Part 1—Our own role in this debacle: Could Candidate Donald J. Trump get elected next November?
Actually, yes, he could.
We're not saying he will get elected. We're not even saying that the general election will be close.
But yes—Candidate Trump actually could reach the White House. We'd say it's a clear possibility. We'd also say that we, the liberals and the progressives, have played a leading role in creating this debacle.
In this morning's New York Times, Paul Krugman reviews the history which has led to this state of affairs. Krugman concedes only that Candidate Trump could win the GOP nomination. He tries to explain how we've reached the point where that is a possibility.
In our view, his first three paragraphs basically stick to the truth:
KRUGMAN (12/21/15): Almost six months have passed since Donald Trump overtook Jeb Bush in polls of Republican voters. At the time, most pundits dismissed the Trump phenomenon as a blip, predicting that voters would soon return to more conventional candidates. Instead, however, his lead just kept widening. Even more striking, the triumvirate of trash-talk—Mr. Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz—now commands the support of roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.We'd regard that account as basically accurate. From our perspective, Candidate Trump does "have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error." He also seems to be "deeply ignorant about policy," though that starts to be a somewhat harder call. (Does he think his budget plan makes sense, or is he just pretending?)
But how can this be happening? After all, the antiestablishment candidates now dominating the field, aside from being deeply ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don’t Republican voters seem to care?
Well, part of the answer has to be that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for any kind of measured response, dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the “liberal media” didn’t suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. On the contrary, they have long been key elements of the party brand. So how are voters supposed to know where to draw the line?
"Why don’t Republican voters seem to care" about these matters? Many Republican voters apparently do. Many Republican voters express a negative view of Trump. Meanwhile, Candidate Cruz doesn't seem to be "deeply ignorant about policy" in the way Trump and the fading Carson may and do seem.
Still, a large percentage of GOP voters favor Trump for the nomination, and he runs fairly close to Candidate Clinton in general election polls. Krugman is asking a thoroughly sensible question: Why don't Trump's voters seem to care about his false claims and his apparent ignorance? (Unmentioned are the policy proposals which have often been denounced for an array of reasons.)
Candidate Trump has largely broken a mold; it's reasonable to ask why he has attracted so much support. That said, we agree with part of Krugman's explanation.
It's true! In our view, the GOP—and perhaps more importantly, the surrounding world of conservative talk—have made a long-standing fetish of false and improbable claims, accompanied by disdain for "the liberal media." In many ways, Trump is merely a jacked-up version of a preexisting political culture.
In our view, Krugman basically stick to the truth in those first three paragraphs. From that point on, we'd say his piece is fundamentally misleading.
We'd say he largely disappears the role of his colleagues in the mainstream press, and of his employer, in the rise of Trump and Trumpism. Beyond that, we'd say he disappears the role of people like us.
When does Krugman's account become selective? As he proceeds, he traces the rise of this Trumpist culture in the events of Campaign 2000.
This culture was being invented long before that, of course. But in our view, Krugman's account of that campaign is less than obsessively accurate:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): Let’s talk first about the legacy of He Who Must Not Be Named.Everything Krugman says in that passage is true. But good lord! The problem lies with the much larger factors he chooses to omit.
I don’t know how many readers remember the 2000 election, but during the campaign Republicans tried—largely successfully—to make the election about likability, not policy. George W. Bush was supposed to get your vote because he was someone you’d enjoy having a beer with, unlike that stiff, boring guy Al Gore with all his facts and figures.
And when Mr. Gore tried to talk about policy differences, Mr. Bush responded not on the substance but by mocking his opponent’s “fuzzy math”—a phrase gleefully picked up by his supporters. The press corps played right along with this deliberate dumbing-down: Mr. Gore was deemed to have lost debates, not because he was wrong, but because he was, reporters declared, snooty and superior, unlike the affably dishonest W.
What actually happened in Campaign 2000? It's true that "Republicans tried, largely successfully, to make the election about likability, not policy." But the larger role was played by Krugman's colleagues and employer and the like, not by the GOP. And please! The much larger factor in that campaign involved attacks on Gore's character, not on his likability.
In that passage, a reader is given the impression that the press corps and reporters played along with GOP claims, and that they did so rather late in the campaign, at the time of the debates. That impression is grossly misleading. Perhaps on the brighter side, it does allow the columnist to avoid telling the truth about the role played by his colleagues and his employer from March 1999 forward.
Krugman's account of that campaign is deeply bowdlerized. His account is so deeply selective that it's essentially false.
