- Johnny Rotten, President
- The conspiracy against Johnny Rotten
- Obama is Johnny Rotten’s father
- Johnny Rotten’s relative thrift
Confession time: I never followed Punk Rock and I know next to nothing about who Johnny Rotten is or was. But Ross Douthat cites some people saying Donald Trump is like a Punk Rocker, smashing things.
But the scale and swiftness of those [cultural Left] victories have created two distinctive political problems for the Democratic Party.
First, within the liberal tent, they have dramatically raised expectations for just how far left our politics can move, while insulating many liberals from the harsh realities of political disagreement in a sprawling, 300-plus million person republic. Among millennials, especially, there’s a growing constituency for whom right-wing ideas are so alien or triggering, left-wing orthodoxy so pervasive and unquestioned, that supporting a candidate like Hillary Clinton looks like a needless form of compromise.
Thus Clinton’s peculiar predicament. She has moved further left than any modern Democratic nominee, and absorbed the newer left’s Manichaean view of the culture war sufficiently that she finds herself dismissing almost a quarter of the electorate as “irredeemable” before her donors. Yet she still finds herself battling an insurgency on her left flank, and somewhat desperately pitching millennials on her ideological bona fides.
At the same time, outside the liberal tent, the feeling of being suffocated by the left’s cultural dominance is turning voting Republican into an act of cultural rebellion — which may be one reason the Obama years, so good for liberalism in the culture, have seen sharp G.O.P. gains at every level of the country’s government.
This spirit of political-cultural rebellion is obviously crucial to Trump’s act …
Trump’s extremism also limits his appeal, of course. But if liberals are fortunate to be facing a Johnny Rotten figure in this presidential campaign, they are still having real trouble putting him away … and if he were somewhat less volatile and bigoted and gross, liberalism would be poised to close its era of cultural ascendance by watching all three branches of government pass back into conservative hands.
The fact that many of us columnists are in sync about Trump means only that a consensus has formed independently around facts to which all are privy. Finding Trump unfit to be president requires only a dispassionate view of those facts (a lack of knowledge, a dubious business record, questionable foreign relationships, an alleged university scam, concealment of tax returns) as well as an informed understanding of what his antics, style and temperament suggest about his character and mental health.
The mystery is how anyone finds him acceptable. The truth is, many who will vote for him don’t. They’ll vote Republican, not Trump, to protect the Supreme Court and apply the brakes to liberal policies. These considerations apparently outweigh concerns about a free press, our near-to-boiling melting pot and the harm Trump’s attitudes toward Muslims, among others, can bring to our nation.
As I recently wrote to a reader: I find Trump so uninformed, thin-skinned, volatile and divisive that opposing him has become for me a moral imperative. I sincerely believe he’s a threat to our security and our nation’s equilibrium, which has been dangling by a thread since 9/11.
This is what I think and where I stand.
For those who think governance is a game, these are heady times:
One of the central insights of both the Obama campaign and administration (the difference is subtle but real) is that Obama benefits when his critics overreact. In 2008, then-political adviser David Axelrod coined the phrase “no drama Obama” to describe not only his client’s personality but his messaging. By seeming unflappable in the face of criticism, Obama comes across as presidential. The more heated the criticism, the more presidential he seems.
The thing is, Obama often intentionally provokes the conservative base. As the Washington Post‘s Paul Waldman put it in January 2015, Obama “seems to come up with a new idea every couple of weeks to drive [the GOP] up a wall.” That makes him a master at trolling.
For those still not up to speed with the lingo, “trolling” is an internet term for saying outrageous things in order to elicit an even more outraged response. Or, as Urban Dictionary defines it, “The art of deliberately, cleverly and secretly p***ing people off.”
For instance, although ideology and policy no doubt play a role in Obama’s frequent refusal to use the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” he also seems to enjoy watching his critics shriek about it.
In late 2014, when Obama announced that he was going to unilaterally block the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants in the country — after insisting for years that the Constitution wouldn’t allow him to do anything of the sort — many writers on the left and the right recognized that at least part of his strategy was to bait Republicans. Obama could have changed the policy quietly, without much fanfare. Instead, he sought to incite as much right-wing anger as possible.
Tellingly, the White House didn’t give the exclusive to Univision or MSNBC, but to Fox News. As liberal writer Bill Scher put it in Politico, “Operation Epic Troll” was a “smashing success.”
Trump’s claim last week that he was doing a public service by “ending” the issue Clinton “started” was itself a brilliant bit of trollery. He was trying to have it both ways, simultaneously saying that the birther movement was nefarious and illegitimate from the beginning, and that he was some kind of statesman for relentlessly pushing the birther story.
None of that matters now. Like Obama, Trump exploited birtherism for his own advantage, worming his way into the GOP. Obama allowed the issue to fester in the fever swamps of the right, and now he’s facing the real possibility that he will be replaced by the Swamp Thing.
Jeb Bush, who famously raised more than any other candidate and ended up with underwhelming results, spent more than $5,000 per vote.
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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)