That Slow Boat to China

In 1870 or so, it was best not to hang around the Boston House at the corner of Davis and Chambers streets near the waterfront in San Francisco. The place was run by James “Shanghai” Kelly and often the whiskey was free, and laced with opium. When you woke up you’d find you were a deckhand on a slow boat to China. You’d been shanghaied.

That’s where you’d be heading – Shanghai. Life would be hard for years and you’d probably never see home again. Kelly had a gift for supplying men to understaffed ships, no questions asked, but Congress passed the Shipping Commissioners Act of 1872 where a sailor had to sign on to a ship in the presence of a federal shipping commissioner, and finally there was the Seamen’s Act of 1915 that made this sort of thing a federal crime. No one would ever be shanghaied again.

Now the worst thing one can expect after a night of heavy drinking on the waterfront in San Francisco is to wake up with a massive tattoo you can’t explain, in an unfortunate location – but the term, shanghaied, is still useful. James Kelly was a clever businessman who made a fortune in seedy ways that were legal at the time. Donald Trump is a clever businessman who has made a fortune in seedy ways that were only sort of legal. After he built Trump World Tower the City of New York changed its zoning laws regarding air-rights so that would never happen again – and there’s Trump University of course – so Trump is a bit like Kelly. After all, he just shanghaied the Republican Party – without using whiskey laced with opium.

Philip Rucker with Robert Costa and Jose A. DelReal explain the basics:

Donald Trump assumed control of the Republican Party on Wednesday as its presumptive presidential nominee after Ohio Gov. John Kasich exited the race, moving swiftly to consider vice-presidential prospects and plan for what is expected to be a costly and vicious six-month battle for the White House against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump, who has proudly touted how he has self-funded his campaign, said he would begin actively seeking donations for his campaign and raise money for the national party, part of the arduous task of coalescing a party deeply divided over his toxic brand of politics.

That won’t be easy when half the party woke up to find they has been shanghaied:

Party leaders are scrambling to stave off a parade of prominent Republicans endorsing Clinton, but already there were notable defections. The two living Republican past presidents, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, have no plans to endorse Trump, according to their spokesmen.

In the swing state of Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval, a moderate Republican and rising Latino star, said he plans to vote for Trump despite their disagreements on some issues. But Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said that “I vehemently oppose our nominee” because he disparaged women, Hispanics and veterans – although Heller insisted he would not vote for Clinton.

It seems Heller won’t vote at all, but others are just giving up:

As some conservative commentators lit up social media with images of burning GOP registration cards, some party elders called for a healing process and sought to quiet talk of an independent protest candidacy.

“Life is a series of choices, and this choice looks like one between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” said Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor and national party chairman. “Anybody who proposes a third party is saying, ‘Let’s make sure Clinton wins.’ ”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) stood with Trump. “As the presumptive nominee, he now has the opportunity and the obligation to unite our party around our goals,” McConnell said in a statement.

 Good luck with that:

Trump said he was hardly fretting about whether leading Republicans, such as 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, would eventually back him.

“I believe that the people are going to vote for the person,” Trump said in an interview. “They love their party, but until this year the party was going in the wrong direction… We’ve made the party much bigger.”

In that interview on the Today Show Trump did vow to unify the party, but in the next breath he basically told those who were griping to get lost:

In a shot at his critics, Trump added: “Those people can go away and maybe come back in eight years after we served two terms. Honestly, there are some people I really don’t want.”

Hey, it’s his party now, so he can tell anyone he wants to sit down and shut up, and Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa explain just what that means:

Donald Trump has demolished just about every pillar of Republican philosophy, leaving the party to grapple with an identity crisis deeper than anything it has seen in half a century. The GOP has chosen as its 2016 standard-bearer a candidate who has flouted a litany of its once-sacred conservative principles.

Trump is disdainful of free-trade agreements, leery of foreign intervention, less than strident on social issues and a champion of protecting entitlements. Trump has also shattered Republican efforts to appeal to minorities and women by taking extreme positions on building a wall along the Southern border and barring Muslims from entering the country – and offending women with a series of insulting comments.

And Trump has risen as the institutional powers of the party, from its congressional leadership to its thought leaders at think tanks and in the media, have seen their support and stature diminished and fragmented during the Obama era, leaving vulnerable both the party and the right overall.

“As this develops, he’ll help shape – at least for this year, and maybe for a long time after that – what it means to be a Republican,” said former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean (R).

Kean didn’t say that with a smile, and he’s not alone:

“I don’t believe Trump has any beliefs. What I sense happened is he saw an arbitrage opportunity, a huge disconnect of the rank and file from the elite on immigration and trade, and he just exploited that,” said Reihan Salam, a conservative intellectual and author. “He walked in, took advantage and recognized there is a constituency.”

