Sunday, March 13, 2016

Progressive Perspectives on the Rise of Donald Trump

Perhaps like me you've been troubled by the escalating violence at campaign rallies of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. A number of clashes between Trump supporters and protesters took place this weekend. Those you have been gathering at Trump's rallies to protest are compelled to do so by Trump's racist and xenophobic positions on immigration and Muslims. On Friday, the threat of violent clashes forced Trump to cancel a Chicago rally.

The scenes in Chicago followed several weeks of violence at Trump rallies, in which protesters and journalists have been punched, tackled and hustled out of venues, raising concerns about security leading into the November 8 presidential election to replace Democratic President Barack Obama. The disturbances continued on Saturday at a Trump rally in Dayton, Ohio, where Secret Service officers scrambled to surround the candidate after a man rushed the stage.

This evening at The Wild Reed I share a compilation of progressive perspectives that seek to both describe and explain the deeply disturbing rise of Donald Trump. In highlighting the ways in which Trump and his rhetoric endanger civilized society, these perspectives can also be seen to point to attitudes and actions beyond "Trumpism" and, indeed, all political platforms and systems that rely on and encourage bullying, fear-mongering, and the scapegoating of others.


For some on the left, Trump is the result of decades of divisive politics — the inevitable outcome of a Republican political strategy that stoked white racial resentment to win elections. “Trump’s campaign can best be understood not as an outlier but as the latest manifestation of the Southern Strategy, which the Republican Party has deployed for a half-century to shore up its support in the old Confederate states by appeals to racial resentment and white solidarity,” writes Jeet Heer in the New Republic.

For some on the right, Trump is the grassroots response to Republican elites who have abandoned their working-class voters to the whims of laissez-faire capitalism. “[T]he Republican Party, and the conservative movement, offer next to nothing to working-class Trump supporters,” writes Michael Brendan Dougherty in The Week. “There are no obvious conservative policies that will generate the sort of growth needed to raise the standard of living for these working-class voters.”

These explanations aren’t mutually exclusive; each touches on an important element of the Trump phenomenon. The Republican Party does have a tradition of harnessing white racial resentment to win elections. . . . GOP elites have failed to offer solutions to struggling working-class whites, who have suffered keenly from the collapse of the industrial economy. And it is true that rapid, disorienting economic and cultural change has led a substantial group of Americans to turn to someone who disdains feckless politicians and pledges to restore the country’s strength.

But none of these theories answer the question why now. . . . What caused this fire to burn out of control? The answer, I think, is Barack Obama.

. . . For millions of white Americans who weren’t attuned to growing diversity and cosmopolitanism, [the election of] Obama was a shock. . . . [He was] a figure who appeared out of nowhere to dominate the country’s political life. And with talk of an “emerging Democratic majority,” he presaged a time when their votes – which had elected George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan – would no longer matter. More than simply “change,” Obama’s election felt like an inversion. When coupled with the broad decline in incomes and living standards caused by the Great Recession, it seemed to signal the end of a hierarchy that had always placed white Americans at the top, delivering status even when it couldn’t give material benefits.

– Jamelle Bouie
Excerpted from "How Trump Happened"
March 13, 2016

Above: Tom McKay of calls it "the one photo you need to see from Donald Trump's canceled March 11 rally in Chicago." Writes McKay: "Chicago Tribune photographer E. Jason Wambsgans caught what might be the iconic photo of the night — a Trump supporter raising her right hand in salute in an image that carries unmistakable overtones of Nazi-era Germany." (For the woman's explanation for her gesture, click here.)

Trump has crystallized and made himself the leader of the revanchist core of the contemporary GOP, a group of people who are overwhelmingly white, largely older and believe that their country and a range of social realities they cherished have been taken away from them. They want both back. Jamelle Bouie writes that "white voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama." I am not sure I would phrase it quite so starkly. But I'm also not sure why I wouldn't. Race is at the core of what we are seeing unfold. Indeed, I've made similar arguments myself. What has only fully come into focus for me over the last week is that Trump is not only leading this but embodies it as well.

– Josh Marshall
Excerpted from "Let It Burn"
Talking Points Memo
March 13, 2016

The truth is that the road to Trumpism began long ago, when movement conservatives – ideological warriors of the right – took over the G.O.P. And it really was a complete takeover. Nobody seeking a career within the party dares to question any aspect of the dominating ideology, for fear of facing not just primary challenges but excommunication.

