On November 7, 2020 Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump, who has ignored or violated nearly every norm established by the previous forty-four presidents, has refused to concede, claiming the election was fraudulent, stolen, and that the votes cast in favor of Biden were “illegal.” Those Americans who are not appalled or embarrassed are amused at the buffoonery we’ve become accustomed to over the past four years. I have a message for y’all. Wipe that smirk off your faces. Trump may end up leaving the White House, but he’s not going anywhere.
Remember, he built a political movement based on lies. The first one was that Barak Obama was not born in the United States and was a Muslim. Trump attracted a following of those who were economically and socially disaffected and were dismayed that a black man was the leader of the free world. He tapped into a vein in American society that appealed to those who believe life has been unfair to them, that it’s not their fault that things have not worked out well for them, that somehow, someway, someone has cheated them, and now that unspecified someone has to pay.
In the election Biden received roughly 75 million votes, more than any presidential candidate has ever received. Trump received roughly 71 million votes—the second highest number of votes any presidential candidate has ever received. If you think Trump, the ultimate con man and sleazebag grifter, is not going to take advantage of that support, I have a bridge to sell you. Trump is now playing to that base. The election has been stolen. The votes were rigged. The media are against him. His failure, like the failures of those who are in his camp, is not his fault. It’s the system that’s against him, and the only reason the truth is not revealed is fake news—you know, the media that don’t report Hillary Clinton’s, George Soros’, Tom Hanks’, Bill Gates’, and (fill in the blank’s) gatherings in the basements of pizza shops nationwide to drain the blood of infants and sexually abuse children.
Trump will not concede. I suspect he will, as Joe Biden posited, have to be escorted out of the White House as a trespasser. This will make Trump appear even more like a victim to his cult. The more of a victim he can make himself out to be, the more sympathy his followers will feel for him. The poor man is being evicted from his home. Never mind that he has gold plated abominations in at least two states he can return to, he’s still a victim of a system that’s rigged against him. He’ll keep his admirers, and he may even pick up a few more. He may, like Grover Cleveland, have an interrupted presidency, but I suspect his goal is to create a third party that will carry on his disruptive activities.
He won’t follow any playbook, but I highly recommend we all familiarize ourselves with what has happened in the past. We can look to Huey Long, Father Charles Coughlin, Robert Welch, and others that are now footnotes in fascism, and we can read books such as All the King’s Men and It Can’t Happen Here to prepare ourselves for what increasingly CAN happen here.
Let’s just take a brief look at Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here.
The story focuses on Doremus Jessup, owner and editor of a small New England newspaper and begins in 1936 with a presidential campaign in which Buzz Windrip, a Huey Long-like front man, is put forth as a man of the people and promises everyone $5,000 (more than $94,000 in 2020 dollars) if he’s elected, which he is. The brains behind the campaign, as well as the author of Windrip’s autobiography, is Lee Sarason, who runs things while Windrip plays poker, accumulates graft, etc. Donald Trump, who is not known as a reader, has also hired ghost writers to write his many and conflicting autobiographies.
During the campaign, Sarason has hired “volunteer” thugs, who are called “Minute Men,” and who, like Hitler’s Brown Shirts, beat up those who speak against the “Chief.” Donald Trump has not, as far as we know, hired the Proud Boys and other various white supremacists and malcontents, but we’ve seen some of his self-defined enforcers in action. Spy networks are set up, concentration camps are established, an emergency is declared, and martial law takes effect. Doremus’ resentful former handyman, Shad Ledue, winds up in a position of power. Without too much imagination we can see Rudy Giuliani in the role of Shad. After Doremus prints an article critical of the Chief, Doremus’ paper is taken over by the state, but he’s required to remain on the paper writing drivel. We can certainly envision Trump declaring unfriendly media “enemies of the people” (oh, wait—he’s already done that) and taking similar action. Doremus winds up working for an underground network, is caught, and is sentenced to a concentration camp. When his son-in-law protests, the son-in-law is summarily executed.
