“Donald Trump does not want to be a dictator,” said one of the most respected scholars in the world on TV the other day, “he just wants to play one on TV.”
These are perhaps the wisest words yet spoken about our roller coaster, the sometimes terrifying upcoming election, and the leader of the Free World.
Harvard Philosophy Professor Michael Mandel, a long-time online lecture and academic star, has written a new book called “Does Meritocracy Destroy The Common Good?”
In it, he joins the growing and frustrated list of writers and thinkers (me too) who think it is more important to explain and understand Trump than take his bait, play his game, and rage on and on about him.
Hating him is simply not useful, especially now. Understanding his appeal is the very key to defeating him. He’s trying out the next version of his hit reality show: “Do You Want To Be A Dictator?”
In Mandel’s book, he argues that the growing economic and cultural divide between winners and losers in America poisons our politics and pulls us apart. And it gives rise to demagogues like our President.
There is no common sense of good any longer, he claims, just elites at the top and angry, aggrieved, and humiliated people at the bottom. And it isn’t just about money. It’s very much about pride and hope.
Our culture has come to define money as the very and only definition of success, and money makes the people who have it feel superior; their success is morally justified.
The people who don’t have it, and in fact, have less and less all the time, feel left behind and despised.
This widening divide has, at least since the ’90s, created a country of increasingly unequal people.
Many were quite ripe for a Donald Trump to come along and speak to them, and for four years, humiliate and enrage the elites who they believe have been looking down on them for years.
He turned the tables on the people they see as their tormentors.
For generations, American family farmers were considered the country’s most valued citizens.
People without property couldn’t even vote in early America.
There are hardly any family farmers, and the farmers who are hanging on are at the bottom of the social pecking order left to fail slowly and die out.
Mandel agrees with me about one thing: there is a lot of truth behind the rage and frustration driving the loyal followers of Donald Trump, something very few progressives have been willing to accept or understand or work to fix.
One of the fascinating things about the election to me is that Joseph Biden Jr., who I would not put up on the same thoughtful plane with Mandel, gets it.
He is not taking the bait. He is campaigning on his narrative, not on Donald Trump’s preferred narrative.
Biden is simply offering a better agenda, focusing on issues people care about, something that Hilary Clinton, the media, and the Democratic party have not consistently do.
Clinton had a million new plans, but nobody knew what they were, and too many people disliked her and thought she was contemptuous of them.
Biden’s vibe is just the opposite. He seems to care about everybody. Trump, as we clearly see, is madly in love with Trump.
The President has a genius for pulling his enemies off their enraged pedestals and sucking them into his one never-changing plan: grievance. No conversation doesn’t begin and end with him.
The more we hate him, the more they love him for it. If we hate him, he must be all right. If he loves them, he must respect them and care for them.
Liberals and progressives are the enemy, the snobs, socialists, and betrayers. The party of Franklin Roosevelt seeks, they believe, to take away the crumbs they have been left and give their taxes to immigrants and people of color.
This isn’t just about money; it’s about pride and value.
This is how far the progressive ideal has drifted from the very people it is supposed to help. It will take a much smarter person than me to say precisely how this happened.
I am working on it. There are clues.
Interestingly, in this turn, this Supreme Court fight offers us the very first opportunity to see what happens when the resistance doesn’t take the bait and play Donald’s Trump game.
So far, it’s working, and it is making him crazy.
Trump has become the world’s leading whineass, singing the song millions of people have been waiting to hear, his true campaign slogan: they’ve screwed us. He has come to their rescue. He alone hears and sees them. He even blamed Biden for being a shortage of masks; he hasn’t been in office for four years.
All those snoots and ivy leaguers and entrenched bureaucrats and reporters can all go and fuck themselves. They are the true enemies of the people. Never mind, Putin.
No demagogue I can find in the history books has ever exploited the anger of the people on the bottom better, so much so that they can’t yet see that he is the problem, not the solution.
And they don’t believe any of the people telling them otherwise.
The Republicans decided in the 1950s that farmers and the white working-class were no longer efficient in the new economy.
Then they persuaded white workers without college degrees that it was all the fault of Blacks and immigrants like Mexicans that their jobs were gone.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the Democrats promised them the global trade agreements would be good for everybody. It wasn’t, it was great for billionaires and CEO’s and corporations, and just about every small town in America was emptied, along with everybody’s jobs.
In this period, a college degree offered the foundation of a new cultural divide. College degrees got graduates into those well-paying jobs in cities, and those graduates became winners, believing they had earned their success through their own talent and hard work.
