reagan-Bush sort, and he’s certainly not a liberal of the FDR-through-LBJ sort. Keep it simple. He’s anti-Washington, anti-immigration, and nationalist, of the “I’ve got mine so screw you” school for the most part. He’s an angry and mean bully and he’s tremendously popular. He’s not going to fade – push the rock up that mountain as much as you want, it will roll back down. It seems that Americans are an angry and mean people. Don’t like that? There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.