An occasional series on the new nationalists – dingoes and drongos like Trump, Farage, and Bernardi – and other Oz twerps.
The New Yorker opines
Has it occurred to you that the Executive Order banning Muslims was not addressed on its face to Muslims because that would have made it too difficult to enforce at the border – as well as being difficult to defend in court? ‘I see that you come from Iran and you are wearing a tea towel. May I take it that you are a Muslim?’ ‘No you may not. I’m Catholic and proud of it.’ It could have got very tricky at the airports.
Well, as best I can see, no one before the Ninth Circuit argued that the ban was not a Muslim ban because it did not extend to all Muslims – a proposition of profound inanity embraced by a Harvard professor. So, the President and his disjointed team are closeted trying to develop a lawful order, while abusing the judges that have made them do so. It is taking them a lot longer than the President thought or wanted. Government is hard. Campaigning is so easy – and oh so good for the ego. So, after just four weeks, Trump stopped governing and took off to campaign again, and just to feel the love.
Well, that statement might obscure the truth. The whole life of Trump is a campaign. He may even have said so himself – in which case we could chalk it up as a rare true Trump statement. Trump doesn’t just thrive on conflict – he lives on it. His whole life revolves around two points – the mirror and his enemies. During the campaign, he had Hillary Clinton as an enemy, and one made for him in heaven. Now that Hillary’s gone, he has to find new enemies. He’s got plenty – the press, the security services, the judiciary, and doubtless there will be more to come.
Trump is apparently still carrying his supporters. If they think that this intellectually crippled thug is delivering good government they are quite mad. He is in truth carrying on his campaign for the benefit of his ego and to satisfy the delusions of about one third of the American people. That is not what they elect presidents to do. It is hard to think of a time when the nation has been more divided against itself since the time that Abraham Lincoln took office. Nor does it seem to be an essentially American notion that the government should be carried on by and for the nation’s losers.
Although most people that Trump has appointed to government appear to be either billionaires or generals, and the awful Bannon is a quintessential member of the Establishment, some silly people still want to talk about the elite. If you wanted to describe a member of that curious body, you could say that it was a person who gets The New Yorker, the snooty East Coast liberal journal of letters that I have been getting for nearly forty years. It has been in mourning since the election, but it has now spoken, and it has done so in terms written by Adam Gopnik that I wish to set out here at length.
The human capacity for hatred is terrifying in its volatility…… Americans have a hard time internalising that truth, but the first days of the Trump Administration have helped bring it home.
Within two weeks of the Inauguration, the hysterical hyperventilators have come to seem more prescient in their fear of incipient autocratic fanaticism than the reassuring pooh-poohers. There’s a simple reason for this: the hyperventilators often read history. Regimes with an authoritarian ideology and a boss man on top always bend toward the extreme edge, because their only organisational principle is loyalty to the capo. Since the capo can be placated only by uncritical praise, the most fanatic of his lieutenants end up calling the shots. Loyalty to the boss is demonstrated by hatred directed against his enemies.
Yet what perhaps no one could have entirely predicted was the special cocktail of oafish incompetence and radical anti-Americanism that President Trump’s Administration has brought. This combination has produced a new note in our public life: chaotic cruelty. The immigration crisis may abate, but it has already shown the power of government to act arbitrarily overnight – sundering families, upending long-set expectations, until all those born as outsiders must imagine themselves here only on sufferance of a senior White House counsellor.
Some choose to find comfort in the belief that the incompetence will undermine the anti-Americanism. Don’t bet on it. Autocratic regimes with a demagogic bent are nearly always inefficient, because they cannot create and extend the network of delegated trust that is essential to making any organisation work smoothly. The chaos is characteristic. Whether by instinct or by intention, it benefits the regime, whose goal is to create an overwhelming feeling of shared helplessness in the population at large: we will detain you and take away your green card – or, no, now we won’t take away your green card, but we will hold you here, and we may let you go, or we may not.
This is radical anti-Americanism – not simply illiberalism or anti- cosmopolitanism – because America is not only a nation but also an idea, cleanly if not tightly defined. Pluralism is not a secondary or a decorative aspect of that idea. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, the guarantee of religious liberty lies in having many kinds of faiths, and the guarantee of civil liberty lies in having many kinds of people – in establishing a ‘multiplicity of interests’ to go along with a ‘multiplicity of sects’. The idea doesn’t reflect a ‘weak’ desire for niceness. It is, instead, intended to counter the brutal logic of the playground. When there are many kinds of bullied kids, they can unite against the bully: ‘Even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves.’
There is an alternative view, one long available and articulated, that America is not an idea but an ethnicity, that of the white Christian men who have dominated it, granting a grudging or probationary acceptance to women, or blacks, or immigrants. This was the view of Huck Finn’s pap, as he drank himself to death; of General Custer, as he approached Little Big Horn; of Major General Pickett, as he led the charge at Gettysburg. Until now, it has been the vision of those whom Trump would call the losers.
The three figures Mr Gopnik referred to were losers – bad losers. With the Republicans bereft of decency, and the Democrats in disarray, it will be left to the press to carry the torch of civilisation in America. It is of course nearly insane that those who blather on here about western civilisation are the ones who stand up for Trump – but if you wish to be reminded of what fascism looks like, turn on Fox News. You may only last thirty seconds, as I did last night, when I was told that the American press had betrayed the first Amendment by declaring war on the President of the United States. I had just finished reading Nineteen Eighty-Four for the third time, and the horror slipped easily from fiction to fact. And the minions of the owner of Fox News want a licence here to offend and insult people on the ground of race.
The Executive Order was headed ‘Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States’. It is full of tendentious nonsense of a self–serving nature about 11 September 2001, the perpetrators of which came from Saudi Arabia, which is not on the banned list. The Ninth Circuit asked in vain for evidence that the banned nations were a source of terrorism. According to reports of findings by the Cato Institute referred to in our weekend press, there have not been any terror-related killings of Americans on U S soil committed by nationals of any of the seven countries in the Order since 1975. Since then, there have been three fatal terrorist attacks, all committed by Cubans – and unlikely to have been Muslims! The report I read said that the data showed that the prospects of dying in a terror attack at the hands of a refugee of any religion to be one in 3.64 billion. Gun violence leads to more than 13,000 deaths a year, excluding suicides. That rate is likely to go up under Trump because he is in the pocket of the gun lobby.