Donald Trump embodies how great republics meet their end. De Martin Wolf/Financial Times
The Americans will have to decide what sort of person they want to put in the White House.
Martin Wolf, 1 marzo 2016 / FINANCIAL TIMES
What is one to make of the rise of Donald Trump? It is natural to think of comparisons with populist demagogues past and present. It is natural, too, to ask why the Republican party might choose a narcissistic bully as its candidate for president. But this is not just about a party, but about a great country. The US is the greatest republic since Rome, the bastion of democracy, the guarantor of the liberal global order. It would be a global disaster if Mr Trump were to become president. Even if he fails, he has rendered the unthinkable sayable.
Mr Trump is a promoter of paranoid fantasies, a xenophobe and an ignoramus. His business consists of the erection of ugly monuments to his own vanity. He has no experience of political office. Some compare him to Latin American populists. He might also be considered an American Silvio Berlusconi, albeit without the charm or business acumen. But Mr Berlusconi, unlike Mr Trump, never threatened to round up and expel millions of people. Mr Trump is grossly unqualified for the world’s most important political office.
Yet, as Robert Kagan, a neoconservative intellectual, argues in a powerful column in The Washington Post, Mr Trump is also “the GOP’s Frankenstein monster”. He is, says Mr Kagan, the monstrous result of the party’s “wild obstructionism”, its demonisation of political institutions, its flirtation with bigotry and its “racially tinged derangement syndrome” over President Barack Obama. He continues: “We are supposed to believe that Trump’s legion of ‘angry’ people are angry about wage stagnation. No, they are angry about all the things Republicans have told them to be angry about these past seven-and-a-half years”.
Mr Kagan is right, but does not go far enough. This is not about the last seven-and-a-half years. These attitudes were to be seen in the 1990s, with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Indeed, they go back all the way to the party’s opportunistic response to the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Alas, they have become worse, not better, with time.
Why has this happened? The answer is that this is how a wealthy donor class, dedicated to the aims of slashing taxes and shrinking the state, obtained the footsoldiers and voters it required. This, then, is “pluto-populism”: the marriage of plutocracy with rightwing populism. Mr Trump embodies this union. But he has done so by partially dumping the free-market, low tax, shrunken government aims of the party establishment, to which his financially dependent rivals remain wedded. That gives him an apparently insuperable advantage. Mr Trump is no conservative, elite conservatives complain. Precisely. That is also true of the party’s base.
Mr Trump is egregious. Yet in some respects the policies of his two leading rivals, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are as bad. Both propose highly regressive tax cuts, just like Mr Trump. Mr Cruz even wishes to return to a gold standard. Mr Trump says that the sick should not die on the streets. Mr Cruz and Mr Rubio seem to be not quite so sure.
Yet the Trump phenomenon is not the story of just one party. It is about the country and so, inevitably, the world. In creating the American republic, the founding fathers were aware of the example of Rome. Alexander Hamilton argued in the Federalist Papers that the new republic would need an “energetic executive”. He noted that Rome itself, with its careful duplication of magistracies, depended in its hours of need on the grant of absolute, albeit temporary, power to one man, called a “dictator”.
The US would have no such office. Instead, it would have a unitary executive: the president as elected monarch.
“It is unwise to assume constitutional norms in the US
would survive the presidency of someone
who neither understands nor believes in them”
The president has limited, but great, authority. For Hamilton, the danger of overweening power would be contained by “first, a due dependence on the people, secondly, a due responsibility”.
During the first century BC, the wealth of empire destabilised the Roman republic. In the end, Augustus, heir of the popular party, terminated the republic and installed himself as emperor. He did so by preserving all the forms of the republic, while he dispensed with their meaning.
It is rash to assume constitutional constraints would survive the presidency of someone elected because he neither understands nor believes in them. Rounding up and deporting 11m people is an immense coercive enterprise. Would a president elected to achieve this be prevented and, if so, by whom? What are we to make of Mr Trump’s enthusiasm for the barbarities of torture? Would he find people willing to carry out his desires or not?
