After four years of Trump, the republic is still standing
A comment from David K. Shipler came across my computer screen the other day and deserves some attention as it reflects Donald Trump’s ongoing liberal obsession these days, even as his term in the White House is nearing its well-deserved end.
Shipler is a reputable journalist and writer with a formidable resume that includes award-winning foreign relations books and extensive reporting from around the world The New York Times. Since 2010 he has been producing an electronic magazine called Shipler Report, which published the piece in question entitled “The Next Trump”. Unfortunately, it’s so dogmatic in its anti-Trump passion that it ultimately lacks seriousness.
Shipler’s piece embodies the anti-Trump passions that have been felt for the past four years by outlets as liberal as the New Yorker, The Atlantic, NPR, The New York Timesand MSNBC. These and other organizations ominously warned over and over that Trump posed a clear and present threat that would destroy the republic if it were not stopped.
But now that Trump is leaving the scene, there is a problem: the republic is still standing. Yes, his behavior since the elections has been nasty and repulsive, which is in keeping with his core personality. And yes, the President’s behavior during his presidency was arbitrary and capricious enough to raise legitimate concerns. But it looks like the country will survive the Trump presidency just fine, and the liberal hysteria we saw during his presidency is looking increasingly fancy and goofy.
Now David Shipler comes up with an explanation of why this hysteria was justified all along. Trump card would turned the country’s system of government upside down, as it was his goal, says Shipler, if only he had accepted the task with more finesse and cleverness. The country is finally ripe for such a dangerous demagogue, he claims, because so many Americans are stupid and “remarkably gullible, as if batteries died in their nonsense alarms”. They are ready to “believe the most absurd conspiracy, fall in love with the most transparent impostor and join the most unhealthy personality cult”.
But the next Trump is likely to be of a different kind – “a sophisticated budding autocrat” or maybe “a skillful supplier of empty dreams and encoded hatred … a polite authoritarian populist who [will whip] Fear of internal enemies. ”
Shipler believes in the manic warnings he and like-minded liberals have been issuing since 2016 – and future warnings about other, more dangerous Trumps who want to exploit political feelings that these liberals consider illegitimate.
Overall, the Shipler piece offers a case study of the kind of thinking that Trump instigated from his political opponents. There are a number of points to consider.
First, Shipler endorses Hillary Clinton’s view that Trump supporters are largely “deplorable,” and Shipler warns that these people’s voting power poses an ongoing threat to America. The above quotations show this attitude, but much more in the piece reinforces the point. The author sees Trump as “a skilful embodiment of the desires and fears of millions, mostly white working classes, who feel marginalized and dishonored as they yearn for the wealth and strength that Trump appears to possess.” He writes that Trump has given them “the dignity that many have rejected from the liberal, urban, multi-ethnic society that their country is becoming”.
Shipler is fixated on this crude stereotypical portrayal of Trump supporters and shows no little interest in the depth of their views, attitudes, hopes, fears, or experiences in America today. He seems to be saying that Trump, like his supporters, harbors illegitimate views. Shipler would lead us to believe that Trump, the demagogic political Svengali, has led millions of Americans into a quagmire of flawed and mean thinking, including an underlying hostility towards the American system itself and a willingness to turn it upside down.
This brings it backwards in terms of how American democracy works. It begins with the vortex of political sentiments rising from across politics and finding their way to Washington where, due to their political resonance and competing sentiments, they meet, network, clash, sometimes combine and rise or fall. Trump did not create his constituency’s attitudes and concerns through demagoguery. he was just channeling them. And his signal-political achievement consisted in perceiving the depth and power of these attitudes at a time when hardly anyone in American politics could only faintly perceive their existence. Shipler’s portrayal of these people and their fears lacks the credibility that comes with trying to get beneath the surface of prejudice.
Shipler’s dire warnings of the danger to the republic, represented by around 47 percent of voters, call into question his own confidence in the American system. If these people are this dangerous, maybe we would be better off with a system of limiting their political influence, which seems to be the goal here.
Also interesting is Shipler’s warning that the new Trump, this highly developed budding autocrat, could ally himself with “the centers of government power”. Trump attacked and mocked these centers of power. But this next guy “would cultivate them and the intelligence and covert operations of the CIA and FBI, the formidable surveillance tools of the National Security Agency, the investigative machinery of the IRS, the clout of the Justice Department prosecutor’s office, and perhaps the ultimate threat from the military. “He seems to be talking about what has come to be known as the” deep state “here.
To back up his thesis on how the next Trump could threaten American democracy on behalf of the Trump constituency and in accordance with the Deep State, Shipler delves into a lot of ancient history of deep state abuses made by the US Senate Church Committee The 1970s and other studies from that period were uncovered. The abuses were real, and Shipler rightly suggests that they constitute object lessons for our time.
But Shipler suggests that Trump was just too reckless to understand the power of deep state alignment or the folly of alienating it.
But Trump didn’t just miss this opportunity. He actually opposed the deep state with its endless wars, its focus on large defense companies, its willingness to fight in external relations in the name of its hegemonic impulse, its entrenched power exercised in a secret and deadly manner. So if the deep state really poses a threat to the republic, as Shipler suggests, shouldn’t the writer embrace Trump’s stated goal of limiting his powers and potential for abuse?
And if the deep state is as vulnerable to abuse as it suggests, it may want to ponder the abusive actions it took against the first Trump campaign and later against the early Trump presidency in this complex and disturbing saga called the Russia Gate has committed. The saga includes a lot of deep state manipulation, evidence of high-level political bias, misleading arrest warrant requests, illegal leaks to sympathetic news organizations to maintain a false narrative, and much more. For many, such abuses only seem troubling insofar as they are directed at the wrong people.
Ultimately, one searches the Shipler play in vain for evidence that he sees validity in the questions put forward by Trump and that his constituency has been gaining momentum over four years. Is immigration a legitimate problem when the percentage of American-born foreigners approaches 15 percent, the highest in US history? Are China’s Trade Abuses a Legitimate National Concern? What about the decline in American industrial capacity since so many jobs in the US were wiped out? Is it legitimate for Americans to want their country no longer to get caught up in foreign wars that lack a recognizable end point and are of little relevance to the country’s vital national interests? Is America’s transformation by a wholly novel liberal vision a legitimate cause for civic concern, or should those who aren’t sure just shut up?
These are some of the issues that Trump raised when other politicians on both parties tried to ignore or refine them. He is on his way out after failing to build a political coalition robust enough to give him a second term. This is how he earned his political fate in America’s unsentimental political turmoil. But the lingering feeling of his constituency. Rather, it is a natural lagging behind how our system is supposed to work.
Robert W. Merry, former Wall Street Journal The Washington correspondent and CEO of Congressional Quarterly is the author of five books on American history and foreign policy, including President McKinley: Architect of the American Century (Simon & Schuster).