Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Welcome To The Land Of Paranoia — Thanks To Dumbo/Teabaggers & The Lamestream Media

It isn't just amusement park rides or slasher movies. Most viewers of Faux News and its imitators just loved to be scarified (just this side of terrified) on the Thrill-O-Meter. We have militarized our police, gone shoeless in our airports, and listened to Dumbos/Teabaggers utter treason as if it were cherry pie. Tom Enfelhardt becomes Tom Terrific for his willingness to speak truth to folly. If this is a (fair & balanced) rejection of bromides, so be it.

[x The Nation]
The Most Exceptional Thing About America Is Our Paranoia
By Tom Terrific (Tom Engelhardt)

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Given the cluttered landscape of the last 14 years, can you even faintly remember the moment when the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended in a stunned silence of shock and triumph in Washington, Eastern Europe was freed, Germany unified, and the Soviet Union vanished from the face of the Earth? At that epochal moment, six centuries of imperial rivalries ended. Only one mighty power was left.

There hadn’t been a moment like it in historical memory: a single “hyperpower” with a military force beyond compare looming over a planet without rivals. Under the circumstances, what couldn’t Washington hope for? The eternal domination of the Middle East and all that oil? A planetary Pax Americana for generations to come? Why not? After all, not even the Romans and the British at the height of their empires had experienced a world quite like this one.

Now, leap a quarter of a century to the present and note the rising tide of paranoia in this country and the litany of predictions of doom and disaster. Consider the extremity of fear and gloom in the party of Ronald “It’s Morning Again in America” Reagan in what are called “debates” among its presidential candidates, and it’s hard not to imagine that we aren’t at the precipice of the decline and fall of just about everything. The American Century? So much sawdust on the floor of history.

If, however, you look at the country that its top politicians can now hardly mention without defensively wielding the words “exceptional” or “indispensable,” the truly exceptional thing is this: As a great power, the United States still stands alone on planet Earth and Americans can exhibit all the paranoia they want in remarkable safety and security.

Here, then, are three exceptional facts of our moment.


If you were to isolate the single most striking, if little discussed, aspect of American foreign policy in the first 15 years of this century, it might be that Washington’s inability to apply its power successfully just about anywhere confirms that very power; in other words, failure is a marker of success. Let me explain.

In the post-9/11 years, American power in various highly militarized forms has been let loose repeatedly across a vast swath of the planet from the Chinese border to deep in Africa—and nowhere in those 14 years, despite dreams of glory and global dominion, has the United States succeeded in any of its strategic goals. That should qualify as exceptional in itself. After all, what are the odds that, in all that time, nothing should turn out as planned or positively by Washington’s standards? It could not win its war in Afghanistan; nor its two wars, one ongoing, in Iraq; nor has it had success in its present one in Syria; it failed to cow Iran; its intervention in Libya proved catastrophic; its various special ops and drone campaigns in Yemen have led to chaos in that country; and so, as novelist Kurt Vonnegut used to say, it goes.

Though there was much talk in the early years of this century of “nation building” abroad, American power has been able to build nothing. Its effect everywhere has been purely disintegrative (unless you count the creation of a terror “caliphate” in parts of collapsed Syria and Iraq as a non-disintegrative act). Under the pressure of American power, there have been no victories, nor even in any traditional sense successes, while whole countries have collapsed, populations have been uprooted, and peoples put into flight by the millions. No matter how you measure it, American power has, in other words, been a tempest of failure.

Where, then, does success lie? The answer: despite 15 years bouncing from one militaristic disaster to another, can there be any question that, signs of decline or not, the United States remains the uncontested sole superpower of planet Earth? Consider that a testimony to the wealth and strength of the country. In many ways—certainly, in military terms (despite the hue and cry at the recent Republican debates)—there is no power that could or would contest it.

If you listen to the Republicans, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, now seems to stand in almost alone for the former Soviet Union. He and his country are, so Republicans, neocons, and top military figures agree, hands down the country’s greatest enemy, a genuine “existential threat” to the United States. But looked at in a clear-eyed fashion, this monstrous (yet strangely familiar) enemy is in many ways a house of cards. Or put another way, Putin as a leader has managed to do a remarkable amount (much of it grim indeed, from Ukraine to Syria) with remarkably little. To compare him, no less his country, to the former Soviet Union in its heyday is, however, simply a bad joke (except perhaps when it comes to its still superpower-sized nuclear arsenal). He is, in fact, the head of a rickety, embattled energy state at a time when the price of oil seems to be headed for the sub-basement.

As for China, always assumed to be the coming superpower of the later 21st century, don’t count on it. As recent economic events there have reminded us, it’s a country on the edge. Despite more than four “to get rich is glorious” decades and remarkable economic growth, it remains a relatively poor land whose leadership doesn’t know what might happen if, as in any capitalist economy, bubbles were to burst, things went south, and the economy began to tank. Yes, its military budget, though still modest by Pentagon standards, is rising and it’s growing increasingly aggressive in the neighborhood, but its leaders still show no sign of wanting to garrison the planet or become a true military competitor to the United States in anything but the most local terms.

And China aside, a quarter-century after the Soviet Union imploded, there are still no other potential rivals anywhere on Earth, just strapped regional powers of various sorts and, of course, a set of interlinked extremist terror outfits, constantly morphing and growing under the pressure of US bombing runs, special ops raids, and drone assassination campaigns.

No question about it, if you’re a big fan of Washington’s exceptional superpowerdom, the news isn’t exactly cheery. Nothing works the way it did, say, in Iran in 1953 when the CIA-instigated a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government and put its own man on the Peacock Throne. There, it took 26 years for blowback to occur and the shah to flee. In 2015, it seems to take only 26 days or maybe 26 minutes.

Still, the good news is that, however crippled US power may be in practice, like the cheese of nursery rhyme fame, it still stands alone. How exceptional is that?


Think of exceptional fact two as the don’t-believe-your-ears one. In the post-9/11 era, a national security and global surveillance state of historic proportions has been built and funded on one proposition: that without its 17 intelligence agencies, the Homeland Security Department, and the military, as well as a spreading penumbra of secrecy and classification (that is, its ability not to let citizens know much of anything about what’s being done in their name), the American people would be in almost unimaginable danger from a single phenomenon, “terrorism” (with the adjective “Muslim” or “Islamic” implied if not tacked on).

With its talk over the years of sleeper cells, lone wolves, and plots to kill Americans, this message has been a constant of our world. As the handcuffing and arrest of a ninth grader in Irving, Texas, for bringing a clock he cobbled together to school shows, it’s now in the American bloodstream. It’s also provided the largely unquestioned rationale for the growth of secretive agencies of every sort, for the careers of a vast range of top officials, for the extraordinary powers granted to what is increasingly a secretive state within a state (as the US military now has a secret military of ever expanding proportions in its midst). Were it to be put in doubt, that state and much else might be put in doubt, too. A great deal depends on news of and alarms about endless possible terror plots, which often turn out to have been promoted or instigated by FBI informants.

