Riding Humiliation to Victory

For the record – Friday, September 18, 2015, marked the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s odd run for the presidency, or years from now, historians will note that this was the day that two-term President Trump took a day off before he stormed to the Republican nomination the next summer and then won the presidency in a landslide that November. It’s hard to tell which, but he did take the day off:

Donald Trump canceled his appearance Friday evening at a major campaign stop for the GOP presidential field in South Carolina as he faces criticism from both Republican and Democratic candidates over his failure to address claims that President Obama is a Muslim and “not even an American.”

Trump’s campaign announced in a statement Friday he no longer plans to speak at the Heritage Action Presidential Forum at the Bon Secours Arena in Greenville.

“Mr. Trump has a significant business transaction that was expected to close Thursday,” the campaign said. “Due to the delay he is unable to attend today’s Heritage Action Presidential Forum. He sends his regrets and looks forward to being with the great people of South Carolina on Wednesday in Columbia.”

No one was buying it. This must be due to his not correcting some nasty comments made by two men at a Thursday night rally:

During that event, one unidentified man said, “We have a problem in this country – it’s called Muslims,” adding, “We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American,” the man added. “That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”

Trump responded, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying bad things are happening, [and] we’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”

A second Trump supporter endorsed the first man’s claims during his own moment in the question-and-answer session.

“I applaud the gentlemen who stood and said that Obama is a Muslim born abroad,” he said.

“Right,” Trump replied before moving on to the next questioner.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the president’s background – he once said he’d sent a crack team of investigators to Hawaii to look into Obama’s fake birth certificate and “what they found was incredible” – but since then he’s kind of dropped the whole thing. Is it back now? Perhaps he can’t let it go. Adam Gopnik has a theory. It was that 2011 White House Correspondents dinner:

Not only, as we did not know then, was President Obama in the midst of the operation that would lead shortly to Osama bin Laden’s killing; it was also the night when, despite that preoccupation, the President took apart Donald Trump, plastic piece by orange part, and then refused to put him back together again.

Trump was then at the height of his unimaginably ugly marketing of birther fantasies, and, just days before, the state of Hawaii had, at the President’s request, released Obama’s long-form birth certificate in order to end, or try to end, the nonsense. Having referred to that act he then gently but acutely mocked Trump’s Presidential ambitions – “I know that he’s taken some flack lately. No one is prouder to put this birth-certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to the issues that matter, like: did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And – where are Biggie and Tupac?” The President went on, “We all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example – no, seriously – just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice” – there was laughter at the mention of the program’s name. Obama explained that, when a team did not impress, Trump “didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf – you fired Gary Busey. And these are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night.”

That was cool and playful and oddly fair, but Gopnik was there and saw this:

Seated a few tables away from us magazine scribes, Trump’s humiliation was as absolute, and as visible, as any I have ever seen: his head set in place, like a man in a pillory, he barely moved or altered his expression as wave after wave of laughter struck him. There was not a trace of feigning good humor about him, not an ounce of the normal politician’s, or American regular guy’s “Hey, good one on me!” attitude – that thick-skinned cheerfulness that almost all American public people learn, however painfully, to cultivate. No head bobbing or hand-clapping or chin-shaking or sheepish grinning – he sat perfectly still, chin tight, in locked, unmovable rage. If he had not just embarked on so ugly an exercise in pure racism, one might almost have felt sorry for him.

Someday someone may well write a kind of micro-history of that night, as historians now are wont to do, as a pivot in American life, both a triumph of Obama’s own particular and enveloping form of cool and as harbinger of – well, of what exactly?

Gopnik suggests the rage that made Trump finally run for president, to show Obama a thing or two. This was personal:

The politics of populist nationalism are almost entirely the politics of felt humiliation – the politics of shame. And one can’t help but suspect that, on that night, Trump’s own sense of public humiliation became so overwhelming that he decided, perhaps at first unconsciously, that he would, somehow, get his own back – perhaps even pursue the Presidency after all, no matter how nihilistically or absurdly, and redeem himself. Though he gave up the hunt for office in that campaign, it does not seem too far-fetched to imagine that the rage implanted in him that night has fueled him ever since.

