Donald Trump and the ‘plot against America’

David Denby, best known as a film critic, takes to the pages of the New Yorker (where his film criticism often appears) to see if he can explain the Trump phenomenon.

I loved the piece, in part because it is so different from the various attempts by political pundits to do the job, which usually devolve (or does one mean “degenerate”) into things that can be measured by poll results. Denby reviews the Trump phenomenon a bit like he might review a film, although he references a number of historical figures of the mid-20th century (Joe McCarthy, Father Coughlin, even Minnesota’s own Charles Lindbergh) and a couple of comics from the early days of TV.

Denby’s piece is actually titled “The Plot Against America,” which he borrows from a Philip Roth novel of the same name that was about a fictional Lindbergh presidential candidacy.

And Denby makes no prediction of how Trump’s plot to become president will turn out.

In his long final paragraph, Denby takes up one of the Trumpian habits that drives me nuts. The lies that the Donald spews and won’t correct, the reversals that he won’t acknowledge, basically, his contempt for a basic facticity that an old ink-stained wretch like me foolishly believes to be important. To Trump and the Trumpiacs (I believe I just made that word up), factual accuracy is for wimps and it just doesn’t matter.

(Here’s one, which I haven’t mentioned before, that all the fact-checkers have hit him for, and he did it again in the Tuesday night debate: claiming as “one of the things that I’m frankly most proud of is that in 2003, 2004, I was totally against going into Iraq.” In fact, no one can find and Trump has not produced any evidence that he criticized the decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein before they occurred. His public criticisms all came after the invasion was well under way and a whole lot of people were screaming quagmire.)

Anyway, here’s Denby’s last paragraph (but read the whole piece, it isn’t long):

He lies all the time. But pointing out his lies, his contradictions, his illogical ideas, his nonsensical solutions — pointing out all of that, while noble and necessary work, is partly beside the point. Trump’s entire world picture, as he presents it to his voters, is an elaborate fiction — coherent in itself, like all such extreme fantasies, and therefore emotionally satisfying, but never required, either by Trump or by his audience, to meet the test of factuality and actuality. When he says that the country is in “terrible shape,” his listeners need only feel that their own situation is terrible to agree with him. In a similar way, the harrumphing attacks on him by such establishment Republicans as Jeb Bush, Tom Ridge, and Dick Cheney also miss the point. Those men are appealing to some common standard of allowable political discourse that Trump and his followers consider mere evasion. The movement’s standard of allowable behavior has been formed by popular culture — by standup comedy and, recently, by reality TV and by the snarking, trolling habits of the Internet. You can’t effectively say that Donald Trump is vulgar, sensational, and buffoonish when it’s exactly vulgar sensationalism and buffoonery that his audience is buying. Donald Trump has been produced by America, but I refuse to say, as some have, that he’s the demagogue that we deserve. He’s the demagogue the Republican Party deserves. The rest of us, including some Republicans, will resist him by holding on to whatever humanity and common sense we can command.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/17/2015 - 09:34 am.

    The “liberal” bias of facts has been conquered.

    …..[Rove] said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”….

    Whatever could go wrong?

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/17/2015 - 11:24 am.

    It just baffles me that people are “surprised” by this?

    The republicans have been driving their party into this coral for decades, you have to have been in a cave to not have seen this. For decades republican have been mongering fear, intolerance, ignorance, magical thinking with increasing passion in every successive election cycle. Romney pulled back a little but he barely got the nomination and the party regretted if afterwards.

    The only possible failing that Trump could have had was his lack of religious bonafides, but his bigotry has more than compensated for that.

    I’m sorry but if this surprising you then you have not been paying attention to the republican party since at least the mid 90s, but really the trend began with Reagan. And I hate to say it again, but neither Cruz or Rubio are really THAT much less bizarre, they’re just more careful. I don’t believe for instance that any of the repulblican candidates with the possible exception of Rand, would hesitate for a minute to block Muslims entering the country if they were actually in the White House right now.

    The explanation? Just look at who and what the republican party is, especially since McCain brought Palin in.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/17/2015 - 12:14 pm.

    Newton’s Third Law

    Like every attempt that I’ve seen, Denby describes the phenomenon accurately but he still doesn’t explain it. The explanation is Newton’s Third Law: For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

    The reason people like Denby can’t explain it is because they don’t see the “action” that people are “reacting” to. He’s totally oblivious, as are most liberals, to the betrayals that people feel towards their government and it’s fundamental incompetence and corruption.

    The “reaction” towards the political establishment includes the RNC and their attempt to foist beta male Jeb Bush on us at a time of war, apparently to lead the compromised republican congress who today agreed to a budget that spends another $500 billion we don’t have, and a DNC that is telling us with a straight face that their candidate to lead the country is a corrupt, dishonest, unaccomplished woman who is currently under FBI investigation for national security violations and influence peddling with foreign governments. Really?? That’s the best you all can do?

    Fortunately for me, unlike those on the Left I have more than one candidate to choose from, which probably explains their denial of Sir Isaac.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/17/2015 - 09:39 pm.

      If you had actually read

      Sir Isaac, or any serious account of his work, you would know that his laws of nature referred specifically to interactions between physical objects bound by the force of gravity, not to metaphors for interaction between human beings.
      People (most of us, at least) are more complex than billiard balls.

    • Submitted by david hanners on 12/19/2015 - 12:30 am.

      Casting aside the irony of a science-denying conservative trying to use Newton’s Laws of Motion to explain Trump’s popularity (I guess Newtonian physics apply to politics and not climatology…) I’m wondering just how the federal government has “betrayed” the people supporting Trump. From what I see of his supporters, most of them seem to be doing pretty well. If they’re not, then blaming the federal government is just a cop-out. Aren’t we all responsible for our own position in life? That’s what the conservatives keep telling us. I guess they throw that philosophy in the trash (along with science) when the need arises.

      And he needs to give the Clinton Derangement Syndrome a rest. She (and her husband) have been the most-investigated politicians of our time, and yet — nothing. He can call her “corrupt, dishonest, unaccomplished,” but like most things he says, there’s no *there* there. They are half-baked allegations with no credible evidence to back them up.

      His shtick gets tiresome.

  4. Submitted by Jim Million on 12/19/2015 - 09:35 am.

    Weak End

    Film critic as political analyst as excerpted here. Pure devolution of discourse.

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