The message manifests itself in a kind of hysteria over possible future plots, claims (largely unsubstantiated or untrue) of past ones that were broken up by agencies of the national security state, and endless stories about how the Islamic State is using the Internet to rouse individuals in this country to commit mayhem here.

And yet—exceptional fact two—despite 9/11, the record clearly indicates that Americans are in next to no danger. If you’re living in Baghdad, the possibility of terror attacks couldn’t be more real or horrific. If you’re living in Irving, Texas, Toledo, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or even New York City, they are close to nil. A country bounded by two oceans and friendly neighbors remains a formula for security, with no credit whatsoever to the national security state. In few places on the planet is anyone likelier to be safer when it comes to Islamic terror attacks than this one. It is, of course, quite true that the United States has helped spread insecurity and fear in significant areas of the world. It is also true that even Europe is no longer untouched by that insecurity and by violence. In this way, too, it could be said that the United States stands alone (not that you would know it living inside the American terrordome).

Let me, then, offer anyone reading this a practical guarantee. You will not be killed in the continental United States by an Islamic terrorist or someone in sympathy with the Islamic State—or rather your chances of that happening are infinitesimally small. The odds of almost anything else disastrous happening to you, no matter how obscure, is at least as great, and in almost every case staggeringly greater, including being crushed beneath falling furniture, shot by a tot who has found a stray loaded weapon, murdered in a mass-killing incident (not by a terrorist), struck by lightning (or done in by weather events of almost any sort), knocked off by food poisoning, or killed in your own car.

As has always been true—the British burning of Washington in 1814, Pearl Harbor in 1941, and 9/11 being the exceptions—the United States has been a remarkably protected place (except, of course, when it came to internal strife of various sorts). That sense of invulnerability explains why the 9/11 attacks had an impact beyond compare, and why it was so easy to build a vast structure meant to oversee the “homeland” in all sorts of historically intrusive ways.

The other side of this—consider it exceptional fact two-and-a-half—is that, at this point, American taxpayers have invested trillions of dollars in what can only be called a scam.


Given exceptional facts one and two, what could be more exceptional than significant numbers of Americans living in a fear-based culture of victimhood laced with paranoia and extremism that seems to have captured one of the two major political parties?

In it, Americans are always at the mercy of the evil doers everywhere, including those distinctly in our midst with mayhem in mind. Our military is an under financed wreck, our Navy practically a set of dinghies, a Muslim is even in the White House, a malign climate-change movement is eager to destroy capitalism as we know it, women’s bodies are enough of a danger to shut the government down, immigrants are potential terrorists or rapists, and so on and so forth through a litany of strangely woven fantasies and factoids.

This mood was highlighted in the media recently after a man at a Donald Trump rally in New Hampshire in the wake of the second Republican debate rose in a question period and said, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one—you know he’s not even an American. But anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?” Media coverage generally focused on the presidential or “birther” part of the man’s statement, ignoring those fantasy “training camps” for terrorists allegedly here in the USA. Largely ignored as well were the two other audience members called on by Trump who were no less bizarre. The first, a man, said, “I applaud the gentleman who stood and said Obama is a Muslim born abroad and about the military camps, everyone knows that.” (“Right,” Trump responded and moved on.)

The second, a woman, according to The Hill, “told him that there is a ‘new holocaust’ in New Hampshire and that people are being loaded into boxcars and beheaded by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ‘I just wanted you to know that.’”

Consider it a small, off-center measure of the sense of fear, persecution, and fantasy now embedded in what’s often referred to as the Republican “base.” Such paranoia is, of course, nothing new in this country, particularly in moments of economic stress. Still, given the years of fear mongering since 9/11 and the building up of a right-wing media universe that’s both echo chamber and megaphone, this is dangerous stuff. And we’re not talking about just a weird set of fringe lunatics here. After all, as The Washington Post reported recently, “54 percent of Trump supporters and some 43 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim.”

In this context, while the US military pursues its failing wars, interventions, and raids abroad, while the national security state develops ever more mechanisms for snooping, surveilling, and controlling populaces at home (as in the recent essentially unprecedented security lockdowns of major American cities “for” the pope), many of the country’s citizens are increasingly living inside a fact-challenged fantasy of a country, a victimized superpower. Boogiemen lurk around every corner, as do high crimes and dark conspiracies, and any sense of responsibility for what the United States has done in the world in these last years is missing in action.

In the meantime, we live on an increasingly disturbed planet in which the basics of drought, fire and flood, melting and freezing, are gaining new meaning, in which power seems not to be expressing or displaying itself in the normal, reasonably predictable ways. The sun may be setting, albeit slowly indeed, on American imperial power, but perhaps it is also setting on imperial power as we’ve known it. And if so, that would truly be exceptional. Ω

[Tom Engelhardt created and runs the website, a project of The Nation Institute of which he is a Fellow. Tomdispatch is intended to introduce readers to voices and perspectives from elsewhere. Its mission is to connect some of the global dots regularly left unconnected by the mainstream media and to offer a clearer sense of how this imperial globe of ours actually works. Engelhardt received a BA (history) from Yale University and an MA (East Asian Studies) from Harvard University.]

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Q. What Is Light As Air, Stronger Than Whisky, And Cheap As Dirt? — A. The Devil's Rope

The immigration crisis in Hungary prompted a meditation on razor wire (the ultimate barbed wire) as the Hungarian government resorted to hostile fences to stem the tide of migrants entering southern Europe. Leave it to a historian to tell you more about barbed wire than you ever wanted to know. If this is (fair & balanced) analysis of barbarity, so be it.

[x Boston Fishwrap/Ideas]
The Tangled History Of Barbed Wire
By Robert Zaretsky

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Earlier this month, the Hungarian government, scrambling to seal its southern border against the influx of North African and Middle Eastern refugees trying to reach Germany, placed a bid for 10,000 rolls of razor wire. Though the deal was worth hundreds of thousands of euros, a German manufacturer, Mutanox, wouldn’t sell to the Hungarians. “Razor wire is designed to prevent criminal acts, like a burglary,” explained the company spokesman. “Fleeing children and adults are not criminals.”

Had you doubts about the cunning of history, lay them to rest. From Germany’s welcoming of refugees to its outrage at Hungary’s violent efforts to stop them, the country that, 75 years ago, made barbed wire into the symbol of man’s inhumanity to man has done much to overcome its past.