That’s an interesting theory, and Trump really has become the face of the politics of felt humiliation. We must make America great again, right? Those two guys at that rally were humiliated that Muslims are taking over everywhere, with their Sharia law and whatnot. Or it’s the Mexican drug dealers and rapists and murderers pouring across our border and killing everyone in sight and then living high on the hog on our social services, and laughing at us. That’s humiliating and that has to stop. And the Chinese are eating our lunch. And everyone now in office here is so stupid that the world is laughing at us. Or the damned pointy-headed intellectuals have abandoned good keep-it-simple common sense. Knowing too much and subtle thinking is as bad as stupidity. All of it is humiliating. Those two guys at the Thursday night rally may have gotten the details wrong, but they certainly got the idea right. Trump didn’t correct them because he didn’t notice the details. Everyone was in the zone.

That’s a bad place to be, because you can end up making things up. Obama is a Christian. Obama talks about his faith often enough, although his favorite theologian seems to be Reinhold Niebuhr, so Obama talks about moral complexity a lot. Evangelicals deny there is any such thing as moral complexity – but it’s all Jesus-talk. No one is quoting the Koran, and Obama was born in Hawaii. That matter was settled long ago. Obama wasn’t born in Kenya. The Mau-Mau tribes aren’t slipping in to kill all the white folks. Trump could have told those two guys at the rally to drop this nasty total bullshit. That sort of thing is dangerous. Someone could get killed.

Trump said nothing. Others saw that as irresponsible:

“At the end of the day, this is a defining moment for Mr. Trump,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an interview. “The man in the audience who asked that question needs to be put in his place.” Graham added that he would not have tolerated similar behavior and that Trump should apologize for not objecting to the men and their accusations.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, also slammed Trump on Friday for not defending Obama’s background. “I think that’s a disgrace, to again question whether or not the president of the United States was born in this country and whether he’s a Christian,” he said on CBS This Morning. “I thought we were beyond that,” he added. “It is an outrage.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) mocked Trump’s decision not to attend the Heritage Action forum on Friday afternoon but did not mention the incident the night before. … “Filing for bankruptcy again?” the GOP presidential candidate asked of Trump. “Perhaps 5th time is the charm…”

Yeah, what was that a significant business transaction that came up? He needed to be at this Heritage Action Presidential Forum:

The event is a big landing point for Southern conservatives three days after the 2016 Republican presidential pack met in a heated debate airing from Simi Valley, Calif., on CNN. The front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has repeatedly defended himself against charges he is not a true conservative during campaign stops earlier this summer.

This doesn’t help, but it was obviously decision time. Apologize for the slip – tell the world that you know bullshit when you hear it. Obama is a Christian and a citizen and you should have told those two guys to cut the crap, because there are real issues that need to be addressed. Dismiss them and talk about Obamacare or the new Trump Wall or something – or go the other way, go back to 2011 or so. Say Obama is a Muslim. Say he wasn’t born in Hawaii and he never was a citizen. Those two guys had it right – America should be appalled by all this, and we do need to get rid of all Muslims in America – and then ride that widely shared sense of white national humiliation to victory. Is that widely shared? Apologize for the momentary lapse and you’ll look statesmanlike and sensible and even presidential. Don’t apologize and you could be president. It was probably worth taking a day off to make this decision.

There’s only one problem. There’s now no way to apologize. At the National Review Online, Jim Geraghty explains:

Trump’s steadfast refusal to apologize for his controversial antics may be the most striking thing about him. A significant portion of the Republican base craves it, and a handful of pro-Trump conservative pundits do too.

There’s a source for this:

None of them looms larger, perhaps, than Ann Coulter. It makes sense. Trump has given political expression to a model of conservative discourse perfected by Coulter and subsequently emulated by Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, and others: 1) Say something controversial or provocative and get a ton of attention in the process. 2) When the media and the Left inevitably demand an apology, adamantly refuse to provide one, driving your critics batty and burnishing your conservative credentials with the base. It’s been Coulter’s modus operandi for her entire, lucrative career, and now Trump has brought it to the campaign trail: A real conservative never says he’s sorry.

Trump didn’t apologize to John McCain for his comments disparaging the Arizona senator’s service during the Vietnam War; he insisted he’d been taken out of context. After seeming to suggest that Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly had been menstruating when she asked him to defend his history of sexist remarks about women, Trump said he had done “nothing wrong whatsoever.”

God can’t even get an apology from Trump. When Frank Luntz asked Trump if he had ever sought forgiveness from the Lord, Trump responded: “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there… When I drink my little wine – which is about the only wine I drink – and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.”

