Well no, of course not, but that’s just my opinion. Others think differently apparently.
Last week Quillette published an article by philosopher Peter Boghossian (Portland State University) and James Lindsay (mathematician and author) called ‘The Article About Trump Nobody Will Publish‘. It came to my attention when I read Jerry Coyne’s take on it this morning over at his website, Why Evolution is True. I was going to comment there, but I had so much to say I decided to do a whole post on it.
According to the editor of Quillette, “… 45 different magazines, periodicals, and journals across the political spectrum: Far left, left, center, unaffiliated, right, far right, and libertarian” rejected it. Perhaps he or she should have been the 46th.
As Coyne states, “… the authors’ main thesis [is] that Trump’s success is largely due to pushback against the Regressive Left,” which is an interesting idea to think about, but I don’t think they’ve made their case. It seems Coyne and most of the commenters on both his site and at Quillette agree with that assessment.
The article starts off saying some pretty negative things about the potential US president that I not only agree with, but have said myself on several occasions:
Trump is a monstrous choice for president. Monstrous. He’s a demagogue with a clear bent to authoritarianism. He’s completely politically inexperienced and has no clear idea what constitutes successful, appropriate, or even legal behavior for an elected official. He has repeatedly proven himself to be virtually incoherent on foreign policy, economics, diplomacy, and the military. His only true assets are self-promotion, juvenile tweets, and belittling his enemies. He’s barely qualified to be president of anything, especially anything with a military.
I’m not even sure that “… juvenile tweets, and belittling his enemies…” can be classed as assets. As far as I’m concerned they’re just more examples of his negative character traits.
Then they speculate about what would happen if Trump did become president:
On the Right, President Trump would force the GOP to completely reorganize—and fast. It would compel them to abandon their devastating pitch to the extreme right. The Republican Party would have to get back on the rails, and do so quickly, to reclaim a stable position in American politics. On the Left, the existence of the greatest impossible dread imaginable, of President Trump, would rouse sleepy mainline liberals from their dogmatic slumber. It would force them to turn sharply away from the excesses of its screeching, reality-denying, uncompromising and authoritarian fringe that provided much of Trump’s thrust in the first place. And underlying it all rests the question of influence and utility of big money in American politics. That is, after all, largely how we got here in the first place, with astroturfed populism combined with huge corporate campaign donations for political tools and extremists short-sightedly planting most of the seeds for these newer, louder issues.
I don’t think though that there’s any evidence a Trump presidency is necessary for, or would help, any of these things to happen.
Firstly, the contention that it “… would force the GOP to completely reorganize.” If Trump was president, that would actually be quite difficult because he would be the leader of the party. If and when Trump loses in November, as I think will be the case, you can bet there will be a big reorganization of the Republican Party. Much of the leadership is hating the situation they’re currently in of being forced to support a man they clearly have no respect for. They know that he got to be leader because of their own failings and you can bet they’ll make sure someone like Trump can never win a primary again. There’s hardly a day goes by when Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell aren’t making a statement disavowing something Trump has said. Several of the party’s senior members, including their last nominee, Mitt Romney, have said they can’t in good conscience vote for Trump. Many others have said they’ll be holding their noses as they do it. Some have even gone so far as to say they’ll vote for Hillary Clinton.
Secondly, that it would force mainline liberals to stop tolerating “… the excesses of its screeching, reality-denying, uncompromising and authoritarian fringe.” I’m not sure that mainline liberals do tolerate the authoritarian left. Unlike them, we respect the right to free speech, but many of us speak out against them frequently. The aforementioned Jerry Coyne along with Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Eiynah (Nice Mangoes), Stephen Knight (Godless Spellchecker), Maajid Nawaz, Gad Saad, Bill Maher, and many others all speak out against the authoritarian left. (Please give me names to add to the list in the comments – I’m really bad at names and would like more of these people mentioned.) Sam Harris in particular has suffered because of it. It may seem like that’s not happening so much to those who are working in US universities like the authors are, but I would suggest they’re victims of their environment.
