Monthly Archives: August 2016

Article by me, comparing Trump to Lyndon LaRouche

I’m still trying to get this piece published online; I long for a day when I’ll be famous enough that publishers will be asking me to please let them publish something of mine, but at the moment I’m still the one doing the entreating.  But, while I try to get it published, I’ll share it with you, my esteemed associates at City Tech.  Reading any of it is purely optional; I’m merely making it available for those interested.  And feel free to comment here.

Need a Precedent for Trump?  Try Lyndon LaRouche

By Benjamin F. Alexander

Does Donald Trump really want to be president? Many have raised that question in recent weeks. Increasing numbers are even starting to believe the theory that he is running a losing campaign on purpose to help Hillary Clinton. How else, they ask, can we explain the amount of time he has been spending in states he is either sure to win or sure to lose, and the provocative remarks that he only rarely, and just barely, hints at apologizing for?

Because Trump is the nominee of a major party, commentators understandably measure his actions by how the nominee of a major party usually behaves, and on the assumption that a nominee generally wants to win the election rather than lose it. Party insiders logically try to advise him accordingly, and throw up their hands when their advice goes ignored. Is he not serious, they might ask themselves, about wanting to be president? Otherwise, why is he doing it?

What people may want to consider is that maybe Trump is not serious about wanting to become president, but is serious about something else—and no, that something else is not helping Hillary Clinton.

Trump has his moments of appearing to “pivot,” and of following advice from the party strategists, but not consistently and not convincingly. This, of course, frustrates Republican Party officials and notables no end. From the time that they started taking his candidacy seriously, they assumed that the bravado and bombast were just for the primaries (where, after all, they had worked) and that, once he had the nomination, he would get serious about reaching out to the whole American public, would try to broaden his appeal by softening his message, and would let party officials guide him on where and how to campaign—like a normal, serious presidential candidate.

This would have all been perfectly reasonable if they were talking about a normal candidate, or a serious one, but they may have noticed by now that Trump is neither of these things. So instead of being so puzzled as to what Trump isn’t doing and why is isn’t doing it, they may want to ask themselves what he is doing, why he’s doing it, and what goal he seriously wants to achieve—because that question really does have an answer.

One thing should be obvious at this point: Donald Trump is most concerned with keeping the approval of those who already love him exactly as he is. People who want to understand him would do well to take his Fifth Avenue Doctrine seriously: that is, his remark that his supporters could see him shoot somebody in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue and they’d still stand by him. It follows that these same people would not abandon him for questioning the fairness of a federal judge based on his ethnic heritage, for insulting the parents of a Muslim American soldier who gave his life for this country, or for being allegedly to have bilked some economically vulnerable people out of thousands of dollars in his Trump University venture. If a cadre of devoted followers is the only audience he cares about playing to, then of course he has no incentive to “pivot.”

The die-hard supporters, of course, aren’t enough to win the election with, but if some wonder why Trump doesn’t realize that, what they are really asking is why Trump doesn’t act like a normal candidate. The answer is that he isn’t one. Rather than using normal, serious candidates as the frame of reference, it might work better to study the model of the most abnormal presidential candidate in recent memory, one whose candidacy nobody but his supporters ever took seriously, and whose motives in running were consequently much easier to ferret out. That abnormal candidate would be Lyndon LaRouche.

LaRouche ran for president on his own U.S. Labor Party ticket in 1976, and then in the next seven Democratic primaries. The most memorable talking point in his 1980 campaign was the claim that there was an assassination plot against him, which of course made it easy for the media to write him off as a nutjob and give him nearly zero coverage. The nearly zero coverage changed briefly in 1986 when, in a surprise upset, two members of his organization won primaries in Illinois for the positions of lieutenant governor and secretary of state. That aberrant fluke was the apparent result of low voter turnout, along with the habit of some voters to favor the names listed first and the more Anglo-Saxon-looking names, which happened to coincide. Thus did Mark Fairchild beat out George Sangmeister; thus also did Janice Hart prevail over Aurelia Pucinski.

