Saturday, October 8, 2016

Thoughts On Trumpocalypse

Donald Trump’s meltdown/explosion/revealing-to-more-white-and-polite-parts-of-America-who-he-really-is continues apace. Rather that writing some long drawn out essay type post I just want to give a few quick hits thinking about what’s happened in the past 30 or so hours.

1. This is a YUGE deal: There have been so many episodes of Trump Awfulness over the past 18 months that it’s honestly hard to categorize them. Is what Kevin Drum is now calling “pussygate” 2, 10, 100, or 1000 time’s worse that the Trump’s trashing of the Kahns? How does this compare to him swindling desperate people out of their meager savings via his for profit “university.” Is his comments saying NATO should be turned into a protection racket even worse? I don’t know anymore and won’t even try to ranks them. Trump has seemed to be so unsinkable since the summer of 2015 that it seems each new revelation of his awfulness probably won’t matter that much because all the previous ones didn’t stop him before.

Having said that the political science literature is quite firm that the huge number of Republican elected officials jumping off the SS Donald will have an impact. Julia Azari recently outlined this in a post at 538  

It’s early October, with both conventions down and two debates in the books with two to go. Much of the partisan activation that’s going to happen has already happened. Still, for the campaigns and lower-information voters, who may be just tuning in, this is an intense time. And for high-information voters, political journalists and other people who have been paying attention to the campaign for a long time, we’re at the point where it’s become a bit of a slog. Anything resembling a real campaign development is unexpected and welcome for this second group. This could prove a potent combination. It offers a new and salacious story just as the final stage of the campaign ramps up.

In other words what politicians say at this point in an election really does matter. If everyone in the party is saying the same message over and over again in the lead up to Election Day you really can activate your more marginal voters; turn the base out; and win back people who swore off the nominee and maybe even politics itself for some slight or disappointment in the past. This is exactly what’s happening on the Democratic side where here in Minnesota (not really a swing state in the cycle) where you have the Lieutenant Governor running around with none other than Gloria Steinem to turn out the vote.

Meanwhile on the GOP side you have dozens of governors, senators, members of congress, and important party figures denouncing Trump. In other words this disconnect matters.

2. The Vulgarity Isn’t The Problem Here: Okay a lot of other people have already written about this so I won’t rehash it. I’ll just say this, Joe Biden famously said on a hot mic he didn’t know was on that Obamacare was “a big fucking deal.” That’s a curse word generally rated as being worse than “pussy”, and while there was some pearl-clutching in the political media at the time most people understood that he meant a law that expanded health coverage to 20 million people and reduced inequality in our society was, well “a big fucking deal.” Again the swearing isn’t the issue here, the content of Trump’s remarks is what’s “problematic” as they say.

3. No Way Out: There’s been a huge amount of chatter online and in news organizations about how the GOP will make Trump drop out and then Pence will be the nominee. This is utter nonsense. Sure the RNC has its “Rule 9a” which allows for a nominee to be replaced if the nominees or dies of choses “declination” but, well, here are the important bullet points:

  • The only way to invoke this is if Trump “declines” the nomination ie voluntarily drops out.
  • I guess anything is possible, but Trump has been ranting all afternoon about why he will never do this on Twitter.
  • Under the rules the RNC has to wait 10 days to reassemble to do this. So even if Trump “declines” on Monday the RNC has to wait until 10/20 at least.
  • This is ignoring the huge logistical problems of assembly the RNC on an emergency basis. It’s a YUGE deal to do that in its own right and trying to figure out how to do it with a Republican Party basically engaged in a civil war as we see right now is even harder.
  • One of the reasons the Republican Party failed so spectacularly this election cycle is because they couldn’t solve a basic collective action problem. That is most party actors thought Trump was terrible but they could never agree on who rally around instead. The idea of “picking our best guy to go against Hillary” presents the same problems, why would they be better at solving this now compared TO THE ENTIRE CALENDAR YEAR they had to deal with this from the summer of 2015 to the convention?
  • Trump is already on the ballot. People are already voting (see my link above). There’s some hypothetical possibility where you could get faithless electors to cast ballots for Paul Ryan or Ronald Reagan’s Ghost or whatever, but in the real world no. They’re stuck with him.

4. Oh God, It’s Infected Me Too: I saw the Trump thing break in real time on Twitter on Friday afternoon. When I saw it my first reaction was “now he’s done it” which pretty quickly changed into “he does this all the time”. Which made me think the whole thing was pretty funny. I have a very black (gallows) sense of humor and working professionally in politics in the past I think has taken a bit of a toll out my ability to be “outraged” about any one thing. I want to be outraged about Trump, but I’m so outraged about so many other things it can be hard to find more outrage to go around.

 So Friday afternoon when I first saw it break live on Twitter my response was largely “Oh yet another one of Trump’s infamies, what a horrible person.” Like so much of his general awfulness. I honestly didn’t realize what a bombshell this really was. Part of this might be to my “white male privilege” or whatever, and maybe I’m just a horrible person as well, but I think my own experience highlights a bigger point.

One of the worst parts of Trump is how he’s been systematically destroying what Jonathan Zasloff once called “the informal institutions of American governance.”:

By “informal institutions,” I mean those habits and customs outside of formal, written law that make democracy work.  Some things are simply not done; everyone agrees to resist the temptation for political advantage in order to make the system work.

Trump of course throws this whole idea out the window every day, whether you are talking about his serial lying or his threats to beat up reporters. And it’s infecting the mainstream. Most journalists decided that Tim Kaine lost the VP debate on style points (He kept interrupting! How rude!) while Mike Pence coasted to victory on what Jamelle Bouie called “A National Gaslighting” ie lying constantly. The idea that a VP nominee would not say on national television “he never said X” when in fact the nominee did in fact “say X” on national television early seems like a problem. But Pence hung tough when it came to lying again and again and so most political journalists went with the “views on shape of earth differ” style of coverage.

But as I thought about this more and more today I became a bit more surprised at my own reaction; I realized I had become so numb to Trump’s awfulness that even a political bombshell like this, something that as Julia Azari points out is hard to find a historical comparison too, struck me initially as being awful but about par for the Trump course.  

In other words the damage Trump has done to our democracy and society, even if he loses (which he almost certainly will), is already done. I’ve internalized his behavior as being normal even though it’s not normal at all. God knows how many other Americans have done the same. And I don’t know what we can do to repair it, other than make sure he goes down in flames in November.