And this has trapped him:

When other candidates apologize, Trump describes it as weakness. After former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley apologized to the Black Lives Matter movement for pointing out that “all lives matter,” Trump pounced. “O’Malley apologized like a little baby,” the GOP front-runner complained. “Like a disgusting, little, weak, pathetic baby – and that’s the problem with our country.”

Trump has no option now. He certainly cannot apologize for anything, so the answer was misdirection:

Donald Trump is skipping a scheduled appearance at the Heritage Foundation’s Presidential Forum this weekend because of a “significant business transaction,” but his deal-making didn’t stop him from releasing an unexpected policy proposal on the Second Amendment on Friday afternoon.

In the new proposal, Trump advocates for the elimination of all gun and magazine bans, the creation of national concealed carry permits and the toughening of sentencing laws for felonies committed with firearms.

Writing that it is “imperative” to preserve Second Amendment rights, Trump’s plan pushes for rules that “empower law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves.”

“Our personal protection is ultimately up to us. That’s why I’m a gun owner, that’s why I have a concealed carry permit and that’s why tens of millions of Americans have concealed carry permits as well,” he writes.

Arm everyone because the government is useless:

Trump’s policy paper calls gun and magazine bans “a total failure” and attacks attempts to expand background check programs as misguided because “very few criminals are stupid enough to try and pass a background check – they get their guns from friends/family members or by stealing them.”

Trump’s aggressive rejection of gun regulations is a reversal for the Republican presidential candidate, who wrote in his 2000 book “The America We Deserve” that he supported an assault weapons ban and longer waiting periods for gun buyers.

Now he doesn’t:

The release of the new plan caught observers by surprise. Trump had recently teased that a new policy proposal on his tax plan would be released in two to four weeks, but gun policy was not something talked about in depth prior to Friday’s release.

This may have been a diversion, but Emily Atkin sees this:

Donald Trump imagines a world where regular citizens can buy automatic weapons; where gun owners can hide their weapons in any state; where there are no expanded background checks for gun purchases; and where citizens fight crime with their own assault rifles. …

A few parts of Trump’s statement focus on concealed carry, or the right for gun owners to walk around in public with their weapons hidden. He advocated for a federal law that mimics a driver’s license – in other words, if you get a concealed carry permit in one state, it should be enforceable in other states. Currently, there is no federal law addressing this – though all 50 states allow concealed carry with some type of permit, each permit has different terms, and is only enforceable in the state in which it was given.

This position is particularly personal to Trump. “Our personal protection is ultimately up to us,” his statement reads. “That’s why I’m a gun owner, that’s why I have a concealed carry permit, and that’s why tens of millions of Americans have concealed carry permits as well.”

Personal protection was another theme of Trump’s plan, which advocated “empowering” citizens to defend themselves and fight crime with their own weapons.

And any weapon is fine:

“Law-abiding people should be allowed to own the firearm of their choice,” he added. “The government has no business dictating what types of firearms good, honest people are allowed to own.”

Some might prefer rocket-propelled grenades, others might prefer full automatic heavy machine guns – “Law enforcement is great, they do a tremendous job, but they can’t be everywhere all of the time.”

So then there’s this:

Instead of placing restrictions on firearms or endorsement more stringent background checks, Trump’s new plan focuses on expanding access to mental health care – though it does lack specifics on how much funds should be allocated, and what type of treatment programs should be focused on. Instead, it just says this: “We need to expand treatment programs, because most people with mental health problems aren’t violent, they just need help.”

Now no one will be talking about those two guys at his rally, and there was Obama in the UK in July:

President Barack Obama has admitted that his failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws” in the US is the greatest frustration of his presidency.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Obama said it was “distressing” not to have made progress on the issue “even in the face of repeated mass killings.”

He vowed to keep trying, but the BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel said the president did not sound very confident.

At the time, Ed Kilgore added this:

Any British audience would be puzzled by this phenomenon, but then the Brits aren’t exactly freedom-loving, are they?

Well, actually they are, as are people in a lot of other advanced countries where there’s no expectation of any right to set oneself up as a private army.

And that gets to one of the roots of the ideology of “American exceptionalism.” If you compare the U.S. to other nations where there are reasonably solid traditions of self-government, respect for law, and democratic accountability, in what respect do we enjoy more “liberty?”

When people tearfully sing along with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m proud to be an American,” what do they mean when they say “at least I know I’m free,” as compared, say, to a Canadian? The only thing readily identifiable is our unique freedom to pack heat. And so long as that is thought to be integral to American identity, and protected by powerful and wealthy interest groups, including maybe one-and-a-half major political parties, then efforts to take the most reasonable steps to keep guns out of the hands of potential shooters will continue to be “frustrated.”