Yet, the Mutanox spokesman did not fully uncoil the history of barbed wire. Contrary to his claim, one of the hallmarks of our age is that fleeing children and adults have often been considered criminals. Entire peoples, by dint of their race, religion, or social class, have been judged as standing outside either the law or humanity. Stretching between them and us, figuratively and literally, has been barbed wire, whose history tells us much about the plight of today’s refugees.

Like inventors from Joseph Guillotin to Alfred Nobel, whose creations escaped their original purpose and were yoked to evil ends, Joseph Glidden would have been shocked at what became of his. In 1874, the Illinois farmer and New Hampshire native, fastening sharpened metal knots along thick threads of steel, created barbed wire. Thanks to its high resilience and low cost, the rapid installation of the coils and lasting dissuasion of the barbs, the wire transformed the American West. Ranchers could protect their cattle against predators, both wild and human, as they pushed the frontier ever further west. The wire itself came to be called “devil’s rope.”

The results were deep and lasting. As Dempsey Rae, the scarred cowboy played by Kirk Douglas in “Man Without a Star,” declared about the wire: “I don’t like it or the people who use it.” More real and tragic than disgruntled cowboys intent on their freedom, however, was the fate of the Native Americans. They were not jailed behind barbed wire outright, but the Dawes Act allowed all “excess” land not claimed by individual Native Americans to be sold to ranchers, who immediately enclosed their lands with barbed wire, thus crippling the traditional migration and hunting patterns of the tribes. But as the world discovered quickly, they were not the last.

Scarcely a decade later, the Boer War, fought between the British Army and Dutch settlers in South Africa, revealed the striking military uses of Glidden’s invention. The British stretched hundreds of miles of wire, punctuated by guardhouses, along their rail lines to shield them against Boer attacks. By dicing and slicing the African veld with wire, the British made a great advance in the long struggle to prevent the movement of animals or fellow human beings over land we claimed as ours.

Not coincidentally, South Africa was also the birthplace of the modern concentration camp — the demarcation of space by barbed wire, but this time to keep people in and not out. When the British rounded up families from their farms and villages to throttle support, material and logistical, for the commandos, they needed to build camps for the civilians as quickly and cheaply as possible. Barbed wire was as versatile as duct tape: ideal for a thousand different emergencies, only all of them far more insidious. The British turned to barbed wire to serve as the walls for the camps where the civilians were relocated. Though they soon became breeding grounds for disease and despair, these camps, were devoted to the control, not demolition of a people. Nevertheless they gave not only a name, but also a blueprint to the camps that erupted across the European continent in the decades to come.

Before the camps, though, came the trenches. Barbed wire frames the lunar landscape of World War I.

Oddly, Kirk Douglas again serves as our guide. Just as he is scarred and defeated by barbed wire in “Man Without a Star,” in “Paths of Glory” he must submit to it as Colonel Dax, ordered to attack an impregnable German gun position. To respond to the unprecedented situation on the Western Front, where the usual war of movement had coagulated into a static line stretching from the English Channel to Switzerland, barbed wire was heaven-sent. Or, more accurately, US Steel sent. The company produced nearly 3 million miles of barbed wire during World War I.

It was a cheap, rapid, and effective means to stop the movement of large forces of men bent on your destruction. When combined with another recent invention, the machine gun, barbed wire became more imposing than the largest fort or cannon. As advancing soldiers on both sides quickly discovered, the massive bombardments that preceded their attacks might have leveled a fortress, but was mostly useless against barbed wire.

Had he starred in a movie about the Holocaust, Douglas would have hit modernity’s trifecta, completing a kind of barbed wire trilogy. Barbed wire, an accessory to earlier wars, stars in WWII. The French philosopher Olivier Razac observes that when we see a photo of barbed wire, we tend not to associate it with prairies or trenches, the American West in the 19th century or European West in the early 20th century. Instead, we reflexively associate it with the European East — baptized the “bloodlands” by historian Timothy Snyder — and the death camps to which they were home.

How could it be otherwise? Imagining himself back at Auschwitz, Primo Levi gazed at our everyday moral world. How much of it, he wondered, “could survive on this side of the barbed wire.” Not much, we learned. How extraordinary that so simple a thing — a bit of sharpness suspended in air — could carry such tremendous meaning. Yet come the Holocaust, as the philosopher Reviel Netz observes, barbed wire embodied the asymmetry between an all-powerful state and utterly powerless mass of people. In a sense, “the concentration camp system was a recapitulation of the animal industry, now a human industry . . . bringing the ecology of flesh and iron in the age of barbed wire to its culmination.”

As history since Auschwitz reveals, barbed wire is the infernal gift that keeps giving. From Siberia to Srebrenica, Glidden’s invention proved its functional and symbolic resilience, one that now inescapably shapes our understanding of today’s refugee crisis. A day hardly passes that a front page or magazine cover does not frame a photo of migrants from Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea, pressed against barbed wire barriers along Europe’s frontiers. Familiar with the iconic shots of the Bergen-Belsen or Bosnian camps, we might tell ourselves that the photos of today’s migrants are somewhat misleading. These men, women, and children are not, strictly speaking, penned in concentration camps, much less death camps.

But that is strictly speaking. It does not take a great stretch of moral imagination to portray great swaths of North Africa and the Middle East as one vast concentration camp. It is a region where suffering, disease, and despair are the rule — a camp whose walls of barbed wire have been strung up not by the failing and murderous governments inside, but rather by us along its edges. The barbed wire fences uncoiling in France and Hungary, Italy and Greece are not keeping undesirable elements outside of Europe. Instead, they are keeping those same elements inside zones where death, not life, is commonplace.

From the concentration camps of South Africa to the death camps of Nazi Germany, from the trenches of northern France to the tundra of eastern Russia, the collective memory of the 20th century has a texture. It is one as hard and cold as steel — wiry steel punctuated with razor-sharp knots — now stretching into this still new century. Primo Levi asked how long our moral world would last inside the fences of Auschwitz? As refugees continue to flee to Europe, the question needs to be inverted: How long can our moral world survive as we stand and watch them from outside the barbed wire? Ω

[Robert Zaretsky is a professor of history at the University of Houston and the author, most recently, of Boswell’s Enlightenment (2015). Zaretsky received a BA (philosophy) from McGill University, an MA (history) from the University of Vermont, and a PhD (history) from the University of Virginia.]

