Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Sense of Grievance: The Gift Trump Gives Us

Lincoln and Stowe
The thing about a Republic is it can be manipulated by a small, excited minority. 

Clearly, the Republican Party is currently being driven by a minority segment which feels aggrieved, aggrieved about "Radical Islam" shooting up Americans and Parisians and Western white people, aggrieved about having a Black man as President, aggrieved about the very thought someone from the government might want to take away their guns. These people will show up, which as Woody Allen once noted, is 80% of life, not to mention politics. They will go to rallies and cheer and vote.

But, I am told,  they are actually only about 40% of the 300,000 million Americans who the President represents.

The problem is, they are the ones animated, while the rest of America is busy going shopping, going to their kids' soccer games, going out to restaurants and bars, watching the Patriots, thrilling to Steph Curry, buying new cars, mowing lawns, raking leaves, redoing kitchens and bathrooms, and doing all the things which have nothing to do with listening to Donald Trump blame Muslims and President Obama (not necessarily in that order) for everything wrong with the world today.

This morning, I heard the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania blame President Obama for Donald Trump! Wow, that was a neat trick. If President Obama had only been more emotional during his speech from the White House after the San Bernadino attack, then Trump would not have been able to step into that vacuum. 

Oh, I get it. Mr. Obama's cerebral, cool style is just no match for the white hot Trump and so all the oxygen in the room is sucked up by Mr. Trump. Got it.

When the war between the states broke out, the cerebral Mr. Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe at the White House.  In what may be an apocryphal story, the over 6 foot President bent down to shake the hand of the diminutive author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and said, "So, this is the little lady, who wrote the book, that started the great big war."

I love that story, and don't really care whether or not it is true--it is true in its point. Without the white hot passions of the anti slavery movement, there would have been no Civil War.  Until enough people could be pried away from the concerns of their daily doggy lives in New Hampshire and Minnesota and New York to care about the great wrong that was slavery, no regiments could be mustered.

Think about that. Men from farms in New Hampshire left those shires to enlist in a huge bureaucratic, undemocratic organization to go fight in South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, all over.  That took some motivation.  Likely, there were many who joined for the adventure, for dreams of glory, because they were unhappy with life at home, but they were animated by something.  

And one thing you can say for Mr. Trump: He animates people. So did Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, the Emperor of Japan, and Genghis Khan. Drove those crowds into a frenzy, did these guys. 

Lincoln gave wonderful, thoroughly thought out speeches about slavery and the Union. His debates with Stephen Douglas were thoughtful, powerful, but intentionally dispassionate in passionate times. In the midst of the Civil War, speaking before a multitude from the Capitol building, he delivered his Second Inaugural address which could have been a rousing call to arms, but was, instead, a thoughtful, reflective statement of the events leading up to the war and the reasons to continue fighting it. 

Of course, his best known address, at Gettysburg, would have left Ted Cruz and Donald Trump snoring. It had ringing phrases and deep understanding but it was understated and given the circumstances, dispassionate. That the war would be pursued to prevent a government of the people, by the people, for the people from vanishing from the face of the earth spoke to people who had attention spans beyond that of the average flea.  Not sure it would have rung so loud today among the people who rally for Mr. Trump. What the children want who Mr. Trump thrills are apocalyptic visions of the coming onslaught, a sort of invasion of the zombies, to which Mr. Trump, being a tough guy, will play the super hero. Oh, we'll all be so proud with all the winning. 

 Lincoln knew he could not motivate passions the way Stowe had. In fact, he was trying to cool down passions, but emotion ruled the day. His smile and wink to Ms. Stowe, if it happened, would have carried a measure of rebuke--here I was trying to calm everyone down, talk them back from the precipice and you got them all inflamed and we got war. 

Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz and Ms. Fiorina all invoke images of Radical Islamic nasties beheading people, slaughtering innocents and they raise the alarm with their Jeremiads.  In the midst of real threat to the existence of the Republic, Lincoln did not stoke fears. 

But maybe Harriet Beecher Stowe was right. We need some emotion to provoke action now and then.  Perhaps what we need now, to provoke the somnolent masses to go out and vote against the hucksters of hysteria  is a new Uncle Tom's Cabin about the logical consequences of Mr. Trumps ascension to the Presidency, a world in which Muslims are relegated to ghettos, with ID cards and a data base to track them. A world where high school students pack guns in school (and shoot each other while waiting for the Radical Islamic terrorists to show up), where eleven million immigrants are rounded up and deported, where a 1,000 mile wall of reinforced concrete is built along the Mexican border, where health care collapses. 

If we had that, maybe we'd have the war we need, to get the complacent masses who might actually not hate, fear and loathe Muslims to get off their couches and go vote.


  1. Mad Dog,
    Hmm..sounds to me like you would agree with Lincoln that Harriet B. Stowe had, as an individual, a profound effect on history..Much like the butterfly in the rain forest setting things in motion perhaps??

    As for Candidate Trump, as repulsive as he surely is-he is also the gift that keeps on giving. Watching the rest of the Republican pack squirm in response to his weekly shockers is truly a delight..They condemn his ban on Muslims and then are all over the map when asked if they'll support him if he's the nominee.."Oh what to do, what to do"..It's a treat to watch Trump drag them all down the rabbit hole to Crazyville-they don't want to join him and yet can't escape his lumbering tentacles..Now that his latest offense has once again failed to derail his campaign, one wonders how many of the others will soften their view of the Trump attack on all Muslims..A few weeks back I read a comment by some journalist making the point that the reason Trump keeps failing to cross a political line in the sand and implode is because there no longer is a line-anything goes. There seems truth in that..Just think of all the billionaires out there wringing their hands as they watch Trump, Cruz, Carson and the other nuts positioned at the party helm..What if they sink the GOP ship and the interests of the top 1% goes down with it..Well we can dream..

  2. Ms. Maud:
    Until now, I've doubted the key man theory of history, that one man might make a difference: were he not there, the course of history would be different. Even Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and certainly Roosevelt and Churchill could not act alone, or even forge the forces which made others respond to them.
    But, as you suggest, Mr. Trump does seem to emerge as something different, in that, were it not for him, the Presidential race would be shaping up much differently.

    He is taping into the same paranoid, cowardly base of the right wing T party Republican party, but he is dragging the rest of the crew toward a much more extreme place--exclude all Muslims from coming in and, what has gone largely ignored, he has said 25% of all Muslims already here wish us harm and 51% want to live under Sharia law. Ted Cruz will not disagree with him. Enough Republicans are pointing to Japanese internment camps as a viable model, we now have something beyond a T party Right, or even an Ann Coulter reactionary right: We now have a Fascist right.
    I've never been quite sure what a Fascist is, other than an extremely nasty politician, but I did Google it and it mentioned an authoritarian who seeks to galvanize popular sentiment by an appeal to ethnic or racial solidarity and fear and loathing of other ethnic, racial or religious groups. I think Mr. Trump and his supporters qualify. He may be the butterfly in the rain forest; Homer Simpson better watch his step.

    Mad Dog