He saw an opening and he took it:

Trump discerned that early, even as the GOP establishment was sifting through the rubble of 2012, trying to figure out why it had lost the popular vote in five out of the past six presidential elections. Their prescription for victory was to soften their party’s image by appealing to young people, Hispanics and women. Trump’s was the opposite.

Just six days after GOP nominee Mitt Romney conceded defeat to President Obama, Trump quietly filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for rights to the phrase that has become the signature line of his campaign: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”

“This has never been a campaign about ideology or policy per se, or a 14-point policy plan,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “It’s been about sending a message about Washington and the direction of the country.”

On the GOP debate stage, Trump stood out in a field of former and current governors and senators as the ultimate outsider. He railed against failing institutions, political correctness and a world that seemed to be pushing this country around.

And he railed against them, leaving this:

Republicans have always put a premium on experience and had expected the cast of 2016 to be their most appealing in a generation. Instead, their voters turned to a figure with no government or military experience – the first nominee to lack either of those bona fides since Wendell Willkie in 1940 – and one who was best known to many Americans as the host of a reality television show.

They’ll just have to get used to that, although it won’t be easy:

“I absolutely do not want to take over the party,” Trump said in an interview. “I want to work with the party.”

But the two leaders of the GOP on Capitol Hill – House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) – barely know Trump and have had only occasional phone calls with him in recent months. On policy, Trump can appear to be worlds apart, such as with his opposition to the sweeping budget overhaul and trade pacts that have been the cornerstone of Ryan’s national career.

Unlike McConnell, who comes out of the trench warfare of partisan Kentucky politics, and Ryan, who is a scion of the supply-side conservative movement, Trump is a product of the New York real estate business and the city’s tabloid culture, a political agitator lacking an ideological project.

The main thing many Republican leaders want right now is reassurance that, despite polls to the contrary, Trump is not leading the GOP to a massive defeat in the fall that could wipe out candidates all the way down the ballot and possibly cost them their Senate majority.

It may be too late for that:

The most optimistic among Republicans hope that Trump has the capacity to bring in new voters and expand the party’s reach. But they realize that could ultimately come at the cost of their identity and the coherence of their worldview.

That’s not quite what Jonathan Bernstein sees:

It’s hard to imagine a bigger disaster for the Republican Party. It is left with a likely nominee who appears to be an awful – historically awful – general-election candidate and who is also the least committed to the Republican agenda in decades.

This leaves a terrible choice for GOP politicians and other party actors. Support Trump, and they’ll always be associated with him and they’ll be tarred with whatever irresponsible things he says. Oppose him, and he’ll be an even weaker general-election candidate who could bring down the entire Republican ticket in November, costing them not only the closely contested Senate but perhaps even the House and several state legislative chambers.

The identity and coherence of the party’s worldview don’t matter a lot if the party disappears, but Jennifer Rubin, who writes the Right Turn blog for the Washington Post, says identity and coherence are everything:

When former candidates like Bobby Jindal say they will vote for Trump (but not be happy about it) and when TV media entertainer Sean Hannity allows Trump without challenge to repeat his despicable lie about Cruz’s father, responsible Republicans must conclude that there needs to be a separation between those who put stock in personal character and truthfulness and those who do not; between those who babble inanities and those who insist on intellectual rigor; between those who lack simple decency and respect for fellow Americans and those who believe our political system must function without threat of violence, bigoted slurs and lies.

Well, he did take the lie back – Trump: Of Course I Don’t Think Cruz’s Dad Was Linked to JFK’s Assassinator – but then, he had put it out there for a day. Rubin wants nothing to do with that sort of thing, but Paul Waldman argues that this had to happen:

For decades, the GOP has built its identity on what I call the Four Pillars of Conservatism: small government, low taxes, strong defense, and traditional social values. They provide an easy-to-understand template for every Republican running for any office from dog catcher to president, they bind Republicans with different agendas in common cause, and their constant repetition cements the party’s image in voters’ minds. But Donald Trump, now the leader of this party, has shown only sporadic interest in any of them, with the possible exception of a strong defense. Instead, he has built his candidacy on ethno-nationalist appeals, scapegoating immigrants and Muslims and making it absolutely clear that he is leading a movement of, by, and for white people.

It isn’t that this is foreign to the GOP, just that it’s so blatant as to remove all plausible deniability. Trump takes the ugly appeals they used to make with dog whistles and euphemisms, and puts them right out in the open.

That’s what has people like Jennifer Rubin upset:

Among other things, that alienates moderates who don’t want to think that they’re voting for a reactionary party. That’s something Karl Rove and George W. Bush understood – when they created “compassionate conservatism” and had Bush take endless smiling photos with black and Hispanic people, the real target wasn’t minorities themselves but white moderates who wanted reassurance that they were voting for an open, inclusive party. 

