Pittsburgh in the fifties was no place to be. Even the parents knew that. There was a wider world, so leaving for college in the mid-sixties, and never really going back, was easy enough, but in 1959 or so that seemed a long way off. But every Sunday, after church downtown, the parents would buy a copy of the Sunday New York Times. The afternoon would be catching up with the real world, and one of the few magazines that showed up in the mail each week was the New Yorker. The cartoons were sly and far more sophisticated than we even understood, and the fiction was the best in America. The display ads showed stuff that was impossible in Pittsburgh, and there was the weekly “Letter from Paris” – Janet Flanner has been writing that since 1925 – a chatty inside view of a whole other world. Things weren’t always as they seemed to Americans. There was more going on than we thought. That was good to know. The parents made sure we knew that. That made the trips to Paris each December, starting in 1997, for two weeks kicking around, solo, kind of like coming home. The place felt like home. It’s a wide world.
Flanner retired in 1975 and those letters stopped – the loss of a friend, really – but twenty years later the New Yorker dispatched Adam Gopnik to Paris to restart the series. The best New Yorker essays from his six years there can be found in Paris to the Moon – again, a chatty inside view of a whole other world. But maybe that’s the real world too. Things aren’t always as they seem to Americans, and now, back home in America, but with a wider perspective, Gopnik doesn’t like what he’s seeing:
The unimaginable happens – Donald Trump, fool, oaf, and sociopathic liar, becomes the nominee of a major American political party – and within minutes what ought to be a shock beyond understanding becomes an event to savor, accept, and analyze. The desperate efforts to normalize the aberrant begin: he’s actually a Rockefeller Republican with orange hair; he wasn’t humiliated by President Obama’s mockery at that dinner in 2011 but responded as a lovable, gregarious good guy; even his birtherism wasn’t the vile racist sewage anyone could see it to be – he was genuinely unsure about where exactly it was the President was born. Trump tells one wild ranting lie after another on Sunday-morning television – we are the most heavily taxed nation in the world; he always opposed the Iraq war – and Chuck Todd can’t do much more than nod and say “Gotcha!”
The reconciliation has begun, but too many years in Europe, with its sad history, means Gopnik has seen this movie before:
This is the kind of desperate response to the rise of fascism one might expect to find in a decadent media culture. Neocons have made a fetish of 1938; in retrospect they would have done better looking hard at 1933.
There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word “fascist.” The sum may be crypto-fascist, neo-fascist, latent fascist, proto-fascist, or American-variety fascist – one of that kind, all the same. Future political scientists will analyze (let us hope in amused retrospect, rather than in exile in New Zealand or Alberta) the precise elements of Poujadisme, Peronism and Huck Finn’s Pap that compound in Trump’s “ideology.” But his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government, whether Léon Blum’s or Barack Obama’s, is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success.”
It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.
This will not end well:
Almost every intelligent conservative knows perfectly well who Donald Trump is and what he stands for. But NeverTrump is a meaningless slogan unless one is prepared to say ThisOnceHillary.
Some may be waiting for a third choice to emerge, an honorable if improbable idea, but too many seem hobbled by a disdain rooted less in rationality than in pure habit to see the reality of the circumstance. This kind of Republican front would not really require that anyone formally endorse Hillary’s politics, which they have every right to resist and criticize. But voting against Trump is an act of allegiance to America. …
What would Hillary Clinton be like in the White House? Well, she was in the White House, once, and helped preside over a period of peace and mostly widespread prosperity. One can oppose her ideology (to the degree she has any), be unimpressed by her record (as contradictory as it may be), or mistrustful of her character. God knows, it is bitterly hard to defer to a long-standing political enemy, but it is insane to equate a moderate, tested professional politician with a crypto-fascist. Doing so is possible only through a habit of hatred so distended that it no longer has any reference to reality at all.
It is a wide world, and there is reality:
Hitler’s enablers in 1933 – yes, we should go there, instantly and often, not to blacken our political opponents but as a reminder that evil happens insidiously, and most often with people on the same side telling each other, Well, he’s not so bad, not as bad as they are. We can control him. (Or, on the opposite side, I’d rather have a radical who will make the establishment miserable than a moderate who will make people think it can all be worked out.) Trump is not Hitler. (Though replace “Muslim” with “Jew” in many of Trump’s diktats and you will feel a little less complacent.) But the worst sometimes happens.
