Sunday, February 19, 2017

Trump: from Cry-Baby populist to Paragon of the Establishment . .. .

Populist movements in Western democracies generally don't last long. Instead they usually morph quickly into their own version of the establishment. I think that the reason for the short lived populist aspect of a political movement is reasonably simple. Populist movements are expressions of anger, discontent, and fear rather than expressions of principle. When there is a welling up of fear and discontent, the conmen and shysters come out of the woodwork to take advantage of it because conmen look for easy marks, and when it comes to politics in particular, angry fearful people are easy prey. When these emotions take hold of people, they don't think straight. Instead, they look for people who sooth them, who provide easy answers to complex problems and make them feel like everything is going to be ok. Thus the followers of populist conmen are fervent in their belief and passionate in their commitment to their saviour. As a result of this combination of fervency and fear and anger motivated passion, populist leaders can basically do anything they want and their support will stay relatively steady for some time, as long as they keep spouting their simple, soothing message. In this regard, Trump's now infamous observation that it wouldn't hurt his popularity if went out on 5th Ave. and shot someone, is ominously revealing. The most diehard followers of a populist leader have zero interest in facts, and shockingly little interest in the actions of their leaders. This is because such followers are being feed the political equivalent of soma which puts them in a sort of trance, And as long as their leader proclaims the right trigger phrases, espousing simple ideas about how everything is going to be fixed and all the "bad stuff" and "bad hombres" will expunged, nothing else really matters.

Ironically, this is where populist movements tend to come unstuck. When a populist leader gets swept up in the adulation, even if their intentions were initially good (which they seldom are), they realize that they don't have to do any of the things that their followers want, or they only have to make minimal, often cosmetic efforts to maintain the drug-like trance in which they have put their followers. The problem is, of course, since most populist leaders are primarily interested in enriching themselves and their social/ideological allies at the highest level, they quickly become the establishment that they swept to power to oppose. Thus things don't really change, at least not for the better, and often for the worse. And when this happens, the soma trance wears off just enough people for the populist movement to lose its momentum and things become unstuck. One of the problems, of course, is that populist movements often leave in their wake a rightwing political establishment that can last for years.

This is precisely the scenario that played out in Canada. The populist movement known as the "Reform Party" swept into Ottawa with all sorts of populist promises, feeding off socially conservative ideas and white-privilege fears. The "Reformers" said that they wouldn't take the rich Parliamentary pensions, that they would allow all sorts of free votes in the House of Commons, they insisted that their leader would live in the luxurious housing due an opposition leader or a Prime Minster, and that they would enact legislation based upon its social popularity not based upon some niche interest group. All those commitments lasted about five minutes once the Reform leaders found themselves in the luxurious and complex world of actual legislative politics. But as the Reform movement burned, from the ashes was born an establishment party that enhanced and magnified the very things that people who supported the movement had rebelled against in the first place. So we were left with a party that was less interested in transparency than any government in history, ruled for a very small percentage of the population, was comically dishonest, lined their pockets and the pockets of friends like never before, and was more intrusively sinister than ever in people's personal lives.

 The reason that a political movement that started out of anger and claimed to be interested in more responsive and open government could quickly turn into its opposite is because of what we have come to know as "cry-baby conservatism."
Playing the victim is a integral part of modern day conservative parties and movements. Leaders like Harper and Trump continually harp on this idea that the establishment and the media is all against them and that they have to be mean and secretive and dictatorial because otherwise their opponents will win. And the cry-baby conservatives use this simple political strategy to consolidate their power and create a political machine that is often actively acting in ways that are contrary to their stated beliefs and those of their followers. Thus conservative followers in Canada barely noticed the irony when Conservative government cabinet members railed against the elites while at the same time riding in limousines to work. Similarly in the US we have a billionaire president with billionaire cabinet members who cry out against the establishment and have already instituted laws that will make them richer and the average person significantly poorer.

