Friday, April 01, 2016

The Party's Over: Creative Destruction

Media critics who are well attuned to the entertainment aspects of the never-ending political anointing process have rightly compared Drumpf to the Norse trickster god Loki. This comparison proves to be more and more apt as the season wends on. (A more contemporary metaphor might be that of Heath Ledger's Joker; as Michael Caine points out, some men just want to watch the world burn.)

This year's political Loki has thrived on sowing chaos in his chosen group. The only common cause Drumpf has with the Republican Party is the desire to keep every cent he's made, and to pretend he strived just as hard for it as every hotel-room cleaner or construction worker who's ever worked for him. In the process, Loki/Drumpf has thrown open the rank hypocrisy baked into every bit of the party, from the privileged dopes who run the machine, to the platform they continue to espouse, a platform that is responsive only to the donor class and "fambly valyews" morons.

So when Anderson Cooper exposes Loki's lack of knowledge or principle -- or even basic consistency -- on the subject of abortion, what also is exposed is the ridiculousness of that policy itself. Drumpf is correct in his initial proposal that, in the event of Roe being repealed, women should be punished, as well as in his subsequent demurral that it is the medical practitioner, rather than the woman, who should be punished.

This is a prime opportunity to scrutinize the absurdity of the pro-life proposal, of the practical ramifications, of this bizarre obsession that these people have with this procedure, which has steadily declined in frequency over the last twenty years, and is at any rate being curtailed state by state through other means. The bottom line is that their mission is not only to curtail access to certain options for reproductive health and family planning, but ultimately to exact punitive measures on the people who utilize and/or perform those measures. They tend to avoid talking about it in such terms, preferring instead to harp on the inane "sanctity of life" argument.

By fumbling around with his inept, ignorant unprincipled pose on the subject, Drumpf has inadvertently exposed that entire movement for the farce it truly is. They want to imprison doctors or women or both, they need to specify for how long and on what charge. And calling for "states' rights" doesn't fly; the citizens of Indiana have the same fundamental rights as the citizens of California.

But in fact, this is entirely consistent with Drumpf's unorthodox (by Republican and conservative standards) stances on most major issues. Now that the field has dwindled and media scrutiny has risen, and interviews have granted a heretofore unseen specificity as to his stances, Drumpf continues to reveal himself every bit as belligerent and ignorant as he seems in his stump speeches. More importantly, he exposes the party as a shell game throughout, a money-laundering racket that exists only to ratify the desires of its donors, by distracting the base with empty posturing on "social" issues.

There is a transitive political property of sorts in play here:  if Drumpf can capture a plurality or majority of Republican primary voters, not only as a self-styled "outsider" but as someone who strays from the party platform on most things, then it delegitimizes the platform, rather than the candidate. Drumpf seems to have hit a ceiling, and may even be starting to decline, but that is because he's a toxic asshole, not because he eschewed party orthodoxy.

So regardless of the eventual outcome, the bottom line is that a substantial portion of the party voters loathe the party's operational structure, and do not really care about its stated principles. It is ironic that the party's most recent electoral avatar, Mitt Romney, made his bones on the nasty "leveraged buy-out" ethos that business-school assholes have used over the last generation or so to gut American companies, send American jobs overseas, and pocket the skim. And Drumpf, in his own way, is using that bust-out philosophy on them. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of bastards.

The Democratic Party should not get too smug about this situation, as tempting as it might be to point and laugh. Not because of the Hillary vs. Bernie dynamic; I believe that no matter which of them wins the nomination, despite the current internecine vitriol, a majority of the other's current supporters will support the nominee, if only to thwart whichever sociopath the Republicans settle on.

But it occurs to me that, given his actual stated positions (such as they are) on the major issues, Drumpf could just as well have run as a Democrat. Think about it. His core defining traits (true or not) are that he a master negotiator and he gets shit done. That's essentially what every competent politician at every level promises.

There are pragmatic reasons that Drumpf chose to run as a Republican rather than as a Democrat, but those reasons are not a matter of ideology or principle. For one, the overabundance of candidates on that side provided a golden opportunity for an agent of disruption; for another, Drumpf correctly read the dynamic of anger and frustration as motivating factors.

From time to time, media observers will wonder aloud why all the successful political humor shows are liberal, why there is no conservative counterpart to, say, The Daily Show, or Larry Wilmore, or Bill Maher, or John Oliver, to name just a few. They exist, but they are not very good -- nor, more importantly, are they funny.

A corollary to that question is to observe that there are not really any successful liberal counterparts to right-wing talk radio; there is nothing on the left side of the dial that compares in scale to Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, et al. You might come up with Lawrence O'Donnell, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, none of whom pulls more than about ten percent of what the top right-wing guys pull.

The reason the liberal humorists are successful and legitimately funny is because they point out absurd people doing absurd things. Most of them are willing to pick on dumb liberals as much as dumb conservatives. Evidence is cited whenever possible, as is context. Anger and frustration are part of the mix, to be sure, but generally at the utter fecklessness and demonstrable venality of the objects of derision. It is less about the individuals, and more about the impact of their policies and beliefs on people's lives.

Right-wing teevee and talk radio, on the other hand, consistently present their ideological opponents as existential threats; Obama is not merely an inept, corrupt despot, but someone who wants to deprive you of your way of life, apparently just for the sheer fun of it. It is a highly personalized, vituperative narrative, designed to engage at the emotional lizard-brain level. Logic, facts, and context are not only disregarded, but actively avoided, lest they contaminate the direct simplicity of the narrative with something resembling nuance.

From this perspective, it makes sense that Drumpf would choose the latter dynamic, and essentially take the form not only of the trickster god, but of a cult leader. Every cult, from $cientology to the FLDS inbreds along the Utah-Arizona border, operates on the same pattern -- tell them what's wrong with them, and assure them that only you can help. Create the disease and sell the cure. Much easier than reading policy papers and developing thoughtful positions.

But again, the fact cannot be ignored that, had Drumpf so chosen, he could quite easily have run as a Democrat, by merely softening his anti-immigrant rhetoric, and leaving out the more corrosive characterizations. The one thing Drumpf is actually skilled at is marketing, and every good marketer starts by identifying his market, knowing who his customer is. He talks shit about immigrants and women because the dipshits who worship him do that too, but his white-noise jabber about getting you a better deal and a better job could easily woo the working-class Democrat base.

The point of this is to demonstrate that, while everyone has come to realize how effectively Loki's mischief has exposed the naked underbelly of the Republican party, it does not appear to be commonly understood that the same techniques could just as easily done the same thing to the Democrats, who also talk a good game and stroke the base, but rarely deliver in any meaningful way.

This is not to say that there's not a dime's worth of difference between the parties -- clearly, there are any number of significant differences -- but that operationally, they are both vulnerable to someone who has a significant following of their own, and decides to be a disruptive force.

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