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Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Victorious Monster

By David Remnick

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event—and it’s a stretch—is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve.

Early on Election Day, the polls held out cause for concern, but they provided sufficiently promising news for Democrats in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and even Florida that there was every reason to think about celebrating the fulfillment of Seneca Falls, the election of the first woman to the White House. Potential victories in states like Georgia disappeared, little more than a week ago, with the F.B.I. director’s heedless and damaging letter to Congress about reopening his investigation and the reappearance of damaging buzzwords like “e-mails,” “Anthony Weiner,” and “fifteen-year-old girl.” But the odds were still with Hillary Clinton.

All along, Trump seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right. That he has prevailed, that he has won this election, is a crushing blow to the spirit; it is an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine. That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.

In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

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Trump ran his campaign sensing the feeling of dispossession and anxiety among millions of voters—white voters, in the main. And many of those voters—not all, but many—followed Trump because they saw that this slick performer, once a relative cipher when it came to politics, a marginal self-promoting buffoon in the jokescape of eighties and nineties New York, was more than willing to assume their resentments, their fury, their sense of a new world that conspired against their interests. That he was a billionaire of low repute did not dissuade them any more than pro-Brexit voters in Britain were dissuaded by the cynicism of Boris Johnson and so many others. The Democratic electorate might have taken comfort in the fact that the nation had recovered substantially, if unevenly, from the Great Recession in many ways—unemployment is down to 4.9 per cent—but it led them, it led us, to grossly underestimate reality. The Democratic electorate also believed that, with the election of an African-American President and the rise of marriage equality and other such markers, the culture wars were coming to a close. Trump began his campaign declaring Mexican immigrants to be “rapists”; he closed it with an anti-Semitic ad evoking “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; his own behavior made a mockery of the dignity of women and women’s bodies. And, when criticized for any of it, he batted it all away as “political correctness.” Surely such a cruel and retrograde figure could succeed among some voters, but how could he win? Surely, Breitbart News, a site of vile conspiracies, could not become for millions a source of news and mainstream opinion. And yet Trump, who may have set out on his campaign merely as a branding exercise, sooner or later recognized that he could embody and manipulate these dark forces. The fact that “traditional” Republicans, from George H. W. Bush to Mitt Romney, announced their distaste for Trump only seemed to deepen his emotional support.

The commentators, in their attempt to normalize this tragedy, will also find ways to discount the bumbling and destructive behavior of the F.B.I., the malign interference of Russian intelligence, the free pass—the hours of uninterrupted, unmediated coverage of his rallies—provided to Trump by cable television, particularly in the early months of his campaign. We will be asked to count on the stability of American institutions, the tendency of even the most radical politicians to rein themselves in when admitted to office. Liberals will be admonished as smug, disconnected from suffering, as if so many Democratic voters were unacquainted with poverty, struggle, and misfortune. There is no reason to believe this palaver. There is no reason to believe that Trump and his band of associates—Chris Christie, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Pence, and, yes, Paul Ryan—are in any mood to govern as Republicans within the traditional boundaries of decency. Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment. Fascism is not our future—it cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so—but this is surely the way fascism can begin.

Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate but a resilient, intelligent, and competent leader, who never overcame her image among millions of voters as untrustworthy and entitled. Some of this was the result of her ingrown instinct for suspicion, developed over the years after one bogus “scandal” after another. And yet, somehow, no matter how long and committed her earnest public service, she was less trusted than Trump, a flim-flam man who cheated his customers, investors, and contractors; a hollow man whose countless statements and behavior reflect a human being of dismal qualities—greedy, mendacious, and bigoted. His level of egotism is rarely exhibited outside of a clinical environment.

For eight years, the country has lived with Barack Obama as its President. Too often, we tried to diminish the racism and resentment that bubbled under the cyber-surface. But the information loop had been shattered. On Facebook, articles in the traditional, fact-based press look the same as articles from the conspiratorial alt-right media. Spokesmen for the unspeakable now have access to huge audiences. This was the cauldron, with so much misogynistic language, that helped to demean and destroy Clinton. The alt-right press was the purveyor of constant lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories that Trump used as the oxygen of his campaign. Steve Bannon, a pivotal figure at Breitbart, was his propagandist and campaign manager.

It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.