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Today, Tom Tomorrow Hits It Outta The Park

Today's 'toon by Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) is an all-time evisceration of Dumbos/Teabaggers wherever they are. Both words and pictures have never been truer. If this is a (fair & balanced) portrayal of mass insanity, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Fear Factory
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2015 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Does Congress Needs A New Chaplain? Tip: The Vatican Has An Excellent Prospect

This blogger (obviously from all of the irreverent preambulatory chatter that opens each post) is not a spiritual person. However, what if Pope Francis could return and hold individual audiences with all of the Dumbos/Teabaggers in both houses of Congress? Taking the lead of Captain Orange (Speaker Boner), every last one of those loons would resign their seats and return to the rocks that previously covered them. Then (be still, my heart), we will have a Dumbo/Teabagger-free Congress. So, in tribute to the power of Pope Francis in influencing Captain Orange to go away, today's blog post brings Eags' tribute to his spiritual leader. If this is a (fair & balanced) secular collect, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
A Francis Effect For A Broken System
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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The petty, the partisan, the hateful fell away — most of it. The bickering, the backbiting, the treachery was tamed — for now. No one shouted “You lie!” The powerful were made to look powerless. Words were used to uplift instead of to wound.

When the People’s House beheld the people’s pope on Thursday, it was historic for the deed itself, church meeting state in a secular democracy. But you can hope that it becomes historic for what may follow. You can hope. For a moment, a morning, a day and maybe more, a broken political system felt the soft diplomatic breeze of the Francis Effect.

A pope who took the name of a pauper said money should serve the common good, and he said this in a place where money mostly serves the well-connected.

A son of immigrants reminded a nation of immigrants not to hate those who seek a better life in a new country.

A lover of the land implored the land of the free to protect and restore its great natural bounty, a common home imperiled by human excess.

And John Boehner wept. Yes, the speaker of the House can be brought to tears by a beer ad, but in the spirit of the occasion, let’s take his emotion as evidence that the words of an old man speaking halting English will live for some time.

To see your political views validated, or opposed, by the vicar of Christ is to miss the point of what he said before Congress. The challenge is not to view his remarks as left or right, a yard gained or lost in a ceaseless struggle. For what is political, or even controversial, about asking people to be more openhearted, to see dignity in the forgotten and the passed over?

At its core, the pope’s message was how to live a life and share a planet. Simple. He didn’t scold, and he didn’t lecture. The professional calling for those people in the room, he said, did not have to be ruled by base elements, their principles owned by the highest bidders: “Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good.”

It’s been a looooooooooong time since this Congress did anything for the common good. Republicans, who run the place, may well bring the government to a halt, in just a few days. Their ranks are stuffed with politicians who think, just after the warmest summer on record, that climate change is a hoax, and that immigrants should be harassed and herded away.

But consider what the Francis Effect has done so far. Cuba and the United States, after a half-century freeze, have opened doors to each other, at the nudging of the pope. While the great cathedrals of Europe are still largely empty of worshipers, Francis has prompted many a lapsed Catholic to take a second look. A church that was identified with concealing sexual abuse, a very stratified version of organized crime, and scorning of those living nontraditional lives, is presenting a far different face in the forgiving smile of Pope Francis. Instead of being known for what it’s against, the church is showing what it’s for.

What’s more, Francis has gone well beyond church concerns to reach for something universal. In his framing before Congress, the golden rule sounded fresh, and much needed in that chamber. The words of the most famous of Americans, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., never sounded more powerful than when uttered by a pope speaking a language that is not his own.

He wasn’t talking about financial gain when he said, “I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of dreams.”

So what is political about the task of maintaining a livable planet for future generations? “I am convinced that we can make a difference,” said Francis, on climate change. “Now is the time for courageous action and strategies aimed at implementing a culture of care.”

And what is partisan about appealing to the common story of every American but the Native Americans? “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”

It was stirring, also, to hear the head of a church that once killed infidels warning against murder in the name of God, the scourge now of the Middle East. “A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of religion, an ideology or an economic system,” he said. “But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil.”

After he was done, and the weight of his words hung in that chamber of frequent discontent, Francis went to see the homeless in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth. He was following the words of his namesake, Francis of Assisi, to “preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words.” Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Butcher Is Back — With A Sharp Cleaver!!!

It's been a while since The Butcher splattered blood in this blog. The Butcher — by the way — is Frank Rich, a former theater critic in the NY Fishwrap who was known as "The Butcher on Broadway" for his reviews of newly opened productions. Thanks to The Butcher, many Broadway plays quickly disappeared from The Great White Way. Now, The Butcher whacks The Trumpster, most presidential candidates, and the lamestream media (like the NY Fishwrap) without mercy. Welcome back, Butcher! If this is (fair & balanced) criticism, so be it.

[x NY 'Zine]
The Importance Of Donald Trump
By Frank Rich

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As the summer of Donald Trump came to its end — and the prospect of a springtime for Trump no longer seemed like a gag — the quest to explain the billionaire’s runaway clown car went into overdrive. How could a crass, bigoted bully with a narcissistic-personality disorder and policy views bordering on gibberish “defy political gravity,” dominate the national stage, make monkeys out of pundits and pollsters, and pose an existential threat to one of America’s two major parties?

Of course, it was the news media’s fault: The Washington Post charted the correlation between Trump’s national polling numbers and his disproportionate press coverage. Or maybe the public was to blame: Op-ed writers dusted off their sermons about Americans’ childish infatuation with celebrities and reality television. Or perhaps Trump was just the GOP’s answer to the “outsider” Bernie Sanders — even though Sanders, unlike Trump, has a coherent ideology and has spent nearly a quarter-century of his so-called outsider’s career in Congress. Still others riffled through historical precedents, from the third-party run of the cranky billionaire Ross Perot back to Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin, the radio-savvy populist demagogues of the Great Depression. Or might Trump be the reincarnation of Joseph McCarthy (per the Times’ Thomas Friedman), Hugo Chávez (the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens), or that avatar of white-racist resentment, George Wallace (George Will)? The historian Richard Hofstadter’s Goldwater-era essay on “the paranoid style” in American politics was once again in vogue.

In the midst of all the hand-wringing from conservatives and liberals alike, Politico convened a panel of historians to adjudicate. Two authoritative chroniclers of 20th-century American populism and race, Alan Brinkley of Columbia and David Blight of Yale, dismissed the parallels. Brinkley, the author of the definitive book on Long and Coughlin (Voices of Protest [1982]), said Trump was a first in American politics, a presidential candidate with no “belief system other than the certainty that anything he says is right.” Blight said Trump’s “real antecedents are in Mark Twain” — in other words, fictional characters, and funny ones.

There is indeed a lighter way to look at Trump’s rise and his impact on the country. Far from being an apocalyptic harbinger of the end-times, it’s possible that his buffoonery poses no lasting danger. Quite the contrary: His unexpected monopoly of center stage may well be the best thing to happen to our politics since the arrival of Barack Obama.

In the short time since Trump declared his candidacy, he has performed a public service by exposing, however crudely and at times inadvertently, the posturings of both the Republicans and the Democrats and the foolishness and obsolescence of much of the political culture they share. He is, as many say, making a mockery of the entire political process with his bull-in-a-china-shop antics. But the mockery in this case may be overdue, highly warranted, and ultimately a spur to reform rather than the crime against civic order that has scandalized those who see him, in the words of the former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, as “dangerous to democracy.”

