Friday, July 22, 2016

Trump in tights and a cape - but none of us should be laughing

D. D. Guttenplan (The Nation) asks "The RNC Is a Disaster—So Why Can’t I Sleep at Night?" The answer is that Trump has superpowers - you know, like in Superman only with a big red T on his chest and a golden mask that matches his hairdo. But seriously, the author argues, "All successful politicians have superpowers."

George W. Bush, a third-generation aristocrat with a family compound in Maine, had the ability to seem like a regular Joe Sixpack. Barack Obama has intelligence—and the capacity to make some people forget his race. Bill Clinton had irresistible charm—though at some point he must have stepped in a big pile of Kryptonite. Ronald Reagan could make anything sound plausible (including, for a brief period 30 years ago, the abolition of nuclear weapons). Hillary Clinton has inhuman persistence.

Donald Trump’s superpower is to be consistently underestimated. “When Trump got into the race, I just laughed,” Matt Throckmorton, a Ted Cruz delegate from Utah, told me. “I figured he’d be out by October. Then I thought he’d be out by November.” ... He isn’t laughing any more.

Actually, I think my insomnia stems from my bedside reading: a thick, heavily annotated work of academic sociology first published in 1982 titled Who Voted for Hitler? In its pages, author Richard F. Hamilton takes on the conventional view of the Nazi Party’s rise to power—that Hitler’s electoral success stemmed from a “panic in the middle class” brought on by the depression and the threat of “economic marginality”—and reduces it to smithereens. “Sometimes the facts that everyone knows prove to be the least known,” he writes.

Instead, Hamilton shows how all of Germany’s traditional parties “had taken…directions that made them unattractive to important segments of the electorate.” But where previous historians credited “the fear that dominates a social group which has only just risen above the level of manual laborer”—the quote is from Mein Kampf—for Hitler’s appeal, which they assumed was chiefly to lower-middle-class and marginalized voters, by carefully analyzing vote counts and mapping the results against German census data, Hamilton shows that the Nazis’ actual base of support lay among the better off, with their share of the vote rising with income. By themselves, the rich and the upper-middle classes in Weimar Germany were not numerous enough to win an election. Hitler also drew considerable support from rural and small-town voters, from young people drawn into politics by the Nazis’ command of political theater—and from older voters who had dropped off the rolls until the Nazis gave them a chance to vote against a political system they viewed as illegitimate and corrupt.

I was particularly haunted by Hamilton’s answer to the question: “What does a Conservative voter do when his first choice candidate is removed from the race?” The Nazis, after all, never won a majority. ... It was the failure of the left to unify—and the moral collapse of German conservatives who thought they could “control” Hitler—that opened the door to the Nazis. And the terror in the wake of the Reichstag fire screened their seizure of state power. “Almost all of [the] Conservative support,” Hamilton writes, “went to an extreme candidate, to Adolf Hitler.”

And that is why, despite the RNC debacle, none of us should be laughing any more.

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