Sorry, Folks, but Trump Really Is Different

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Trump is different. Wow—a really big breakthrough discovery, huh? Maybe it is. Some contributors to this discussion seem determined to carry a brief for the Left by proving that Trump is merely the coming home to roost of GOP chickens. His misogyny and racism is “nothing new,” or just the logical conclusion of 40 years or more of GOP rhetoric. As tempted as I am to accept this analysis, I cannot. Something new—or at least, not terribly old—is happening right now. To explain away Trump by citing Willie Horton or Strom Thurmond or something is to choose not to reckon with the evidence of the recent past.  Sure, the GOP made robust use of dog whistles and “coded” language to play on the … [Read more...]

New Right, Far Right, Alt-Right? Donald Trump and the Historiography of Conservatism

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I recently had a conversation with a colleague about the most frequent cause of my current existential dread election and I half-jokingly remarked that Donald Trump’s outlandish candidacy almost made me miss George W. Bush. She laughed and said that Bush had made her feel the same way about Richard Nixon. We both chuckled at the absurdity of the conversation and went on our merry ways. When I got back to my office, however, something didn’t sit well. Did I really just say I missed George W. Bush? The Bush administration was a clear point in my own political and professional development. I was in college during the Iraq War and I started grad school toward the end of Bush’s presidency, all … [Read more...]

Reckoning Trump through a Joan Didion Lens

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“We’re in a new world in terms of the way information flows to the nation,” Chicago Tribune deputy managing editor James Shea noted nearly two decades ago amid accusations that President Bill Clinton had engaged in “sexual relations” with a twentysomething intern. [1] The Columbia Journalism Review bemoaned the rising influence of “journalistic amateurs” and “pretenders” like then-neophytes Arianna Huffington and Matt Drudge. Today, of course, Huffington Post dominates a segment of the punditry market and the Drudge Report pretty much encapsulates the Trump worldview.[2] While Donald Trump’s attempt at misdirection in using Bill Clinton’s sexual controversies remains a smokescreen for his … [Read more...]

There Is a There There: Trump Is Hardly Sui Generis

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I remember almost ten years ago, the normally sagacious Economist commented on the looming 2008 race.  “The smart money is on Hillary,” they declared, remarking sarcastically on the “icy” small talk among Hillary’s lady friends at a tony fundraiser, and warning that an outbreak of Bill’s horn-dog behavior could still upset the Clintons’ especially well-constructed apple cart. [Editor’s note: we thought about going with “eruption” instead of “outbreak,” but decided that either one is queasily connotative when used in the context of William Jefferson Clinton, so… fuck it.] Of course, the good journalists and editors at the Economist could not see the unlikely figure of Barack Hussein Obama … [Read more...]

Is Trump Sui Generis?

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Given Donald Trump's ongoing meltdown, all of this may be moot. But even a catastrophically failed presidential campaign has ramifications that can unfold for years, even decades to come, as well as lessons to teach us about the country. After all, many at the time saw Barry Goldwater's 1964 landslide loss as a fluke; the takeover of a mainstream party by a noisy, right-wing minority supposedly spelled the end of conservatism as a political force in the country. Yet historians now recognize that, even in defeat, Goldwater pointed the way to a major conservative revival. In contrast, Walter Mondale's historic drubbing in 1984 said a great deal about where the Democratic Party was coming from … [Read more...]

Let’s Get Ready for This Nightmare

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Dorothy Parker is said to have commented, “What Fresh Hell is this?” any time someone came to her door. After 234 years of campaigning, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should be used to this response. In fact, by the time of the third presidential debate, this wasn’t even Fresh Hell anymore. This was more like Clearance Sushi at Kroger. Not exactly the same thing as browsing the clearance aisle at Ross or TJ Maxx for nipple clamps. It’s just stale, and disturbing. The debate began with Chris Wallace, son of the great journalist Mike Wallace— a sort of sad, sloughed-off chicken skin who’s the most disappointing sequel since the Star Wars prequels.  Wallace started off by declaring there … [Read more...]

VP Debate 2016: Send in the Clowns!

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Needless to say, somewhere Smokey Robinson is wondering “WTF?” or patting himself on the back for seeing into the future, maybe both. All over the heartland, real clowns are stalking the populace, horrifying rural and inner city populations alike.  The TV mini-series It turned 25 last year, and it’s as if the anniversary served as a dog whistle for a clown resurgence: a nation of Pennywises rising from obscurity. In almost parallel development, this year’s presidential campaign feels like an Edward Hopper painting, Stephen King novel, and three-ring circus all wrapped into one. The GOP debates functioned as a proverbial clown car with an array of insane candidates emerging to grasp an … [Read more...]

Reagan’s 1966 Gubernatorial Campaign Turns 50: California, Conservatism, and Donald Trump

"Reagan for Governor" pins from the David S. Broder Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

On October 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, in an attempt to right a flagging Barry Goldwater campaign, stepped up to a Los Angeles podium and proceeded to address a national television audience. The speech, “A Time for Choosing,” thrust Reagan into the national spotlight. As a spokesperson for General Electric, he’d given the speech hundreds of times to receptive audiences around the country, yet, as historian H.W. Brands argues, no oration in U.S. history “ever did more…to launch a national political career.” Never an office holder, Reagan had never even campaigned for an elected position. He had only been a Republican for two years, having identified with liberal causes for much of his life as a … [Read more...]

No, American Citizenship Is Not Necessarily Inclusive

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The rise of Donald Trump has induced a collective shudder through much of America.  For many, the GOP nominee is jeopardizing our most cherished ideals, a broad and capacious sense of who could be an American citizen, and norms that forbid open and outright expression of racist sentiment. The last Republican president at least had the decency to insist that Islam is a “religion of peace,” however destructive his policies might have been to actual Muslims, at home and abroad. Liberals and more than a few conservatives find themselves saying, This is not us.  This is not the America we know. Michael Gerson recently penned one of the more impassioned statements in this genre, looking aghast … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Digging Joan Didion in the Age of Feelings

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In her review of 2015’s The Last Love Song, Tracy Daugherty’s biography of famed writer Joan Didion, Meghan Daum noted the influence that the California essayist and novelist cast upon many a writer over the years. That The Last Love Song serves as the only biography of Didion, she noted, seemed odd. “Given the number of writers who, especially early in their literary lives, go through a period of Didion-mania intense enough to put most of her vital statistics permanently at their fingertips (the rain-soaked silk curtains in the apartment on 75th Street! the house on Franklin Avenue! the Corvette!),” Daum wrote, “you would think we’d have seen at least as many biographies of her in the past … [Read more...]