Mandel says he saw that happening in his Harvard classrooms. The new elite was coming up right under his nose.
Everybody else was a worker bee; they lost their status as their jobs migrated worldwide, and the party of Franklin Roosevelt did this with great enthusiasm and little thought.
The legacy of these often mindless and brutal policies is shorter life spans, the highest unemployment, no health care or hospital care, epidemic drug use and alcoholism, horrendous schools, and vacant Main Streets.
Yes, other minorities suffer greatly in our country, but does it have to be a contest to see who suffers the most?
I’ve heard what my neighbors say about San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin, where modest homes cost millions, and tens of thousands of people sleep on the streets and defecate there.
The well-educated elites have never done better, even during the pandemic. The poor and the “lower classes” have never done worse or worked harder for less.
I heard a young man in my town said his great hope was for an Amazon warehouse to come near so his children could have health care. Imagine praying for a job when you have to keep moving every minute, or a computer attached to your waist will turn you in and get you fired.
“People use drugs, legal and illegal because their lives are intolerably painful or dull,” wrote Wendell Berry in The Art Of The Commonplace.
“They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional in healthy societies, whereas, among us, it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.”
In one sense, Donald Trump is a drug. They love him because they hate their lives. They are estranged from their own country and the people who run it.
Biden grasps this; he is chipping away, perhaps because he knows what it is like to be peed on by the elitists and the rich.
When Hilary Clinton dropped a line about Trump’s “deplorables,” she condemned herself and many of us to four years of chaos.
That is precisely what white working-class people all over American thought the people on top of the pile – me and many of the people reading this – thought of them and say about them all the time.
That is going to take a lot of hard work, much listening, and real change.
Trump took Clinton’s affirmation and ran with it all the way to the top.
One of the richest and most arrogantly elitist snobs in our country – he won’t even physically touch a real working person for fear of germs – is now our leader and has become the new Woody Guthrie of Washington.
I guess you have to either love politics or hate politics. There is really no middle right now, or maybe never.
In recent years, argues Mandel, money has come to define “good” and merit, and most of that money has flowed into our major cities while rural America, bleeding and abandoned, has been drained of work, money, and most important, politically, self-esteem.
This sense of grievance – against the media, the highly educated, the Democratic Party, immigrants, refugees, African-Americas, all of whom they see as getting better treatment than them – has been the Republican Party’s main political strategy years.
It is one of the many reasons the party and this President – and all those aggrieved people – have fused almost seamlessly.
For the first time in my memory, this strategy is not working as planned. Working-class whites are much more worried about the pandemic than Mexican “rapists” or Blacks storming their suburbs.
Yet old and bad habits die hard.
The Democrats could blow it all by obsessing on the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court today. Like Trump himself, Democrats and progressives have always been skilled at defeating themselves.
This Supreme Court fight is pointless. Mitch McConnell has already won.
The fix is already in.
The Republicans have the votes and support to nominate Judge Barrett and appoint her to the Supreme Court. I’ve been reading up on her. She is said to be brilliant, deeply religious, reliably conservative, and personally kind and generous.
It is almost certain she will help shred abortion rights, favor discrimination against gay and transgender people on the grounds of religious freedom, try to strangle Biden’s agenda, help Trump ignore the pandemic, and possibly destroy Obamacare.
To progressives, liberals, Democrats, many women, this is a catastrophe. And that is true.
Maybe it will be as awful as feared, maybe not. I have little respect for hysteria.
Nobody really knows what justices will do when they get on the Supreme Court – look at Neal Gorsuch and John Roberts. The coverage demonizing her seems near or over the top to me.
Her students love and respect her.
In any case, and the short term, there is little point in turning the campaign upside down to try to deny the appointment.
It won’t happen. The savage attacks on her, if they occur in public hearings, will inflame Trump’s supporters and, as he has inflamed Democratic women after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Call it a draw. If you care about the Supreme Court, shut up about it.
I think that the wiser heads are learning what Trump knows: that most voters don’t care about the things the so-called “elitists” care about the most. The progressive agenda is not the same as the working-class agenda.
We saw their agenda changing in the 2018 election, and so did Nancy Pelosi. Voters were interested in health care, good jobs, and the widening income gap between the very rich and everybody else. Women wanted a kinder nation.
And women beat up on the Republicans and helped take control of the House of Representatives.
Today, the focus is also clear: the pandemic and health care. Many people say they think the President should have waited to appoint a new justice until a new President was chosen.
It’s not a time for panic, but calm and focus. Stay strong. Stay calm.
