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Sunday, March 18, 2018


Trump's MAGA "just us"

by Tom Sullivan

Rush Limbaugh opened his programs during the years of William Jefferson Clinton's presidency with "America Held Hostage: Day (Number of days in Clinton's term)." It was Limbaugh's twisted homage to Ted Koppel's ABC coverage of the Iran hostage crisis over a decade earlier. At the beginning of Clinton's term in 1993, Limbaugh's "The Way Things Ought to Be" was on the New York Times' nonfiction best seller list. It remained there for months.

Clinton was some smarty-pants Oxford scholar with a lawyer wife who brought home more money and refused to stay home baking cookies and holding teas. Even decades after the tumultuous 1960s, for a sizable portion of the population (and Limbaugh's fans) that was not the way things ought to be. Men were supposed to "wear the pants." Women should have dinner ready when their husbands get home. Children were supposed to be seen and not heard. And the Negroes should have been glad whites gave them their own bathrooms and water fountains. The America Limbaugh's fans felt most comfortable in was being held hostage by interlopers from an America they refused to recognize.

Those sentiments largely went underground or ignored in the latter part of the twentieth century, but never really went away. Now the fans of the way things ought to be have an avatar for their world view occupying the White House. Black people got to see themselves reflected in Barack Obama. A certain kind sector of white people sees themselves personified in Donald Trump. Trumpers really ought to relate better now to gay people coming out of the closet. "Trump country" now knows what that feels like.

America as a universal ideal was never universally accepted even by its most vocal boosters. The tensions surrounding the discussion of privilege in this country uncover deep fissures around how things ought to be, who is in charge, and what government is for. MAGA is the way things ought to be reduced to an acronym.

We find ourselves with a chief executive who personifies that, one who believes his office entitles him to use government for his own ends. Donald Trump believes it should serve his interests, bend to his will, benefit his friends, and punish his enemies.

His recent firings express that belief as he draws closer and closer to firing Robert Mueller to finally terminate the Russia investigation. Reports last week that Mueller had subpoenaed Trump Organization records likely fueled the president's rage and paranoia that whatever truths he is desperate to conceal will become public. The firings will continue until the probe stops. Then pause for a time.

The editorial pages today are a flood of reactions to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on the eve of his retirement. John Dowd, Trump's personal attorney, gave up the game in a statement to Daily Beast:

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd then wrote.
Reacting to a Trump tweet I won't republish here, New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin writes, "Every sentence is a lie. Every sentence violates norms established by Presidents of both parties. Every sentence displays the pettiness and the vindictiveness of a man unsuited to the job he holds."

But not only that. Trump puts on display his belief that the rule of law does not apply to him, only to those he wants targeted, writes Jonathan Chait at New York magazine:
All this effort has been expended either in support, or in studiously ignoring the existence, of Trump’s deep-rooted contempt for the rule of law. Whether or not McCabe filled out all the necessary memos when talking to a reporter, how fully the FBI disclosed its source material for its FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page, or any other legal claims upon which Trump’s defenders have rested their case, are beside the point. Trump believes law enforcement should operate for his benefit, punishing his enemies and protecting his friends. He admires strongmen. His contempt for democratic norms is characterological. The notion that his own government would investigate him is as unfathomable to Trump as his being called to the carpet by a Trump Organization secretary. Trump is going to go after Mueller at some point because there is no other way for Trump’s febrile mind to make sense of the world.
Chris Hayes expands on Trump's concept of law and order for the New York Times:
If all that matters when it comes to “law and order” is who is a friend and who is an enemy, and if friends are white and enemies are black or Latino or in the wrong party, then the rhetoric around crime and punishment stops being about justice and is merely about power and corruption.

And this is what “law and order” means: the preservation of a certain social order, not the rule of law. It shouldn’t have taken this long to see what has always been staring us in the face. After all, the last president to focus so intensely on law and order, Richard Nixon, the man who helped usher in mass incarceration, was also the most infamous criminal to occupy the Oval Office. The history of the United States is the story of a struggle between the desire to establish certain universal rights and the countervailing desire to preserve a particular social order.

We are now witnessing a president who wholly embraces the latter. America can have that kind of social order, or it can have justice for all. But it can’t have both.
Perhaps one reason Trump seems to feel such an affinity with Russian President Vladimir Putin is, besides being an authoritarian strongman, what appeal he has is built on being perceived as bringing "modest stability" out of chaos. The Independent reported:
Vladimir Putin’s team has long built electoral appeal on the idea of control and stability. It was a popular offer for a nation dizzied by the demands of post-Soviet upheaval – even though, often, it was more mirage than reality.
Trump promised during his "American carnage" inaugural speech to end the lawless chaos of his own imagining. The sector of Americans who feel their America is in upheaval embraced an unprepared and emotionally unfit leader who promised to bring back the way things ought to be, with them at the apex of the social (if not economic) ladder. It is a fundamentally anachronistic view of a future that resembles the past, and not a past that honors America's best self.

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