Yes, Trump plays a bully boy and is appealing to populist (good), nativist, xenophobic, racist sentiments (bad).
Those things need to be meaningfully addressed and engaged rather than dismissed by self-styled sophisticates, noses raised.
Focusing on the negative aspects of his campaign has blinded people to the good -- and I don't mean good like, oh, the Democrat can beat this guy. I mean good like it's good that some of these issues are getting aired.
Trump is appealing to nativist sentiments, but those same sentiments are skeptical of the militarized role of the U.S. in the world -- as was the case of Pat Buchanan's 1992 campaign.
The New York Times recently purported to grade the veracity of presidential candidates
. Of course by their accounting, Trump was off the scales lying. But he recently said the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State "killed hundreds of thousands of people with her stupidity....The Middle East is a total disaster under her." Now, I think that's pretty accurate, though U.S. policy in my view may be more Machiavellian than stupid, but the remark is a breath of fresh air on the national stage.
But I've not seen anyone fact check that, because that's not an argument much of establishment media wants to have. Of course, a few sentences later Trump talks about the attack on the CIA station in Benghazi
, causing Salon to dismiss him as embracing "conspiracies
," which is likely all many people hear.
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Shouldn't someone who at times articulates truly inconvenient truths be noted as breaking politically correct taboos? Trump says such truths -- like at the Las Vegas debate about U.S. wars:
We've spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could've spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we've had, we would've been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.
Which I think is a stronger critique of military spending than we've heard from Bernie Sanders of late.
But Trump -- or Rand Paul's -- remarks about U.S. policies of regime change and bombings are often unexamined. It's more convenient to focus on our kindness in letting a few thousand refugees in than to examine how millions of displaced people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somali might have gotten that way because of U.S. government policies.
People say Trump's proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigrants is unconstitutional. News flash: the sitting Democratic president has bombed seven countries without a declaration of war. We've effectively flushed our constitution down the toilet. Does that justify violating it more? No. But the pretend moral outrage on this score is hollow.
And there's a logic to the nativist Muslim bashing. It's obviously wrong, but it's rational given the skewed information the public is given. Since virtually no one on the national stage is seriously and systematically criting U.S. policy -- it's invasions, alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel -- then it makes sense to say we've got to change something and that something is separating from Muslims.
Some sophisticates slam Trump for acting in the Las Vegas debate like he didn't know what the nuclear triad is. Well, I have no idea if he knows what the nuclear triad is or if he was just acting that way. But I'm rather glad he didn't adopt the administration position of saying it's a good idea to spend a trillion dollars to "modernize" our nuclear weapons so we can efficiently threaten the planet for another generation. People may recall that for all the rhetoric from Obama on ending nuclear weapons, it was Reagan who apparently almost rose to the occasion when Gorbachev
proposed getting rid of nuclear weapons. But Reagan is totally evil, so "progressives" have to hate him and so we're not supposed to remember that.
So much of our political culture just lives off of hate. People hated Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladin, so they backed anything GW Bush wanted. People hated GW Bush, so they backed Kerry or Obama or whoever without condition, no matter where it lead. People hated Assad, so they helped the rise of ISIS. People now hate ISIS -- some apparently want to nuke 'em -- that will almost certainly lead to worse. John Kasich -- the great reasonable Republican moderate -- says "it's time that we punched the Russians in the nose" -- who cares if that brings us closer to nuclear war. Many demonize Trump -- at last, someone from the U.S. who some in the mainstream label a Hitler. Hate, hate, hate, hate. Can we just view people for who they are with clear eyes, assessing the good and bad in them?
Trump calls for a cutoff of immigration of Muslims "until we can figure out what the hell is going on" -- which, given our political culture's seeming propensity to never figure out much of anything, might be forever. Then again, he's raising a real question. Says Trump: "There's tremendous hatred. Where it comes from, I don't know." Now, a reasonable stance would be to say let's stop bombing until "we can figure out what the hell is going on." But Trump -- unlike virtually anyone else with a megaphone -- is actually raising the issue about why there's resentment against the U.S. in the Mideast.
Virtually the only other person on the national stage stating such things is Rand Paul, though his articulations have also been uneven and have been a pale copy of what his father has said.
Of course, what should be said is: If we don't know "what the hell is going on!" -- then maybe we should stop bombing. But that doesn't get processed because the general public lives under the illusion that Obama is a pacifistic patsy. The reality is that Obama has been bombing more countries than any president since World War II -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
At the Las Vegas debate, Trump said: "When you had the World Trade Center go, people were put into planes that were friends, family, girlfriends, and they were put into planes and they were sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia." Which is totally mangled, but raises the question of Saudi Arabia with relation to 9/11.