Well, forget that: 

Trump likes to come out after a primary win and say how great he did among various demographic groups (even if much of the time he’s just making up results out of nowhere) – I won with women, I won with “the blacks,” I won with “the Hispanics”! But if the election were held right now, Trump would not just lose but likely lose by record margins among women, among African-Americans, among Hispanics, among Asian-Americans, among people with college educations – basically among every group except blue-collar white men.

So Trump takes what was a challenge for the party – their reliance on a diminishing portion of the population and their struggles appealing to all the portions of the population that are growing – and makes it dramatically worse.

This is rather like waking up and finding you’re now a deckhand on a slow boat to China and there’s not much you can do about it:

It might be that Trump will tarnish the GOP brand for a generation or more, particularly among voters just now coming of age. Republican candidates at all levels are going to be confronted with the question of not just whether they support Trump’s election, but whether they support anything he might do. Do you think Donald Trump should appoint the next Supreme Court justice? Do you think Donald Trump’s finger should be on the nuclear button? Do you think Donald Trump is a good role model for children?

If you’re a Republican running for any office, you might want to come up with answers for those questions. That’s why Democrats are now fantasizing about not just taking back the Senate, but the House as well, something that seemed impossible a few months ago.

There is, however, this alternative:

On the other hand, voters might see the ample number of Republicans criticizing Trump and conclude that as odious as he might be, he doesn’t actually represent his party. And it’s even possible that Trump’s inverse coattails (perhaps we should call them “exhaust fumes”) won’t have much effect on races below the presidential one. As Molly Ball points out, “A funny thing has happened to the Tea Party’s brand of anti-incumbent fervor in the age of Trump. In down-ballot primaries, antiestablishment conservatives have largely flopped… It is as if Trump had provided an outlet for all the primary electorate’s rage, leaving their local representatives unscathed.”

Something similar could happen in the general election: the broad electorate could express its disgust with the GOP by voting against its presidential nominee, but still re-elect most Republican members of Congress and state legislators.

That might happen, but that’s the best they can hope for now, and then there’s Mark Krikorian of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies:

Donald Trump is unfit to be president. He’s a braggart and a liar. And a serial adulterer. He’s behaved shamefully during the primary campaign. He wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if he tripped over it in the street. He doesn’t know even the Cliff Notes version of any policy issue. The idea that the party of Lincoln and Reagan, Coolidge and Eisenhower, Justice Harlan and Senator Taft has nominated Trump is appalling.

And I’m going to vote for him anyway.

Matthew Yglesias comments on that:

The reasons he gives are pretty simple. Presidents appoint people to important jobs. Krikorian specifically cites the Supreme Court, which would be on anyone’s list, and rather idiosyncratically names the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department as the other big one because “the division is Left’s most potent weapon in imposing its will on every city and town, every baker and florist, every church and synagogue in the nation.”

Yglesias sees what he’s up to:

Krikorian is articulating a perfectly sensible point about appointments in general. In the voting booth, you pick a president. In reality, you are picking a whole presidential administration. A Hillary Clinton administration will be staffed by reliable Democratic Party figures. Trump is enough of a weirdo to cast some doubt on the proposition that he will staff his administration with reliable Republican Party figures, but it still seems like he probably will. And the further you go down the food chain – not the attorney general but the assistant attorney general for civil rights – the more likely you are to find generic party figures in jobs.

Since most issues are obscure most of the time, in a day-to-day sense these staffing decisions tend to matter more than the question of what the president “really believes” or even knows anything about. So for most people, a pretty blind partisan vote ends up seeming compelling no matter what.

That is to say, this particular Republican president will stink, but the stench will remain at the top. Lower down, the “original” party will run things, really, as they should. It’s then okay to hold your nose and vote for Trump. The real work goes on elsewhere.

That’s not a bad rationalization, but Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir returns to the basic problem here:

Everybody following this election has made the same observation, but it bears repeating: For forty years or more, the dark political wizards of the Republican Party have bred and nurtured the Trump demographic, and now they’re shocked that it’s grown up into a carnivorous flower that has snaked its way to the rear to bite them in the capacious collective ass.

Pat Buchanan and Lee Atwater and Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have poured billions of dollars and volumes’ worth of Voldemort-level evil lore into convincing disgruntled and downwardly mobile white Americans to vote against their own economic interests over and over again. They fed them a catechism of resentment directed at a long list of nefarious foes – culminating in Barack Hussein Obama, the Kenyan-commie-gay usurper – and promised them a return to an imaginary America that never existed in the first place and definitely couldn’t exist now (and that in any case the Republican leadership absolutely did not want).

But those guys had a blind spot: They never imagined that someone could come along and steal the whole circus from under their noses, promising those voters the same infantile fantasy, freed of the irritating ideological baggage – all the jingoism and crude misogyny and empty tough talk you could want, with fewer pointless overseas wars and no mystifying asides about free trade or Medicare Part B or bigger tax cuts for the people who already have all the money.