It is not difficult for a determined leader to do the previously unthinkable by appealing to conditions of emergency. Both Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt did some extraordinary things in wartime. But these men knew limits. Would Mr Trump also know limits? Hamilton’s “energetic” executive is dangerous.
It was the ultra-conservative president Paul von Hindenburg who made Hitler chancellor of Germany in 1933. What made the new ruler so destructive was not only that he was a paranoid lunatic, but that he ruled a great power. Trump may be no Hitler. But the US is also no Weimar Germany. It is a vastly more important country even than that.
Mr Trump may still fail to win the Republican nomination. But, should he do so the Republican elite will have to ask themselves hard questions — not only how this happened, but how they should properly respond. Beyond that, the American people will have to decide what sort of human being they want to put in the White House. The implications for them and for the world of this choice will be profound. Above all, Mr Trump may not prove unique. An American “Caesarism” has now become flesh. It seems a worryingly real danger today. It could return again in future.
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Trump is the GOP’s Frankenstein monster. Now he’s strong enough to destroy the party. De Robert Kagan/Washington Post
Robert Kagan, 25 febrero 2016 / THE WASHINGTON POST
When the plague descended on Thebes, Oedipus sent his brother-in-law to the Delphic oracle to discover the cause. Little did he realize that the crime for which Thebes was being punished was his own. Today’s Republican Party is our Oedipus. A plague has descended on the party in the form of the most successful demagogue-charlatan in the history of U.S. politics. The party searches desperately for the cause and the remedy without realizing that, like Oedipus, it is the party itself that brought on this plague. The party’s own political crimes are being punished in a bit of cosmic justice fit for a Greek tragedy.
Let’s be clear: Trump is no fluke. Nor is he hijacking the Republican Party or the conservative movement, if there is such a thing. He is, rather, the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker. Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at? Was it not Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), among others, who set this tone and thereby cleared the way for someone even more irreverent, so that now, in a most unenjoyable irony, Cruz, along with the rest of the party, must fall to the purer version of himself, a less ideologically encumbered anarcho-revolutionary? This would not be the first revolution that devoured itself.
Then there was the party’s accommodation to and exploitation of the bigotry in its ranks. No, the majority of Republicans are not bigots. But they have certainly been enablers. Who began the attack on immigrants — legal and illegal — long before Trump arrived on the scene and made it his premier issue? Who frightened Mitt Romney into selling his soul in 2012, talking of “self-deportation” to get himself right with the party’s anti-immigrant forces? Who opposed any plausible means of dealing with the genuine problem of illegal immigration, forcing Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to cower, abandon his principles — and his own immigration legislation — lest he be driven from the presidential race before it had even begun? It was not Trump. It was not even party yahoos. It was Republican Party pundits and intellectuals, trying to harness populist passions and perhaps deal a blow to any legislation for which President Obama might possibly claim even partial credit. What did Trump do but pick up where they left off, tapping the well-primed gusher of popular anger, xenophobia and, yes, bigotry that the party had already unleashed?
Then there was the Obama hatred, a racially tinged derangement syndrome that made any charge plausible and any opposition justified. Has the president done a poor job in many respects? Have his foreign policies, in particular, contributed to the fraying of the liberal world order that the United States created after World War II? Yes, and for these failures he has deserved criticism and principled opposition. But Republican and conservative criticism has taken an unusually dark and paranoid form. Instead of recommending plausible alternative strategies for the crisis in the Middle East, many Republicans have fallen back on mindless Islamophobia, with suspicious intimations about the president’s personal allegiances.
Thus Obama is not only wrong but also anti-American, un-American, non-American, and his policies — though barely distinguishable from those of previous liberal Democrats such as Michael Dukakis or Mario Cuomo — are somehow representative of something subversive. How surprising was it that a man who began his recent political career by questioning Obama’s eligibility for office could leap to the front of the pack, willing and able to communicate with his followers by means of the dog-whistle disdain for “political correctness”?
