Some may be surprised to find that if given the choice, writing fiction is far and away my first love – as opposed to giving my puddle deep personal reactions to current political issues. If I’m ever less of a coward, I might actually act on those ambitions, but until that day comes, here I am, offering up my opinions on the world around me. That said, my admiration for the world of fiction has so often molded my perspective on the world, and I believe that the most penetrating ideas, theories, and useful metaphors are born in the musings of make believe. As Albert Camus once said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”
This week I was engaging in a countless number of political debates on social media – it was just one fight after the other. I eventually deleted a few points that I had made, because – while I had not crossed the Rubicon – I had gone up to the political discourse etiquette line and began flirting with the other side. My post (read here) was mild in nature, yet set off a vast row of tumbling dominoes, and in the end I was given the labels of “purist” and “cannibal” by those who once appreciated my unabashed honest take on politics.
In this situation, standing by my principles required that I go against my personal desires, which also meant going against the desires of many who follow me.
Rubio has said multiple times that he tried to defeat Trump, that he did his best in the primaries to stop him from blanketing the conservative movement with the nationalist, racist, and sexist ideals of an egomaniac who has the power to utterly destroy. I agree, Marco tried. But Marco’s 2016 election legacy won’t be that he tried, it will be that when his own agenda failed he waved the white flag. While many refuse to fault him for this, and even I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in his shoes, I will not apologize for expecting more.
Fahrenheit 451 is in my top five favorite books of all time, and pieces of said book have been coming to mind throughout the last week, and one scene in particular is being replayed in my gray matter daily. Montag, our main character, is called to the home of a woman who has a vast collection of literature. In this world, books are illegal, and “firefighters” actually create fires. Homes have been treated to withstand the rumbling flames that devour all unauthorized contents, and Montag is a firefighter who is beginning to question the world around him. As they enter the woman’s home, she sits on the floor – defeated, you might say – among her treasured items. As they soaked the home in kerosene and headed towards the woman to drag her out, she opened up her hand to revealed an “ordinary kitchen match.”
“Go on,” said the woman, and Montag felt himself back away and away out of the door, after Beatty, down the steps, across the lawn, where the path of kerosene lay like the track of some evil snail. On the front porch where she had come to weigh them quietly with her eyes, her quietness a condemnation, the woman stood motionless. Beatty flicked his fingers to spark the kerosene. He was too late. Montag gasped. The woman on the porch reached out with contempt for them all, and struck the kitchen match against the railing.
Later that evening, during a fight with his wife concerning the ordeal, Montag reflects on the meaning of such a drastic act, “There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.” Bradbury then brilliantly used his character to emphasize the point, “Last night I thought about all the kerosene I’ve used in the past ten years. And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I’d never even thought that thought before.” He got out of bed. “It took some man a lifetime maybe to put some of his thoughts down, looking around at the world and life, and then I came along in two minutes and boom! it’s all over…. “
And now my favorite point:
“Let you alone! That’s all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”
The woman in the story didn’t lose. She had the choice to join in with the world around her, but there was no way for her to win if she exited the house. But just as in the rules of debate, winning does not always come with a trophy, and you often win by not losing. Exiting the house was survival for her, but it definitely wasn’t winning. Thankfully, it’s just a fictional story that used the picture of a literal suicide by flame to give us a figurative representation of that which we hold dear.
An incredibly intelligent friend recently used the term “Patton wing of the party” while on Twitter, and noted that we often forget that there is a time and place for such a wing. So many members of the Patton wing tend to constantly be looking for a fight, or a hill to die upon. They were guilty of tearing apart the Omnibus and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Compromise is a weakness, and a rational opinion is often overwhelmed by the urge to fight. They fight, and fight, and fight, but at some point they crossed the isthmus. Somewhere along the way, they abandoned that which they were fighting for, because it was impossible for them to haul it to the next battle. Those who understand the begrudged support of Donald Trump have lost the war simply out of refusal to lose the battle.
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board recently wrote an incredible article that I highly recommend reading, but below is – what I believe to be – the most important portion of their argument against party unity:
It’s harder to dismiss the argument that Republican leaders should support Trump because he was the choice of primary voters. Such deference to the voters’ wishes certainly should be the rule; but an exception is necessary when the prevailing candidate is as problematic and poisonous as Trump.
As Brad Thor recently noted during his controversial interview with Glenn Beck, this isn’t just some bad candidate, this is a disaster for Liberty. The potential for tyranny is unprecedented under Trump, and Thor was absolutely justified in bringing up the similarities between Trump and caudillismo, and in particular referencing an article featured on Foreign Affairs – yet another article I’d highly recommend you read.