Trump may be injecting American democracy with steroids. No one, after all, is arguing that the debates among the GOP presidential contenders would be drawing remotely their "Game of Thrones"-scale audiences if the marquee stars were Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. When most of the field — minus Trump — appeared ahead of the first debate at a New Hampshire forum broadcast on C-SPAN, it caused little more stir than a soporific pageant of congressional backbenchers addressing the empty floor of the House. Without Trump, even a relatively tame Trump, would anyone have sat through even a third of the three-hour-plus trainwreck that CNN passed off as the second debate?

What has made him more entertaining than his peers is not his superficial similarities to any historical analogues or his shopworn celebrity. His passport to political stardom has been his uncanny resemblance to a provocative fictional comic archetype that has been an invigorating staple of American movies since Vietnam and Watergate ushered in wholesale disillusionment with Washington four decades ago. That character is a direct descendant of Twain’s 19th-century confidence men: the unhinged charlatan who decides to blow up the system by running for office — often the presidency — on a platform of outrageous pronouncements and boorish behavior. Trump has taken that role, the antithesis of the idealist politicians enshrined by Frank Capra and Aaron Sorkin, and run with it. He bestrides our current political landscape like the reincarnation not of Joe McCarthy (that would be Ted Cruz) but of Jay Billington Bulworth.

Trump’s shenanigans sometimes seem to be lifted directly from the eponymous 1998 movie, in which Warren Beatty plays a senator from California who abandons his scripted bromides to take up harsh truth-telling in rap: “Wells Fargo and Citibank, you’re really very dear / Loan billions to Mexico and never have to fear / ’Cause taxpayers take it in the rear.” Bulworth insults the moderators of a television debate, addresses his Hollywood donors as “big Jews,” and infuriates a black constituent by telling her he’ll ignore her unless she shells out to his campaign. Larry King, cast as himself, books him on his show because “people are sick and tired of all this baloney” and crave an unplugged politician who calls Washington “a disaster.”

Trump also sounds like Hal Phillip Walker, the unseen candidate of the “Replacement Party” whose campaign aphorisms percolate throughout Robert Altman’s post-Watergate state-of-the-union comic epic, "Nashville" (1975). His platform includes eliminating farm subsides, taxing churches, banning lawyers from government, and jettisoning the national anthem because “nobody knows the words, nobody can sing it, nobody understands it.” (Francis Scott Key was a lawyer.) In résumé and beliefs, Trump is even closer to the insurgent candidate played by Tim Robbins and reviled as “a crypto-fascist clown” in the mockumentary "Bob Roberts" (1992) — a self-congratulatory right-wing Wall Street success story, beauty-pageant aficionado, and folksinging star whose emblematic song is titled “Retake America.” Give Trump time, and we may yet find him quoting the accidental president played by Chris Rock in "Head of State" (2003): “If America was a woman, she would be a big-tittied woman. Everybody loves a big-tittied woman!”

Thanks to Trump, this character has leaped off the screen into real life, like the Hollywood leading man in Woody Allen’s "The Purple Rose of Cairo." As a human torpedo blasting through the 2016 campaign, Trump can inflict more damage, satirical and otherwise, than any fictional prototype ever could. In his great comic novel of 1959, The Magic Christian, Terry Southern anticipated just the kind of ruckus a Trump could make. Southern’s protagonist is a billionaire named Guy Grand who spends his fortune on elaborate pranks to disrupt almost every sector of American life — law enforcement, advertising, newspapers, movies, television, sports, the space program. Like Trump, he operates on the premise that everyone can be bought. In one typical venture, he pays the actor playing “an amiable old physician” on a live network medical drama a million bucks to stop in mid-surgery and tell the audience that if he speaks “one more line of this drivel,” he’ll “vomit right into that incision I’ve made.” The network, FCC, and press go into a tizzy until viewers, hoping to see more such outrages, start rewarding the show with record ratings.

There have already been some modest precedents for Trump’s real-life prank — most recently, Stephen Colbert, who staged a brief stunt run for president in 2007. The comic Pat Paulsen, a Smothers Brothers acolyte, ran for president intermittently from 1968 into the ’90s, aiming to call attention to the absurdity of politics. His first run was under the banner of the STAG (Straight Talking American Government) Party; later, he ran consecutively as a Republican and a Democrat. (“I like to mix it up,” he explained.) Paulsen came in a (very) distant second to Bill Clinton in the 1996 New Hampshire primary, one of four primaries where he qualified for the ballot that year. But a judge threw him off the ballot in California, declaring, “I do not want to reduce the campaign for an important office like president of the United States to some kind of farce.”

Some kind of farce, nonetheless, is just what the modern presidential campaign has devolved into. By calling attention to that sorry state of affairs 24/7, Trump’s impersonation of a crypto-fascist clown is delivering the most persuasively bipartisan message of 2016.

Trump lacks the comic chops of a Colbert or Paulsen, and, unlike the screenwriters of movies like "Bulworth" and "Nashville," he is witless. His instrument of humor is the bitch-slap, blunt and cruel — Don Rickles dumbed down to the schoolyard. But when he hits a worthy target and exerts himself beyond his usual repertoire of lazy epithets (Loser! Dope! Slob!), he is funny, in part because his one-liners have the ring of truth. When Eric Cantor endorsed Jeb Bush, Trump asked, “Who wants the endorsement of a guy who lost in perhaps the greatest upset in the history of Congress?” When Trump’s presidential rivals attended a David and Charles Koch retreat, he tweeted: “I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch brothers. Puppets?” Twitter inspires his best material, as does Bush. Among Trump’s many Bush put-downs is this classic: “Why would you pay a man $1.3 million a year for a no-show job at Lehman Brothers — which, when it folded, almost took the world with it?” The exclamation point in Bush’s sad campaign logo, JEB!, has effectively been downsized to a semicolon by Trump’s insistence on affixing the modifier “low-energy” to his name every chance he gets.

The most significant Trump insult thus far is the one that heralded his hostile takeover of the GOP. The target was Reince Priebus, the overmatched Republican National Committee chairman. Following the debacle of 2012, Priebus had vowed that his party would reach out to minorities and curb the xenophobic and misogynist invective that drives away the voters without whom it cannot win national elections. When Trump lampooned John McCain’s sacred record as a POW as gleefully as Republicans had Swift Boated John Kerry, the chairman saw his best-laid plans for a “big tent” GOP imperiled by an unauthorized sideshow. “Party donors,” no doubt with his blessing, let it be known to the Washington Post that, in a lengthy phone conversation, he had persuaded Trump to “tone it down.” Hardly had the story surfaced when Trump shot it down: He said Priebus’s call had been brief and flattering, and that he hadn’t agreed to change a thing. As Priebus beat a hasty retreat, Trump joked that manipulating him wasn’t exactly like “dealing with a five-star Army general.” Soon the chastened chairman was proclaiming Trump a “net positive” for his party. When Trump deigned to sign a faux legal document pledging not to run as a third-party candidate, Priebus had to show up at Trump Tower to bear witness, like a lackey summoned to an audience with the boss. That “pledge” served Trump’s immediate goal of securing his spot on primary ballots, but come next year it will carry no more weight than a certificate from the now-defunct Trump University.