What is clear is that as the Trump movement progresses, the idea of "draining the swamp" and changing the political establishment will feature less and less in the Trumpian narrative. More and more of the Trump followers will accept the idea that the Trump government has to create their own establishment, their own "swamp" if you will, in order to overcome all those "liberal" and media forces that are arrayed against them. Thus people will accept much greater corruption and criminality, than they witnessed in those they initially sought to replace. As I said at the beginning, this is because the followers of leaders like Trump, are not motivated by a principled stance for better, more responsible, democratic, and transparent government. Rather, they are whipped up by anger and fear of a changing world.

Of course, as the populist aspect of the Trump phenomenon wanes, many will come out of the political trance and realize that they have been had and this may result in a significant shift in a different political direction. Either way, the populist movement will be dead. The only question is, will it leave in its wake a political establishment that is able to hold on to power for a while or will it, with its criminality and corruption, undermine the delusional state that brought it to power in the first place, thus causing a kind of counter rebellion?


the salamander said...

.. interesting essay, Kirby & very much aligned with some of yiur recent comments at other Indy blogger sites. It left me thinking about the current state of 'politics' .. Whatever that is.. ie 'politics' - elected 'public servants' - unelected Party apparatchiks - and of course the all conquering multinational businesses & corporations who have got politics in the bag. Back in time, it was religion that had politics bagged. and now it seems 'politicians' march in the guise of christianity.. and all too often in North America - whiteness - you know, where God is on your righteous side.

But I see pictures litics now, more as a running military campaign.. complete with the generals, colonels, soldiers, retinue of hangers on.. plus a huge baggage & supply chain. Plus the weaponry is cached all over the place.. even hidden or embedded in mainstream media (Rex Murphy within CBC) The 'Campaign' - Crusades are constant now, as is the fund raising and propaganda Trump, Kellie Leitch, Jason Kenney, Kellyanne Conway, Milo, Christy Clark, Republicans, Liberals.. a whole lot of bedlam & flag waving! Sports broadcasting is now overwhelmed with Militarism.. flyovers, more flag wavers. get behind our boys n girls in service.. but not the disabled or retired vets.. not them.. those are cannon fodder for government lawyers.. as are seniors, the poor, the different or the brown colored folk.. First Nations & black people understand this stuff completely.. Its a war that functions, is fed on many many levels.

The sheer level of daily, even hourly deceit is shocking.. its a bombardment where the victims simply lose count, lose track.. are stunned into some submissive stunned state.. and berated if they manage a complaint. I may have more to say in furture.. but in summary, I see 'politics' and 'public servants' as a parasitic infestation. The political parasites using the host - ie grooming and gaming them - burrowing into society, culture, electorate like ticks, lice or lamprey eels.. and of course Parliament or Congress is their private club, only.. not for the host masses to get in. We saw this with Harper/Novak & Wright and all his group who became millionaires.. Leitch for sure with her inside knowlege, Baird et al.. Blind Trusts my ass! Now we see Trump wallowing in his self interests, conflicts and ideological cesspool of bigotry & greed.. with thugs like Bannon, Miller, Priebus, Hannity, Ryan et al.. and the Sachs crowd

Lorne said...

A very interesting analysis, Kirby, as always. Robin Sears, in today's Star, writes on a related theme that you might want to read. However, as with his essay, I do wonder if you may be underestimating the longevity of Trump, given his stranglehold over the media, his condemnation of that same media, and his recent labelling them as 'enemies of the American people."

Populist movements, as you illustrate so well in your piece, do tend to have a limited shelf life. The one we are witnessing with Trump, however, may be different owing to his egregious lack of restraint, his willingness to stir up the people in more dangerous ways than many. When, for example, he fails to satisfy the voters who put him there, will this master of mendacity simply shrug his shoulders? I doubt it. Instead, I fear he could embark on a much more aggressive campaign of scapegoating to explain his failure to deliver that will make his current demagogic efforts to demonize the Mexicans, the Muslims and the media mere prologue so something much, much worse.