Thursday, March 10, 2016

What is really behind the Trump phenomenon?

By Bob Boldt

As early as 1968 I witnessed the death of Liberalism when I saw the Democrats ignore the strong voices of dissent against the Vietnam War and proceed with a war agenda that was as foolish as it was doomed. The irony of the situation was that the nominee that year, Hubert Humphrey, could have successfully come out against the very war the Johnson administration had been so vigorously losing. More bizarre still, President Johnson knew that Nixon and Kissinger could have well been charged with treason for their private negotiations with the South Vietnam delegation to the Paris peace talks [see “George Will Confirms Nixon's Vietnam Treason,” August 12, 2014].
    But for Nixon’s treason, the war would have ended well before November 1968, Humphrey would have been elected, and Nixon would have been just another used car salesman. I leave it to wiser heads than mine to make sense of all this. After the police riot in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention, I came to realize that most of the disillusioned young Liberals in the Democratic Party had given up the Liberal principles upon which the party had been founded. Most of the true Liberals deserted the party, joined radicalized groups like the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) or the Weather Underground, or simply dropped out altogether. The result of this massive disillusionment was reflected in what amounted to a two-party War Party. People were tired of “losing”’ and eager to grasp at traitor Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the war. That “secret plan” was as big a fraud as the Gulf of Tonkin false flag incident that started the war in the first place. It is estimated that without Nixon’s successful sabotaging of the Paris peace talks, the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington would have fewer than half the present number of names on it. Think about that for a moment.

What does all this have to do with the rise of Donald Trump and the Hate Party?
In the past, politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this. But their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered to their people. Those dreams failed. And today, people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly, politicians are seen simply as managers of public life. –Adam Curtis, BBC Featured Documentary series The Power of Nightmares, 2004
    My admiration for the work of this prolific BBC film documentarian is no secret. In his documentary series The Power of Nightmares, Adam Curtis details the decline of Liberal governments, the rise of the fantasy of international terrorism, and the security state tasked with counteracting this largely fictional entity.
But now, they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us from nightmares. They say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. And the greatest danger of all is international terrorism. A powerful and sinister network, with sleeper cells in countries across the world. A threat that needs to be fought by a war on terror. But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It’s a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media. –Ibid
Of course, in the process of “protecting us from these nightmares,” our leaders only ask that we give up our freedoms in the interest of safety and security. What could be fairer? Curtis lays the origin of the rise of authoritarian regimes, the tendency of democratic governments like those in the United States and Great Britain to begin the slow, inexorable drift into fascism, as being not so much the result of the success of the forces of repression as a result of the failure of the very Liberal principles that could have successfully counteracted this rising tide of negativity.
    Another prophetic voice who lays the woes of our modern world directly at the failure of Liberalism is Chris Hedges. In The Death of the Liberal Class (2010), he examines the failure of Liberals to live up to the ideals and goals of traditional Liberalism: supporting the disenfranchised, championing labor and minority rights, and opposing the dominance of corporate influences over the society and the political process. Hedges contends that the Liberal class has never been the source of real reform, innovation, or revolution but a moderating entity, one that mediates between the forces of change and the forces that would enforce a status quo. With the loss of true Liberalism, this important mechanism of change has been lost. The result is that there is no longer any venue through which the necessary changes can take place in our society. As a result we have seen a rise in corporate greed and power that rivals the Gilded Age, a running roughshod over the rights of citizens, a justice system that grants immunity to the worst corporate criminals in the history of the free enterprise system, and the impending death of the middle class.

The Trump demographic arises and is motivated by very real concerns. Trump represents a reaction to the exploitation of the politically, socially, and economically disenfranchised, disenfranchised not so much by the oligarchs but by the so-called Liberals who have turned their backs on the unheeded masses they once championed. The rise of fascism in Amerika is less the result of the campaigning of demagogues like Trump than of the failure of the Liberal ideals of a fair and equal society for all.
There is only one way left to blunt the yearning for fascism coalescing around Trump. It is to build, as fast as possible, movements or parties that declare war on corporate power, engage in sustained acts of civil disobedience, and seek to reintegrate the disenfranchised – the “losers” – back into the economy and political life of the country. This movement will never come out of the Democratic Party. If Clinton prevails in the general election Trump may disappear, but the fascist sentiments will expand. Another Trump, perhaps more vile, will be vomited up from the bowels of the decayed political system. We are fighting for our political life. Tremendous damage has been done by corporate power and the college-educated elites to our capitalist democracy. The longer the elites, who oversaw this disemboweling of the country on behalf of corporations – who believe, as does CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves, that however bad Trump would be for America he would at least be good for corporate profit – remain in charge, the worse it is going to get.” –Chris Hedges, “The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism,” Truthdig, March 2, 2016

Copyright © 2016 by Bob Boldt


  1. Bob,

    I'd like to fact check this. So far all I've found is the article in "Common Dreams" that you reference, and a couple of re-publications of the same. Have you got more?