Thirdly, they say that a Trump presidency would inspire a movement against big money in politics. However, I don’t think the US needs a Trump presidency for this to happen – I think it’s going to happen anyway. Bernie Sanders has started that movement already. He’s not going away because he lost the primary – he still has an important voice in US politics and I have no doubt he and his supporters will continue to demand to be heard. President Obama spoke eloquently against big money in politics before the last election, though he ended up taking advantage of super-pacs to counter those against him. I expect he would lend his voice to any campaign against super-pacs once he has ensured a Democratic victory in November.
Big money in US politics is something that more people are becoming aware of without Trump’s help. In February Politico published a story that reported that so far the one hundred biggest donors had given US$195 million in the 2016 cycle while the combined donations of the two million smallest donors was US$155 million. Four of the six top donors supported Ted Cruz with a total of US$37 million so he possibly couldn’t even have run without just those four supporters. Jeb Bush received even more from the top 100 – US$49 million. Clinton at that point came in second with US$38 million from the donors on the top 100 list.
In short, a Trump presidency is not required to motivate USians to do something about the appalling Citizens United Supreme Court decision that enabled this situation.
Boghossian and Lindsay go on to note “… the GOP’s grotesquely partisan behavior during the entire tenure of Obama’s two terms in office,” and how:
Over the past two decades, and especially the last eight years, the Republican Party has allowed ideological corruption to rot its once stable, corporate structure from within, and meanwhile a constant gale of far-Right pressure has shoved upon the party from at least two sides, the religious Right and the anti-government Tea Party and its sympathizers. Even an institution as old and robust as the Party of Lincoln is not sustainable against these forces, and so the house of GOP condemned itself. Then, in walks a take-no-prisoners real-estate mogul, declares the entire enterprise a loss, and becomes the very wrecking ball that smashes it to pieces.
This part of their thesis is one I agree with, and this is I think the major cause of the Trump rise. The increasing partisanship of US politics has, in my opinion, a great deal to do with what has enabled him to take over the Republican party. The party elite have alienated many of their traditional voters by taking them for granted and now Trump is appealing to them by hate- and fear-mongering. When Mitch McConnell said on the eve of the 2010 mid-term elections, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” it gave a wrong impression to voters what politics and government is all about. He actually went on to say, “… if he’s willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him,” but that, of course, is not the part of the interview that ever gets reported.
Voters went on to elect a whole new load of Tea Party members who, despite their small number, took control by their tactics of “all or nothing.” Antics like those of Ted Cruz’s filibuster that shut down the government were admired instead of being condemned for the selfish, unproductive, showboating they were. The work of government hasn’t been done properly for years because of the inability of a small number to compromise, then when Obama takes actions like taking his pen and phone to try and get something done he gets abused.
In October 2014 the Boston Globe published an article called ‘Americans grasp on civic knowledge is shaky at best, study finds‘. It followed the release of a survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Its findings included:
35 percent of respondents were unable to name even one branch of the federal government; only 36 percent could identify all three. Nearly three out of four Americans didn’t know that it takes a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress to override a presidential veto. Asked which parties control the Senate and House of Representatives, only 38 percent of respondents answered correctly. And one-fifth of the public believes that when the Supreme Court decides a case by a 5-4 majority, the decision is sent to Congress for reconsideration.
That’s worrying, but perhaps explains why so many voters think that electing Trump would fix the system. It’s clear that Trump himself also either has a poor knowledge of civics, the law, and the constitution, or is deliberately misleading voters about what he’d do. In his prepared speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition on Friday, Trump told his audience that he would make sure that Christians could talk about politics from the pulpit without limit. Churches don’t pay taxes and one of the legal conditions of that is that they don’t tell their congregations how to vote. There is a group of Christian Churches that defy that law every year on Pulpit Freedom Sunday – in 2014 there were 1,500 – but because of the privilege that religion has in our society they have always got away with it. After pressure from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) the IRS (equivalent of our IRD) agreed to investigate those churches flagrantly breaking the law, but it doesn’t appear to ever have actually occurred. In fact, most articles about the situation appear to support the churches and attack the FFRF. (See here for an example.)
