Oct 29th 2016

Minimizing the Legacy of Donald J. Trump

by David Coates

David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies

When Elizabeth Warren was campaigning with Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire last Monday, she expressed a wish that so many of us now share, when she promised Donald Trump that “on November 8th, we nasty women are gonna march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever.[1] Getting Donald Trump out of our lives forever is a noble endeavor. It is one that many of us would give our right arm to see happen; but sadly, getting Donald Trump out of our lives is likely to be far more difficult an operation than simply voting him down as president in November.

Why?

Because he and his campaign will leave a legacy that will last well beyond this election unless it is explicitly addressed and politically refuted. Indeed, losing the election on November is likely, at least in the short term, to embed in the body of American politics the very things that have alienated so many right-thinking Americans from his candidacy and program. Donald J. Trump has stained American democracy in 2016, and that stain is likely to persist until and unless it is well and truly washed out.

I

The individual bits of the legacy are presumably well known. There is, first and foremost, the sordid nature of so much that we have been obliged to contemplate as voters because of his reputation, past practices and current accusers. The painful details of sexual harassment, and sexual violence, have rarely been off the front page of US (and it should be said, many leading overseas) newspapers, or far from the headlines on one news broadcast after another. And because they have not, many of us have found ourselves needing a mental shower to clean away the grotesqueness of the things he has been accused of doing, and of the matters he has relitigated against the Clintons as part of his defense. Presidential election campaigns, at their best, are crusades of hope. This one, by contrast, has far too often been a ride through the sewer.[2]

Then there has been the bigotry – the bigotry in the language and policy proposals of Trump the candidate, and the bigotry and animosity he has released into the public square from sections of the crowds who have rallied to his cause. Part of that bigotry has been sexist. Part has been racist.[3] All has been ugly; and all has re-energized that hidden section of the American right which to this day has not come to terms with the profound social revolutions now underway in the wider American society: revolutions in the roles and power of women, revolutions in the rising power of minority populations, and revolutions in the range of accepted modes of sexuality and living. The bigotry has often been repackaged as a challenge to political correctness, but the political correctness on which we now insist is itself the product of (and an index of) the success of past movements of social reform. By challenging political correctness, and by talking up old sexist and ethnic stereotypes the Trump campaign has not only sought to put a misogynistic narcissist[4] in the White House. It has also threatened to turn the clock back, undermining by executive action some of the greatest gains of a half-century era of expanding civil rights.

And then there is the denigration of his political opponent[5] and his undermining of the legitimacy both of her candidacy and of any electoral victory that she inflicts upon him. There is nothing new, of course, in the leadership of the Republican Party seeking to de-legitimize Democratic presidents. Even in modern times, the practice goes back to at least the impeachment crisis of the first Clinton presidency, and was very evidence in the determination of Mitch McConnell to make the first black president a one-term phenomenon. But Donald Trump has taken this de-legitimation thing to a whole new level by making two claims that other Republican presidential nominees have not. One is that his opponent has no right to be in the race because she is a criminal – a strategy of de-legitimation he first tried on Barack Obama via his birther comments. The second is that, win or lose, the whole electoral system is rigged – and rigged against him.  On this argument, if he loses it will be only because the election was stolen from him….

…and more dangerous still, stolen from his supporters. The biggest danger that this form of argument leaves us with is the problem of the dog whistle: the danger that – having told his supporters over-and-over again that Hilary Clinton is a crook and that the Washington elites are conspiring against him to deny him power – that one/more of his followers will interpret that as a call to political violence. Conspiracy theories abound on the Alternative Right, often given extra credence and publicity on the Breitbart News outlet headed by Donald Trump’s current campaign chairman, among the most potent of which is the claim that the Democrats are secretly planning to abolish the Second Amendment and take away the private ownership of guns.[6] All you need to do to trigger street protests and marches is to repeat the claims of elite manipulation of the results. All you need to do to mobilize the anger of the more extreme libertarians in the gun community is to repeat the claim that the Second Amendment is under assault;[7] and all you need to do to discredit Hillary Clinton as a legitimate president is to regularly repeat old accusations of foul play by both Clintons that have been around on the Alt-Right since the 1990s. Donald Trump has regularly made all three claims, and because he has, the real and present danger is clear:[8] unless Donald Trump, if defeated on November 8, concedes defeat with a graciousness[9] he has yet to show in this campaign, then our post-election politics may become (at least temporarily) even more sordid and depressing than they have been hitherto.[10]

II

How long and how depressing will partly turn on how quickly the Trump support-bubble can be burst, and how quickly it bursts under its own contradictions; and on this latter at least, we need to be careful.

