Tag Archives: strategy

Fear Itself

Paul Krugman’s column on August 24th really, really hit the proverbial nail on the head.  It was titled “QAnon is Trump’s Last, Best Chance,” and it homed in on the nature of the snake oil that Trump and the GOP are peddling.

Last week’s Democratic National Convention was mainly about decency — about portraying Joe Biden and his party as good people who will do their best to heal a nation afflicted by a pandemic and a depression. There were plenty of dire warnings about the threat of Trumpism; there was frank acknowledgment of the toll taken by disease and unemployment; but on the whole the message was surprisingly upbeat.

This week’s Republican National Convention, by contrast, however positive its official theme, is going to be QAnon all the way.

I don’t mean that there will be featured speeches claiming that Donald Trump is protecting us from an imaginary cabal of liberal pedophiles, although anything is possible. But it’s safe to predict that the next few days will be filled with QAnon-type warnings about terrible events that aren’t actually happening and evil conspiracies that don’t actually exist.

Think about that last line: terrible events that aren’t actually happening and evil conspiracies that don’t actually exist. Inculcating fear–of Black people, Jews, immigrants, socialists–has been a Republican staple since Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” but until recently, it was only a portion of that strategy.

Now, the once-Grand-old-Party has nothing else.

As Krugman points out, the messaging employed by this administration has focused on efforts to panic Americans over nonexistent threats.

If you get your information from administration officials or Fox News, you probably believe that millions of undocumented immigrants cast fraudulent votes, even though actual voter fraud hardly ever happens; that Black Lives Matter protests, which with some exceptions have been remarkably nonviolent, have turned major cities into smoking ruins; and more.

It has been a constant barrage of Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts.”

Krugman says that much of this focus on imaginary threats is a defense mechanism from people who have no clue how to do policy, or to cope with real threats.

Covid-19, of course, has been the. all-too-visible example of that inability. In the face of massive American deaths, Trump has offered quack remedies (drink bleach!), and little else other than blaming China. and denying the severity and extent of the pandemic.

Trump, in other words, can’t devise policies that respond to the nation’s actual needs, nor is he willing to listen to those who can. He won’t even try. And at some level both he and those around him seem aware of his basic inadequacy for the job of being president.

What he and they can do, however, is conjure up imaginary threats that play into his supporters’ prejudices, coupled with conspiracy theories that resonate with their fear and envy of know-it-all “elites.” QAnon is only the most ludicrous example of this genre, all of which portrays Trump as the hero defending us from invisible evil.

If all of this sounds crazy, that’s because it is. And it’s almost certainly not a political tactic that can win over a majority of American voters.

Trump’s base is terrified. They are afraid most of all of demographic change, of losing their white, Christian, masculine privilege, but they are also deeply uncomfortable with the increasing ambiguities of modern life. They  want desperately to “return” to a world that never was.

Real-world policies–the kind that would appear in a party platform, or be embraced by competent grownups–can’t soothe those fears. The Republican Party has retreated to the only thing it has left: fantasy.

So they are ramping up the fear and telling us “those people” are to blame.

Picturing Resistance

I would not have expected to find a manifesto for resistance to Donald Trump on Rooflines, a wonky publication of the National Housing Institute.

But there it was. With a reference to Gandhi, no less.

“Public opinion alone can keep a society pure and healthy.” – Gandhi

Gandhi believed in people—all people. He believed that everyday people both in India and England would reject colonialism if they really understood it. Gandhi’s civil disobedience, built on this faith, was carefully calculated to hold up a mirror to show people (on both sides) the true face of British colonialism. Rather than confront the superior British military, Ghandi won independence by changing public opinion.

Seen from Gandhi’s point of view, Donald Trump is a gift.

