July 3 in the GOP

Donald Trump has earned the GOP nomination. Many will attempt to deny it to him, and in so doing will violate the rules of the nomination process. These violations will be as difficult to condemn as they are to condone. Rules matter, and changing them midstream brings unforeseen and often dangerous consequences. I was asked if a country that flirts with authoritarian populism can ever go back to being “normal”, or will the political system always carry these scars. That there is no ready counter-example leaves one with chilling thoughts. But the question remains, should the rules be violated now to prevent future violations?

Trump is the best American practitioner of the “stab in the back” politics. Such thoughts rarely lead a people to a happy end. The leader promises to restore greatness after the country has been undone by those enemies, internal and external, who stabbed it in the back. The plans are vague, the crowds large and howling, and the Thomases are pointed and cast out. America, as a whole, has escaped such predicament by a dint of constant prosperity and the resulting optimism. “As a whole” of course to hide the fact that the South, once defeated and faced with its moral culpability, has sometimes created its own sub-genre, but almost never conveyed it to national leadership. Yes, Trump must be stopped. But the rules might stand in the way.

This is a moment of humility for America that preached democracy to a sometimes skeptical world. A student of authoritarian populism must view Trump with both admiration and trepidation. Such a student must have no anger toward his supporters; most are decent men and women who saw economic opportunity evaporate in their lifetime (even if many are prosperous), their cherished faiths and prejudices denigrated by the cosseted few, and their unquestioned patriotism sent men and women to grievous harm in places with names echoing with guttural sounds, and in the service of nothing more identifiable than vague illusions and unworthy “allies”.  The 2016 election is now their moment, less for their effort than for the fumbling of others.

The election started out badly. American Presidential elections are now staged as entertainment events, with voters as consumers of such matter. The producers of this entertainment, the political donors, were persuaded or arm-twisted early to stage a sequel to the 1992 election. On one side we had Jeb! Bush  a decent retiree who ambled back onto the field with all the enthusiasm of a man leaving the comforts of home to manage a rough-and-tumble chicken farm passed from father and brother. On the other side, the capable and exceptionally smart Hillary Clinton thrilled a selected few on a windy Island in the East River with the novelty of electing a female President and persuaded them that her known performances are worthy of further trust.  As elections began to resemble episodes of the World Wrestling Federation, the voters can be excused for opting for the original. America had a decent enough President in Barack Obama, a man who expressed its best hopes. But he had been flayed politically; by the cynicism of GOP leaders who smirked when he was called a “liar” to his face in the halls of Congress, and whose birth and earned American accomplishments were challenged against all facts. When hope produced no tangible progress for the ruled, nor reticence among the ruling class, it was time for change.

One can drag out an endless jeremiad against identity politics and the ills it brings on the land. Political leaders of all stripes have engaged in it as a cheap substitute for substance, which in the modern world amounts to economic security. When Madeleine Albright reserved a special place in hell for women who do not “help” other women, she practiced a Trump-like form of identity politics, but with less elan and venom. It escaped no one’s attention that Trump-lite is merely a less tasty version of the original. Trump’s destruction of language and logic in airport hangars mirrors a similar one in campus lecture halls. In America of 2016 any candidate without an identity narrative is deemed too boring for consideration; boredom being the cardinal sin of entertainment. And so we find that all imitators have been bested by the most skilled of infotainers.

And we are now back to the GOP moment of truth. Nominate Trump and respect the rules, or deny him the nomination for high minded reasons that lead to low actions. Conventions are meant to be sausage factories, but the Republican 2016 recipe may be alarmingly similar to Egyptian Kofta.

— Maged Atiya



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