If this is so, as it seems to be, then the Republicans have a problem. How do they reconcile themselves to this?
Maybe they ignore it all, but the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold points out that this still leaves a wide doctrinal gap:
Five years ago, Rep. Paul Ryan stood on the House floor, assured of victory. “This is our defining moment,” he said.
On that day in 2011, the House’s new GOP majority approved Ryan’s budget plan – which, in defiance of all political instincts, called for cuts in a government program that voters knew and loved: Medicare. Ryan (R-Wis.), worried about debt, wanted eventually to turn the massive health-benefit program over to private insurers.
At the time, one particular Republican objected loudly and publicly. But he was nobody important – just the host of “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
“What he did is political suicide for the Republican Party,” Donald Trump said in an interview recently dug up by Mother Jones.
Today, Ryan – now speaker – still has the House. But Trump, it appears, has the party.
They simply do not believe the same things, and now they have to face off:
On Thursday, the two men will meet in Washington, striving for party unity after Ryan refused to endorse Trump’s presidential bid. When he arrives, Trump will have nearly clinched the GOP nomination by running squarely against Ryan’s vision of what Republicanism is.
That’s especially clear on the subject of “entitlement” programs such as Medicare. At the time of Ryan’s greatest strength, Trump is turning the party against the very change that Ryan sought power to achieve.
“I’m leaving it the way it is,” Trump said of Medicare in a Fox Business interview this week. “I’m going to bring jobs back to the country. We’re going to make our country rich again.”
But Paul Ryan has always had a different narrative:
It began in 2008, with a congressman urging his colleagues to cut taxes big and grab two political live wires at once.
First, Medicare: Many Republicans think the expensive federal system that guarantees unlimited health-care coverage to those 65 and older threatens to bankrupt the nation without spending cuts or significantly higher taxes. Ryan proposed capping the cost by giving seniors a set amount of money to buy their own private insurance. Ryan also proposed changing Social Security to allow younger workers to direct some of their payroll tax contributions to personal investment accounts.
It caught on, at least in Washington. The GOP-led House has now passed five annual “budgets” – theoretical policy statements, not actual changes of the law – that have endorsed a version of Ryan’s Medicare plan.
At the same time, the fractious party failed to agree on other big ideas, like how to replace Obamacare, reform immigration laws and overhaul the tax code. So, by process of elimination, Ryan’s idea became the Republican idea, the best evidence that – in Ryan’s words – the GOP is “a proposition party,” not just an opposition party.
The problem was that no one ever really bought any of it:
“I don’t care about my grandkids,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) recalled one voter saying at a town-hall meeting, after Schweikert had explained that entitlements needed to be cut so debt would not overwhelm future generations. “I want every dime,” the man said.
In a 2015 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70 percent opposed Ryan’s proposals for Medicare.
“How many people have called your office to say, ‘Mr. Schweikert, what is your plan for fixing this'” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) asked Schweikert on the House floor in February, as part of a back-and-forth about the fact that Ryan’s big ideas did not enjoy broad support.
“I think it is zero,” Schweikert said.
Trump seemed to understand this:
“You can’t get rid of Medicare. It’d be a horrible thing to get rid of. It actually works,” Trump said in November. In a campaign where Trump has constantly changed his mind about what he believes, this is a subject where he’s remained constant. Trump agrees with Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders: No cuts to Medicare.
At the same time, Trump rejects Ryan’s entire style of politics, which uses detailed budget projections to sketch out worries for the future, followed by an appeal for shared sacrifice.
Trump is not fond of such details, so this “reconciliation” meeting may reconcile nothing, and Ryan knows it:
This week, a friend of Ryan’s told The Washington Post that Ryan would not demand Trump agree to his specific vision for entitlements but rather would search for common ground on broader questions of principle.
“This is a big-tent party,” Ryan said during a news conference Wednesday. “There’s plenty of room for different policy disputes.”