After that, LaRouche’s next claim to fame was when he was convicted late in 1988 for various forms of fraud in his fund-raising tactics, and served five years in prison.

As Americans became aware when the 1986 fiasco broke, LaRouche runs a political cult built around mind-control techniques and wild conspiracy theories, like the Queen of England being the head of an international drug cartel. Like other purveyors of conspiracy theories, LaRouche laces his with overtones of bigotry: his anti-British rhetoric comes with anti-Jewish implications and, as Dennis King demonstrates in his 1989 book Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism, a vision of a master species. Among the beliefs his organization instills in its membership is that their fearless leader is being endlessly persecuted by the establishment because he dares to challenge it and expose its misdeeds.

Comparing Trump to LaRouche does not imply that either the two men or their respective followings are entirely alike. They are, indeed, enormously different. However, many of their differences are a matter of dial settings. Trump is better known than LaRouche. He is also a more charismatic speaker: a Trump speech resembles a tent revival meeting, while listening to a LaRouche speech feels more like being in a college lecture hall. An even bigger difference is in the nature of the conspiracy theories. LaRouche’s are original, and so bizarre that only a narrow fringe can give them credence. Paradoxically, they are also so complex that it takes a gifted and educated mind to keep them straight (and he has always managed to recruit people with advanced degrees to buy into his fictions and do his bidding). Trump, on the other hand, just recites familiar old paranoias and prejudices that a broader audience can relate to: birther theory, stereotypes of Mexicans, suspicion of Muslims, etc. In contrast with LaRouche, it doesn’t take a day of schooling to understand every word of a Donald Trump speech.

Another difference between Trump and LaRouche is that LaRouche has an intricate, hierarchical infrastructure through which members are recruited, brainwashed, and induced to donate their time and money. Dennis King’s 1989 book exposed how, at its peak in the late 1970s and the 1980s, the LaRouche organization had young recruits asking their parents for money and taking out student loans under false pretenses to help LaRouche save America from the treacherous elites that were running it. The same kinds of coercive mind-control tactics associated with religious cults, King demonstrated, were what LaRouche was using to keep members of his organization loyal to him.

Trump, on the other hand, does not need to use any methods of coercion or mind control. He does not even need to do any recruiting. When he announced he was running for president, his support base was waiting for him. The people who believe that President Obama was not born in the U.S. and is giving away the nation’s sovereignty because he hates America, who believe that this country has been playing Santa Claus to the world for years and just needs to start saying “no more mister nice guy,” who feel threatened by Muslims and Mexicans and perceive their society as being under siege by a sinister force called “political correctness” with its plot to take the Christ out of Christmas—they were already there. So when Trump came along and announced that he was going to build a wall and “have Mexico pay for it” (emphasis added), and that people would say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” when he became president, they were ready to cheer.

Those are the differences between Trump and LaRouche, and they are huge. But so are the similarities. The most glaring one is that Trump, like LaRouche, is playing to an audience of loyalists who love him just as he is. When Trump backpedals on any of his extremist remarks and insults, and makes speeches in those battleground states where campaigning could actually help him win, it arguably has more to do with getting the Republican establishment off his back for a few days than with anything else.  His acceptance speech at Cleveland exemplified this: portraying America as having been reduced to a crime-infested third-world country, and declaring “I alone can fix it,” was utterly ludicrous by any reasonable standards, and party regulars and the more sensible elements of the public have to have cringed, at least privately, at hearing those words uttered. But neither traditional Republicans nor the general American public are whom he’s playing to. The words “I alone can fix it” sounded just wonderful to the people he cares about sounding wonderful to. It is hardly a stretch, then, to say that his whole farce of a presidential campaign, embarrassingly successful as it was in the Republican primaries, is a performance for a specific audience rather than a bid for broad electoral approval, much as LaRouche’s campaigns have always been a performance for his cult.