As would be expected, those in favor do well under Windrip. The Minute Men grow in numbers, those in positions of power engage in graft. Shad Ledue gets caught with his hand in the till and winds up in the concentration camp with Doremus and others he’s abused. Shad does not survive. As time goes by, some people become disenchanted with Windrip, who not only does not produce the promised $5,000, but makes conditions worse for most people. We can certainly see Trump promising the moon and delivering something considerably less. Sarason engineers a coup, and Windrip is allowed to escape overseas, where he consoles himself with the $4 million (about $80 million today) he managed to deposit offshore. Sarason appoints his many boyfriends to various positions and uses the redecorated White House for his orgies, which offends the straight-laced Secretary of War, Col. Dewey Hait, who breaks into the White House with troops and shoots Sarason and his fellow partiers. Hait imposes a stricter regime, a war with Mexico is invented (we can envision the same thing happening with Iran or some other easily-demonized country), and parts of the country begin to rebel.
Doremus is allowed to escape and joins a resistance effort. The ending of the book, “a Doremus Jessup can never die,” reminds me of the end of the 1940 film, The Grapes of Wrath. (I’ve never read the book.) A glimmer of hope pasted on to a dismal tale.
In 1928 Lewis married Dorothy Thompson, a renowned journalist who in 1932 interviewed Hitler and dismissed fears of him as overhyped. Before the election of 2016 we’d seen Trump dismissed as a buffoon, and, like Hitler, look what happened. Two years later Thompson returned to Germany and was expelled. Lewis listened to Thompson and her friends, who were familiar with Hitler’s increasingly restrictive, punitive, and antisemitic actions. After Germany invaded Poland, Thompson became an avid interventionist.
Hopefully people will wise up and Trump will go away or the effects of all those cheeseburgers and milkshakes will take their toll, and he won’t be around. Huey Long’s movement fell apart after his death (and I am emphatically NOT advocating assassination—this country does not need Trump the Martyr). We do need to take a look at the movement behind the movement.
Trump has never revealed his wealth or lack of it, but I doubt he has enough money to sustain a movement like he has in mind, so who is financing him? That is the question. I don’t have an answer, but who would gain by a weakened and disunited United States? Who would gain if the world’s greatest democracy were to become a thing of the past? Russia? China? Someone closer to home?
I’m open to suggestions, but someone is spending big bucks to keep the pot stirred.
While we’re pondering Trump’s next moves, it’s time Trump’s opposition makes some moves of its own.
First, we must acknowledge that disaffected Trump supporters have some valid complaints. Some time ago I reviewed Thomas Frank’s new book, The People: NO! and described Frank as a Cassandra--cursed to utter prophecies that were always true but which would never be believed. In his 2016 Listen, Liberal, Or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? he warned Democrats that they were alienating the working class by concentrating on wealth and technology and ignoring the tragic loss of manufacturing jobs and those hit hard by the economic crisis and housing depression. Even worse, Democrats were telling people the situation they found themselves in was their own fault because they lacked education and nothing could be done about it. In other words, to borrow a phrase from 1970s New York: Democrats to working class: Drop Dead. Frank was ignored, and we wound up with an orange buffoon in charge of the country for four years.
This year he restated his message in The People: NO! He says that beginning in the 1970s, Democrats began turning away from the working class. The late 1960s had seen the working class begin a migration to Republicans. In 1970 construction workers in New York rioted in support of the Nixon administration. Increasingly educated Democrats turned more toward elitism and less contact with the working class. They turned away from unions, and especially union leaders, who had increasingly become conservative and often were, or were perceived to be, corrupt.
Frank takes us through the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, who tried to govern as a centrist Democrat, concentrating on technical competence, alienating further the working class, and opening the door for the Reagan “revolution.” The next nominal Democrat to win office, Bill Clinton, concentrated further on trade, giving us NAFTA, CAFTA, and several other programs favored by Republicans. In 2008 Barak Obama was elected and proceeded to name Republicans to his cabinet hoping for bipartisanship. He wound up rescuing banks and Wall Street while leaving homeowners, the victims of banks and Wall Street, to deal with their situation on their own. Even Obamacare, his signature achievement, did not “inconvenience Big Pharma or private insurance companies.” Yet another step away from the people Democrats depend on. Cue 2016, and Hillary Clinton does little to repair the frayed relationship with the former base of her party. Nevertheless, she wins a majority of voters, but not enough of a majority. Trump, appealing to the disaffected, became president, and he came very close to winning a second term this year. Frank argues Trump voters could just as easily have been supporters of Democrats had they not been ignored and increasingly vilified. Democrats, not Trump voters, are the problem. By offering nothing to their historic base, they have lost that base. And even worse, liberal Democrats are ensuring future defeat not only by not pursuing their former base, but by vilifying them. Instead of being the voice of the working class, Frank says, the Democratic party sees itself as a “sort of coming together of the learned and the virtuous.” The former party of the people became anti-populist. They want “no part of any systemic criticism of big business or monopoly or the financial industry. They shied away from supporting mass movements. The idea of putting together a coalition of working-class people was one they came to regard with deep distaste.” They became the party of the white-collar elite, the “smart and rich, the ‘better-educated upscale voters’ who wanted private retirement accounts but weren’t so keen on public schools.” Frank writes that in 1992 journalist and author Mickey Kaus advised Democrats to abandon their concern for economic equality; Democrats had to stop listening to labor unions and sever their ties with the black “underclass.”
