Trump and America’s political transformation

The current flirtation with demagoguery must come to an end if we are to fulfill our role and move America forward.


WASHINGTON, March 4, 2016 — We are living in a time of rapid change and growing uncertainty about the future. Our society is aging, placing increasing demands upon programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Our economy is in transition.

Manufacturing jobs have moved abroad, leaving many men and women without college educations adrift, unsuited for high-wage employment in a high-tech environment. The income gap between the rich and everyone else is growing.

The demographics of America are creating a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society in which whites will be a minority. Trade agreements like NAFTA and the TPP seem to push jobs abroad. The era of “identity” politics has alienated many Americans. The war in Iraq is perceived as a wasteful and costly enterprise. These and other developments have produced anger and alienation on the part of many voters.

For Democrats and Republicans, Super Tuesday resolved nothing

Our political system seems unresponsive to all of this, whether Democrats or Republicans hold office.

Republicans claim a commitment to free markets, yet they embrace crony capitalism. They use taxpayer dollars to bail out failed Wall Street banks and subsidize corn ethanol producers, farmers and other special interests. They accuse the Democrats of being “socialists,” yet isn’t this a form of socialism?

Democrats, who claim to support the poor, also voted to bail out Wall Street and have helped sudsidize the special interests who finance their campaigns. Under President Obama, not a single Wall Street banker who presided over the destruction of our economy has gone to jail.

If Americans are disillusioned with politics, they have every reason to be. But the leadership vacuum has inclined them to embrace the loudest, most bombastic voices on the scene. The environment is perfect for the rise of a demagogue.

Consider Donald Trump. A man with no experience in government tells us repeatedly how “smart,” “rich” and “highly educated” he is. His opponents are “stupid,” “low energy” and “liars.” He mocks their tendency to sweat and their looks. And he promises to “make America great again.”

Based on his rhetoric, is Trump a demagogue? Does he threaten the integrity of our political process?

Trump suggests that he would use the power of government to to attack anyone who challenges him. Of a Chicago family who contributed to a super PAC critical of him, he said, “They better be careful, they have a lot to hide.” He has called for altering the First Amendment so that newspapers critical of him could be sued.

He speaks favorably of the Alien and Sedition Act and the internment of Japanese-Americans. He calls for the use of torture, which is illegal. He wants to kill the wives, parents and children of terrorists, and he would bar Muslims from entering the country.

At a rally in Virginia, he told the story about a general’s killing Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. In Oklahoma City he defended waterboarding and promised to use interrogation methods that are far worse.

Trump cheered the assault on a protester at a rally and said of another, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” He didn’t know enough about the Ku Klux Klan to immediately repudiate it. He falsely claimed that he’d seen “thousands of Muslims” celebrating the 9/11 attack.

Trump never served in the U.S. military, yet said that Sen. John McCain was not a “hero,” despite years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison. What was Trump doing during the Vietnam War? He boasts of his sexual exploits during that period.

Congressional Republicans fighting to take down Donald Trump

Trump has excited the attention of white supremacists, who are doing their best to promote his campaign, and for good reason. Whether or not he wants their support, Trump has it. Jared Taylor, founder of the New Century Foundation and editor of the website American Renaissance, writes,

I’ve never met him and I cannot read his mind any better than you can. But someone who wants to send home all illegal immigrants and at least temporarily ban Muslim immigrants is acting in the interest of whites, whether consciously or not.

Trump makes it easy to identify him with authoritarian leaders like Benito Mussolini. He approvingly posted a Mussolini quote on Twitter: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” Is it “living like a lion” to mock a disabled New York Times reporter and to embrace Vladimir Putin?

Trump’s rhetoric promotes the view that our president is a virtual dictator who can act without the approval of Congress. He has promised to impose tariffs, build a wall and round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. Unilateral action on any of these would expand the police power of the state in an unprecedented way. Sen. Ted Cruz said that such a roundup would “require jackboots to knock on your door and every door in America.”

Washington Times columnist Donald Lambro, a respected conservative, writes:

Donald Trump talks in very simplistic, combative terms about how he will govern if he wins the presidency, but he never mentions Congress. Go through all of the boastful promises that he’s made  at his rallies and the debates, which he says are ‘a waste of time,’ seemingly suggesting that he will do these things alone … Apparently, Mr. Trump missed Government 101, the classes dealing with the three co-equal branches of government that were set forth by the Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution. … Getting a majority in Congress isn’t easy and would likely be harder, if not almost impossible, for someone with Mr. Trump’s insulting temperament.

If Trump’s rhetoric isn’t demagoguery, what is? Trump is no conservative; he never was. He has supported Democrats for years, contributed to Planned Parenthood and embraced a liberal social agenda. Contrary to what he says now, he supported the Iraq war, as did his one-time friend Hillary Clinton.

Republican strategist Craig Wilson says, “For Trump the GOP is a flag of convenience only, it means nothing to him or his voters. He is ideologically a non-conservative hyper-populist nationalist.”

Discussing Trump in the conservative Washington Examiner, W. James Antle III writes, “Trump … is no believer in constitutionally limited government. Unlike conservative movement hero Barry Goldwater, his extremism isn’t in defense of liberty.”

A growing number of Republicans are deciding to separate themselves from Donald Trump; they will vote for him if he becomes the party’s nominee. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts have said they would not vote for Trump. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., declares:

My love for our country eclipses my loyalty to our party, and to live with a clear conscience, I will not support a nominee so lacking in the judgment, temperament and character needed to be our nation’s commander in chief. Accordingly, if left with no alternative, I will not support [Donald] Trump in the general election should he become our Republican nominee.

The Republican Party’s two previous residential  nominees made it clear that, in their view, Trump is unqualified to be president. Mitt Romney called him “a fraud” who would drive the country to the point of collapse. “He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.”

Sen. John McCain says that Trump is ignorant of foreign policy and “has made dangerous pronouncements on national security.” Former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota said that Trump’s nomination would create a “historic breach” in the Republican Party. “This guy cannot be president of the United States.”

Historians cannot remember when the Republican Party’s previous nominees have so harshly attacked a would-be successor. Rutgers professor David Greenberg says the most recent antecedent might be the 1912 election, when former President Theodore Roosevelt led an exodus of progressive voters from the Republican Party and ran as a third-party candidate against the incumbent, William Howard Taft. “There probably hasn’t been this level of personal invective by one Republican nominee against another leading candidate,” Greenberg said. “Ever.”

The Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, is flawed and possibly criminal. Most Americans, according to the polls, distrust her and doubt her honesty. These same polls show that Republican candidates Marco Rubio, Ted  Cruz and John Kasich would all defeat her. Only Donald Trump has stronger negatives. Trump is the only potential Republican candidate who would lose to Clinton in the presidential election.

The nominating process is far from over. Trump has received about one-third of the votes so far, far from a majority. The number of Republicans who say they would not vote for Trump is growing. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey finds that 48 per cent of Republicans who do not already back Trump would probably or definitely not support him in November.

Our political system is flawed. The influence of money has distorted the democratic process. But ours remains the world’s richest, most powerful and freest nation. The rest of the world depends upon us to maintain stability in a troubled world. The current flirtation with demagoguery must end if we are to fulfill our role and move America forward.

The Republican Party still has a chance to be true to the honorable tradition of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan. It is in the interest of all Americans, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, that it do so.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.