Trump’s ability to reduce the head of his adopted party to a comic functionary out of a Gilbert-and-Sullivan operetta is typical of his remarkable success in exposing Republican weakness and hypocrisy. The party Establishment has been trying to erect a firewall against the onslaught by claiming, as George Will has it, that Trump is a “counterfeit” Republican and that even “the assumption that today’s Trumpites are Republicans is unsubstantiated and implausible.” Thus voters should discount Trump’s “bimbo” tweets, anti-immigration fulminations, and rants about Mexican “rapists” as a wild man’s ravings that don’t represent a party that reveres women, welcomes immigrants, and loves Hispanics. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, in its own effort to inoculate the GOP from Trump, disparages him as a “casino magnate” — an epithet it doesn’t hurl at Sheldon Adelson, the still-bigger casino magnate who serves as sugar daddy to the neocon hawks the Journal favors.

Trump does take heretical economic positions for a Republican — “The hedge-fund guys are getting away with murder!” — but on the matters of race, women, and immigration that threaten the GOP’s future viability in nonwhite, non-male America, he is at one with his party’s base. What he does so rudely is call the GOP’s bluff by saying loudly, unambiguously, and repeatedly the ugly things that other Republican politicians try to camouflage in innuendo, focus-group-tested euphemisms, and consultantspeak.

In reality, Trump’s most noxious views have not only been defended by conservative stars like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and late summer’s No. 1 best-selling nonfiction author, the radio host Mark Levin, but also by the ostensibly more “mainstream” Republican candidates. Trump is picking up where his vocal fan Sarah Palin left off and is for that reason by far the favored candidate of tea-party Republicans, according to a Labor Day CNN-ORC poll. Take Trump’s peddling of “birtherism,” for instance. It’s been a right-wing cause since well before he took it up; even Mitt Romney dipped into that racist well in 2012. It took a village of birthers to get Republicans to the point where only 29 percent of them now believe that Obama was born in America (and 54 percent identify him as a Muslim), according to an August survey by Public Policy Polling. Far from being a fake Republican, Trump speaks for the party’s overwhelming majority.

Charles Krauthammer, another conservative apoplectic about Trump’s potential to sabotage the GOP’s 2016 chances, is arguing that Trump’s incendiary immigration stand is also counterfeit Republicanism — an aberrational “policy innovation.” The only problem is that Cruz, Walker, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, and Ben Carson have all supported Trump’s “policy innovation” calling for an end to the “birthright citizenship” guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. In Pew’s latest survey on the issue — taken in May, before Trump was in the race — 47 percent of Republicans agreed as well. Even more Republicans (62 percent) support building a wall along the Mexican border (as does Krauthammer), much as they did in 2012 when Herman Cain did Trump one better by proposing an “electrified fence.” Trump’s draconian call for deporting illegal immigrants en masse is also genuine, not counterfeit, Republicanism. Romney had not only argued for “self-deportation” in his last presidential campaign but in 2008 had called for newly arrived illegal immigrants to be deported immediately and for the rest to be given just enough time “to organize their affairs and go home.”

With women, too, Trump embarrasses the GOP by saying in public what “real” Republicans keep private. The telling moment in the Fox News debate was not when Megyn Kelly called him out for slurring women as “fat pigs” and “dogs” but the cheers from the audience at Trump’s retort, in which he directed those same epithets at Rosie O’Donnell. (No one onstage protested.) When Trump attacked Kelly the next day in language that seemed to refer to menstruation, most of his GOP rivals made a show of rallying around Kelly. But the party’s real stand on the sanctity of female biology had been encapsulated in the debate by Walker’s and Marco Rubio’s endorsement of a ban on abortions for women who have been raped or risk dying in childbirth. No wonder Trump’s bloodying of Kelly gave him another uptick in polls of Republican voters.

Republican potentates can’t fight back against him because the party’s base has his back. He’s ensnared the GOP Establishment in a classic Catch-22: It wants Trump voters — it can’t win elections without them — but doesn’t want Trump calling attention to what those voters actually believe. Poor Bush, once the Establishment’s great legacy hope, is so ill-equipped to pander to the base that he outdid Trump in defending the nativist term anchor babies by applying it to Asians as well as Mexicans. (Bush also started mimicking Trump’s vilification of hedge-fund managers.) The candidates who have gone after Trump with the greatest gusto — Graham, Paul, Carly Fiorina, Jindal, George Pataki — have been so low in the polls they had nothing to lose. (Even so, all except Fiorina have fallen farther after doing so — or, in Rick Perry’s case, fallen out of the race altogether.) The others were painfully slow to challenge him. That cowardice was foretold in June when most of the presidential field waited days to take a stand against the Confederate flag following the Charleston massacre. If they’re afraid to come out against slavery a century after Appomattox, it only follows that they’d cower before a billionaire who insults his male adversaries’ manhood as reflexively as he attacks women’s looks. As Steve Schmidt, the 2008 McCain campaign manager, has said, Trump had all but emasculated Bush by the time Bush belatedly started fighting back. In the second debate, Fiorina finished the job by counterpunching Trump with more vigor than Bush could muster.

All of this should make Democrats feel pretty confident about 2016. A couple of conspiracy theorists on the right have speculated that Trump is a Hillary Clinton plant. But Trump has hurt Clinton too. Her penchant for dodging controversial questions — fracking, the Keystone pipeline, the Trans-Pacific trade pact — looks still worse when contrasted with Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decisiveness. Even when asked to name her favorite ice-cream flavor during a July appearance at a New Hampshire Dairy Twirl, she could do no better than “I like nearly everything.”

It’s not a coincidence that the Joe Biden buzz heated up just as Trump started taking off. The difference between Clinton’s and Biden’s views is negligible, but some Democrats may be in the market for a candidate of their own who will wander off the reservation and say anything in the echt Trump manner. Yesterday’s “gaffes” are today’s authenticity. Whatever happens with Biden, the Clinton campaign seems oblivious to the possibility that Trump is a double-edged sword, exposing her weaknesses even as he undermines the GOP. When he boasted in the Fox News debate that the Clintons had no choice but to attend his last wedding because he had given them money, he reduced the cloudy questions about transactions between the Clinton Foundation and its donors to a primal quid pro quo that any voter can understand.

