The two major political parties both seem to be on the verge of choosing as their presidential candidate a pathological, sociopathic liar who is obsessed with wealth and power. Yet only one party seems to be in real agony over that possibility.
Donald Trump’s lies are frequent, brazen, and well-documented. That was on display in his recent press conference when he claimed that various Trump-branded businesses are still going strong — except that they aren’t. What he called “Trump water” is produced by another company and merely relabeled for distribution at his resorts. Same thing with the supposed “Trump magazine” he handed out to reporters. My favorite detail is that the “Trump steaks” he touted were conspicuously branded by their actual maker, “Bush Brothers.” I presume that’s a different set of Bush brothers, not Dubya and Jeb. To be fair, the Trump Winery is still in business, but he only bought it in 2012. Give it time.
A British reporter who did an unflattering television special on Trump in the 1990s, and spent years afterward being harassed by him, describes his approach with a bit of British slang that ought to make the leap to America this year: “blagging.” It means bragging by lying about yourself.
Yes, all politicians lie. But Trump does it with a regularity, a brazenness, and a contemptuous indifference to even the appearance of propriety that marks him as more than an ordinary politician. He has the personality of a sociopath, the kind of person who lies for fun or just to keep in practice.
This is one of the things that has fueled the #NeverTrump movement, which as you might have guessed, started on Twitter. It’s a movement of Republicans who vow never to support Trump, even if he wins our party’s nomination. It’s not that we’re purists who don’t understand the idea of voting for the lesser evil. We’ve done that before. But voting for Trump is not a matter of pragmatic calculation. It’s a matter of conscience, and we just can’t bring ourselves to do it.
From that perspective, what I find interesting is that there seems to be no corresponding #NeverHillary movement. If you want to talk about a politician who lies systematically and without compunction, well, do you recognize any of that? So why aren’t Democrats recoiling at their choice, too?
I don’t say that as an excuse to feel superior to Democrats — certainly not in this year, given how a lot of my fellow Republicans are voting. It’s a real question: why aren’t they concerned that they’re about to nominate someone who is actually famous for her aversion to the truth?
In the Museum of Political Lies, there will be a whole wing dedicated to the Clintons. There is already a well-established set of Clinton Rules for dealing with scandals, which were famously summed up as “It’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true, it’s old news.” Deny the scandal repeatedly and vociferously, then accept it as true but dismiss it as irrelevant on the grounds that it has already been thoroughly discussed. Repeat as necessary. Then there’s my personal favorite version of the Clinton Rules. Clinton scandals are never about the Clintons. They’re always about their critics’ weird “obsession” with the Clintons. When I Googled “Maureen Dowd Clinton Rules,” searching for the link above, more than half the results were about Maureen Dowd’s “21-year long campaign against Hillary Clinton,” as Media Matters put it. You see, it’s not about Hillary, it’s about Maureen Dowd — and what’s wrong with her, anyway?
The wider concern with Hillary is the same as with Trump: that her goal is to become the ultimate “crony capitalist,” based on the way the Clintons have already cashed in on their political prominence to the tune of a hundred million dollars. While she campaigns to become the standard-bearer of a populist, anti-capitalist party, Hillary has a history of giving speeches to big Wall Street firms in exchange for fees so absurdly high they only make sense as a version of influence-peddling.
So why aren’t Democrats freaking out and desperately searching for an alternative? To be sure, there may well be Democrats who feel Hillary is unacceptable, but why is it not an existential crisis for their party the way it is for the Republicans?
Well, it is a crisis in a way, and that explains the challenge mounted by Bernie Sanders, who represents what “honesty” looks like in a leader of the contemporary Democratic Party: being an outright socialist. But that also explains why Sanders has not overtaken Clinton. He is correctly viewed as too far out there to be a viable, electable alternative.
Which brings us to the bigger issue: the left is more accustomed than the right to sacrificing scruples for the sake of power — or at least, it is more used to doing it openly. If your ideological goal is greater government control of the economy (and just about everything else), then wielding government power is an indispensable first step. You have to win before you can even discuss what it is you’re going to do with the levers of power. So it’s no surprise that the left has developed whole theories about gaining, keeping, and wielding power. Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” — basically a guideline to dirty tricks, smear tactics, and intimidation — is something that all of the leaders of the left were brought up on. Barack Obama taught these theories as his first job out of college, and a young Hillary Rodham corresponded extensively with Alinsky.
A movement steeped in this power-above-all approach is going to be more inclined to accept a deeply dishonest candidate on the grounds that “he may be an SOB, but at least he’s our SOB.” Or “she,” mutatis mutandis.
But we’re catching up. A lot of people who are backing Trump seem to know on some level that he’s full of it. But they don’t care that he’s an SOB, because they think he’s their SOB. They’re on the verge of accepting a worldview in which there is nothing but a raw scramble for power by strongmen whom we support because they’re on our side, not because of their principles or character.
The whole thing is summed up in leftist protesters disrupting one of Trump’s rallies — and Trump threatening to send his supporters to disrupt Sanders’ rallies. At this rate, we’re going to end up with rival gangs fighting it out in the streets before 2016 is over, sort of like this. With the rise of Trump, we’re all playing by the same rules now, and they’re not the rules of a republic.
But maybe we just have to wait for #NeverHillary. It’s possible that part of the reason most Democrats aren’t in full-blown rebellion against Hillary is because they have so few alternatives. Many Republicans are livid about Trump’s electoral success because we started this election cycle with an abundance of better choices. But after eight years of Obama and a string of Republican victories on the congressional and state levels, Democrats have emptied out their bench, leaving only a handful of senior statesmen (very senior) and not much up-and-coming young talent.
If Trump gets the Republican nomination, Democrats may find that their own aversion to Trump outweighs any qualms they have about Clinton. Heck, that’s true even for some #NeverTrump Republicans, who are contemplating going full Mugwump and voting for Hillary.
But if Republicans somehow manage to head off Trump and deny him the nomination, Democrats will face a moment of choice. They will have to decide whether they want to give the highest office in the land over to a remorseless opportunist. And who knows? That could end up making a big difference.
Let’s hope, for our sake as well as theirs, that we all have a choice about that come November.
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