The Question Is: Now What?

Will Saletan has a must-read essay at Slate. 

Saletan is responding to a bizarre accusation making the rounds on the Right to the effect that President Obama is really the reason for the rise of Donald Trump. (I notice that I use the word “bizarre” more frequently these days.) The American public, according to this “analysis,” is rejecting the extreme leftism of the Obama presidency.

As Saletan notes, this is bunk. In saner times, President Obama would have been a liberal Republican or, at most, a moderate Democrat. Saletan ticks off the policies of this administration and the place of those policies on the political spectrum, and forcefully rejects the thesis.

No, Obama didn’t cause Trump. What caused Trump was the GOP’s decision to negate Obama in every way, and thereby become the party of Trump….

If Obama had been a leftist, the GOP’s policy of negating him on every issue might have positioned Republicans in the mainstream. Instead, because Obama was a moderate, the GOP’s negation strategy pushed it toward the fringe. Obama was for fiscal responsibility and compromise, so Republicans were for absolutism and drama, risking a federal shutdown and a credit default. Obama was for respecting the Supreme Court, so the GOP was for defying judicial orders. Obama was for using sanctions to pressure Iran into a nuclear deal, so Republicans were for scrapping the deal and daring Iran to provoke a war. Obama, like Bush, was for drawing a clear distinction between terrorists and Muslims. So Republicans were for blurring that distinction.

In Trump, Republican voters have found their anti-Obama. Trump spurns not just political correctness, but correctness of any kind. He lies about Muslims and 9/11, insults women and people with disabilities, accuses a judge of bias for being Hispanic, and hurls profanities. Trump validates the maxim that in presidential primaries, the opposition party tends to choose a candidate who differs temperamentally from the incumbent. Obama is an adult. Therefore, Republicans are nominating a child.

You really should click through and read the entire thing–these few extracts don’t do it justice.

Here’s the conclusion:

So, yes, Obama led to Trump. But that’s only because the Republican Party decided to be what Obama wasn’t. And what Obama wasn’t—insecure, bitter, vindictive, xenophobic, sectarian—is what the GOP, in the era of Trump, has become.


  1. While reading today’s post, this thought occurred to me: If Obama had been an extremist and had fought against any sane idea for our country or citizens, the Republican party might have defied him by being sensible. Yep, Obama is definitely responsible for this do-nothing Congress.

  2. You know things are bad when the right has to blame somebody else for who they are. Saletan tends to do a good job at analysis.

  3. Reagan led to Bush. Bush led to failure. Failure led to Obama. The GOP reaction to their failure led to their demise. Trump filled the vacuum.

  4. Also in Trump; Republican voters believe they have been given the OFFICIAL freedom to act out all racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, anti-women, anti-LGBT because he does so. “Monkey see, monkey do!” This is of course based in the racism against President Obama, our First Lady and on a few occasions the Obama daughters. This freedom to act out includes ugly verbalizing too often accompanied by physical attacks by Trumps goon squads with him loudly cheering them on from his “pulpit”.

    “The Question Is: Now What?” How do we fight the bastardization of our 1st Amendment right of freedom of speech and freedom of the press when they are protected by the Constitution of the United States. The Republican voters are hell-bent to support the 1st and 2nd Amendments as they interpret them; other Amendments protecting our civil, human and voting rights have fallen by the wayside with more to come due to the Republican numbers backed by wealth. They are taking full advantage of the sit-at-home, my-vote-doesn’t-count Democrats who, by their inaction, have elected the Republican, far-right wing, Tea Party Congress and the many elected officials at state level.

    “….What Now?” Get off your lazy asses and get out the vote in ALL elections, not only presidential. I have family and friends, along with myself, living in actual FEAR of the outcome of these upcoming elections. Personally; I was surprised I read that President Obama supports Hillary Clinton; she will not try to finish the job he began and was prevented from accomplishing by corporate America. She IS corporate America. I will vote for her if she gets the nomination but…even if she wins the presidency (which I seriously doubt) she will be prevented from making any more headway than President Obama has been allowed to do. We here in Indiana know Pence will probably be reelected and we will remain in the current status quo under the lack of leadership we currently suffer.

  5. What caused Trump:
    50 years of stirring up the ignorant racist base of the Republican Party.
    Hate Radio – Fox Noise – 50 Years of racist Republican candidates
    Now what? This is more and more like Germany in the 1930’s.
    Will the racist crazies win?
    This is YUGE

  6. Anthony, Pete and JoAnn,

    Keep it up! Eventually, the Koch Brothers and George Bush & Sons will cut their strings. Jeb Bush has already pulled out. They aren’t going to want to lose their “heads.” Do you blame the traitors?