As the Trump fallout has rained down on Clinton, so it has on the news media and political pros who keep writing his premature obituary. He has been dismissed as a lackluster also-ran in both debates — compared to the “impressive” Fiorina, Rubio, John Kasich, whoever. No one seems to have considered that more Republican primary voters may have cared about Tom Brady’s endorsement of Trump hours before the CNN debate than the substance of the event itself. Throughout, Trump’s rise has been accompanied by a veritable “Dewey Defeats Truman” festival. After the McCain smackdown in July, political analysts at the Times, the Washington Post, and CNN all declared that he had reached a “turning point” presaging his demise. The Times’ version of this consensus ran as a column in “The Upshot,” the paper’s rubric for data-driven reporting. It argued that because Republican “elites” had been outraged by the incident, it would “probably mark the moment when Trump’s candidacy went from boom to bust.” This conclusion ultimately proved no more predictive than the ostensibly data-driven Literary Digest poll proclaiming Alf Landon the certain victor over FDR in 1936. Given the hostility of the GOP base to elites in general and McCain in particular (unless he’s on a ticket with Palin), it was a better-than-even bet that Trump’s numbers would go up, as they did.

An “Upshot” entry almost two weeks after the Fox News debate dug in further: “The Most Important Story in the G.O.P. Race Isn’t About Donald Trump.” The more important story, it turned out, was the relative “boomlets” for the not-Trump candidates. But Trump continued to be the most important story, not least because of how he kept drowning out the supposed boomlets of the other candidates. Trump, we’ve been told, is sucking the oxygen out of a GOP contest whose other contenders constitute a “deep bench of talent” (the Times) and “an embarrassment of riches” (Peggy Noonan). But Trump is the oxygen of the GOP race, and that deep bench’s embarrassing inability to compete with him is another important story. Even so, guardians of journalistic propriety (and some readers) have implored the upscale press to resist emulating cable news and stop paying Trump so much attention. Some journalists who condescended to write about him have asked forgiveness for momentarily forsaking sober policy debate and stooping so low. The Huffington Post announced it was relegating Trump coverage to the Entertainment section.

That summer of denial is now kaput, but many of the press’s usual empirical tools are impotent against Trump. Columnists and editorial writers across the political spectrum can keep preaching to their own choirs about how vile he is, but they are not likely being read, let alone heeded, by Trump fans. Diligent analyses of his policy inconsistencies are built on a false premise because Trump has almost no policies, just ad hoc opinions that by his own account he forms mainly by reading newspapers or watching Sunday talk shows. When writers for both the Times and Journal op-ed pages analyzed Trumponomics, they produced the same verdict: Nothing Trump said added up. Kimberley Strassel, a conservative columnist at the Journal who regards the Republican field as “teeming with serious candidates,” has complained that Trump is “not policy knowledgeable.” That’s for sure. You won’t catch him following the example of “serious” candidates like Fiorina, Rubio, and Walker, who regurgitate the boilerplate drilled into them by foreign-policy tutors. Why bother, Trump explains, since “one of the problems with foreign policy is it changes on a daily basis.” Such thinking, or anti-thinking, may not win over anyone at the Aspen Institute or the American Enterprise Institute, but does anyone seriously doubt that it plays to much of the Republican-primary electorate? That’s precisely what is spooking conservatives like Strassel.

What’s exhilarating, even joyous, about Trump has nothing to do with his alternately rancid and nonsensical positions on policy. It’s that he’s exposing the phoniness of our politicians and the corruption of our political process by defying the protocols of the whole game. He skips small-scale meet-and-greets in primary-state living rooms and diners. He turned down an invitation to appear at the influential freshman senator Joni Ernst’s hog roast in Iowa. He routinely denigrates sacred GOP cows like Karl Rove and the Club for Growth. He has blown off the most powerful newspapers in the crucial early states of Iowa (the Des Moines Register) and New Hampshire (the Union-Leader) and paid no political price for it. Yet he is overall far more accessible to the press than most candidates — most conspicuously Clinton — which in turn saves him from having to buy television ad time.

It’s as if Trump were performing a running burlesque of the absurd but intractable conventions of presidential campaigns in real time. His impact on our politics post-2016 could be as serious as he is not. Unsurprisingly, the shrewdest description of the Trump show’s appeal has come from an actor, Owen Wilson. “You can’t help but get a kick out of him,” he told the Daily Beast, “and I think part of it is we’re so used to politicians on both sides sounding like actors at press junkets — it’s sort of by rote, and they say all the right things. So here’s somebody who’s not following that script. It’s like when Charlie Sheen was doing that stuff.” As Wilson says, for all the efforts to dismiss Trump as an entertainer, in truth it’s his opponents who are more likely to be playacting, reciting their politically correct and cautious lines by rote. The political market for improvisational candor is as large as it was after Vietnam and Watergate, and right now Trump pretty much has a monopoly on it.

He also makes a sport of humiliating high-end campaign gurus. When Sam Clovis, a powerful Evangelical conservative activist in Iowa, jumped from the cratering Perry to Trump in August, it seemed weird. Despite saying things like “I’m strongly into the Bible,” Trump barely pretends to practice any religion. The Des Moines Register soon published excerpts from emails written just five weeks earlier (supplied by Perry allies) in which Clovis had questioned Trump’s “moral center” and lack of “foundation in Christ” and praised Perry for calling Trump “a cancer on conservatism.” But, like Guy Grand in The Magic Christian, Trump figured correctly that money spoke louder than Christ to Clovis. He was no less shrewd in bringing the focus-group entrepreneur Frank Luntz to heel. After Luntz convened a negative post-debate panel on Fox News that, in Luntz’s view, signaled “the destruction” of Trump’s campaign, Trump showered him with ridicule. Luntz soon did a Priebus-style about-face and convened a new panel that amounted to a Trump lovefest. One participant praised Trump for not mouthing “that crap” that’s been “pushed to us for the past 40 years.” It’s unclear if Luntz was aware of the irony of his having been a major (and highly compensated) pusher of “that crap,” starting with his role in contriving the poll-shaped pablum of Newt Gingrich’s bogus “Contract With America.”

A perfect paradigm of how lame old-school, top-heavy campaigns can be was crystallized by a single story on the front page of the Times the day after Labor Day. Its headline said it all: “Clinton Aides Set New Focus for Campaign — A More Personal Tone of Humor and Heart.” By announcing this “new focus” to the Times, which included “new efforts to bring spontaneity” to a candidacy that “sometimes seems wooden,” these strategists were at once boasting of their own (supposed) political smarts and denigrating their candidate, who implicitly was presented as incapable of being human without their direction and scripts. Hilariously enough, the article straight-facedly cited as expert opinion the former Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom — whose stewardship of the most wooden candidate in modern memory has apparently vanished into a memory hole — to hammer home the moral that “what matters is you appear genuine.”