Still, the Ryan crowd hangs on to the cut-everything-for-the-good-of-everyone notion:
“Basically almost every single person running for the Republican nomination this time would support that position,” Dan Holler, of the activist group Heritage Action for America, said on Wednesday.
He meant that former Florida governor Jeb Bush supported Ryan’s vision. So did Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.
But all those people lost to the candidate who doesn’t.
“Yeah,” Holler said. “When you look at the Republican Party broadly, though, it is part of Republican Party orthodoxy. And rightly so.”
Who says? Trump doesn’t say so. Who gets to define such things now?
These are matters of doctrine, and really, the least of their worries, as Josh Marshall explains:
Trump has embraced various positions that many Republicans and much of the population sees as simply beyond the pale of mainstream political discourse.
Banning Muslims from visiting or immigrating to the United States –
Rapidly expelling roughly 3% of the current US population, i.e., a 12 to 18 month process of deportation roughly 11 million undocumented or “illegal” immigrants in the US –
Coercing one of the two states bordering the United States to pay to build a wall along our mutual border, something that could credibly be viewed as a casus belli –
A more or less open invitation for white nationalists and open racists to join his political coalition –
Using as yet unspecified powers to prevent US companies from building or opening factories outside the US or seizing currency transfers to build his border wall –
And there’s more:
Trump has tolerated and encouraged public violence, often against various political enemies he’s identified. He’s demonized whole groups of people and generally pressed a public posture of gratuitous insult and bullying. The frequent claims that Trump is a ‘fascist’ are overblown. But Trump has clearly embraced a program of white racial backlash and authoritarian political action. And in case you’re keeping score at home, that’s not good.
This is a much bigger problem than doctrine:
Stated in these terms (and I don’t think these terms are terribly controversial), the question facing Ryan and the GOP seems less coalitional than existential. Can Republicans embrace that political agenda and approach to governance? This isn’t Tea Party versus business Republicans, or libertarians vs traditionalist evangelicals. It’s an agenda that has so far been outside the realm of at least national GOP candidates and puts a lot of the constitutional framework of government under pretty clear strain. It also puts the GOP in a pretty much open embrace of white racial backlash.
Is there really a way to unify on those terms?
I’m not naive. I think there are plenty of Republicans who are ready to get on board – especially if Trump’s polls start to show he might have some solid chance of winning. But let’s not pretend this is a matter of uniting a bruised party’s various factions. Trump’s politics takes the GOP on to fundamentally new ground – authoritarian, open in its embrace of racial backlash and revanchism, aggressive and destabilizing abroad.
That’s a choice. No papering that over.
And of course they’ll get no help from the Big Guy:
Donald J. Trump’s behavior in recent days – the political threats to the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan; the name-calling on Twitter; the attacks on Hillary Clinton’s marriage – has deeply puzzled Republicans who expected him to move to unite the party, start acting presidential and begin courting the female voters he will need in the general election.
But Mr. Trump’s choices reflect an unusual conviction: He said he had a “mandate” from his supporters to run as a fiery populist outsider and to rely on his raucous rallies to build support through “word of mouth,” rather than to embrace a traditional, mellower and more inclusive approach that congressional Republicans will advocate in meetings with him on Thursday.
Needless to say, this is risky, but perhaps clever:
Roughly 60 percent of Americans view him negatively, according to pollsters, who say more-of-the-same Trump is not likely to improve those numbers. While a majority of Republican primary voters said they were looking for a political outsider, Mr. Trump will face a majority of voters in November who prefer a candidate with political experience, according to primary exit polls and several national polls. Many Republicans think they will lose the presidency and seats in the House and Senate if he continues using language that offends women and some racial and religious groups.
Still, Mr. Trump’s message, tone and policy ideas have drawn followers who are more passionate than Republican nominees typically enjoy, and he has monopolized the political conversation and news coverage of the race. Some Republicans argue that he cannot afford to change his stripes too much, while strategists in both parties say he is shrewdly sticking with a style that drowns out attacks that could deepen his negative rating.
“His rally rants and Twitter brawls are meant to dominate the media coverage and public conversation so that Democratic challenges have less space to break through all of the noise,” said Guy Cecil, the chief strategist and co-chairman of Priorities USA, the “super PAC” supporting Mrs. Clinton. “He doesn’t want people talking about his record or positions.”