The younger, emerging leaders of the party – people like Paul Ryan, Susana Martinez, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio – are, whatever you think of their policies, basically decent people. The old guard like John McCain, Lindsay Graham, John Kasich, and Mitt Romney, again with the same proviso, are honourable men. Yesterday on CNN, Ronald Reagan’s son Michael (the one who says his half-brother Ron Reagan, as an atheist, is an embarrassment) said his father wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump and wouldn’t like the lack of dignity with which Trump conducted himself.
Boghossian and Lindsay go on to say:
The question to our minds, then, isn’t whether a Trump presidency would be bad for America—it unquestionably would—but whether America might survive the medicine and come out better for the noxious treatment.
We think it may. The United States is a carefully constructed democratic republic with divided powers, and a terrible president, while coming at a serious cost, will prove limited in the scope of his capabilities. Congress is very unlikely to back much of what Trump proposes, for instance, and they just spent eight years demonstrating that if only half of our elected legislators have such a mind, they can grind American politics largely to a halt.
This just doesn’t make sense. It’s likely that many of the things Trump wants to do wouldn’t be able to get done thus grinding “… politics largely to a halt.” But this is not, as the authors contend, better than the disease. They use the analogy of chemotherapy and cancer, but a dose of Trump would have side effects worse than the disease. While it’s likely that the United States would survive a dose of Trump, the damage that he could do doesn’t bear thinking about. And then, like many USians do, they’ve forgotten about the rest of the world.
Trump has already said he’s going to rip up the Paris climate deal and the Iran nuclear deal, both of which took years of careful diplomatic manoeuvring to negotiate. Imagine him sitting down to negotiate a treaty with Putin? He thinks he’s such a great negotiator, but his lack of knowledge and understanding when it comes to foreign affairs is embarrassing and Putin would run rings around him. He would get Trump to promise all sorts of things without him even realizing how badly he was screwing up. We would see things like Trump tweeting he and Putin and decided Ukraine would be part of Russia in return for a great deal on access to the Russian market for US poultry farmers. The diplomats might be able to get out of it, but not without huge negative consequences for the US and much of Europe. That’s the sort of thing that would happen with a Trump presidency.
Next they say:
Even if he is able to unduly pressure Congress, Trump would still have the Supreme Court to reckon with, and it would rarely go in his favor even were he able to stack the deck slightly to his favor by placing a few justices.
He would be able to do much more than “… stack the deck slightly to his favor.” The Justices would stop egregious legal moves, but a series of conservative appointments could delay the social progress of the US for a generation. Even worse, it could reverse some of the progress already made. Trump has already made clear, for example, that he intends to nominate anti-choice judges to the Supreme Court. In addition, it could stop the moves to remove big money from politics Boghossian and Lindsay hope for as that would require a previous Supreme Court ruling to be overturned.
Boghossian and Lindsay conclude:
Is it a risky bet? Absolutely. A Trump presidency cannot be seen in a more flattering light than an attempt to drink a little chemo, get sick, and kill a handful of political cancers at once. Is it flirtation with fire? Yes. The whole gambit rests upon the horror of a Trump presidency creating a political backlash that repairs our most damaged institutions. Are we going to vote for Trump? No. No one should. What we’ve written constitutes the only reasonable case for supporting Trump, and it’s weak. That there’s even such an argument to be made, though, tells us a great deal about what’s going wrong in our society.
They say the case for supporting Trump is weak. I say it doesn’t exist. I’ve heard the reasoning over and over again from those who do support him – I watch a lot of Fox News. The only real case they have is that they would prefer him to Clinton, and the only real reason for that is to control the Supreme Court. What that says to me is that it’s religion that’s the problem because almost the only rulings where there is disagreement is social issues, and those are about the conservative religious wanting to force their views on everybody else.