In 2016, there really is a wolf

In a column written before Donald Trump’s apocalyptic speech at the Republican National Convention, Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham describes her new appreciation for the last GOP Presidential nominee:

I criticized you for throwing Massachusetts under the bus in the service of your presidential ambitions. I gave you a hard time for grandstanding on immigration and flip-flopping on other issues. I joined in the ridicule over your decision to strap your dog Seamus to the roof of the family car on a road trip. I have called you overly stage-managed, even boring.

And I hammered you for that 47 percent speech, in which you wrote off almost half the nation as moochers, saying it was no use going after their votes because you’d “never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

OK, that was pretty bad. Or so I thought at the time.

Now I long for those days. Because now I see how bad bad can be.

Your party has nominated an ignorant narcissist for president. His vile rhetoric has brought racists, anti-Semites, and misogynists out into the open. Our political discourse has not been this base in decades. It’s difficult to fathom, but the folks who nominated you just four short years ago are now willing to have this orange study in amorality yell “You’re fired!” at nuclear missiles.

Here’s an ironclad rule of politics: the latest conservative standard-bearer is always a scary fascist who’s going to end democracy as we know it.  Meanwhile, the last conservative standard-bearer – preferably a defeated one – earns strange new respect from the commentariat.

(This isn’t just an American phenomenon.  Mark my words: the Toronto Star columns declaring the next Conservative Party  of Canada leader “more extreme than Stephen Harper” are already written, with just the name to be filled in.)

The thing is, Donald Trump really is as awful as his opponents say.  That should have been obvious to anyone watching last night.  But when everyone right-of-center is deemed a fascist, don’t be surprised when people eventually tune out your warnings.

Andrew Sullivan* correctly says the right – especially an increasingly obstinate Republican Party – bears most of the blame for the rise of Trump, but the left is not blameless:

We have to answer this core question: how is it that liberal democracy in America is now flirting with strongman, ethno-nationalist authoritarianism? What happened to the democratic center?

It seems to me that the right bears the hefty majority of responsibility, moving from principled opposition to outright nullification of a presidency, trashing every important neutral institution, and now bad-mouthing the country they hope to “govern.” But the left’s abandonment of empiricism and liberalism – its rapid descent into neo-Marxist dogma, its portrayal of American history as a long unending story of white supremacy, its coarse impugning of political compromise and incrementalism, its facile equation of disagreement with bigotry – has also played a part. Liberal democracy needs liberal norms and manners to survive. Which is why it is now on life-support.

*Sullivan lost me with his Trig Palin conspiracy-theorizing years ago.  That I’m back to voluntarily reading him again says a lot about 2016, and how Trump’s campaign is shifting my political views almost as much as 9/11 did – albeit in the other direction.

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