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Hardcore Politics: Trump and His Base

How far can you go with a hardcore one-third? What can you do with a consistent 35-40% support base? The Trump strategy as shaped by Steve Bannon has been to merely maintain that hard core, in part usefully brain-dead base, to outdo any potential challenge from the disorganized, discouraged, divided and humiliated Democrats. Who else has a consistent one-third support base?

But the strategy involved a combination of elements unusual in bourgeois politics: “America First” rhetoric, dog-whistle politics, promises of jobs, and opposition to foreign (“regime-change”) imperialist wars (which have exhausted the patience of voters and not profited the nation as predicted). That last piece has been dropped unceremoniously.

Trump is surrounded by generals who consider Afghan withdrawal irresponsible, more military involvement in Iraq essential, support for the post-coup Ukrainian regime versus Russia normal default behavior. Trump doesn’t have the mind, intellectual patience, or will to resist his favorite guys. He will insult politicians including his allies at will, but he will not disrespect the professional killers in his circle.

Generals John Kelly (chief of staff), James Mattis (defense secretary), and H. R. McMaster (national security advisor) now drive U.S. foreign policy. Bannon is out, giving out conflicting signals. He wants from the outside to promote the Trump agenda (as he recalls it). But he also says the Trump administration as he knew it is dead. Gorka’s departure confirms that.

Trump’s hawkish talk on Venezuela has invited supportive comments by war hound Hillary (even as she berates him for intruding creepily on her space during the debates). Embattled by the hawkish press, bereft of his “isolationist” advisors, pressed to do something to reassert “American leadership” in the world in a time of global disgust with the U.S.A., he had to rethink Afghanistan. He gave few details on his new Afghan policy so as not to too much alarm his support base. But he backed off from a major campaign promise (again).

And then he needed to do something dramatic to show he was still their man.

So he pardoned tough guy Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Don’t worry, he’s saying. I am still my own man and can do crazy stuff, flaunt my racism and roil my staff. I’m still the man you elected to entertain you. And I can do more crazy stuff like invade Venezuela.

From CNN:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday that President Donald Trump “speaks for himself” when asked whether the President’s response to the violence in Charlottesville,  Virginia, raised questions about Trump’s values.

Tillerson said on “Fox News Sunday” that the United States was committed to freedom and “equal treatment of people the world over” when posed the question by anchor Chris Wallace.

“I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values,” Tillerson said. [Comment: Oh?]

“And the President’s values?” Wallace asked.

“The President speaks for himself,” Tillerson said.

This makes me remember Thamsanqa Jantjie, that schizophrenic guy who did the fake sign language interpretation at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Some of Trump’s advisors are like that, interpreting his words with animation and enthusiasm without knowing what the hell they’re doing. But when Tillerson “distances himself” (CNN terminology) from Trump with that stern corporate look on his face, it shows that the Trump project is threatened by the immanent collapse of his practical administrative circle.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”

There’s an interesting 16th century Japanese kyogen play (typical Japanese medieval satirical humor) in which a feudal lord abandons one longtime boy-lover for another, different  new love interest, causing his whole staff, one by one, to abandon him in protest—because he shows himself to be such an insensitive jerk.  So the daimyo is left alone on the stage with his horse. That is, the daimyo’s own values speake for themselves and make everybody around him recognize him an asshole to be shunned.

Why am I thinking about this now? Because I think at some point Tillerson, Huckabee Sanders, and others will exit the stage while the one-third drops to one-quarter, leaving Donald with just Melania or Ivanka (or maybe not). My gut feeling is that Melania longs for Ljubjana in her native Slovenia, and its fine wines. But that’s just idle speculation.

Oh, now he’s tweeted that Obama-era restrictions on the sale of heavy military weaponry to police departments will be lifted, the help the police better do what they do. “Okay I’m staying in Afghanistan,” he tells his base, “but I’m NOT backing down on the suppression of criminal black people in our cities. I love our police so bad you can’t imagine. So stay with me, stand by me.”

This situation is really bad. An asshole buoyed to power by claims of business competence but actually—as it turns out—lacking basic managerial abilities, such as the ability to choose and retain staff, occupies the White House. I don’t think he can last, but I dread what will happen next.

We need a real revolution, led by our youth, who are not into Trump, not at all.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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