You can see the continuing power of the orthodoxy in the way all of the surviving contenders for the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump included, have dutifully proposed huge tax cuts for the wealthy, even though a large majority of voters, including many Republicans, want to see taxes on the rich increased instead.

But how does a party in thrall to a basically unpopular ideology – or at any rate an ideology voters would dislike if they knew more about it – win elections? Obfuscation helps. But demagogy and appeals to tribalism help more. Racial dog whistles and suggestions that Democrats are un-American if not active traitors aren’t things that happen now and then, they’re an integral part of Republican political strategy.

– Paul Krugman
Excerpted from "Trump is No Accident"
The New York Times
March 14, 2016

Trump is probably too dumb to realize it, or maybe he isn't, but he doesn't need to win anything to become the most dangerous person in America. He can do plenty of damage just by encouraging people to be as uninhibited in their stupidity as he is.

Trump is striking a chord with people who are feeling the squeeze in a less secure world and want to blame someone – the government, immigrants, political correctness, "incompetents," "dummies," Megyn Kelly, whoever – for their problems.

Karl Rove and his acolytes mined a lot of the same resentments to get Republicans elected over the years, but the difference is that Trump's political style encourages people to do more to express their anger than just vote. The key to his success is a titillating message that those musty old rules about being polite and "saying the right thing" are for losers who lack the heart, courage and Trumpitude to just be who they are.

– Matt Taibbi
Excerpted from "Donald Trump Just Stopped Being Funny"
Rolling Stone
August 21, 2015

Trump’s political ideology can only be defined as fascistic, and any other view is simply pedantic denialism. But it’s not his administration we should immediately fear. He’s a man with no loyalist machinery in Congress, and it’s safe to say that as absurd as he might be as a leader, he wouldn’t get that much done. For example, his audience loves his chatter about changing laws, but thankfully that’s not in the executive’s domain. The fact that the Republican Party is aghast at his ascendance is almost proof enough that he’s not interested in enacting the establishment’s laundry list of rollbacks of social progress.

What’s more troubling is that he’s brought angry, violent white nationalists out of the shadows. His rallies have become violent mobs directed at the mere presence of non-whites and Muslims. His popularity has emboldened organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the online community Stormfront. While Trump’s presidency would be a comedic circus ending in Washington gridlock, he would give confidence to the most dangerous elements of American society. Trump might not organize Brown Shirts, but don’t be surprised if you see towns and schools districts become more overt and aggressive with their bigotry.

– Ari Paul
Excerpted from "'Never Again' Means Taking Cue
from Protesters and Confronting Donald Trump
March 13, 2016

It’s an odd construction. Once you say, "He says what I’m afraid to say," and point to a man who is essentially a 24/7 fire hose of unequivocal bigotry, you’ve said what you’re afraid to say, so how afraid could you have been in the first place? The phrase is a dodge, a way to acknowledge that you’re aware it’s a little naughty to be a misogynist xenophobe in 2016, while letting like-minded people know, with a conspiratorial wink, that you’re only pretending to care. It’s a wild grab for plausible deniability – how can I be a white supremacist when I’m just your nice grandpa? – an artifact of a culture in which some people believe that it’s worse to be called racist than to be racist.

– Lindy West
Excerpted from "What Are Trump Fans Really 'Afraid' to Say?"
The New York Times
March 11, 2016

Of everything I saw [at the Trump rally], the crowd was the worst part. I have never seen more hateful people in my life. Everyone was just filled with so much hatred. If a protester had a sign, even the peaceful ones, they would take the sign from them, rip it up, and throw it back at the protesters. Whenever a protester would get removed, the crowd would yell horrible things. Once, after a protester was removed, Trump said, "Where are these people coming from? Who are they?" A lady, sitting not 5 feet from me, said, "Well hopefully when you're president, you'll get rid of em all!" Get rid of them? Get rid of anyone who opposes Trump? It was sickening. I felt truly nauseous.

– Jordan Ray Correll
Excerpted from "Trump Rally No Joking Matter"
Daily Kos
March 11, 2016

Above: Protesters are removed from a Donald Trump rally at the Crown Center Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C. (Photo: Travis Dove/The New York Times)

Of all the many disturbing things about Donald Trump, his glorification of political violence may be the worst. Again and again, he has encouraged his followers to respond to peaceful protests with brutal force.

. . . The idea that a political movement should respond to criticism with violent attacks is not compatible with a democratic society. There’s no incongruity in Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s endorsement of Trump; what Trump is celebrating is the Klan’s strategy of suppressing dissent through terror.