Frank refers to Lawrence Goodwyn, a 1970s-era scholar of populism, who wrote that in order to build a movement like the People’s Party of the 1890s or the labor movement of the 1930s, one must “connect with people as they are in society, that is to say, in a state that sophisticated modern observers are inclined to regard as one of ‘inadequate consciousness.’” Goodwyn warned against a politics of “individual righteousness” or celebrating the purity of one’s radicalism. In order to reform the country’s economic structure, we must practice “ideological patience,” a suspension of moral judgement of ordinary Americans. Only then can we start to build a movement that is hopeful and powerful and that changes society.
Another point Frank makes is the modern Democratic Party seems totally uninterested in labor except to ask for its endorsement every few years. Frank tells the story of a group of affluent progressive teens whose opinions were sought on the importance of various issues. Racism, sexism, LGBTQ rights, and gun control all had significant support. Labor, when it was mentioned, had no support. Zero. Frank points out that the yard signs the affluent are placing in their yards to show their support of inclusiveness, you know the ones that say:
In this house, we believe
Black lives matter
Women’s rights are human rights
No human is illegal
Science is real
And kindness is everything,
don’t say a word about the right to organize or earn a living wage.
Frank says there are many examples of labor’s omission in today’s wokeness. He names “A Century of Protest,” a 2018 video feature produced by the New Yorker that included protests throughout American history, which began with an ad for Prada, and included fifty-eight clips of historical footage covering everything from suffragette marches in 1913 to the ACT-UP protests. There was plenty of civil rights footage, and Communists and even the KKK were represented, but nothing on labor. Nada. And heaven knows, there is plenty of footage available on labor protests, including the 1936 GM strike and the UAW strike of 1945-6. Besides being ignored, labor is being airbrushed out of history.
Now that Democrats have alienated their former base (let’s hope temporarily), they seem to be going out of their way to keep them alienated. Rather than addressing the issues that drove so many to vote for a con man, liberals seem to be relishing any misfortune that has come to Trump voters, and woe be it to anyone who suggests that we show empathy with those who supported the buffoon. Frank writes that New York Times opinion writer Nicholas Kristoff reports nothing he has written recently generates the outpouring of rage he receives when he makes periodic assertions that Trump voters are human, too.
In my review of Max Skidmore’s Common Sense Manifesto I wrote about a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Portland, Oregon restaurateur Kurt Huffman complaining about the $600 unemployment insurance enhancement and bemoaning the fact that his slaves, er, I mean employees weren’t champing at the bit to return to work for $15 an hour and tips totaling as much as an additional $1 an hour (his words, not mine). How dare his employees inconvenience him? Oh, the humanity! As a quick Google search revealed, Mr. Huffman is Portland’s leading restaurateur whose favorite restaurant in is London.
Just to show that some things never change, Frank writes about a vice president at DuPont, who in 1934 wrote a letter to the chairman of General Motors to complain about the New Deal. Here is how, as Frank says, it ruined his life:
“Five Negroes on my place in South Carolina refused work this Spring, after I had taken care of them and given them house [sic] rent free and work for three years during bad times, saying they had easy jobs with the government… .
“A cook on my houseboat at Fort Myers quit because the government was paying him a dollar an hour as a painter when he never knew a thing about painting before.”
In 1934 the Democratic Party’s emphasis was on helping labor. I wonder where the party stands with regards to Mr. Huffman’s employees. That I even have to ask says a lot about how far the party has traveled from FDR and the New Deal. I’ve often imagined that Lincoln would be appalled at what has become of his party. I suspect the same could be said of FDR.
Farmers and labor went for Trump this year. Those are two of the groups that were the heart of Democratic support when FDR was president. Democrats have turned their backs on farmers and labor. Is it surprising that farmers and labor have turned their backs on Democrats?Democrats need to go back to their base—the working class. In an America as divided as we are, that’s about the only way to avoid Trump 2024.