The prose is a bit purple, but that seems about right, as does this:

People like me in the educated coastal classes typically view Trump’s voters as stupid, ignorant and dangerous, but that’s no better than two-thirds correct. They may want impossible things, and they may be dug into hardened bunkers of magical thinking. But they eventually noticed that the Republican leadership and its anointed candidates viewed them with contempt and played them for suckers. Maybe they’re not so dumb after all.

Anyone who gets conned is in on the con at an unconscious level, or so psychologists and David Mamet characters say. Trump’s electorate is in on the con at pretty nearly a conscious level, I would say. Many of his supporters understand he probably can’t win the election, and couldn’t build his stupid wall even if he did. Trump and his wall are signifiers of incoherent rage, focal points for unfocused resentment. His voters are less interested in governing the country than in ventilating their rage and “fucking shit up,” to use the vernacular. They have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

And that leaves few alternatives:

Many elected officials and party apparatchiks will uneasily gather behind Trump at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, perhaps the most appropriately named venue in political history. Others will stay home and sulk; a few will actually jump ship and support Hillary Clinton. (Who is, and I’ll say this just once, closer to being a conventional Republican than Trump is.) All of them will try to forget the whole thing as rapidly as possible after November.

That’s because Trump will lose, which may be a good thing:

For the Republican Party, the Trump coup-d’état followed by a November wipeout would be catastrophic. First the party’s leadership and its funders have been comprehensively rejected by the electoral base, and then the riled-up base is (presumably) rejected by the general public. But that catastrophe contains the seeds of possible renewal, or at least it would if there were any Republicans with the wit and imagination to seize them.

That, however, requires a lot of imagination:

In its 21st-century incarnation, the GOP has become the party of rejectionism and nihilism and total whiteness. If there was a turning point – and, really, there were dozens – it came with the shocking primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, a rising conservative star in a safe Republican seat dethroned by a hard-right upstart. The center-right party of suburban businessmen and ladies who lunched and small-town Protestant ministers, which once had room for Dwight Eisenhower and Fiorello La Guardia (not to mention Edward Brooke, the first elected African-American senator, and Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress) has tethered itself to the most resentful and most alienated elements of the exurban white underclass.

That demographic is declining, in relative terms. But it still comprises many, many people, and it’s both heartless and inaccurate to suggest those people are dying out or disappearing. Despite our stereotypes about race and poverty, Census Bureau numbers suggest that of the 47 million or so Americans who live below the poverty line, roughly 20 million are white. Millions more working-class whites outside the big cities live above the poverty line under precarious paycheck-to-paycheck circumstances, amid a pervasive atmosphere of downward mobility and lost opportunity. If those people feel abused or ignored, and believe they lack effective advocates, it’s because they have been and they do.

Whether those people can ever be persuaded to fight for their actual economic interests, in the poisoned climate of American politics, is a question with no evident answer. But in 2016 the toxic marriage between the Republican Party and working-class white America has finally hit the rocks…

So I guess the Republican brain trust can decide to follow Donald Trump and his true believers down the sewer drain of permanent white resentment. I mean, that’s the way they’ve been going anyway. They’ve still got plenty of money and nice offices, and they’ve baited the Democrats into a pattern of ideological retreat that has won the GOP a hefty share of power in Congress and clear across the middle of the country. That’s all in doubt now, but it’s not like it’s going to vanish overnight.

Or the Republicans could untether themselves from racism and xenophobia and a reflexive hatred of government, and build for the future as a moderate pro-business party with vaguely libertarian social policies and an internationalist foreign policy that tries to balance flag-waving machismo with pragmatism. Kasich and Bush would be leading candidates in that party, while Trump and Cruz wouldn’t even be in the picture.

That’s vaguely possible, but consider this:

That party could win elections, but there’s no visible path for today’s doomed Republicans that leads from here to there. For one thing, that party already exists, or very nearly does. It’s about to nominate Hillary Clinton.

Ah, there you have it. Hillary Clinton is the Republican in this election. And Bernie Sanders is the Democrat. And Donald Trump slipped the Republican Party some whiskey laced with opium and they woke, their heads aching, to find themselves on a slow boat to China, or somewhere even more remote. They were shanghaied by a clever businessman. These things still happen in America.

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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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One Response to That Slow Boat to China

  1. I challenge the sentence “Hillary Clinton is the Republican…Bernie Sanders is the Democrat”, though there are lots of progressives that think that is true, that only the progressive ideology qualifies for the Democrat or Liberal label. I won’t solve this argument…the fantasy will go on and on. My blog post on Tuesday of this week (May 3) “A Political Conversation on the day of the Indiana Primary” is my attempt to give advice. I added to it on May 4. Several hundred took a look at it. Maybe one or two might listen. Take a look….

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