The coming army of American demagogues

There’s an interesting extract in this Guardian article about the growing civil war in the Republican party, concerning the adoption of Trump’s tactics by aspirant politicians within the party:

Trump’s refusal to support McCain and Ryan comes exactly one week before Ryan faces a primary challenge from the businessman Paul Nehlen, a candidate who has sought to emulate Trump’s rhetoric and policies. Nehlen has branded Ryan “a soulless globalist” and attacked him as the candidate of open borders.""

On Tuesday, Trump praised Nehlen for running “a very good campaign”.

McCain is also facing a primary challenge at the end of August from Kelli Ward, a former Arizona state senator who has accused the 2008 Republican nominee of being “directly responsible for Isis”. If the five-term senator manages to fend off the primary challenge, he still faces a competitive general election against the Democratic representative Ann Kirkpatrick, in what McCain has described as “the race of my life”.

Although Arizona was once solidly Republican, the heavily Latino state is now considered an electoral toss-up because of Trump’s unpredictable effect on candidates whose names follow his own on the ballot. For over a year, McCain has also called on Trump to apologize for saying he prefers “people who weren’t captured” to prisoners of war, like the senator was himself in Vietnam. Trump has not apologized.

Given (a) Trump’s likely sponsorship of them (b) the relative and growing weakness of the party’s elites (c) a general tendency towards the ‘acceleration of bullshit‘, in which awareness of opportunities for advancement circulate more rapidly than was previously the case, I wonder if we’re liable to see a growing army of American demagogues. Perhaps Trump was just the beginning.

4 responses to “The coming army of American demagogues”

  1. I’m an American – living and working on my Ph.D. in Canada. I’m also an American veteran. Trump(ism) is an epoch in something greater. In 2008, I saw the rise of the Tea Party, and Sarah Palin. Palin was popular, and indicative of something greater that I was seeing. Palin however, did not have the financing to make a serious run for office. As well, the Republicans (including John McCain, who Palin was running with) marginalized her, which only enflamed her base.

    Trump isn’t that far away from Palin ideologically. If you look at their speeches & declarations, they are very similar. It is not “Trump’s tactics.” It is the Tea Party’s tactics. Due to the “Palin factor” and the Tea Party movement, I view Trump as a representative agent of the people that are supporting him. If it wasn’t Palin, then it was going to be someone else (Trump). If it wasn’t Trump, it was going to be someone else. Trump wasn’t the beginning – Palin was the beginning. And if Trump wasn’t the beginning, considering his popularity not just in Arizona, but from coast to coast, he may well not be the end.

    In other words, Trump is a symbol for something much greater in American society, that is (as an American veteran who also happens to do sociology) quite frightening. Norms and values that used to be uniquely American are disappearing or transforming with each news cycle (the Khan affair, especially). Political structures that were supposed to be impervious to authoritarianism are under threat (the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that the military will refuse to carry out the President’s orders if Trump is elected, a constitutional crisis in congress with the Russian connection is being whispered, etc).

    So wondering if there were any backings to these thought I had, if this is indeed a greater social problem, I stumbled upon this Vox article, outlining some research that some political scientists at Vanderbilt University and the University of Massachusetts have done. They found almost the same conclusion independently of each other – that this is a greater social problem that has been bubbling up for some time. The Vanderbilt professors (it turns out) predicted the rise of Trump based solely on survey data in 2009.

    This is not the end – this is just the beginning, unfortunately.

  2. I find that very plausible. Have you read Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire though? I think there’s an interesting counter argument in there & that he’d draw a much sharper distinction between them.

  3. I have not read the book – except for your snippets that you post from time to time, which I find very interesting. I’ve added it to my “to read” list as soon as I get through my current readings.

    I would agree that there is a distinction beyond just the money between Palin & Trump. But I also think about who started the Tea Party movement, for which Palin and Trump so advocate for: a commodities trader (followed by other commodities traders) on the Chicago Board of Exchange going on a rant on TV about bailing out homeless “losers” in the 2008 melee. Then I think about Angela Merkel telling the European Commission that countries hit by market failures would have to “clean up their own sh*t.” In the 2012 election, the GOP & Tea Party was always comparing the U.S. to Greece; as if to take Merkel’s words to heart.

    Wolfgang Streeck’s (2014) “Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism” makes a strong case that neoliberalism was culturally embedded by the end of the 1970s. Philip Mirowski (2014) “Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste” makes a similar case – though he doesn’t give a date/year.

    This plugs right into my work on neoliberalism as a social movement with inequality as one (of many) specific goals. Either society drank the neoliberal Kool Aid, or society was looking for a representative to offer up their own Kool Aid – which they found first in Palin, and then in Trump. 40 years of neoliberal onslaught (including the intergenerational socialization of Kool Aid drinkers) leans me to the latter – though with reservations.

    I think America’s brush with fascism is something us Sociologists are going to be digging into for decades to come.

  4. Interesting, I hadn’t made that connection but I totally see what you mean about Streeck’s book. He was talking in such speculative terms that it didn’t leave me with any real idea about what the social domination of the liberal market over social democracy would look like. But I’m sure the Tea Party then Trumpism could be productively read in this way.

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