The Trump campaign has regularly been written off as a failure, with people waiting to see it implode and vanish at every stage of its development; and it hasn’t imploded yet. But this time it might, not least because of the damage being done to the Trump brand by the regular exposure of potential customers to the character and bluster of the man himself.[11] Maybe people will choose not to use Trump hotels. Maybe Donald Trump’s millions will be quickly shown to be imaginary; and maybe one or more of the accusations of sexual misconduct leveled against him will give him and his accusers their day in court. Maybe, but maybe not: and if not, what Donald Trump’s campaign has done is to leave him – if he does indeed lose on November 8 –  well-positioned to present himself as the cheated champion of the American dispossessed. Until his bubble is burst, that is, this election campaign may simply be the first round in an ongoing saga of Trump demagoguery.[12]

So his bubble needs bursting – not by him, but by us. It needs bursting by a systemic attack on poverty in general, led by the Democratic Party, an attack designed to separate Donald Trump from his base by programs that address white working class poverty just as strongly as they address poverty in minority communities.[13] And it needs bursting by the making of a complete break with the style and content of his campaign, a break that will need to be led almost exclusively by the Republicans. The Democrats need to return to a politics based on class inequality[14] rather than racial inequality, and the Republicans need to break decisively with the soft bigotry of their 40-year long “southern strategy.”[15] Donald Trump may be the immediate problem, but he is also a response to problems of greater longevity and depth; and if we do not want to see him in our lives again (or some younger version of the same phenomenon) it is to the addressing of those underlying problems that we all need urgently to turn once this election is finally over.

 

First posted, with full academic citations, at www.davidcoates.net

               

The full set of David Coates’ blog postings on the Obama years will be published in two volumes in December by Library Partners Press, as “Observing Obama in Real Time.”

 



[2] For a more positive spin, see Matthew Arnold, “Donald Trump’s Campaign Has Been Vile and Offensive – And We Should Thank Him for That,” The Nation, October 26, 2016: available at https://www.thenation.com/article/donald-trumps-campaign-has-been-vile-and-offensive-and-we-should-thank-him-for-that/

 

[3] Kali Holloway, “’The Blacks’ and ‘The Latinos’: Trump’s Blatant Racism is Visible for All to See,” posted on Alternet.org, October 24, 2016: available at http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/blacks-and-latinos-trumps-blatant-racism-visible-all-see

 

[4] Michael Barbaro, “What Drives Donald Trump? Fear of Losing Status, Tapes Show,” The New York Times, October 25, 2016: available at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/26/us/politics/donald-trump-interviews.html?_r=0

 

[5] Adele M. Stan, “Hatred of Hillary is Trump’s Rallying Cry at Campaign Events North and South,” posted on Alternet.org, October 25, 2016: available at http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/trump-rallies-south-and-rust-belt

 

[6]  Jim Tankersley, “Trump’s Advisers see another conspiracy – far from the campaign trail,” posted on The Washington Post, October 24, 2016: available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/24/trumps-advisers-see-another-conspiracy-far-from-the-campaign-trail/

 

[7] Heather Digby-Parton, “Where Will Donald Trump’s Violent and Dangerous Rhetoric Lead After November 8,” posted on Alternet.org, October 25, 2016: available at http://www.salon.com/2016/10/25/where-will-donald-trumps-violent-and-dangerous-rhetoric-lead-after-nov-8/

 

[8] Bill Berkowitz, “When the Election is Over, It Will Not Be Done,” posted on Alternet.org, October 22, 2016: available at http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/when-the-election-is-over-it-will-not-be-done

 

[9] See Michael E. O’Hanlon, “Losing with Dignity,” posted on Brookings, October 21, 2016: available at https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2016/10/21/losing-with-dignity/

 

[11] See Jason Linkins, “Trump’s Got A New Hotel Venture, But You Didn’t Hear About It From Him,” posted on The Huffington Post, October 25, 2016: available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-scion-hotel_us_580f6e1fe4b000d0b1589d66

 

Also

http://www.alternet.org/media/women-boycott-ivanka-trump-fashion-label-protest-donalds-campaign?akid=14813.153278.UI-yvc&rd=1&src=newsletter1066026&t=2

 

[12] James Nevius, “Could a third party with actual power be Donald Trump’s next political move?’ posted on The Guardian, October 25, 2016: available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/25/third-party-politics-donald-trump

 

[15] Michael Gerson, “Where the new right went wrong,” posted on The Washington Post, October 24, 2016: available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/where-the-new-right-went-wrong/2016/10/24/154baa7c-9a1e-11e6-9980-50913d68eacb_story.html?utm_term=.d48c8ab3c511