Half of what Trump says is boarderline deranged and false. But he also says true things -- and critically, important things that no one else with any media or political access is saying.
Yes, Trump says he'll bomb the hell out of Syria, as does virtually every other Republican candidate. But Obama's already bombing the hell out of Syria and Iraq -- but it's quiet, so people think it's not happening. So they reasonably think passivity is the problem.
What people are right in sensing is that Obama, Bush and the rest of the establishment is playing endless geopolitical games and they're right to be sick of it. The stated goals -- democracy in the Mideast, getting rid of WMDs, stability in the right and protecting the U.S. public are obviously not going to be achieved by the policies of the establishment. They in all likelihood pretexts and the planers have other, unstated, objectives that they are perusing.
Trump touts his alleged opposition to the Iraq war. Some of us launched major campaigns to try to stop the 2003 invasion. I don't remember seeing Trump at any of the anti war rallies in 2002, but he apparently made a few remarks in 2003 and 2004
. Certainly nothing great or courageous. But it's good that someone with the biggest megaphone is saying the Iraq war was bad. People who are getting behind him are thus reachable on the U.S. government's proclivity toward endless war.
And perhaps think for a minute about what a Trump-Clinton race would be like, given that she voted for the invasion of Iraq.
Now, Trump may well be no different if he were to get into office. But he conveys the impression that he will act like a normal nationalist and not a conniving globalist. And much of the U.S. public seems to want that. And that's a good thing. He's indicating that there's a solution to constant war and that he's different from everyone else who has signed on to perpetual war. It's good that that's energizing people who had given up on politics.
Trump -- apparently alone among Republican presidential candidates
-- is saying that he will talk to Russian President Putin. Having some sense that the job of a president is to attempt to have reasonable relations with the other major nuclear powered state is a serious plus in my book. He conveys the image of being a die-hard nationalist, but -- unlike most of our recent leaders -- not hell-bent on global domination. People who want a better world should use that.
No prominent Democrat has taken on the position that we should really seriously examine the root causes of anger at the U.S. government. The public is never presented with a world view that does that. The only one on the national stage in recent memory to have done so in recent history was Ron Paul -- and he was demonized in ways similar to Trump by much of the liberal establishment in 2008.
Bernie Sanders has of course rightly touted his vote against the Iraq invasion in 2002 and has very correctly linked that invasion to the rise of ISIS. But Sanders had a historic opportunity to address these issues in a debate just after the Paris attack on Nov. 13, and actually didn't seem to want to talk foreign policy. Now he's complaining about a lack of media coverage. Yes, the media are unfair against progressive candidates, but you don't do any good by refusing to engage in what is arguably the great, defining debate of our time.
Even more troubling has been that Sanders has adopted the refrain that we need to have the Saudis "get their hands dirty." That's exactly the wrong approach and one shared with most of the Republican field. Even at the liberal extreme, Barbara Lee has declined to take issue with the U.S. arming with Saudi Arabia
as it kills away in Yemen.
Can progressives pause for a moment and note that it's a good thing that someone who a lot of people who have checked out of the political process are backing someone saying these things?
It's important to stress: I have no idea what Trump actually believes. Backing him as person is probably akin to picking a the box on The Price is Right. He could of course be even more authoritarian than what we've seen so far. The point I'm making is what he's appealing to has serious elements that are a welcome break from the establishment as well as some that are reactionary.
I have no personal love lost for Trump. Truth is, I lived in one of his buildings when I was growing up in Queens. His flamboyance as my dad and I were scraping by in a one bedroom apartment rather sickened me. I remember seeing the recently completed Trump Tower in Manhattan for the first time as a teen with my father and my dad bemused himself with the notion that he'd own one square inch of the place for the monthly rent checks he wrote to Trump for years.
And Trump for all I know is a total tool of the establishment designed to implode, as some of critics of Bernie Sanders have accused him of Sheepdogging for Hillary Clinton
, so too Trump might be doing for the Republican anti establishment base. Or he might pursue the same old establishment policies if he were ever to get into office -- that's largely what Obama has done, especially on foreign policy. Trump says "I was a member of the establishment seven months ago."
The point is that the natives are restless. And they should be. It's an important time to engage them so they stay restless and funnel that energy to constructive use, not demonize or tune them out.