The critical problem the author identifies is a lack of public awareness. When large numbers of Americans don’t see injustices and corruption, when we are unaware of the fault-lines in our society, the result is apathy. History confirms the insight: it wasn’t until television brought images of vicious dogs being loosed upon peaceful demonstrators that public opinion coalesced behind civil rights; it wasn’t until that same television brought the Viet Nam war into American living rooms that support for the war decisively turned. It wasn’t until ubiquitous cell-phone cameras documented police misconduct that calls for better training and appropriate disciplinary action became too numerous to ignore.

Trump is the face that America has been hiding since the 1970s. It is almost impossible to fight an invisible enemy, but with the enemy out in the open, we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pick the kinds of fights that permanently change people’s hearts and minds and fundamentally alter what is politically possible…A majority of American adults (96 percent) believe in equal rights for women, and 87 percent have a personal relationship with someone who is gay. I don’t believe that the vast majority of Americans will let people be pushed back into the closet—if they manage to notice it happening. Given a clear choice, they won’t allow Muslims to be targeted or immigrant families divided.

The post makes the obvious point that as long as the people who voted for Trump continue to support him, Congress won’t stop him. The only strategy that will work is a strategy that will change public opinion–and that will require a unified effort by the various groups now working to protect everything from the environment to reproductive rights to fair housing laws.

If we fight for our separate issues separately, we have no chance of penetrating anyone’s media bubble or changing anyone’s mind. But if we stand together we can draw clear lines in the sand that highlight (sometimes symbolically) the choice we are facing about what kind of country to be. And if we draw the lines in the right places, when Trump crosses them, the American people will stand with us—and they will remember that choice for generations.

I would add two observations: first, those of us who are opposed to–and terrified by–Trump and Ryan and McConnell begin with a solid lead in that all-important public opinion. Thanks to the archaic Electoral College, Trump will be President, but Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes. The majority of people who are already engaged with the system, the people who have been paying attention, are with us. Our task is to engage those who have been passive, inattentive and oblivious.

Second, history and political psychology (and more recently social media) teach us how to engage those people. It isn’t through graphs, or philosophical arguments, or blogs like the one I’ve quoted. It isn’t even through exposes of Trump’s conflicts of interest, sexual assault history and corrupt practices. It isn’t through blogs like mine. It’s through stories. Pictures. Videos. The effects of Trumpism on our neighbors and friends. We need to support good journalism that tells those human stories, that brings individual examples of injustice and self-dealing out of obscurity and into the light.

We need a constant stream of stories illuminating the human toll of Trump’s appeal to the racist, mysogynistic, xenophobic underside of American society, stories illustrating the effects of policies that ravage the environment, benefit the plutocrats and crush the hardworking poor.

Sometimes, you have to paint a picture. This is one of those times.

Absence of Strategy

Eugene Robinson makes a point that many political junkies are pondering:

Romney has spent the better part of a decade running for president. Did it never occur to him that if he ever won the Republican nomination, surely there would come a time when he was under pressure to release multiple years’ worth of tax returns? Did he think everyone would forget that it was his own father, George Romney, who set the modern standard for financial disclosure? Did he not recall that when he was being considered for the vice presidential nod four years ago, he furnished tax returns spanning more than two decades to the John McCain campaign?

There are two parts to this puzzle. One, of course, is the tantalizing question of what is in those tax returns? The general conclusion at this point is that it must be something really damaging, else why would Romney prefer being criticized for lack of transparency rather than incur whatever criticisms would follow disclosure.

The second part of the puzzle is actually more damaging. As Robinson notes, Romney has been running for President for what seems like forever–surely he and his campaign staff knew he’d be asked to provide tax information that has become a routine and expected part of candidate disclosures. In the decade he’s been running, he surely could have tailored his taxes so as to avoid major issues when they were ultimately made public. This lack of foresight is ultimately more troubling than whatever tax avoidance or other issue might emerge from disclosure of his tax returns.

Among the qualifications for the nation’s highest office, an ability to think strategically–to see the likely long-term consequences of a course of action, and plan accordingly–is vitally important.

If a candidate can’t even think ahead sufficiently to act in his own self-interest, how can we trust him to steer a course for the country?