To be sure, not everybody who supports Trump loves everything about him. One Trump supporter, talking to me, used a standard expletive to describe the kind of human being Trump is, but then added that this was no problem because “I’m not looking for a friend.” Another expressed serious disapproval at how he had encouraged his supporters to beat up hecklers at rallies, but then opined that his bullying approach is probably what we need in foreign policy. One man said to me, “There’s a lot I disagree with about Trump, but I like how he speaks his mind.” But for such people, the disagreements are fine points. All three of those conversations happened early in the primary season, when Republican voters still had a huge slate of candidates to choose from. So even many of Trump’s die-hard supporters admit that they dislike some aspects of him, they can always rationalize those aspects away, because they still imagine that America needs him to make it great again.

Related to this is another big similarity between Trump and LaRouche: because Trump is taking on the wicked establishment, it stands to reason that said establishment will persecute him. He has stated that the IRS was auditing him because they don’t like that he’s such a strong Christian. (Maybe one of the other contributors here can make some sense out of that claim; it’s a bit beyond my powers.) More recently, in response to his low percentage ratings in the polls, he has announced that the election is going to be rigged against him, and he has called for an army of volunteer observers to stand around the polls on guard for voter fraud.

By the way, while so many critics construed his recent “Second Amendment people” remark as suggesting that his supporters should try to assassinate Hillary Clinton and/or the liberal anti-gun judges she appoints to the federal courts, another way of interpreting it is that the true-blue, liberty-loving, Trump-voting Americans should form armed militias to keep their guns from being confiscated and their liberties from being usurped by the politically correct liberals if Hillary Clinton wins. That scenario, a citizen militia loyal to Trump—especially when we remind ourselves that his support base includes white nationalist groups—is disconcerting enough even without any hint of assassinations. It also has an eerie consistency with his call for a pro-Trump volunteer force (which will certainly include some bona fide white nationalists) to be prowling around the polling places on Election Day.

Establishment Republicans may be discouraged by the current polls, but don’t expect Trump to be. He already has what he wants: a flock of loyalists around the country who regard him as their nation’s messiah, at least some of whom will march when he says to. What this means for the future is up for grabs. Maybe it’s just the short-term thrill of all this attention that he wants. Or maybe he has longer-term goals in mind, now that he has made himself the messianic leader of so many white Americans who feel economically and culturally dispossessed and under siege. If the latter is the case, then he will not stop being a danger to the country if he loses. And while Trump cannot be taken seriously as a viable choice for president, he should still be taken seriously as a threat to the country. He is, after all, on the ballot with the imprimatur of one of the major parties, which LaRouche never came close to, and for that reason alone there is a chance he could win.

How safe would it be to give Donald Trump the White House keys and the nuclear codes?  Oh…about as safe as giving them to Lyndon LaRouche.


Meet Maine’s Governor

As students in my classes last spring will remember, I fully expected that Donald Trump was going to try (not necessarily successfully) to make Governor Paul LePage of Maine his running mate.  As you can see in this new Politico article, they are a lot alike.

Further update: New York Times article, Aug. 29, 2016.

This year also seems to be quite a year for white politicians calling each other racist.  I guess that’s a little bit of progress, since there was a time in our history (I’m mainly thinking of 1858 when Abraham Lincoln was running against Stephen A. Douglas for a Senate seat from Illinois) when politicians put each other on the defensive for not being racist, accused each other of believing in social equality (meaning race mixing).

It’s a bizarre year in American politics.  I’m not expecting 2020 to be any letdown either, when we’ll be seeing the return of Ted Cruz.

The Battle of the Bathrooms: The Latest Round

There’s federalism, the relationship between the national and the state governments, and there’s checks and balances at the national level, among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, all involving arenas where different ideological persuasions can battle it out for policy control.  And all of this is being illustrated in the current culture war over transgender persons’ use of bathrooms.

