A Nation Holding Itself Hostage?

The Mary Trump book went on sale today. I haven’t read it yet, but do read Dahlia Lithwick’s review  (h/t Swami) —

At bottom, Too Much and Never Enough may be the first book that stipulates, in its first pages, that the president is irreparably damaged, and then turns a clinician’s lens on the rest of us, the voters, the enablers, the flatterers, the hangers-on, and the worshippers. It is here that Mary Trump’s book makes perhaps the most enduring contribution to the teetering piles of books that have offered too little too late, even while telling us that which we already knew. Because Mary Trump begins from the assumption that other analysis tends to end with: Donald Trump is lethally dangerous, stunningly incoherent, and pathologically incapable of caring about anyone but himself. So, what Mary Trump wants to know is: What the hell is wrong with everyone around him? As she writes in her prologue, “there’s been very little effort to understand not only why he became what he is but how he’s consistently failed up despite his glaring lack of fitness.”

The book is thus actually styled as an indictment not of Donald Trump but of Trump’s enablers. The epigraph is from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and it’s emphatically not about Donald John Trump at all: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.” Mary Trump blames Fred Trump for Donald Trump’s pathology, although she doesn’t claim that her uncle is a tragic victim of abuse. She blames his family that propped him up (also her family, it should be noted), and then in concentric and expanding circles, the media that failed to scrutinize him, the banks that pretended he was the financial genius he was not, the Republican Party, and the “claque of loyalists” in the White House who continue to lie for him and to him in order to feed his insatiable ego and self-delusion. Even the phrase “too much and never enough” is perhaps deliberately borrowed from the language of addiction, and what Mary Trump describes here is not just her uncle’s addiction to adulation, fame, money, and success, but a nation’s—or some part of a nation’s—unfathomable addiction to him.

I’ve had enough experience with psychologically damaged people, especially in the workplace, to see the pattern. If you have to deal with a sociopath or narcissist, you’re either all in or all out. There’s no negotiation, no balance, no middle ground. Especially if this person is in a position of authority, you must either go along with the sociopathy and do whatever is necessary to feed the ego monster you’re dealing with, or you walk away. Perhaps a person with therapist training could find a third way, but that’s not most of us.

One issue that’s come up with a lot of people who originally agreed to work in the administration, like Rex Tillerson or John Bolton, is that they later said they had no idea how damaged Trump is (or words to that effect). They’ve never had the experience of working for a sociopath/narcissist. I would bet money that there are many such people in middle management in companies Tillerson has headed, because the sociopath/narcissist tends to fail up because of his/her sheer aggression and ability to intimidate people. Tillerson and Bolton probably have some sociopathic/narcissistic tendencies themselves.

And then, of course, sociopath/narcissists tends to gather other psychologically damanged people around themselves. The word “codependent” comes to mind. They often create office cultures that replicate their dysfunctional families of origin. The result is an absolutely toxic workplace that will probably crash and burn eventually, but perhaps not for years, because workers who want to keep their jobs will keep trying to be productive. But I have seen this happen so many times that it must be pretty common, or else I have really bad work karma to end up working for these people time and time again.

It must be absolute hell to work for the White House now, but I’m guessing the pay is good and it’s a classy thing to put on one’s résumé (although the Trump White House may prove an exception). That accounts for the people who stick there, but some of them must be inwardly seething, because juicy stuff keeps getting leaked to the press. I bet a lot of them are secretly praying that he loses, so that they can be freed from workplace hell without having to quit or be fired.

But then we have to stand back and look at the enablers who don’t actually work in the White House. It’s possible that someday historians will write that the Trump Administration was the nail in the coffin of the Republican Party. We can hope, anyway. Republicans made the choice to stick with Trump because they were afraid of his base of cult worshippers, we’re told. But Republicans are also utterly dependent on a relatively small handful of mega donors, and to a large extent the MAGA-heads and the deep pocket plutocrats are both holding the Republican Party hostage. Nancy LeTourneau writes,

Because Democrats were so successful in raising small donations online via ActBlue, the Republicans created something similar in 2019 that they call WinRed. But it’s not working out very well for them.

Last month, the National Republican Senatorial Committee prepared a slideshow for Senate chiefs of staff full of bleak numbers about the party’s failure to compete with Democrats on digital fundraising. For anyone not getting the message, the final slide hammered home the possible end result: a freight train bearing down on a man standing on the tracks.

The slideshow, obtained by POLITICO, painted a grim picture of the GOP’s long-running problem. Republican senators and challengers lagged behind Democrats by a collective $30 million in the first quarter of 2020, a deficit stemming from Democrats’ superior online fundraising machine. Since then, Democrats’ fundraising pace accelerated further, with the party’s challengers announcing huge second-quarter hauls last week, largely driven by online donors giving through ActBlue, the party’s preferred fundraising platform.