We also learned from this piece that Clinton would soon offer “a more contrite tone” when discussing her email woes, because a focus group “revealed that voters wanted to hear directly from Mrs. Clinton” about it. The aides, who gave the Times “extensive interviews,” clearly thought that this story was a plus for their candidate, and maybe the candidate did, too, since she didn’t fire them on the spot. They all seemed unaware of the downside of portraying Clinton as someone who delegated her “heart” to political operatives and her calibration of contrition to a focus group. By offering a stark contrast to such artifice, the spontaneous, unscripted Trump is challenging the validity and value of the high-priced campaign strategists, consultants, and pollsters who dominate our politics, shape journalistic coverage, and persuade even substantial candidates to outsource their souls to focus groups and image doctors. That brand of politics has had a winning run ever since the young television producer Roger Ailes used his media wiles to create a “new Nixon” in 1968. But in the wake of Trump’s “unprofessional” candidacy, many of the late-20th-century accoutrements of presidential campaigns, often tone-deaf and counter­productive in a new era where social media breeds insurgencies like Obama’s, Trump’s and Sanders’s, could be swept away — particularly if Clinton’s campaign collapses.

Another change Trump may bring about is a GOP rethinking of its embrace of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashing unlimited campaign contributions. Citizens United was supposed to be a weapon wielded mainly against Democrats, but Trump is using it as a club to bludgeon Republicans. “I’m using my own money,” he said when announcing his candidacy. “I’m not using lobbyists, I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.” By Washington etiquette, it’s a no-no for a presidential candidate to gloat about his wealth. Especially if you’re a wealthy Republican, it’s axiomatic that you follow the George H.W. Bush template of pretending to savor pork rinds. But Trump has made a virtue of flaunting his fortune and glitzy lifestyle — and not just because that’s the authentic Trump. His self-funding campaign may make him more effective than any Democrat in turning Citizens United into a political albatross for those who are enslaved to it.

Having no Citizens United–enabled political-action committee frees him to remind voters daily that his Republican adversaries are bought and paid for by anonymous wealthy donors. The notion of a billionaire playing this populist card may seem counterintuitive, but paradoxically Trump’s populism is enhanced by the source of his own billions. His signature business, real-estate development, is concrete, literally so: He builds big things, thus visibly creating jobs, and stamps his name on them in uppercase gold lest anyone forget (even when he hasn’t actually built them and doesn’t actually own them). This instantly separates him from the “hedge-fund guys” and all the other unpopular one percenters who trade in intangible and suspect financial “products,” facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs, and underwrite much of the Republican presidential field and party infrastructure, to some of the Republican-primary electorate’s dismay. The simplicity and transparency of Trump’s campaign funding are going to make it harder for his rivals — and perhaps future presidential candidates — to defend their dependence on shadowy, plutocratic, and politically toxic PAC donors.

The best news about Trump is that he is wreaking this havoc on the status quo while having no chance of ascending to the presidency. You can’t win the Electoral College in 2016 by driving away women, Hispanics, blacks, and Asian-Americans, no matter how large the margins you pile up in deep-red states. Republicans who have started fretting that he’d perform as Barry Goldwater did on Election Day in 1964 have good reason to worry.

But Goldwater won the nomination in the first place by rallying a disaffected hard-right base that caught the GOP Establishment by surprise, much as the remnants of that Establishment were blindsided by Ronald Reagan’s insurgency that almost denied the nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976. Trump’s ascent, like the Goldwater and Reagan rebellions, makes it less likely that the divide between the GOP’s angriest grassroots and the party elites who write the checks will be papered over in 2016, as it was by the time the 2008 and 2012 Republican conventions came to order.

Probable as it may be that Trump’s poll numbers will fade and that he will flame out before the Republicans convene in Cleveland in July, it’s not a sure thing. If the best his intraparty adversaries can come up with as dragon slayers are his fellow outsiders — the joyless scold Fiorina, who presided over the firing of 30,000 Hewlett-Packard workers (a bounteous gift to Democratic attack ads), or the low-low-energy Carson, who has never run anything except an operating room — that means they have no plan. And thanks to another unintended consequence of the GOP’s Citizens United “victory,” the PACs it enables will keep hopeless presidential candidates financially afloat no matter how poorly they are faring in polls and primaries, thereby crippling the party’s ability to unite early behind a single anti-Trump alternative. In a worst-case scenario, the GOP could reach the spring stretch with the party’s one somebody still ahead of a splintered field of nobodies.

By then, Trump’s Establishment nemeses, those who march to the beat of the Journal editorial page and Krauthammer and Will, will be manning the backroom battle stations and writing big checks to bring him down. The specter of a brokered Republican convention loomed briefly in 2012, when Romney was slow to lock up the nomination. Should such a scenario rear up again in 2016, the Koch brothers, no fans of Trump, could be at the center of the action. Whatever happens, there will be blood. The one thing Trump never does is go quietly, and neither will his followers. As Ross Douthat, a reform conservative, wrote in August, Trump has tapped into the populist resentments of middle-class voters who view the GOP and the elites who run it as tools of “moneyed interests.” If the Republicans “find a way to crush Trump without adapting to his message,” he added, the pressure of that resentment will keep building within the party, and “when it bursts, the GOP as we know it may go with it.”

Even if this drama does not play out to the convention, the Trump campaign has already made a difference. Far from being a threat to democracy or a freak show unworthy of serious coverage, it matters because it’s taking a much-needed wrecking ball to some of what has made our sterile politics and dysfunctional government as bankrupt as Trump’s Atlantic City casinos. If that’s entertainment, so be it. If Hillary Clinton’s campaign or the Republican Party is reduced to rubble along the way, we can live with it. Trump will not make America great again, but there’s at least a chance that the chaos he sows will clear the way for those who can. Ω

[Frank Rich joined New York magazine in June 2011 as Writer-at-Large, writing monthly on politics and culture, and editing a special monthly section anchored by his essay. Rich joined the magazine following a distinguished career at the New York Times, where he had been an op-ed columnist since 1994. He was previously the paper's chief drama critic, from 1980 to 1993. As a theater critic, he was known as "The Butcher On Broadway." Before joining The Times, Rich was a film critic at Time magazine, the New York Post, and New Times magazine. He was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury, a weekly newspaper, in the early 1970s. Rich is the author of a childhood memoir, Ghost Light (2000), a collection of drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998), The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (with Lisa Aronson, 1987), and The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (2006). Rich is a graduate of the Washington, DC public schools. He earned a BA degree in American History and Literature from Harvard College in 1971.]

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