    A bigger problem is: THEN WHAT?

  7. It’s really pretty simple, but I suppose overcomplicating things keeps the pundits in business. The U.S. has always been a country largely composed of dumb hicks. The two partys’ constituencies more or less divided the stupid into northern anti-immigrant serfs and southern racist serfs. Those two groups, the hilljacks and the rednecks, if you will, were united by the mid-century party swap. Now the GOP is the party of the northern hilljacks, southern rednecks, and other various morons drawn to the same sorts of lowbrow arguments and vulgar forms of entertainment. Trump is simply willing to exploit this to the fullest.

  8. For the first time in my life, I fear for the future of this country… this world… this culture of hate.

  9. Trump is just saying what all of those followers have been thinking for 7 yrs and he gave them permission to be open about it. Racist, ignorant of history, anti-everything, just…anti-American!

  10. William,

    The problem right now is recognizing that things are even worse than portrayed in “The Guardian” link. Doing something about it will be even harder.

    Organizations like the ADL, Southern Poverty Law Center, Political Research Associates, NAACP, and the ACLU haven’t prepared their supporters for this eventuality. However, they have all known better.

    It will be very difficult to regroup at this point in time. But it is still possible.

  11. Tony: great article and I’m glad I took the time to read it. 10 minutes and the comments were good too.

  12. It’s hard to tell for sure but I believe that the cultural origins of this take over strategy are Archie Bunker and Rush Limbaugh just trying to make a living entertaining, followed by political operatives Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Grover Norquist trying to make a living manipulating voters. Rush Limbaugh, in one of his numerous unthinking moments, said stupid stuff about climate change mainly because he wanted so much for Al Gore to be wrong. That attracted the Koch Bros who realized that climate change was real and a real threat to their massive business interests. They turned a cultural wrinkle into a business deceiving Americans.

    The Tea Party was built by Koch funds and simple people looking for reinstatement of superior status. They were so easy to manipulate.

    Bush I got his son coronated under Dick Cheney and the war was on. Not surprisingly running the country from a perspective of what you wish was true rather than what was, was a disaster and the Republicans found themselves heavily on the defensive.

    They believed that blaming Obama for Bush’s bad was all that was left for them to do. The Koch Bros poured in the cash.

    Unfortunately for them Americans are not uniformly stupid and many caught on rather than joined in. That spotlight on the GOP recovery strategy and the Koch business plan led to the failure of the GOP. Trump filled the vacuum. Bernie is a left wing counter to Trump, Hillary a natural extension of Obama and the restoration of the America under attack by this whole conspiracy.

    If 2016 concludes with the adults back in charge it will have been a clean sweep of Democrat Constitutional Americana over all of the allied interests in something else: the destruction of the environment that we built civilization adapted to, the notion of America as a war monger both externally and internally, the triumph of ignorance over knowledge.

    As Lincoln said:

    “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

  13. Pete,

    “Now we are ENGAGED in a great civil war………”

    That was a great piece of writing, but we’re not “engaged.” We don’t even have a clue where the battlefield is. How could you from the likes of the SPLC et al. And I’m not sure that we would want to know. Knowing that, we would have to take action.

    It’s a lot safer to read “The New York Times” and “The Guardian” and convince ourselves that the VIRTUAL world will eliminate the necessity of facing up to the more dangerous PHYSICAL world.

    Good luck on that.

  14. What I find interesting is the reaction of the Republican party’s power brokers. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” You can’t keep playing the game and not expect to pay the price.

  15. AgingLGrl, I agree with you 100% the Trumpet has given the closeted Right Wing a permission slip. I recall many months ago in a conversation with my niece that the Trumpet is boiled down, condensed Right Wing poison. The Trumpet is allowing the muted voices of racism, negativism, anti-unionism and ethnocentrism to play out Loud and Strong. The Trumpet is in essence the culmination of decades of Right Wing anger.
    Cruz and Rubio have to try and play up to the poisonous base to out do the Trumpet.

    I am reminded of H. L. Mencken’s quotes:
    Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
    For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
    Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

    IMHO, the Democratic Party of FDR, JFK and even LBJ (without the Vietnam War) has taken a Duck and Cover attitude. It is now the Establishment Democratic Party for the most part frightened of their own shadows. I will say Bernie Sanders is a very welcome political descendant of now ancient party of FDR.

  16. The following is from “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business” by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen.

    As of 2013 the copyright date, Eric Schmidt was executive chairman of Google, where he served as the chief executive officer from 2001 to 2011. Jared Cohen was director of Google Ideas and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations.