Republican strategists suggest the problem is that their candidates haven’t done the legwork that is necessary to build a grassroots base of small donors. But at least one Republican who lost in 2018 suggests that the problem goes much deeper.

Many candidates have long assumed that “95 percent of the money you would raise would be from large donors, political action committees. Online fundraising was just to check the box,” said former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who lost his seat in 2018 after being outraised by his Democratic opponent. “For a long time, members didn’t understand the potential of online fundraising.”

With tax cuts and deregulation as their only real agenda, Republicans have built their fundraising campaigns around the desires of their big donors who support their election via superPACs. That means that they haven’t had to pay attention to the grassroots in order to build the kind of small donations that come via online fundraising. Therefore, to fully utilize a platform like WinRed requires them to change their entire culture. That’s why they’re struggling.

Instead of protecting Trump, Republicans would be in a much better place now if they’d found a way to dump Trump at least a couple of years ago and let Pence be POTUS. Based on his record in Indiana I doubt he would have handled the pandemic or the police brutality crises effectively, either, but perhaps he wouldn’t have made as total a botch of it all as Trump has. But the Republicans waited too long.

Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson had an article in WaPo last week that points to the same thing

How did the GOP get here? The conventional account emphasizes white backlash, particularly white male evangelical backlash. After the civil rights era, Republicans attracted an increasing share of resentful white voters by stoking outrage against a growing list of boogeymen: lawless immigrants, godless liberals, anti-gun zealots, dark-skinned freeloaders. In this account, white mobilization in rural and small-town America explains both Trump’s 2016 victory and his 2020 vulnerability.

This account is not so much wrong as badly incomplete. In its fixation on right-wing populism, it ignores right-wing plutocracy: conservative business leaders and reactionary billionaires who’ve focused not just on winning elections, but on rewriting the rules of our economy and our democracy. The growing power of these forces has encouraged the GOP to embrace a retrograde economic program that has little support even among its own voters. One effect is more inequality. Another is a Republican Party more reliant on white identity to stay in power.  …

… With concentrated wealth has come unprecedented investments in politics by billionaire donors and business organizations, mostly on the right. Showcasing this conservative tilt, in 2016, the anti-government advocacy network associated with Charles Koch spent about as much to advance its reactionary agenda and elect sympathetic politicians as the Republican Party itself. In the process, plutocratic forces have reshaped the positions of both parties — especially the Republican Party.

But how do you keep getting votes with an unpopular agenda? That’s where the race-baiting and stoking the fires of resentment and fear come in. This is what Hacker and Pierson are calling “plutocratic populism.” It’s a strategy that relies on organized money and organized outrage.

In the 1990s, GOP leaders like House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and future House Speaker John A. Boehner embraced wealthy donors and an increasingly assertive business community, which had started ramping up its political efforts in the 1970s. Simultaneously, they nurtured grass-roots groups skilled at stoking grievance, particularly the Christian right and the National Rifle Association. Crucially, so long as these groups got a full-throated defense of gun rights and traditional values (especially from nominees to the federal courts), they had no problems with the party’s plutocratic priorities.

That works as long as members of the outraged mob are either reasonably well off or are completely blinded to how they’re being used. And the wins for the plutocracy under Trump have been huge. Outrageous tax cuts, plutocracy-friendly judges, killing safety and environmental regulations, you name it. The rich are winning, bigly. No wonder the stock markets keep going up even though the economy is in big trouble.

But these wins have come at a growing price. Outsourcing outrage has secured elections but also succored extremism — at times violent extremism. Conservative media have amplified the worst of it. Republican leaders who cultivated backlash soon found themselves undone by it. Two GOP speakers resigned in turn. As Boehner’s chief of staff lamented, “We fed the beast that ate us.” Trump, who fattened the beast, was the party’s logical destination.

Now the bill may be due. If the problem were just an aging and outnumbered voting base, it would be vexing enough. But Republicans have also locked themselves into priorities with powerful backers yet little popular support. When Republicans’ extraordinarily top-heavy 2017 tax bill looked set to fail, one GOP senator predicted “the financial contributions will stop.” Another warned, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’ ” A year later, GOP donors were privately advocating that candidates downplay the tax cuts and hype an immigrant “invasion.”

I wrote a couple of days ago that Trump is holding us all hostage, and it still feels that way because none of our crises can be competently addressed as long as he is POTUS. But of course it’s bigger than that. The Republican Party is holding us hostage but the plutocrats and the Trump cult are holding the Republican Party hostage. And as long as the Clinton cult controlled the Democrats, the Democratic Party played the role of enabler of much of what the Republicans were up to. But I think the Dems are finally starting to move on from the Clintons, at least.

Basically, though, we’re a nation holding itself hostage. Nothing but a complete break with the patterns of the past four to five decades or so will save us.

Der Spiegel