Perhaps worst of all, caudillismo has contributed mightily to the blurring of the lines between authoritarianism and democracy that is so pervasive in contemporary Latin American politics and that is broadly echoed in some of Trump’s policy proposals. A testament to the remarkable capacity of caudillismo to survive and even thrive following the wave of democratic transition that swept through Latin America since the mid-1980s, this mixing has resulted in a wave of imperial presidencies that appear to have more in common with monarchical rule than with constitutional government.
The article points out how swiftly the romanticized prose of nationalist rhetoric, mixed with the angry – yet unguarded -conscience of the general public, can eat a country alive. Men of such pedigree are not controlled, nor do they change; similar to how the freshly stung toad muttered “why?” as they both sank to their death midstream, and the scorpion calmly replied, “It’s my nature…”
Among the many casualties of Chávismo, meanwhile, is freedom of the press. Chávez was famous for launching Twitter rants against the media, for referring to journalists as lowlifes and pigs, and for creating newsprint paper shortages intended to silence Venezuela’s non-state newspapers. Chávez’s handpicked successor, Maduro, has kept up the attacks on freedom of expression by going after social media, almost the only outlet left for Venezuelans to criticize the government. He has threatened journalists with jail time for criticizing him on Twitter. These tactics, however, pale in comparison to those adopted by Ecuador’s Correa in his ongoing war against the press. In 2011, Correa availed himself of a new law to prosecute the opposition newspaper El Universo for libel after one of the paper’s columnists referred to Correa as “a dictator.” The paper’s editor and three of its executives received three-year sentences and the paper was fined $40 million, all but ensuring the journalists’ and the paper’s ruin.
Now we turn to Trump, who has not only attempted to attack the press legally, but is making caudillismo-esque threats:
The billionaire had called the news conference to announce an accounting of his at least $5.6 million in fundraising for veterans groups, but spent most of the 40 minutes criticizing and insulting reporters — collectively and at times individually — as “dishonest,” “not good people,” sleazy, and among the worst human beings he has ever met.And he vowed the White House briefing room would be just as combative as the Trump Tower lobby, where the developer addressed reporters Tuesday, should he ascend to the Oval Office.“Yeah, it is going to be like this,” Trump said when asked if this is how he would behave with the press as president. “You think I’m gonna change? I’m not gonna change.”
In the Foreign Affairs article, the writer admits that caudillismo behavior will be difficult under the restrictions of the Constitution – which speaks volumes since the vast majority of his platform entails unconstitutional action – but notes the disturbing trend such angry masses and “fed-up” collectives have created. In a moment when Patton like behavior is required on behalf of principles, we instead have a bunch of Patton-minded aspirants who simply want to win something, even if it’s not really winning at all.
All of this said, Trump’s success so far signals a bright future for caudillo-like presidential contenders. After Trump, it is no longer disqualifying for someone aspiring to the presidency to denigrate the competition; to traffic in bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia; and to propose policies that have no basis in reality and that cross the line of what a civilized society should tolerate. More worrisome is the manner in which structural conditions such as inequality are greasing the wheels of candidacies like Trump’s. These conditions promise to make U.S. politics more bitter and dysfunctional, and hence more prone to making the electorate receptive to demagoguery and even authoritarianism. The mere fact that the millions of Americans who support Trump do not seem bothered by how his extreme and often bizarre policies are antithetical to the country’s institutions and values is evidence of how vulnerable these institutions and values actually are.
I would also note that while at the moment we feel that he won’t be successful, we can’t possibly know what type of tyrannical power he’d attempt to impose, and how much of it will seep through a weakened filter after such a hostile election. I had a coworker explain to me that most of Trump’s rhetoric is hyperbole, but I countered by saying that, as an example, he doesn’t just support the abuse of eminent domain, he’s gone through the trouble of taking people to court over it. His position is ever changing, but be that as it may, if Trump supporters are correct about one thing, I believe it’s the fact that he will do what he wants. It’s not that Trump is merely a worse evil, which I would contend that he is, it’s that he is – at the very least – an equal evil that’s wearing the skin of the most productive and freeing movement in this country. He’s an out of control race car sporting our logo, and many are now protecting those who are begrudgingly cheering for his success through their actions. Proof of his manipulative accomplishments is not only found in his vast following, it is found in the minor details I suddenly see emerging from those who despise him, yet play apologist for those who are now pledging their vote to a dictator in the making.