One of the principles of federalism is that the national government, because it gives funding to state agencies, is able to use that funding for leverage.  It’s been done to enforce civil rights standards for decades.  Now, the Obama administration has handed down a set of guidelines for public agencies at the state and local level, including public schools, requiring those facilities that want to continue receiving federal funding to allow transgender persons to use the bathrooms that fit their gender of orientation rather than their original gender at birth.  This conflicts with laws that state and local governments had started enacting in response to the transgender issue, limiting such persons to bathrooms by original gender at birth.

But anything that the executive branch does can be challenged in federal court, and that’s what some states and districts are doing.  And now a federal district court judge in Texas has blocked enforcement of those guidelines.  The court battle isn’t over, but Obama is on the losing end of this first round.

NPR story, August 22, 2016

This is, of course, very much one of those issues that divide along lines of conservative and liberal.  Issues like this are part of why the Senate Republicans are sitting on so many of President Obama’s federal court nominations–Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court is just one of many–because they want their own party rather than the Democrats, especially the Democrat who is in the White House now, to shape the future of the federal courts.

Again, this ruling resolves nothing for the long run, but it does make clear that the battle is going to continue in the long run.


What Trump Is Serious About, and What He’s Not

It is questionable, at best, that Donald Trump is serious about becoming president of the United States.  He’s not listening to even the most basic advice about how to run a campaign, including when to keep his big mouth shut, and even when you look beyond the big-mouth factor, he’s not putting effort into the battleground states that he would need to win.  According to this article in Politico, for example, he’s campaigning in Connecticut, which is extremely unlikely to do him any good.

But if he’s not serious about winning this election, there is still something else that he is very serious about:  continuing to play to his loyal base, the people who he boasts would still love him if he shot somebody in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue.  And what’s he doing now?  Recruiting those people to watch the polls for voter fraud on election day–because, he claims, if he loses, it will be because it’s rigged.  (Article about that.)

This is a big part of what I mean when I say that the people who talk about whether he’ll win or lose the election, and the people who talk about the constitutional limits of power he’ll be up against if he wins, are missing the point.  We’re not talking about a serious presidential campaign.  I do, however, think we’re talking about a very serious grassroots fascist movement.  And fascist movements have always depended heavily on groups within the population to help them rise to power so as to do battle against other population groups that they oppose.  When Trump says that when he’s president people will say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays,” that absolutely translates into rallying those Americans who feel victimized by cultural pluralism to reassert their social power and bully others into shutting up and getting out of their way.

The Donald Trump problem goes way beyond the danger that he’ll win the election.  Obviously, he’ll do a lot more damage if he wins than if he loses, but the problem is not going to be over if he loses.  And about the Constitution:  In case I forgot to mention it, constitutions are only as good as the people who live by them.


Trump and the Republicans

I want to scream at the Republican leadership, I really do.  Yes, they’re upset with Trump, but their outrage and worry seem to center on (1) the fact that Trump is blowing the campaign and putting himself in danger of losing the election by doing stupid things, and (2) the fact that Trump is not being loyal to the party establishment that has been supporting him, like refusing to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan in the Republican primary election in his district coming up.

Idiots!  How about dealing with the question of whether anything good could possibly come of a Trump presidency?  And what’s more, when they talk of doing an “intervention” (an act of desperation in this context), are they so naive–still–as to think that Trump gives a damn about the party and the concerns of its leadership?  I’d like to see them have their “intervention,” and when they lose their temper at Trump (Reince Priebus has already bellowed at Trump’s staff that they are messing up the campaign, except that “messing” wasn’t the word he used), I would love to see Trump have his biggest narcissistic meltdown yet, right in front of them.

As you have heard me say, I normally do not give students much of a clue to what I think and how I feel personally about anything, but I draw the line at pretending to be neutral about Trump–and about the Republicans who still think that Trump just hasn’t yet learned the ropes of campaigning and will start behaving himself once they find the right way to teach him.

Okay, enough of my rant.  Here are some news links; as always there are more in the news feed on the right of this page.