Going after Justice Barrett will not drive undecided voters to vote for Joseph Biden in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Florida. To his credit, Biden seemed to grasp this from the beginning.
He stayed cool all summer and permitted Trump to crap on himself, something he is quite good at doing when he runs his mouth.
. Now Biden is talking about new manufacturing jobs, health care, and Trump’s handling of the pandemic, all broken promises or weaknesses of the President.
Biden is not talking about the Supreme Court much.
I think Joseph Biden is correct in steer progressive people and Democrats away from hyperbole and hysteria.
Things are bad enough without a pointless meltdown and enabling the distraction Trump so badly wants, and that has always worked for him.
People with progressive ideals and progressive politicians have to learn how to talk once again to the disenchanted and diminished working-class and the rural Americans who flocked to Trump as if he was the Messiah. To many of them, he is.
No one ever changed anybody’s mind by calling them stupid and ridiculing them. They must be offered something tangible and something better.
In July, Biden offered a $2 trillion energy plan in Ohio, a clean energy plan that is still drawing praise from organizations that work with coal communities on economic transition.
Coal executives were wary.
The platform frames decarbonizing the economy as a jobs creator. Of note, the plan calls for a carbon-free power sector by 2035, upgrading 4 million buildings and weatherproofing 2 million homes, and boosting investment in zero-emissions transportation.
The plan also explicitly mentions a commitment to invest in coal country and workers who may be displaced by a shift away from fossil fuels.
This is just what the Democrats didn’t do in the ’80s. Labor organizations and coal workers are still talking about the jobs Biden dangled in front of them. During this speech, he never mentioned Trump.
Trump has shown us that his followers have felt their dignity has been taken from them.
Living in the country, I see they have a point. I have heard too many smart people refer to rural people as bigoted and dumb. That is also what urban people say about Trump, and the more people say it, the more he is loved.
There are lessons for everyone in the rise and looming fall of Donald Trump.
I agree that Trump doesn’t want to be a dictator and couldn’t handle being one. He wants to be seen as the John Wayne of the working men, their hero rushing to rescue the natives from their increasingly dreary lives at the bottom of the pile.
In a world with San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Austin, Charlotte, and Miami, life can look pretty harsh in the country’s middle. There are very few pockets of wealth.
The fact that Biden seems to get this has put him in the lead for months now. The best polls say he has a 77 percent chance in 100 of winning close to the election date.
What do we expect in a country where one percent of the people control nearly half of the wealth?
And where thousands of communities have no jobs, no health care, no Main Streets, no pride. Black Lives matter more than ever. So do other lives.
I put my faith in the very polished and persuasive data I read and the things that I see.
Trump will defeat Trump, not Biden. Biden will make it easier. The challenge is too not help the President to win by doing his dance with him.
Once again, Trump has chosen to build his campaign around the idea that he can use the most aggrieved and humiliated Americans to humiliate and denigrate everybody on the other side.
He seems to have absolutely no vision beyond that, but to many Americans, that is more than enough.
The debates will be important. Trump is good at dominating and being loud, confused, and provocative, but Bide (mostly) good at being calm when his family isn’t being attacked, comes off as decent, and with an increasingly clear vision for dealing with the problems many people in the middle actually care about.
We know Trump will turn the election into a bitter and prolonged nightmare.
He will almost certainly be the first President not to leave office gracefully.
I have not seen anything that persuades me to believe he can overturn the election and seize power. The media is delighted with this rating grabber. They are doing everything possible to promote more panic.
I have to be honest and say there is absolutely nothing in Judge Barrett’s background. I have seen to suggest she would acquiesce in a political coup d’etat like the media keeps talking about, one that would destroy our democracy.
Agree with her or not, there is nothing in her life or work to support that idea. She is a lifelong conservative, not a fascist or a Nazi. Truth is truth, and it doesn’t make sense to condemn Trump as a liar while lying to do so.
Trump is not strong enough or focused enough to take over a country; it would be ungovernable for many years, if ever. If he really tried to do it, it would destroy him, along with many other things.
He is not a strong man; he is a weak and fearful and insecure man.
With just a few weeks to go in the campaign, none of his histrionics, lies, or brazen maneuvers suggest there is a Hitler or Mussolini or Ceaser in his broken psyche.
Mandel was spot on. President Trump doesn’t want to be a dictator; he wants the starring role once more in the new TV Reality show. He’ll jump off the island if he even gets close.
If Biden wins, his hard work – and ours – really begins. He will have a tough time persuading nearly half the country – especially when they just lost their last hope – that they can share equally in the new and very lopsided American Dream.