These good and decent people are beginning to compare this election to past elections when a revered politician placed their support in a lesser evil. The problem is that this isn’t a minor policy difference. If someone were to support drug legalization I’d roll my eyes and hold my nose, but this is a man who stands opposed to all that we hold dear, is praised by Vladimir Putin, and openly compliments Kim Jong-un, a man who brutally executed his uncle, as well as his uncle’s entire family. On top of that, some are even beginning to downgrade the threat of his presidency, and use the excuse of, “but what can he really get away with?” But what are you willing to sacrifice in the name of this experiment? Whatever happens during his presidency will have a signed permission slip from Republicans, and while we could argue that this is the case with every election, this is the only one where we were not only properly warned of his ignorance, we were well aware of his disregard for innocent human beings, his nationalistic leanings, racist undertones, and unbridled sexism. We were given a clear preview, and anyone who signs that permission slip is responsible.
Those labeling people like myself a “purist” have completely disregarded the purpose of such a title (a person who insists on absolute adherence to traditional rules or structures, especially in language or style), and even adapted the art of trading substantiated arguments for empty vituperation. The “purist” in me may want to chastise someone for supporting restrictions on trade, the reasonable side of me is required to call out those who wish to cast their vote in favor of a dictator because they are ruled by fear and party allegiance. To put me in a category with those who refused to support Romney, or incessantly complained about the GOP, simply because I voiced irritation over those who agree to support a dictator is not only illogical, it only serves as a balm for their own conscience.
Tom Nichols recently went on a rather lengthy, yet necessary, Twitter rant (I combined it below):
“I am 55 and lived through LBJ, Nixon’s resignation, Carter, two Clinton terms and two Obama terms. I can survive four years of Hillary. What I do not think the country or the conservative movement can survive is someone who makes George Wallace look like Churchill. So, you can keep going on about SCOTUS and Emailgate and Bill, and it’s all true. I detest Hillary too. But all of that can be fought. Clinton falls on the most awful side of normal. Trump is an ignorant, disturbed rich man playing with the Constitution. And if Trump gets his way, he’ll prove that being rich enough, crazy enough, and offensive enough can snuff out a democratic contest. Many of you think that’s hilarious. Some of you think he’s speaking for you. And some of you know what he is and you support it anyway. But I won’t. I will give Clinton those SCOTUS picks, suck it up on the emails, and forget the 1990s. Because I have to. Because of Trump. Also, a President’s first job, the one only he can do, is to be Commander-in-Chief. Trump is too mentally unstable to be allowed there. Everything else — *everything*, including your gun fears, your SCOTUS fears, everything — is secondary to this one issue. You all think it’s hilarious a gay British kid is running around calling a POTUS nominee “Daddy.” Now think about that for a moment. If elected, “Daddy” will not build a wall or kick out brown people. But he will control arms that can destroy the planet in 30 minutes. He’s proven repeatedly he’s an ignorant, racist demagogue. But to feel better about your own crappy lives, you’ll hand him 4000 nukes. And while you all whine about SCOTUS, you’re supporting a man whose chief adviser was a Ukrainian dictator’s PR guy. You idiots.
So I say it now, and I’ll say it in November: #NeverTrump. There is not one thing he, or you, can do to change my mind. And in the meantime, I’ll try like hell either to change yours, or to shame you for your irresponsibility. Trump is an existential menace to our system of government. So if #NeverTrump means accepting Hillary’s win, so be it.”
I’ll end this by acknowledging that some may think I’m embracing the “let it burn” mentality, but au contraire, I assure you I am not. “Let the party burn!” is the mantra of those signing the release forms for conservatism over to Trump. I’m merely suggesting we stand with our beliefs, which hold much more importance than any movement title ever could. I’m choosing to let this election burn instead of allowing what I stand for to go up in flames.
And no, I’m not staying in the burning house, or allowing Hillary to become president, for nothing: “…there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.” What the founders built – and what my conscience dictates – is far from nothing.
As you shed off your principles, even if you think it only temporary, you shed off your reason to fight. Unlike books, principles can only go up in flames if you abandon them. To walk out of your home, away from your principles – and watch as they are soaked in fuel before going up in flames – only to boast that you survived, is not winning. Sometimes when the enemy is dousing your ideals in kerosene, and taunting you with the only option available – to join them in the abandonment of reason – it’s best to simply open your hand and reveal an ordinary kitchen match.