When peaceful protests are met with violence, as they have been again and again at Trump’s mass meetings, protesters have a choice between giving in to intimidation and staying away, or showing up in numbers large enough so that they cannot be suppressed. Last night, in Chicago, activists made the latter choice. It was the right thing to do for democracy.

– Jim Naureckas
Excerpted from "Standing Up for Free Speech
Is Not a Threat to Free Speech
March 12, 2016

[What we're seeing at Trump rallies] is a classic strong man political tactic that we are used to seeing in other countries but not our own. Certainly not in the last 50 years or so, in which political events are generated to bring violence at the edges into the center. So that violence at these events, which may start organically, is in effect spot lit and encouraged to the point where it becomes something that is legitimately out of control of anyone. And then the spectacle of political violence is itself seen as something that is a problem that needs to be solved by this strongman character who incited the initial event in the first place.

– Rachel Maddow
Excerpted from The Rachel Maddow Show via Media Matters' report,
"Rachel Maddow: 'It Is Impossible' to Call Violence
at Trump's Events 'An Accident'
March 11, 2016

Above: A Trump supporter yells at a demonstrator after Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump cancelled his rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago, March 11. (Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)

The media are already condemning “both sides” for the violence at Trump rallies. [or example, The New York Times says that] “the anger from both sides [is] so raw . . . from supporters of Donald J. Trump who are terrified they are losing their country and from protesters who fear he is leading the nation down a dark road of hate – that [violence] was starting to look inevitable.”

Wrong. That’s a false moral equivalence. Trump has clearly and intentionally incited violence. Some of his followers at his rallies have kicked, spit upon, and beaten non-violent protesters. The fact that more protesters have been drawn to his rallies in recent days, and that one person apparently stormed the stage in Ohio today, is not evidence of “anger from both sides” leading to violence.

Non-violent protest is an honored tradition in America. Non-violent protest against Donald Trump and the bigotry he has been fueling is entirely appropriate – indeed, it is admirable.

But everyone involved in these protests must remain non-violent, even if provoked. As we learned during the Civil Rights movement, this is means of revealing to the rest of America the danger posed by hateful people – and the person who is fanning their hatred.

– Robert Reich
via Facebook
March 13, 2016

Above: An anti-Donald Trump protester is removed by security during a Trump rally at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on March 11, 2016. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/AFP) Notes AFP: "Donald Trump is under fire from rivals who blamed his incendiary rhetoric for a violent outbreak Friday between protesters and supporters at the Republican frontrunner's rally in Chicago. . . . Throngs of protesters, many of them blacks and Latinos angered by Trump's incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric, had massed outside and inside the venue in Chicago, mingling with the candidate's supporters.

For all the talk about [Trump being like] Mussolini, let alone Hitler, George Wallace is the best analog in the last century of American politics – the mix of class politics and racist incitement, the same sort of orchestrated ratcheting up of conflict between supporters and protesters. As all of this has unfolded over the course of the day there have been numerous instances of Trump supporters calling for protesters to "go back to Africa" and another on video calling on them to "go to fucking Auschwitz." . . . The climate Trump is creating at his events is one that not only disinhibits people who normally act within acceptable societal norms. He is drawing in, like moths to a flame, those who most want to act out on their animosities, drives and beliefs. It is the kind of climate where someone will eventually get killed.

– Josh Marshall
Excerpted from "Someone Will Die"
Talking Points Memo
March 12, 2016

Trumpism was created in the crucible of the "Southern strategy." We have sown to the wind, reaping the whirlwind. . . . Trump is not the problem; it’s all of the xenophobia and racist innuendo and othering of immigrants that is the problem. It is all of the coded language about people who want free stuff, from the Southern-strategy lexicon of Wallace, Nixon, Reagan, and Atwater that has been spewed for years. That is the problem. Add to it the more recent rhetoric that says President Obama is unfit. Long before Trump, all of this rhetoric created a kind of us-against-them mob mentality, which after it is loosed can manifest in the violence that we now see.

– William J. Barber
Excerpted from "It's Not Trump. Our Political Culture is Corrupt"
The Nation
March 12, 2016

As is the case virtually every day, Donald Trump is showing the American people that he is a pathological liar. Obviously, while I appreciate that we had supporters at Trump’s rally in Chicago, our campaign did not organize the protests. What caused the protests at Trump’s rally is a candidate that has promoted hatred and division against Latinos, Muslims, women, and people with disabilities, and his birther attacks against the legitimacy of President Obama. What caused the violence at Trump’s rally is a campaign whose words and actions have encouraged it on the part of his supporters.