    “The people who surface in the next wave of dissident leaders will be the ones who can command a following and crowd-source their online support, who have demonstrable skill with digital marketing tools, and, critically, who are willing to put themselves PHYSICALLY IN HARMS WAY. Digital activism especially when done remotely or with anonymity, lowers the stakes for would-be protesters, so true leaders will distinguish themselves by taking on PHYSICAL RISKS that their virtual supporters cannot or will not.” Pages 125-126.

  17. Marv we have freedom through democracy which is threatened by tyranny: tyrannical business, religions and special interests. Of course there are also benign and necessary businesses and religions and special interests so while the bath water must go the baby must stay.

    We can do this by our democracy and make it a celebratory process stopping tyranny before it takes hold.

    Or we can wait and deal with it after the tyrants are firmly entrenched.

    Now is better.

  18. I like your last point, Pete. This problem will be dealt with, but sooner is better, because later gets really messy and less “revolutionary”. The Republican leadership seems able to see the future, and it disturbs them, but it’s too bad that they didn’t see the future consequences of their behavior 30 years ago, when they could have prevented this chicken from coming home to roost in the form of a substantial group of alienated people. It’s also tragic that they still refuse to engage in some hard-headed analysis and decisions that would substantially change the party but dump the nihilists. But alienated people eventually remember that they own pitchforks, and unless the process is stopped early, they figure out ways to use them.

    In my undergraduate days, when the “red scare” was big, a wise sociology instructor opined that America was a centrist nation and would almost never go communist, but for one condition: as a reaction to fascism. Prophetic.

  19. Trump’s popularity has little to do with Obama and more to do with the economy. Healthcare premiums have risen with fewer benefits. Job wages and benefits have been slashed, companies are leaving the country and the cost of living is rising. Many working class folks have experienced this first hand. You can say what you want about Trump but the problem is politicians were NOT listening to their constitutes however, they were listening to special interests. It is a political backlash to business as usual by both parties.

  20. Yvonne, we’ve known that we have had unaffordable health care for decades. ACA was the first very meager attempt to address it and the GOP went bonkers. They essentially shutdown Congress as a result essentially ending any hope for progress.

    It’s the same with climate change. The consequences will be an economic tsunami but the GOP wants desperately to do nothing.

    Our economy is booming but only at the top. What does the GOP suggest? Do lots of nothing.

    The Middle East is in turmoil as a result of our Holy Wars but this time the GOP offers a solution. Spend lots more on the biggest item in the budget, military, and fund it with tax cuts when trickle down has repeatedly demonstrated that it’s a myth. The result? Worse than doing nothing; massive debt.

    Employment depends primarily on an educated workforce. What do Republicans offer? Preferentially educate the wealthy who don’t need jobs . Spread ignorance across the land.

    It’s not politics (which has always served us well). It’s cognitive rot among Republicans caused by viral brain washing from special interests.

  21. Learn how to do all kind of basics: grow food, build structures, sew, bury waste, raise livestock, tend the ill, deliver babies., keep bees, make bread, preserve food–skills not requiring electronics.

  22. Pet, I am an independent for a reason. Democrats as well as republicans are good at spin-doctoring and the media is no better. It is amazing to me how loyal the democrats and republicans are to their party. They ignore the issues facing most folks.

  23. Pete,

    “Or we can wait and deal with it after the tyrants are firmly entrenched. NOWis better.”

    You’re right on the money.

    We’re dealing with an attempted slow motion coup from the Extreme Right within the Republican Party (2 steps forward, 1 step backward). It was initiated in 1968 with the election of Richard Nixon. Fortunately, Donald Trump has prematurely exposed it. We must take advantage of the opportunity Trump has created. The Tea Party must be engaged NOW.

    There is no tomorrow.

  24. Sounds like paranoia to me. I look around my diverse neighborhood and we all get along well and watch out for one another. I supported Dr. Ben Carson and he would make a great president. Unfortunately he pulled out. The democrats have no candidate I would support. I still remember Whitewater, Vince Foster, Ron Brown, the passing of NAFTA and GATT, Benhazi and Hillary’s statement ” What difference does it make”, and you’re worried about Trump, calling his supporters racists and uneducated. Trump was the first to challenge political correctness and after that people on both side started saying what was their mind. This freedom of speech might sound dangerous to you but once the novelty of it settles, I believe folks will start listening to one another and offer solutions and not insults.

  25. “Democrats as well as republicans are good at spin-doctoring and the media is no better.”

    If you believe what you say, that you don’t believe either party or the media, there is no place to go to get factual information. You’re flying blind. No wonder you’re so cynical.

    I think that politics lends itself well to good research. Not easy but good. You do have to be skeptical but while cynical serves tyranny, skeptical serves democracy. It’s our responsibility.