And now he adds this:

I love my country, and I don’t want to live anywhere else. But I sure wish fewer of us thought of “freedom” as just another word for packing heat, and even fewer thought they had the right to stockpile weapons in case they decide it’s necessary to overthrow the government and impose their will on the rest of us.

Yeah, but they’ve been humiliated. There’s a Muslim from Kenya in the White House. Well, maybe not, but Mexican drug dealers and rapists and murderers are pouring across our border and killing everyone in sight and then living high on the hog on our social services, and laughing at us. Well, maybe not, but the Chinese are eating our lunch. Well, maybe not, but everyone now in office here is so stupid that the world is laughing at us. Well, maybe not, but… something.

Trump gets it. The politics of populist nationalism are almost entirely the politics of felt humiliation – the politics of shame – and that may get him to the White House. On the other hand, this may be the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s odd run for the presidency. Shame isn’t cured by nonsense. Donald Trump took a day off to think about that.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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4 Responses to Riding Humiliation to Victory

  1. Dick Bernard says:

    I did a little blog about “the Debates” on September 17. URL below (I think). It goes in a different direction than what you report on so expertly, and there’s a 1927 quote about Americans by an Englishman towards the end.
    Re Trump, the phrase “a fool and his money are soon parted” comes to mind. Of course, the Donald has lots of money, but that doesn’t change the essence. But I worry most about the odd coalition I’ve seen develop: the angry haters are pretty visible, especially since President Obama was elected; but their winning message is made by the sullen left-wingers who refuse to engage in the messiness of a less than ideal world, holding out for whatever their ideal might be. It is the absent left that has actually won the elections for the angry right, most visibly jump-starting the rights rise with the quixotic Ralph Nader campaign in 2000. I can only hope some sanity returns to the process. I can hope….

  2. Rick says:

    Yes, this is one good theory of that exchange in New Hampshire:

    Those two guys at the Thursday night rally may have gotten the details wrong, but they certainly got the idea right. Trump didn’t correct them because he didn’t notice the details. Everyone was in the zone.

    I agree that Trump probably “didn’t notice the details”, and possibly (although unlikely) that he didn’t hear the first part of the man’s question, the part about Obama. But if he didn’t hear him, most people in his position would ask the man to repeat. In Trump’s case, however, there was no reason to either notice the details or to ask him to repeat. It really didn’t matter, because either way, he would be giving the same boilerplate answer that he’s been, in one form or another, giving everywhere he goes through this campaign:

    Trump responded, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying bad things are happening, [and] we’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”

    But aside from Trump leaving the impression that (a) he agrees Muslims are a problem in this country, and that (b) Obama is one, and (c) is not really an American, and maybe even that (d) he thinks “Muslim” training camps, training them to kill us, may even exist in this country, his not really addressing all of this shows a serious lack of good judgement that should not be tolerated by American voters in their search for who to elect president. If he can’t immediately think of how to nip that problem in the bud, he absolutely shouldn’t be elected, period.

    But even if he isn’t quick on his feet, he should still be able to put out the fire afterward. Instead, we get this:

    Trump released a statement to The Washington Post defending his comments.

    “The media wants to make this issue about Obama,” he told the Post. “The bigger issue is that Obama is waging a war against Christians in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake.”

    His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, talked to the Post late Thursday night to further defend Trump’s answer.

    “Mr. Trump was asked about training camps,” Lewandowski said. “Mr. Trump answered the question and said, ‘If there are any, we will fix it.’ He said, ‘I will look into it.’ The question was specifically about training camps.”

    When asked if Trump believes that Obama is a Muslim, Lewandowski told the Post that he doesn’t speak for Trump and that it’s “up to the media” if they want to “make this about Obama.”

    So given that, as is the conservatives’ wont, Trump is predictably incapable of apologizing for his screw-ups, much less even noticing when he does something wrong, even much less admitting it when it’s pointed out to him, he has failed yet another test of competent leadership, that of how he will handle whatever inevitable crisis arises while in office. Apparently he might not even see the problem, and if he does, he’ll just turn to a stock answer about “looking into it, along with a lot of other things”, and let it slide.

    Occasionally we hear the suggestion that, if Hillary is elected president, it just might be the third term of Barack Obama, but I think our real worry should be that, if Donald wins, that might just be the first term of Sarah Palin.

    Rick

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