David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992

6 comments:

  1. David Remnick and others like him are responsible for the election toon of Donald Trump. From the empowerment the media has given to Trump by their sensationalist coverage of his campaign to the crowning of Hillary Clinton as the heir apparent to The presidency. Their shameful reverence of Hilary almost a year before the primaries and their neglectful coverage of Bernie Sanders, a decent, Honorable, principled man, who could've actually won the general election virtually guaranteed Trump this victory. The biased media and the corrupt DNC gave us President-elect Trump.
    Now, as you might have guessed, I'm a Bernie fan as you may have guessed, but I'm not naive enough to not see through Trump's rants and outlandish behavior for what it was.
    A big show, put on for all the disenchanted folks tired of the status quo, tired of extreme political correctness. Many of these folks, closet bigots that wanted to blame someone else besides themselves for their life. He spoke fear and loathing while masquerading as someone who had the answers and who cared.
    I'm not worried about a Donald Trump presidency, because in all actuality he is no different than any other person of power and wealth. I would venture to say a good percentage Congress, the Senate and past Presidents were just as flawed. The only difference is, they didn't let the public see it.nThey just lied and kept getting re-sorted. I would venture to say Bill Clinton is much more like Donald Trump than anyone cares to admit. He was just more clever.

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    1. I agree about the press being responsible to elevate Trump into the president's chair. Even though he accused the press later of lying and cheating. LOL. I liked Bernie as well and thought he should have been the candidate for the Dems. But Bernie's program probably came 15-20 years too early. America wasn't ready for it. As long as "socialism" is misunderstood so grossly and mixed with communism, I don't see a chance for the likes of Bernie. The votes which were thrown away on J.Stein and Johnson could have made the difference in this election. Neither of them will have a chance in a hundred years. Middle Class Americans have a hard time to understand the economic implications of having around 45 million poor people in the country. That is almost 50% more than Canada's population which cannot participate in the general economy. They are realy bad consumers and a neglected group. Raising the minimum wage to a livable amount would enable them to become consumers We have partially the same problem in Canada where people struggle to meet ends. Here in Canada we have to watch out for similar developments. It can happen anywhere.

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  2. Here lies the problem;

    Too many people, like you – have an ugly, nasty hateful distasteful inner toxic pool in which you swim in. Ingesting that toxin takes its toll on a person. Read your own blog post aloud, listen to yourself. It is clear you are extremely angry at the results of our country’s election. WHY?

    Many of us American’s are extremely happy and delighted that we have someone who is willing to go to Washington DC and stand up against people who are using and abusing American’s middle class. YES- THAT IS CORRECT. Middle Class American’s have been used and abused by the politicians for far too long and we have had enough. We took matters in our hands and we decided to send Donald J. Trump to Washington DC to DRAIN THAT DAMN SWAMPY POOL OF GREEDY BASTARDS.

    Why did we choose Donald? Because those greedy bastards in Washington DC would not do as WE THE PEOPLE ELECTED THEM TO DO.

    Now – let me ask you… are you willing to come to America and live, work and pay for the damn baby makers, sofa residents, and illegals to have a nice home, great meals, prime health care, BMW’s and Escalades and a life rich with elaborate furnishings? Are you? If so, bring your angry ass over that border and get to work. You can take anyone’s place, as so many of us are friggin tired and wore out from doing it for years and years, in fact for some of us, it’s been our entire adult life.

    You should NEVER condom a man you do not personally know. YOU THINK you know our new president and in fact, all you know is what the news media wanted you to know. There is another side to him, a side that CLEARLY is a good side IF YOU care to find out.

    Let me say this, in OUR COUNTRY we can elect the same man twice. That said, prepare yourself. Perhaps you should seek some mental health care. Sign up now, I know your Country’s healthcare puts you on a waiting list for a quarter of a year or more, but I think in this case, you could be escalated to the top of the list immediately.

    After we have Donald J. Trump serve his 8 years, we will elect his daughter as our first woman President. After her 8 years go service, we will elect Donald J. Trump, JR and have him serve 8 years. Then, we will have Eric Trump serve 8 years. Oh, and then the second woman we can elect will be Tiffany Trump. That would be 48 years of Trump’s.

    Now, if you don’t want to see America elect 6 Trumps, I suggest you get some therapy for your anger and perhaps take some anger management training.

    Life goes on, and maybe you should too. Many of us like our new President so much, we voted him into office to help our Country.

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    1. Wow.. quite a rant you let out. Most of it based on wrongs though. Most importantly I am not feeling anger. I am feelinYou remarks on our health care are falling on bone dry ground. I don't have to have for my doctors appointment. And hey...I don't have to feed a greedy insurane industry like you guys do. I am having $1000+ good every month, which I can use as I please. Work in the U.S.? NEVER would I do that. 10 years ago I might have,,,,but I learned so much in between. Thanks but no thanks. Oh, and did you notice that the above posting was written by an American?

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    2. "You should NEVER condom a man you do not personally know" I'll agree with that he is a condom !! Not my President !! I can say that because we still have free speech,but maybe not in four years.

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