– Bernie Sanders
Quoted in "Sanders Unloads on 'Pathological Liar' Trump"
by Daniel Marans
The Huffington Post
March 13, 2016

The people who profess to "lead" the U.S. Catholic church – its bishops and its lay leaders in the media and academy – have, to a great extent, not been leaders at all in the past several decades. If they had exercised any pastoral and intellectual leadership in the U.S. church, we wouldn't be confronting what's so unimaginable to these leaders, namely, wide white Catholic support for an out and out racist and xenophobe.

The "leaders" of the U.S. Catholic church have not only been conspicuously silent in the past several decades about the sin of racism that eats away like a canker at the soul of American culture. They've also been deaf to appeals to open discussions of that sin, which bring into the American Catholic square voices they do not want to hear and want to keep marginal – including the voices of people of color, queer people, and poor women dealing with issues of contraception and abortion.

By contrast, the leaders of movements like the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, many of them with ties to the black church, have deliberately developed strategies to hear these voices and give them a central role in the moral witness of these movements. The leaders of these movements have shown an exemplary pastoral witness totally lacking in the response of the "leaders" of the U.S. Catholic church.

[C]atholic support for Trump cannot be explained simply by the fears and decline of white America's lower middle class. Instead it should be viewed through the lens of decadence within the neo-conservative Catholic intelligentsia in the US during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. On one hand the "victimology" elaborated by bishops and conservative Catholic Americans concerning the religious freedom of Catholics around the country who felt under fire from the Obama administration has found its surrogate in the ethnic and nationalistic victimhood professed by Trump against Latinos and the Chinese. On the other hand, there is a culture of moral excommunication of a political adversary, now one of the distinctive features of Trump (who adds theatrical elements that further perfect the media circus that is US presidential primaries).

During the early '90s, conservative American Catholicism morally and politically excommunicated Bill Clinton, and in 2008 it was Obama's turn – the only difference being that the "excommunication" reserved for Obama was not merely political and moral, but also civil and not devoid of racial undertones, aimed constantly and consistently at undermining and delegitimizing his presidency. The libertarian rhetoric of the Tea Party, with its "let's take back our country" (in other words, let's take it out of the hands of an African-American president), is extremely similar to Trump's brand of xenophobia – two things that American bishops proved themselves incapable of reacting to, back then and today. It's a short step from libertarian-liberalist rhetoric to the death of the key idea of "the common good" for Catholic morality, and the Republican Party already took this step over the course of the past decade.

. . . The moral excommunication brought to bear on Obama starting in 2008 and today on Hillary Clinton by conservative American Catholics is now backfiring on those among the political and intellectual elite who played around at being wizard's apprentices as they manipulated the various and diverse ethnic and ideological positions in order to delegitimize the Obama presidency.

No wonder America's white lower middle class is now turning to Trump, a man who is not afraid to point a finger at the disasters of the Bush era. In their own way, Catholics for Trump are presenting the country and the American Catholic church with the bill for a moral and intellectual bankruptcy that it will not be easy to recover from, even for one of the most important churches in modern global Catholicism.

– Massimo Faggioli
Quoted in "Catholic Trumpism is Reigniting the
'American Problem' Within Pope Francis' Church
HuffPost Politics
March 10, 2016

[M]any people are alarmed [by the rise of Trump], but it is difficult to know that by observing media coverage, where little journalistic alarm over Trump is expressed. That’s because the rules of large media outlets – venerating faux objectivity over truth along with every other civic value – prohibit the sounding of any alarms. Under this framework of corporate journalism, to denounce Trump, or even to sound alarms about the dark forces he’s exploiting and unleashing, would not constitute journalism. To the contrary, such behavior is regarded as a violation of journalism. Such denunciations are scorned as opinion, and activism, and bias: all the values which large media-owning corporations have posited as the antithesis of journalism in order to defang and neuter it as an adversarial force.

. . . This abdication of the journalistic duty inevitably engendered by corporate “neutrality” rules is not new. We saw it repeatedly during the Bush years, when most large media outlets suppressed journalistic criticism of things like torture and grotesque war crimes carried out by the U.S. as part of the “War on Terror,” and even changed their language by adopting government euphemisms to obscure what was being done.

