About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Playing the Trump Card


At this point, I have to say, Donald Trump is running the most brilliant, if the most cynical campaign of the 2016 election season.  While it would be utter disaster for this man to be elected, I think that pundits who are dismissing him are sacrificing themselves at the altar of conventional wisdom. 

This man actually stands a chance a good chance to be nominated, and possibly even elected.  I'd like to examine the reasons that could come to pass.

First, we need to go back to 2012.  While Mitt Romney was "inevitable," the GOP base kept trying to find ANYONE but Mitt.  They tried a succession of frontrunners, each who surged past Romney in a comet-like blaze of glory.  This shows a deep dissatisfaction in the base for the establishment candidate: the guy "who's turn it is."  The stream of candidates who briefly flared showed an angry and tempestuous base. 

But the problem in 2012, was that the supernova candidates didn't resonate past a certain area.  Gingrich was popular in the South, but not so much outside of there.  Santorum inspired the Religious Right, but scared more secular voters.  Ron Paul fired up the Libertarians, but terrified the Neo-Cons who pull the strings in the party. 

So basically, each alternate candidate couldn't sustain a real challenge to Romney, because they'd win a couple, then lose when they were outside of their stronghold.  Then the base who was desperate for a change would flee to another candidate, only to have the pattern repeat.

So, at the start of the season, there is a large group of angry voters who hate the GOP Establishment almost as much as they hate the Democrats, and who will not tolerate the anointed one, who is probably Jeb Bush, getting the nomination.

Into this scene enters Trump, stage center, to take control of everything.  He is the perfect combination of narcissism,  megalomania, psychopathy, and wealth to fill a void in the unhappy Republican soul.

Now to look at the perfect storm of things that make him a viable candidate.

First, and this is the most brilliant point in his actual campaign, he is spewing Fox talking points.  He only says what regular viewers of Fox, listeners to Rush Limbaugh, and readers of the Drudge Report want to hear.  He is being unabashedly racist and sexist.  He is articulating all the things they want to hear, and given his wealth and position, he has no care about the ramifications.

Conventional wisdom would say this is exactly the wrong strategy, that you need to code your politically incorrect views in language that is not overt.  However, in this, I think conventional wisdom is wrong.  Every racist or misogynistic statement out of Trumps mouth seems to add to his lead, not reduce it. 

The reason that I think this is occurring is that people view this as brave and principled.  While that may seem strange to many, having lived in the South, I can hear people say, this man says openly what we are all thinking.  In a Right Wing World, sick and tired of Political Correctness, this is a welcome image of someone finally standing up against the tyranny of Liberal Oppression.  Finally, they have a candidate who will say the vile racist things they want to say themselves.  (And honestly, I actually appreciate this myself, because it is easier to show and talk about the inherent racism and sexism of the Right, when its on open display; you can't cover this up when it is on display in the frontrunner)

But even further, every single thing that comes out of his mouth is an echo AND answer to the things that the Right hears on their media. America apologizes for being who we are, so we'll make America Great.  Mexicans are evil, so we stop them from coming to this country.  And so on, and so on.  Every talking point is framed in the exact language that articulates the rage on the right.

Never mind that there are no actual solutions in his speeches, he says what they want to hear, just like every demagogue in the past.  And the worst thing is, just like those orators in the past, people are flocking to his banner.

And this also leads to a more widespread appeal.  Since he will say literally anything his audience wants to hear, he can move beyond the limitations that crippled Santorum and Ron Paul.  Every speech is market researched, focus group tested and field approved.  This makes him the perfect firebrand to inspire people.

Further, when he spouts some batshit crazy thing, he doesn't apologize or back down, he doubles down on it, sucking all of the oxygen out of the criticism.  When someone apologizes, or uses the modern equivalent of the non-apology, "if anyone was offended" then the conversation shifts to "today, X issues another statement disavowing Y" which paints the person as at minimum, wishy washy, at worst completely fake.