That could work fine, although the thinking isn’t political at all:
Mr. Trump, in a telephone interview, compared his candidacy to hit Broadway shows and championship baseball teams, saying that success begot success and that he would be foolish to change his behavior now.
“You win the pennant and now you’re in the World Series – you gonna change?” Mr. Trump said. “People like the way I’m doing.”
He argued that he stood a better chance of inspiring voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania if he was his authentic self, rather than shifting from populist outsider to political insider to please a relative handful of Republican elites who are part of the establishment he has railed against for months. He said his huge rallies, where outbursts of violence and racist taunts have vexed many Republican leaders, and his attacks against adversaries on Twitter and in television interviews would continue because he believes Americans admire his aggressive, take-charge style.
“I think I have a mandate from the people,” Mr. Trump continued, referring to his victories in 29 states, including Nebraska and West Virginia on Tuesday night.
They want that program of national revenge led by a strongman, that contempt for parliamentary government and procedures, that insistence that the existing, democratically elected government is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation, that hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength, that equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization, and that supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success” – as Gopnik put it.
“Donald Trump did earn a mandate from Republican primary voters,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, a Republican facing a tough re-election fight in Pennsylvania, whose primary Mr. Trump won with 57 percent of the vote. “My advice to him is that he should now consider how he will appeal to the many Republican and non-Republican voters who have serious concerns about his candidacy.”
Former Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said that electoral mandates were a fallacy in American politics, and that leaders only did well when they focused on “ideas in the center that unite people.”
“I don’t even think the 1980 Reagan landslide gave Reagan a mandate,” said Mr. Gregg, whose state gave Mr. Trump his first win in the primaries, and who has not decided if he will follow through on his pledge to support the Republican nominee. “He was effective because the country was in terrible shape and he was able to bring large numbers of people behind his ideas. Trump hasn’t done that.”…
David Winston, a Republican pollster who worked on Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign in 2012, said Mr. Trump was putting himself at a severe disadvantage in the general election.
“At this point, at a minimum, he’s at least 50 million voters short of what he’s going to need,” Mr. Winston said. “He has created an interesting dynamic in that, during the course of the campaign, he was basically calling those individuals names, which didn’t endear him to their supporters.”
Uniting people behind Mr. Trump is “eminently doable, but it will take significant focus,” he said.
Trump, however, has a different idea of focus:
Mr. Trump is reluctant to trade in pitchfork populism for something more demure. He was gleeful in fact that so much attention was being paid to his Capitol Hill meetings on Thursday.
“Somebody said the paparazzi are going crazy over that meeting,” he said.
What can Paul Ryan say to that? Where do you begin? Any kind of reconciliation is impossible with the Republican Party, because it’s a political party, with principles and doctrines developed over more than one hundred years. Trump is something else entirely, but it’s a wide world and we’ll always have Paris:
Donald Trump is provoking insults from more than just London’s new mayor, with the mayor of Paris jumping in to slam the Republican presidential candidate.
“Mr. Trump is so stupid, my God,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, standing next to new London Mayor Sadiq Khan, said this week when asked about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor, has been criticizing Trump for days over the New York billionaire’s idea, saying it would prevent him from visiting the U.S.
Trump indicated Monday he could provide an exception for the mayor, which Khan dismissed, saying it’s not “just about me” and blasting Trump for having “ignorant” views of Islam.
That was this week’s letter from Paris and it did work wonders:
Donald Trump has demoted his proposed Muslim immigration ban to a mere “suggestion.”
In a radio interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade on Wednesday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee softened his call to temporarily prohibit Muslims from entering the United States.
“We have a serious problem. It’s a temporary ban. It hasn’t been called for yet. Nobody’s done it. This is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on,” Trump said.
It seems that Donald Trump is a bit more sensitive than anyone imagined. He doesn’t like being called stupid, at least by a drop-dead gorgeous powerful and accomplished Frenchwoman – as opposed to, say, old fat and ugly Hillary Clinton. There is a wider world out there. We should all get to know it. No one should have to reconcile themselves to Donald Trump.