Things don't get enormously better when Krugman proceeds to the war in Iraq:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): Then came 9/11, and the affable guy was repackaged as a war leader. But the repackaging was never framed in terms of substantive arguments over foreign policy. Instead, Mr. Bush and his handlers sold swagger. He was the man you could trust to keep us safe because he talked tough and dressed up as a fighter pilot. He proudly declared that he was the “decider”—and that he made his decisions based on his “gut.”In truth, it's silly to say that Bush's reaction to 9/11 "was never framed in terms of substantive arguments over foreign policy." That said, Krugman's statements are once again basically accurate. And yet, by God! Multitudes have been dropped from his account.
The subtext was that real leaders don’t waste time on hard thinking, that listening to experts is a sign of weakness, that attitude is all you need. And while Mr. Bush’s debacles in Iraq and New Orleans eventually ended America’s faith in his personal gut, the elevation of attitude over analysis only tightened its grip on his party, an evolution highlighted when John McCain, who once upon a time had a reputation for policy independence, chose the eminently unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate.
So Donald Trump as a political phenomenon is very much in a line of succession that runs from W. through Mrs. Palin, and in many ways he’s entirely representative of the Republican mainstream.
Krugman tells a pretty story in which the rise of our puzzling new culture was caused by the GOP, full stop. At the end of his piece, he explicitly says that this troubling culture "is where the party has been headed for a long time."
We would say that that statement is accurate. But Krugman's colleagues, and Krugman's employer, have played a tremendously active role in shaping this new culture too. It's disgusting that, after all these years, this high-ranking columnist is still refusing to say this.
Whose conduct disappears as Krugman tells this bowdlerized story? Among so many others, he disappears the crazed Maureen Dowd and the ludicrous Frank Rich.
Dowd's crazed conduct is fairly well known. As for Rich, he insisted, all through Campaign 2000, that Gore and Bush were two peas in a pod. In the run-up to the war in Iraq, he ridiculed Gore as a fake and a phony when he made his September 2002 speech warning against that war.
Rich kept this up for years after that. He even derided Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, as a fake and phony attempt to run for president again in 2008.
Rich maintained this lunacy for years, building upon his previous years of hunting down the Clintons. He only relented when Gore won the Nobel peace prize. At that time, Rich executed an instant 180. He began fawning to Gore.
What's the oddness here? To this day, Rich remains a big-mouthed liberal hero, in part because people like Krugman agree to pretend that his ludicrous conduct never occurred. It was all the GOP, our loyal employee declares.
Who else has disappeared in Krugman's account? Does the name Chris Matthews ring a bell? Today, Matthews is a star of corporate liberal cable. Back then, he savaged Candidate Gore for two years, then continued to savage him in the years which followed.
Meanwhile, did Bush and his handlers sell us swagger, pimping him as the man we could trust "because he talked tough and dressed up as a fighter pilot?" Yes, they did, with the ridiculous help of ridiculous people like Matthews.
Matthews fawned, for roughly a week, over the president's manifest manliness in that "dress up" performance. On May 1, the day of the flight, Lawrence O'Donnell appeared on Hardball to help Matthews fawn, and to note that President Clinton "probably had a little too much beef on his bones to fit in one of those cockpits."
Matthews kept praising Bush for his "display of masculine leadership qualities" right through the famous May 8 gong-show, when he and the crackpot Gordon Liddy discussed the way the president's flight suit and parachute harness "makes the best of his manly characteristic," to recall Liddy's words.
Today, Lawrence and Matthews are cast on TV as heroes of corporate liberal labor. Back then, they spent years inventing and promulgating crazy, false attacks on Clinton and Clinton and especially on Candidate Gore.
In Campaign 2000, the false attacks on Candidate Gore came from Matthews and a large cast of mainstream journalists to a much larger extent than they came from Republican operatives. We liberals and progressives still aren't allowed to hear such facts, a situation which seems to suit us just fine.
Krugman still won't tell you these things, although of course he knows them. But that part of our crackpot history was a product of his colleagues and his employer more than of the GOP.
Krugman still won't tell you! The fact that we keep swallowing what he's selling tells us something very important about us. It tells us something about the role we liberals have played in this spreading debacle.
Simply put, we liberals aren't enormously sharp. We buy the shit our heroes sell, in a way which strongly resembles the process we love to mock and denounce in The Others.
As Krugman correctly notes, our political and journalistic cultures are falling to ruin. Krugman's column describes some of the symptoms.
Here's the part Krugman still won't discuss—we liberals have played a major role in this debacle. In this shortened week, let's discuss that widely-disappeared but rather obvious fact.
We love to mock the dumbness of Them. In this shortened sacred or holiday week, let's discuss the dumbness and loathing which keep emerging from Us.
Candidate Trump could get elected. We liberals have helped build the world in which that possibility exists.
We continue to nudge that process along. Is this our present to Trump?
This afternoon: Chuck Todd pretends to interview Candidate Trump again