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jun 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Confronting our complex history and ultimately embracing a more equitable, balanced, and humble culture may be a tall order in these fractious times. But that makes it even more imperative that we fully reckon with who we are and who we are capable of becoming."
Jun 11th 2021
EXTARCT: "A further health benefit of hiking is that it’s classed as “green exercise”. This refers to the added health benefit that doing physical activity in nature has on us. Research shows that not only can green exercise decrease blood pressure, it also benefits mental wellbeing by improving mood and reducing depression to a greater extent than exercising indoors can."
Jun 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we apply that test to the world as a whole, how much moral progress have we made over the past two millennia? ...... That question is suggested by The Golden Ass, arguably the world’s earliest surviving novel, written around 170 CE, when Emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire. Apuleius, the author, was an African philosopher and writer, born in what is now the Algerian city of M’Daourouch."
Jun 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with type 2 diabetes, found that over two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also had similar results."
May 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Paul Van Doren's legacy lies in a famous company, and in his advice to young entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty, and to know what goes into making what they are selling."
May 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "May 7th marked three hundred and ten years since the philosopher David Hume was born. He is chiefly remembered as the most original and destructive of the early modern empiricists, following John Locke and George Berkeley." .... " Shocking as it may (and should) sound, Hume is implying nothing less than that the next time you turn the key in your car ignition, you are as justified to expect the engine will start as you are in believing it will turn into a pumpkin. For there is a radical contingency that pervades all our experience. We could wake up tomorrow to a world that looks and behaves very differently to the one we are in now. Matters of fact are dependent on experience and can never be known a priori — they are purely contingent, and could always turn out different than what we expect."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: " The sad reality is that the Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) were discriminated against from the day of Israel’s inception, whose Ashkenazi (European Jewish) leaders viewed them as intellectually inferior, “backward,” and “too Arab,” and treated them as such, largely because the Ashkenazim agenda was to maintain their upper-class status while controlling the levers of power, which remain prevalent to this day." ..... " The greatest heartbreaking outcome is that for yet another generation of Israelis, growing up in these debilitating conditions has a direct effect on their cognitive development. A 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that “family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size…increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children.” "
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "We all owe Farah Nabulsi an enormous debt of gratitude. In a short 24-minute film, The Present, she has exposed the oppressive indecency of the Israeli occupation while telling the deeply moving story of a Palestinian family. What is especially exciting is that after winning awards at a number of international film festivals​, Ms. Nabulsi has been nominated for an Academy Award for this remarkable work of art. " 
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations."
Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Picasso was 26 in 1907, when he completed the Demoiselles; de Kooning was 48 in 1952, when he finished Woman I.  The difference in their ages was not an accident, for studies of hundreds of painters have revealed a striking regularity - the conceptual painters who preconceive their paintings, from Raphael to Warhol, consistently make their greatest contributions earlier in their careers than experimental painters, from Rembrandt to Pollock, who paint directly, without preparatory studies."
Mar 26th 2021
EXTRACT: "Mental toughness levels are influenced by many different factors. While genetics are partly responsible, a person’s environment is also relevant. For example, both positive experiences while you’re young and mental toughness training programmes have been found to make people mentally tougher."
Mar 20th 2021

The city of Homs has been ravaged by war, leaving millions of people homeless an

Mar 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "There are two main rival models of ethics: one is based on rights, the other on duties. The rights-based model, which traces its philosophical origins to the work of John Locke in the 17th century, starts from the assumption that individuals have rights ....... According to this approach, duties are related to rights, but only in a subordinate role. My right to health implies a duty on my country to provide some healthcare services, to the best of its abilities. This is arguably the dominant interpretation when philosophers talk about rights, including human rights." ........ "Your right to get sick, or to risk getting sick, could imply a duty on others to look after you during your illness." ..... "The pre-eminence of rights in our moral compass has vindicated unacceptable levels of selfishness. It is imperative to undertake a fundamental duty not to get sick, and to do everything in our means to avoid causing others to get sick. Morally speaking, duties should come first and should not be subordinated to rights." ..... "Putting duties before rights is not a new, revolutionary idea. In fact it is one of the oldest rules in the book of ethics. Primum non nocere, or first do no harm, is the core principle in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by doctors, widely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates. It is also a fundamental principle in the moral philosophy of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who in De Officiis (On Duties) argues that the first task of justice is to prevent men and women from causing harm to others."
Mar 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Several studies have recently compared the difference between antibodies produced straight after a coronavirus infection and those that can be detected six months later. The findings have been both impressive and reassuring. Although there are fewer coronavirus-specific antibodies detectable in the blood six months after infection, the antibodies that remain have undergone significant changes. …….. the “mature” antibodies were better at recognising the variants."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Like Shakespeare, Goya sees evil as something existing in itself – indeed, the horror of evil arises precisely from its excess. It overflows and refuses to be contained by or integrated into our categories of reason or comprehension. By its very nature, evil refuses to remain within prescribed bounds – to remain fixed, say, within an economy where evil is counterbalanced by good. Evil is always excess of evil." ....... "Nowhere is this more evident than in war. Goya offers us a profound and sustained meditation on the nature of war ........ The image of a Napoleonic soldier gazing indifferently on a man who has been summarily hanged, probably by his own belt, expresses the tragedy of war – its dehumanization of both war’s victims and victors."