Americans love a good authoritarian!
Last night, I spoke to my father about the presidential campaign. He indicated that he was going to vote for Trump. He didn’t say it explicitly, but I got the idea. It really isn’t about Trump, of course. It is about Hillary Clinton. She just can’t be trusted! Or something. I asked him to name something that she had lied about. He said, “Benghazi.” I asked for clarification. He mentioned the stand down order that stopped the military from rescuing the people at the embassy. The fact that this assertion has been refuted by three different Republican investigations means nothing.
I gave him information about this, but it doesn’t matter. The truth is that since 1992, the right wing has been piling so much garbage on Hillary Clinton that now people like my father simply have a generalized notion that she is not trustworthy. Where there’s smoke, there must be fire. Somewhere. If 25 years of investigations have not turned anything up, it just means that we haven’t looked thoroughly enough.
The Lying Double Standard
On the other hand, Trump has been caught lying again and again and again. But apparently, while smoke implies fire, actual fire does not. Or rather, actual lying does not matter because we know about it. Having a general idea that there might be lying causes conservatives to obsess about it the way they might a clever magic trick. Trump’s obviousness makes him immune.
Of course, it doesn’t matter. If it weren’t this, it would be something else that made Hillary Clinton unacceptable. The truth is that Trump is the man that many conservatives have been waiting their whole lives to vote for. As I watched some of the DNC last night, I was struck by how soft it appeared to be. It was totally lacking in the one thing that the RNC had in abundance: authoritarian chest pounding.
Americans Want an Authoritarian
There are a lot of Americans who want nothing more than a tough guy as president. And sad to say, my father is one of them. There is nothing to discuss. My father, for example, thinks the economy is terrible and that it is the Democrats’ fault. He mentioned that our infrastructure is crumbling. There is much truth in all of this. But the reason for it is the Republicans. And voting for an authoritarian is not going to fix it.
My father has a certain fondness for Bernie Sanders. This is probably more because he isn’t Hillary Clinton than anything else. Yet he asked how Sanders was planning to pay for his plan for free college. I told him how and we had a nice discussion of financial transaction taxes. He approves of them — at least until Charles Krauthammer tells him not to. But I was struck by the fact that my father is not interested in how Donald Trump is going to pay for his hugely regressive tax cut. That’s the great thing about authoritarians: all you have to do is put your trust in them and all will be well.
Things Look Bad at the Moment
After seeing the most recent polls that have Trump tied or leading Clinton, talking to my father was helpful. How is it that Trump could even be close in this election, much less potentially winning? Well, there you are! Elections are not about ideas. They are about gut feelings. They are about a country desperate for any authoritarian who comes along and tells them he is the one weird trick for national happiness.
I find it exhausting. It really makes me wonder why I follow politics and why I write about it. Over the last six months, I’ve thought a lot about Leonard Peikoff’s book, The Ominous Parallels. It’s filled with a lot of Randian nonsense, of course. But the truth is that Americans really do have a profound attraction toward strongmen. And there isn’t much the rest of us can do about it.
This is not fun.