    I’m Republican and could live with Kasich except he denies the science of global warming, something that I know as as factual as gravity. That is a fatal flaw if you look at the present as preparation for the future. The other Republicans aren’t in the same zip code as qualified.

    I would prefer someone between Bernie and Hillary but could live with either one because they are realists and experienced at government.

    The future of America is at stake this year and a return to Cheney running the country would end Obama’s masterful recovery and put us at risk for a repeat of 2008 which I’m not sure the country could survive again.

    Good research is the lest that we owe this country.!

  26. Pete, I found this speech interesting and I believe it applies to Democrats as well.

    Michelle Malkin issued a scathing rebuke to GOP elites in her speech at CPAC.

    Conservative author and commentator Michelle Malkin delivered remarks on the states of conservatism, the Republican party, and the 2016 presidential field. She focused on the need for conservatives to pick candidates who will stick to their principles, and criticized several Republicans for softening their policy positions once reaching office. (C-SPAN)

  27. Reading Saletan’s essay, one might be tempted to believe that what he says about the Republican right’s cognitive distortions might be hyperbole, but the fact is that they actually do believe that stuff and that insulates them from any possible changes that would lead to more positive outcomes. When that group from the American Enterprise organization met a couple of days ago, a group wanted to determine which events brought them there and, presumably, what could be done. But no. The problem is that we assume that these folks really want to do that and that they will lay out issues on the table and nondefensively seek answers to make things different. That would be correct if they didn’t actually believe all the stuff that Saletan mentions, which means that the problem isn’t something they can put on the table. Their answer and solution is that the rest of the world needs to change, not them, which sort of predicts the final outcome. If not this November, soon. The problem is them, which suggests that any changes will need to arise out of a new Republican party that is hopefully more reality-bound.

  28. Stuart,

    “But they actually do believe that stuff and that insulates them from any possible changes”

    If that’s the case and I believe that you’re right. Then the only positive changes that can come is from the inside, not the outside.

    For example, a self- examination might be along this line: “We’re right in our political beliefs but where is that going to take us. Will we be harmed.”

  29. Let me suggest that there is a kernel of truth to the charge that Obama contributed to the emergence of Trump. But the responsibility for the political maneuvering goes back to the DLC and the Clinton presidency. The Democrats have been engaged in a two decade long process of triangulating the Republican center right space. Those of us objecting have been marginalized as “the professional left.” That is part of Sanders’ break out problem. The Affordable Care Act is just the latest in a long line of usurpations. The strategic premise was that the center is relatively fixed and the right would be bounded by a political cliff. Instead the center has proven highly mobile and the rightward bound wishful thinking. When it appears that Trump has shifted beyond electoral tolerance, Ted Cruz makes headway by sweeping past him further to the right and questioning his bonafides. Republican Governors all over this country are governing in the Bircher space and getting re-elected. The Patriot Act is unassailable. ISIS is the new Soviet Union. Right to work legislation has supplanted the National Labor Relations Act. These things didn’t happen in a vacuum. I am happy with the political ground being plowed in the Democratic debates. What I dread is the pivot I expect from Hillary Clinton to a general election contest against Cruz (Trump is too self destructive to worry about). The threat of fascism arises not from isolated right wing populist fanatics, rather from an uncontested shift of the political center to a legitimated right wing space.

  30. Yvonne, obviously she’s a disturbed, angry, fanatical young woman. A pretty Hitler.

    What I didn’t hear one word about though is why she’s a conservative. She seems like a faith healer, mostly wrong but not st all uncertain.

    She didn’t, so presumably couldn’t, defend conservatism as a functional effective political worldview. She had nothing to say about why or how it’s superior but only blind faith that it is just because she wants it to be.

    Faith is important to the Taliban for instance. It doesn’t make them however either right or effective. Pure non cognitive passion is to me a complete waste of emotion. And time. And effort.

    If you ever find an article or speech that states why conservatism is good as a political decision perspective I’d love to hear or read it. If all you have though is people of blind faith who insist that they passionately want what they wish was true to be true, it’s of no use to me. That’s like rattlesnake kissing preachers, just foolishness.

  31. Erich and Pete,

    Keep coming with the TRUTH. Propaganda and psychological warfare are impotent in the face of truth. What we’re witnessing is something akin to Adolph Hitler’s suicide at the end of his regime.

    The RACIST CASTE SYSTEM of the Bush family is now dead with Jeb being pushed out. Neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz is sustainable as a candidate in the long run-up to November, but that doesn’t mean the Tea Party movement will go away peacefully.

    Just look back to what the Germans did to Belgium in World War I as they retreated before their final surrender. They pretty much destroyed Belgium out of spite.

    World Awake! We’re all in great peril from the traitors to American democracy financed by the likes of the Koch Brothers et al.

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