. . . [N]obody should be looking to our nation’s largest media outlets to serve as a bulwark against Trumpism or any other serious menace. The rules they have imposed on themselves, by design, ensure their own “neutrality” even in the face of the most extreme evils.

– Glenn Greenwald
Quoted in "The Rise of Trump Shows the Danger
and Sham of Compelled Journalistic 'Neutrality'
The Intercept
March 14, 2016

There's a history of demagogues calling those they disagree with "terrorists" and using that as justification for intimidation and violence – and that history is ugly and dangerous. There's also a history of people staying quiet for too long, hoping for the best but watching silently as the threat metastasizes. Donald Trump is a bigger, uglier threat every day that goes by – and it’s time for decent people everywhere – Republican, Democrat, Independent – to say No More Donald. There's no virtue in silence.

Elizabeth Warren
via Facebook
March 14, 2016

[Trump's candidacy] is a threat to the America we love, and we must respond to him and what he is stoking as such – with a nonviolent movement grounded in love and community that ensures that he never comes anywhere near the White House, and perhaps even more importantly, makes clear to every other politician and every person in the United States that racist demagoguery is a dead-end political strategy that most Americans reject.

Racism, sexism, misogyny, and xenophobia are the currency of Donald Trump’s campaign. Perhaps most troubling, Trump has repeatedly incited and praised violence against those whom he belittles and with whom he disagrees. He has shown little respect for the Constitution and the pluralistic values that define our nation at its best.

He peddles the same right-wing agenda holding back working families and their communities: low wages, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, mass incarceration, denial of climate change, unraveling protections for workers’ rights, attacks on immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, attacks on LGBTQ rights, and more.

. . . We can not allow this hate-baiter anywhere near the White House, and we will not accept the legitimization of hateful, bullying, and authoritarian politics. This is about more than an election; this is about the tide of history.

Excerpted from "We Need a Voting Renaissance and
Mass Nonviolent Mobilization to Stand Up to
Trump’s Bigotry and Incitement of Violence
(an open letter signed by leaders of 22 progressive groups,
including Greenpeace, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Sierra Club,
Jobs with Justice, and the National People's Action Campaign)
March 15, 2016

Related Off-site Links:
Violence Erupting More Frequently at Donald Trump Campaign Events – Hannah Wise (The Dallas Morning News, March 10, 2016).
Escalating Aggression Marks Trump's Rally RhetoricThe Rachel Maddow Show (March 11, 2013).
Trump Under Fire from Rivals for Chicago Rally Violence – AFP via The Independent (March 12, 2016).
Trump Calls Off Chicago Rally as Protesters Clash with Supporters – Jill Colvin and Michael Tarm (Associated Press via PBS News Hour, March 11, 2016).
Chicago Police: We Never Told Trump Campaign to Shut Down Rally – Suzanne Le Mignot (CBS Chicago News, March 11, 2016).
Donald Trump’s Chicago Rally Cancellation is a Big Con Job by the GOP Front-Runner – Eric Ortiz (TruthDig, March 11, 2016).
No Welcome Mat for Fascism: Stop Whining About Trump's Right to "Free Speech" – Kelly Hayes (TruthOut, March 14, 2016).
Can You Spot the Difference Between a Bernie Sanders and a Donald Trump Chicago Rally? – Mathew Rodriguez (, March 12, 2016).
Donald Trump Digs In After Weekend Violence, Threatens Bernie Sanders Rallies – Reuters via HuffPost Politics (March 13, 2016).
Is Gay Bashing Next Up at Trump Rallies? – John Gallagher (Queerty, March 14, 2016).
So, Who Are Donald Trump’s Voters? – Gail Ablow (, March 12, 2016).
Millions of Ordinary Americans Support Donald Trump. Here's Why – Thomas Frank (The Guardian, March 7, 2016).
Was This the Strangest Weekend in American Political History? – Robert Mackay (The Intercept, March 14, 2016).
Progressive Leaders Urge Mass Mobilization Over "Five-Alarm Fire" Trump – Deirdre Fulton (Common Dreams, March 15, 2016).
Don't Forget: Ted Cruz is a F*cking Lunatic Too – Eric Lutz (The Daily Banter, March 7, 2016).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
For U.S. Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, a Resurgence
Super Tuesday Thoughts on Bernie Sanders
Something to Think About – February 22, 2016
Quote of the Day – February 17, 2016
Something to Think About – February 4, 2016
Quote of the Day – October 5, 2013

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