We are supposed to believe that Trump’s legion of “angry” people are angry about wage stagnation. No, they are angry about all the things Republicans have told them to be angry about these past 7½ years, and it has been Trump’s good fortune to be the guy to sweep them up and become their standard-bearer. He is the Napoleon who has harvested the fruit of the revolution.
There has been much second-guessing lately. Why didn’t party leaders stand up and try to stop Trump earlier, while there was still time? But how could they have? Trump was feeding off forces in the party they had helped nurture and that they hoped to ride into power. Some of those Republican leaders and pundits now calling for a counterrevolution against Trump were not so long ago welcoming his contribution to the debate. The politicians running against him and now facing oblivion were loath to attack him before because they feared alienating his supporters. Instead, they attacked one another, clawing at each other’s faces as they one by one slipped over the cliff. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got his last deadly lick in just before he plummeted — at Trump? No, at Rubio. (And now, as his final service to party and nation, he has endorsed Trump.) Jeb Bush spent millions upon millions in his hopeless race, but against whom? Not Trump.
So what to do now? The Republicans’ creation will soon be let loose on the land, leaving to others the job the party failed to carry out. For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.
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To defend our democracy against Trump, the GOP must aim for a brokered convention. Editorial/The Washington Post
Editorial Board, 16 marzo 2016 / THE WASHINGTON POST
DONALD TRUMP’S primary victories Tuesday present the Republican Party with a stark choice. Should leaders unite behind Mr. Trump, who has collected the most delegates but may reach the convention in July without a nominating majority? Or should they do everything they can to deny him the nomination? On a political level, this may be a dilemma. As a moral question, it is straightforward. The mission of any responsible Republican should be to block a Trump nomination and election.
We do not take this position because we believe Mr. Trump is perilously wrong on the issues, although he is. His proposed tariff on Chinese imports could spark a trade war and global depression. His proposed tax plan would bankrupt the government while enriching his fellow multimillionaires. But policy proposals, however ill-formed and destructive, are not the crux of the danger.
No, Mr. Trump must be stopped because he presents a threat to American democracy. Mr. Trump resembles other strongmen throughout history who have achieved power by manipulating democratic processes. Their playbook includes a casual embrace of violence; a willingness to wield government powers against personal enemies; contempt for a free press; demonization of anyone who is not white and Christian; intimations of dark conspiracies; and the propagation of sweeping, ugly lies. Mr. Trump has championed torture and the murder of innocent relatives of suspected terrorists. He has flirted with the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists. He has libeled and stereotyped wide swaths of humanity, including Mexicans and Muslims. He considers himself exempt from the norms of democratic contests, such as the release of tax returns, policy papers, lists of advisers and other information that voters have a right to expect.
Does a respect for democracy require the Republican Party to anoint its leading vote-getter? Hardly. We are not advocating that rules be broken but that they be employed to maximum effect — to force a brokered convention and nominate a conservative candidate who respects the Constitution, or to defeat Mr. Trump in some other way. If Mr. Trump is attracting 40 percent of Republicans, who in turn represent about one-quarter of the country, that is a 10 percent slice of the population — hardly a mantle of legitimacy.
There are some Americans, Democrats in particular, who are happy to watch the Republican Party self-destruct with Mr. Trump at the helm. We cannot share in their equanimity. For one thing, though Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, would be heavily favored, a Trump defeat is far from sure. For another, the country needs two healthy parties and, ideally, a contest of ideas and ideology — not a slugfest of insults and bigotry. Mr. Trump’s emergence already has done grave damage to American civility at home and prestige abroad. The cost of a Trump nomination would be far higher.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump offered what was meant as an argument for his nomination. If he reaches the convention with a lead short of an outright majority, and then fails to win, “I think you’d have riots,” Mr. Trump said. “I think you’d have problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen.”
A democrat disavows violence; a demagogue wields it as a threat. The Republican Party should recognize the difference and act on it before it is too late.