NPR story about the angst of the Republicans.  (I wish they’d consult me about what it is they’re dealing with, because I’d be glad to explain it to them, no charge.  Or, if they do a web search on “Trump” and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” they’ll find it even faster.)

NPR story about the Obama administration’s money transfer to Iran, which Trump will be trying to use to his advantage.  (Trump, by the way, undoubtedly thinks his campaign is going just fine, other than that the establishment Republicans and the press won’t stop harassing him and the polls that show him losing must be rigged.)  This actually is good ammo for Trump, especially with the increase in Americans being detained in Iran, because a big part of the Trump supporters’ narrative is that America is getting kicked around by countries like Iran thanks to weak policies of the Obama administration.

NPR story about poverty and desperation in Appalachia:  Regions of the country, including coal mining areas in West Virginia and nearby, are suffering loss of jobs.  Where the ranks of the desperately poor and vulnerable working class are predominately white, there is a receptive audience for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message.  Actually, it’s hard to dispute that there’s a serious jobs crisis and that something needs to be done about it, though there’s huge room for disagreement on whether electing Trump is going to do it.



What Makes the Trump Campaign Most Bizarre

I trust you’re all following the back-and-forth exchange between Donald Trump and a Muslim American couple, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son died in the Iraq war in 2004.

Politico story

It began, of course, when Mr. Khan, with his wife by his side, gave a speech at the Democratic convention in which he accused Trump of not knowing the Constitution, and pulled out a pocket copy that he said Trump could borrow.  Now, to be sure, that was an attack on Trump, and it’s not bizarre that Trump did not like having that said about him.  But personal attacks on an opposing political candidate at a convention are hardly anything new to him: he and others at the Republican convention said lots of things about Hillary Clinton that were hardly any nicer.  That’s the point where we start to see symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, because the narcissist has no comprehension of such balancing factors.  From his point of view, he was absolutely right to attack Hillary Clinton, while it was abominable for Khizr Khan to attack him.

But I haven’t even gotten to what’s bizarre.  If Trump has anything even remotely resembling a normal staff of campaign advisers, then somebody has to have sat down with him and said, “Now, Mr. Trump, I know it’s going to be very tempting for you to lash back at that couple, but you must resist the temptation.  You must make no comment other than that his freedom of speech is what makes America great, that you’re sorry for their loss, and that yes you’ve read the Constitution.  If you say anything that even remotely resembles an attack or disparagement against them, it’s going to put your campaign in crisis.”  Again, that has to have been said to him if he has any kind of halfway normal campaign staff.

So what does he do?  He allows a feud to start, and then he escalates it.  And let me be clear: I would not be saying any of this if Trump had been caught off guard.  If he had been caught off guard, I would still think his behavior was despicable, and I would still think it was ludicrous to regard him as fit for the presidency.  But here, we are talking about an instance in which he had ample time to consult with advisers and be cautioned to keep his big mouth shut.  And this is the bizarre part.

Republicans who endorsed him have been counting on him to learn some dignity by this point; they’ve been assuming he understood that he had to control himself.  Some months ago the New York Post endorsed him, and in an editorial that was one of the most STUPID pieces of prose I’ve ever read in my life, they said they were confident he would “pivot.”  I wonder if it’s because he hasn’t pivoted enough to their liking, that they just posted some old nude shots of Melania, which hardly fits with trying to make Trump look presidential.

How much of a difference this is going to make for the election remains to be seen, but it is definitely causing embarrassment for those Republicans who have been supporting him and assuming he was going to change.  But it raises two questions.  (1) Does this man have any self-control at all?  Not much, I’d say.  (2)  Does this man even want to be president, or is he just playing it for the attention?  That’s anybody’s guess.  But I can say this: it should be obvious to the Republicans now that this is not a man who just didn’t know the ropes of political campaigning and needed to be taught how it’s done.  The Republicans who thought they could support him in public and give him some gentle diplomacy lessons behind the scenes are finding out the hard way what they’re really dealing with in Donald Trump.

But he could still win this election.  Make no mistake: the danger hasn’t gone away yet.