    1. I finally ran down some more. Will's column in the Washington Post is indeed available, as is this review:

      of the book "Chasing Shadows" by Ken Burns, a thorough exploration of the criminality of the Nixon administration.

      Interesting that this was discussed in public by Will, who first came to my attention in 1968 and beyond as "Nixon's lap dog".

    2. Thinking about the reading above, I keep coming back to something George Will wrote:

      "June 17, 1971, was four days after the New York Times began publishing the leaked “Pentagon Papers,” the classified Defense Department history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Nixon worried that further leaks, including documents supposedly in a Brookings safe, would reveal his role in sabotaging negotiations that might have shortened the war. This fear caused Nixon to create the Special Investigations Unit — a.k.a. “the plumbers” — and to direct an aide to devise other proposals such as the one concerning Brookings. This aide suggested using the Internal Revenue Service against political adversaries, but added:

      “The truth is we don’t have any reliable political friends at IRS. . . . We won’t be . . . in a position of effective leverage until such time as we have complete and total control of the top three slots at IRS.” Forty years later, the IRS has punished conservative groups, and evidence that might prove its criminality has been destroyed. Happy anniversary."

      All this, and Will's only explicit concern was that the Democrats might win this race to the bottom.

      My word.

    3. Ha! Chuck, thanks for commenting on the partisan irony!

  2. From recent correspondence:

    Bob Boldt refers to an interesting story of "tricky Dick" Nixon's treason by helping to scuttle President Johnson's truce deal in Vietnam.

    The link also refers to Seymour Hersh's charge that Henry Kissinger, then an advisor to Johnson, spilled this info to the Nixon group, which then continued the war for four more costly years. Kissinger ironically got a Nobel prize for its end, after he had first blocked the peace in 1968!

    Wow! I learned a lot of politics.

    Unfortunately Bob is off base in his discussion of liberalism.

    He and others should read the article "Liberalism" by Gerald Gaus, Shane Courtland, and David Schmidtz, in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Spring 2015, which describes the many different forms of liberalism on the role of private property, of equality, and of communalism in those debates.

    In the conclusion, Gaus et al. state that there has been a "fracture of liberalism."

    Bob should clearly tell us which theory of liberalism he disparages. I'm not sure. How does he see freedom? I believe that not many readers would agree with his view that today's political problems are due to liberalism's failure. He may be using a strange view of liberalism.

    Gaus and coauthors argue that notwithstanding all the differences among "liberals," they would all oppose current popular views:

    1. radical demands of the overriding value of equality (to which Bob may assent),

    2. communitarian views that belongingness tops freedom,

    3. conservative views that freedom undermines traditional values and the social order.

  3. I tried to slog through what looked like relevant portions of “Liberalism" by Gerald Gaus, Shane Courtland, and David Schmidtz, in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    The problem was it seems to be one of those rarefied philosophical tracts that have little relevance to the present political climate or US culture. The Liberalism they seem to be discussing has played an ever decreasing part in US politics since the disastrous days of the Vietnam War.

    One of the reasons I like to post the narrative of minds more capable than mine is to try to avoid misunderstandings like this. Sadly the link under “The Death of the Liberal Class” led to a list of quotes that had little to do with the main thrust of Hedges argument. The one quote in the link that did come closest was this one.

    “In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue.”
    ― Chris Hedges, The Death of the Liberal Class

    The point that both Adam Curtis and Chris Hedges make is that modern Liberalism is essentially a misnomer. Public office holders and the Party bosses in the Democrat Party have no more right to call themselves Liberals than a modern Brit MP would have calling himself a Wig. Would any thinking person, after examining the record, dare to call Obama or the Clintons Liberals or even embodying liberal tendencies? Bernie Sanders does embody these qualities, but he prefers to call himself a Socialist, which is as close as you can get these days to old-fashioned FDR-type Liberalism.

    It may actually be more profitable to discuss Liberalism in the context of class rather than ideology. After balking at slogging through the essay on Liberalism that you suggested I am hesitant to expect you to listen to this hour long speech where Chris Hedges elucidates in detail just why the whole discussion of Liberal philosophy is so 20th century. You might want to have a go at it. It will change your mind, I think.