So Repugnant, So Effective

January, 2018

Washington -- Pundits and commentators in this morning's newspapers didn't see the same Trump State of the Union speech I did last evening; or maybe they were afraid to say what they saw.

I saw manipulation of patriotic symbols worthy of Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl; a strong-man, high-chin pose not seen since Benito Mussolini; and self-congratulatory clapping modeled after Josef Stalin.

Speaking of Stalin, the speech also announced an upcoming purge of government workers in all departments who "fail the American people." Those who noticed the line minimized it by suggesting it was just part of a spat with the Justice Department. Better read it again: all departments.

The speech went over well, according to pollsters. So what it if had factual errors and offered policy choices repugnant to traditional American values? It was great theater.

It went over especially well in America's heartland, no doubt, where Trump won the election in 2016 and is now poised to win again in 2020 with a strategy of conceding the seaboard states to Democrats.

Anne Applebaum writes of the recent Czech election as a prelude to our next presidential election. The Trump-like president, an ally of Vladimir Putin, was challenged by a scientist who campaigned for Western values and decency. In the last few days of the toss-up campaign, the challenger was smeared in a vicious social media barrage. He lost, of course.

The Czech experience is a plausible scenario for America in 2020. Anne Applebaum writes:

Of course, it may be no coincidence that this particular brand of politics captured presidencies and prime ministerships in central Europe: The independent media is extremely weak in small countries where advertising markets can’t support it, and public debate is dominated by conspiratorial websites and cheap tabloids. In Germany and France, strong public and private media mean that, in general, the level of the national conversation is higher.

All of this is true. Yet consider rural America, where the independent media is extremely weak, where advertising markets can’t support it, and public debate is dominated by conspiratorial websites and cheap tabloids. So maybe there’s no need to say anything except that some of the world’s oldest democracies and some of the world’s newest democracies have more in common than you think.

If you listened closely to the SOTU speech, Trump did not once mention rural America. He takes it for granted, for the reasons Applebaum states so well. The Democratic response of Congressman Joe Kennedy worked in the word "rural" about five minutes before its end, somehow escaping Democratic editors who are bent on a seaboard strategy and sufficient revulsion of the indecent Trump in the heartland to pull Democrats through. That's not going to happen. A Goebbels-style propaganda effort and a Putin-inspired social media disinformation campaign looks stronger every day.

Is there a Democratic opposition to all this, based on the realities of our electoral college politics? Not that I see. Brave talk of a Democratic "blue wave" suffered a huge setback last evening.