And I want to point out that I am stunned by the irony of the most fake candidate in American history being viewed as authentic by refusing to walk back his insanity.

Which leads to the next point about Trump's success, he perfectly fits the zeitgeist of America.  We are so inured to crazy behavior because of reality television, that we have normalized out of control antics.  Worse, we are beginning to like them.  We love Hoarders, Bar Rescue, and the entire Real Housewives franchise because of the crazy people yelling at each other, putting our national sociopathy on full display.

Thanks to our TV, we now equate belligerence, anger and disrespect with real leadership.  The way Trump dominated the stage at the debates wasn't viewed as him being a narcissistic asshole, it came across as a real leader who dominated the competition.  People all over America envisioned him talking like that to Putin or the Iranian leaders, and got a hard-on by proxy.  While he can't ACTUALLY do that sort of thing in a diplomatic situation, he fulfilled the fantasies of old white men all over the country.

And following from this, he has now managed to turn even Fox News against him.  This isn't the liability it seems like, and in fact, is probably an asset.  This means that the entire "Republican Establishment" is arrayed against him.  As crazy as this may sound, many of the people on the Right view Fox as middle of the road, and I have had a couple of people tell me that they are still "slightly liberally biased, just not as bad as the rest of the media."  Given that many people on the Right are disillusioned with the Republican brand and the establishment, this will likely be an asset to Trump.

He can run as the guy the Republicans want to silence, because he speaks the truth.  He can spin this in the same way that many on the Left do, that both parties are essentially the same, and he won't hold to the party orthodoxy.  (And this is the same reason that Bernie Sanders has the same appeal on the Left) 

By running as the guy who the party wants to get rid of, he can mix in victimhood into his run.  This plays well for people who view "Happy Holidays" as a personal attack, and who claim that Christians are the only people in this country who it is OK to discriminate against.  It adds a component of, "I'm just like you" into the mix.

Then there is the other issue of him being a business man.  This serves his campaign in two ways.  First, he is wealthy enough to be able to say in the race through self funding.  He doesn't need a billionaire patron, he is his own funder.  This means that the establishment can't pull the plug by withholding funding.  He literally doesn't care.

And then the other part of this, as a businessman, he is not used to being told no, and is very used to being able to buy what ever he wants.  He had decided that he wants the presidency, and he will do whatever it takes to purchase it.  The opening bid of his negation was on full display at the debate.  When he refused to rule out an independent run, he wasn't being petulant, he was laying his bid on the table.

Basically he told the Party, either nominate me, or I'll ruin you.  He knows full well that a third party bid would devastate the chances of the Republicans winning the election.  It's very simple, as a businessman, he knows that he has to negotiate from a position of strength.  It made it clear that if the Republicans want to stand a chance in 2016, he'd better be their nominee.  (Now it this does presuppose that he will continue to have his current strength) 

Still as a man used to winning and getting whatever he wants, he will be utterly ruthless in a way that the Party is likely not prepared to handle.  Political negotiations typically are we each get a bit of what we want.  Business negotiations tend to be much more one sided, especially with someone like Trump,. who won't be afraid to execute his hostages.

Finally, there is an additional strength that Trump possesses that might contribute to his victory, and this time in a general election.  It's called the "Boris Johnson Effect."  For decades, London had a highly competent, if very boring mayor.  Boris Johnson ran against him, on more or less the same antics that Trump is using.   For his behavior, he was widely viewed as a buffoon.

And yet Johnson won.  He's the mayor of London.

The main reason he won was no one believed he had the remotest chance, so they voted for him as a joke.  It would be a funny story to tell in the breakroom or by the water cooler.  But the joke was, enough people cast the ironic vote to elect the guy mayor.

And given the cynical nature of the American Hipster, I could see this repeat here.  The "haha, I voted for Trump, isn't that funny?" can easily become, "OH. MY. GOD.  WHY DID I VOTE FOR TRUMP."

And has been pointed out elsewhere, we will have about two months to prepare for Armageddon.

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