David Biespiel on Donald Trump’s spray-tan fascism
Over the next year, as the United States goes through the process of electing its 45th president, poet, critic, and Politico contributor David Biespiel will occasionally send us a letter from his home in Portland, Oregon, on the status of the campaign. Read his first letter here.
You’d better watch the things you do.
You’d better watch the things you do.
You’re part of him; he's part of you…
—“Dinky,” Theodore Roethke
Watching the latest Donald Trump victory speech—from my living room in zip code 97214, a precinct that voted 84% for Barack Obama in 2012 and is very much feeling the Bern this time—I thought to myself, the Republican Party has really kicked its ghoulish Ronald Reagan fetish once and for all. Conversation among friends in my neighborhood has tended to focus on the essential role to be played by rear-guard Republicans, those who will form the bulk of the “Republicans for Hillary” defectors. Because a responsible person cannot cast a ballot for Donald Trump.
The decision of the Republican party to nominate Trump—a man who lies without conscience either because he is cynical or stupid, who foments hate and suspicion—as the standard bearer of the party of Abraham Lincoln is an irresponsible, disgraceful decision. The #nevertrump forces never seemed to face the essential inevitability of Trump’s candidacy even in their feckless attempts to stop it (he led every national poll since August of last year). Moreover, these GOP outcasts (whom the media has been calling “the establishment” and now are being characterized as Vichy Republicans) evidently cared nothing for the good name or honest intentions of the Republican voter. For the last three decades those in control of the Grand Old Party and its propaganda outfit, Fox News, have been complicit in stoking the bellicism of their base without any interest in governing honestly on its behalf. (The names behind #nevertrump have generally said nevermind to health care, education, infrastructure, economic development, and the complexities of diplomatic and military security.)
Some Republicans have taken their electoral ball and gone home, like former Presidents George Bush, Sr. and his son, W. At the time of writing, both have refused to endorse the presumptive nominee of their party for president. That decision, hardly a profile in courage, lags a few weeks behind Mitt Romney’s, who said, “I’ll either vote for a conservative who runs or I’ll write in the name of a conservative.” Then there’s John McCain. He was caught on tape the other day at a fundraiser for his Senate reelection: “If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life... If you listen or watch Hispanic media in the state and in the country, you will see that it is all anti-Trump. The Hispanic community is roused and angry in a way that I've never seen in 30 years.” The morning after Trump’s decisive Indiana primary win, McCain’s consigliere and former chief of staff, Mark Salter, tweeted, “the GOP is going to nominate for President a guy who reads the National Enquirer and thinks it’s on the level. I'm with her.” Her being a more presidential pronoun that needs no further gloss.
Most of the living Republican candidates for president choosing not to support the 2016 nominee could scarcely be more perfect fodder for Trump’s chauvinism and blustery confidence. Their campaigns—and I say this as someone who has never voted Republican even for dog catcher—stood for every sort of decency his campaign opposes. Trump’s misogyny is unapologetic, his anti-immigration rhetoric offensive. To call his focus on banning Muslims xenophobic pandering would be an understatement. Given that the GOP has long been considered the party of big business, it’s ironic that Trump’s business record is so dismal. He has an 87 percent unfavorable rating with Hispanics, according to a poll conducted last month by Latino Decisions on behalf of America’s Voice. And in a head-to-head matchup with Clinton, Trump is on a course to lose the Hispanic vote 76-11. In a recent NBC/WSJ poll, 47 percent of GOP women said they could not imagine themselves voting for Trump. Those numbers are worse for Trump when it comes to the general electorate. According to a mid-March CNN/ORC poll, 73 percent of female voters have a negative view of Trump. That’s up from 59 percent in December and 67 percent in late February. And according to another CNN/ORC poll released May 4, Clinton is leading Trump by 13 points among registered voters nationally, 54 percent to 41 percent.
Notwithstanding, Trump’s message is sickly genius: unite a coalition of nativist voters with people legitimately left out of the modern economy. It isn’t that voters in the Republican Party don’t know that Trump has trampled conventional Republican orthodoxy or that he’s controversial and unpopular with the national electorate as a whole; it’s that they’ve chosen to support him anyway, and rabidly. Down-ballot concerns for Republicans are going to cause nightmares. Every GOP candidate will be asked if they back Trump. Every time Trump shoots his mouth off, they’ll be asked again if they agree or disagree with the latest discharge.
But day-to-day campaign gossip, machinations, and polls are not the issue at hand. Trump’s arrival as the Donald of Arc of the Republican party and the tin-pot despotic future it signifies—Trumpism—should cause every American of conscience to rise in opposition to his candidacy. The time has come to build a wall around 21st-century America’s first great chauvinist, nativist movement: this fascism with a spray-tan face.
Trumpism, which trucks in birther and JFK conspiracies, is a cult of nostalgia that worships tabloid versions of truth. In Trump’s America, faith in feelings will replace reason, and the electorate will be expected to keep adapting to the latest lies—he was against the Iraq War before it started, he saw Muslims cheering in New Jersey when the World Trade Centers collapsed, etc. In Trump’s America, we will be expected to renounce inclusion and tolerance as poisons of modern democracy and instead embrace incoherence and grievance. The conditions will be wholly Orwellian: whenever one of Trump’s future opponents gets traction or applies political pressure, the Donald will spark a new controversy by flicking an outrageous comment, as if it were a match, at the media.
In Trump’s America, making deals will become a synonym for action. Like every fraudulent, two-faced monocrat before him, Trump will allege that intellectual debate is degenerate and hostile to his supporters, whose feelings of economic disgrace, political dislocation, and social humiliation must be indulged. Given his predisposition for deportation, conspiracies, flim-flam, whitewash, and messianism, we should expect Trump to politicize the FBI in order to hound critics of the new nationalism. We should expect fresh inquisitions for citizens in the media, academia, government, the arts, and business. Criticism, disagreement, and individuality, three of democracy’s totems of diversity, will be seen as heretical and treasonous. Nothing better defines the supporters of Trumpism than their fear of change and variation, idiosyncrasy and diversity, singularity and nonconformity. Trumpism is already a synonym for racism.
In Trump’s America, Americans will be expected to feel under siege always. We will be called upon to view the world as perpetually plotting against American interests. (Trump has already been railing against the “rigged” Republican primary, which somehow, despite the rigging, awarded him the win.) Xenophobic antennae will not only be alert to alleged threats from outside the country, but inside the country as well. Enemies, we’ll be told, are lurking everywhere. Winston Smith and Julia will not be able to hideout in the prole district for long. And so we’ll all be in a permanent struggle to survive and press on in endless war against foreign and domestic “losers”—with a bogus promise of some ultimate, gold-plated American triumph always just around the corner.
DAVID BIESPIEL's writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Slate, The New Republic, Poetry, American Poetry Review, and The New York Times. His latest book is A Long High Whistle: Selected Columns (2015).
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