The House Is On Fire – Accepting the Truth of the Trump Revolution

President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump listens to a question while meeting the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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For those who’ve recognized what should really be obvious, this is quite a paragraph in the Times’ account of today’s Trump press conference

No word in the Trump lexicon is as tread-worn as “unprecedented.” But members of the president’s staff, stunned and disheartened, said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private. National Economic Council Chairman Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, who are Jewish, stood by uncomfortably as the president exacerbated a controversy that has once again engulfed a White House in disarray.

There you have it. This is Trump, a man whose deepest political impulses are tied to racial grievance and a desire for revenge, a desire to place the deserving and white back at the top of the racial hierarchy. People get caught up on whether or not people are willing to call Trump a ‘racist’. Of course, he’s a racist. But that doesn’t tell us enough. Lots of people dislike blacks or Jews, don’t want to live near them, etc. But many, likely most with racist attitudes, do not embrace a politics driven by racial grievance. Trump’s politics are about racial grievance. It’s not latent or peripheral but rather central. That’s different and it’s worse. It is one of the few consistent themes in his politics going back many, many years.

It is worth noting this other passage in the piece: “Mr. Trump prides himself on an unapologetic style he learned from his father, Fred Trump, a New York City housing developer, and Roy Cohn, a combative lawyer who served as an aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.” Quite true. One might also add though that both men, from profoundly different backgrounds and life experiences, were dyed-in-the-wool racists.

The earlier passage from the Times tells us explicitly what should be clear from watching the consistency of Trump’s public actions. What we saw today is the real Trump. Most of White House ‘comms’ appears to be a matter of keeping this real Trump in check or at least served up in palatable morsels rather than all at once.

“A voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private.”

We can infer what stands behind a person’s public statements if we’ve seen them enough, under different pressures and in different contexts. Trump’s repeated expressions of sympathy for racist activists, refusals to denounce racist activists, coddling and appointments of racist activists can only really mean one thing: that he instinctively sympathizes with them and indeed is one. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 80 million times, I need to seriously consider what the fuck is wrong with me.

Again, there’s no reasonable, alternative explanation.

I’m reminded of Ptolemy’s ancient, geocentric model of the solar system, which was only superseded by the Copernican, heliocentric model in the 16th century. If we knew nothing more than what we see when we looked in the sky, it makes perfect sense to think the sun revolves around the Earth. We see it happen every day! But when you begin to make detailed observations of the motions of the planets, the sun and the stars, you are forced to posit a series of increasingly intricate and heroic assumptions to make everything fit together: there are orbits within orbits, little side wanderings and detours to make everything fit together.

Revolutions of the sun and planets in the Ptolemaic model of the solar system.

Once you put the sun at the center of the solar system, everything gets much, much simpler. The data all falls into place without any big heroic or far-fetched assumptions.

Copernican vs Ptolemaic models of the solar system.

The simpler explanation that accounts for all the available facts is not always right. But as Occam noted, it is always to be preferred. What we need is a Copernican revolution in our understanding of Trumpism, or at least some of us need it. The breakthrough for Copernicus was in positing the unimaginable, indeed the terrifying possibility that the Earth is not the center of the universe but rather a peripheral, secondary celestial body. Once you accept that, a lot falls into place.

With Trump, he has a revanchist racist politics because he is a revanchist racist. Once you accept that, a lot falls into place. All the heroic and increasingly nonsensical perambulations of misunderstandings, inexperience, missed opportunities, stubbornness and all the rest are not needed. It all falls into place.

What we have in this Times article is the more direct evidence, a confirmation of what we should already know. His advisors know this is what he thinks. They apparently hear it frequently. They were shocked to hear him say in public “opinions that the president had long expressed in private.”

I confess I had a small degree of surprise that the events of the weekend – as horrifying and tragic as they are – have had quite the effect on people they seem to have had. This is not to diminish them. It is only to say that I do not think they should be so surprising. I don’t think they should amount to a revelation that shifts our basic understanding of things. We have if not a growing white supremacist movement in the US at least an increasingly vocal and emboldened one. They both made Trump possible and have in turn been energized and emboldened by his success. He reacts this way because he is one of them. He is driven by the same view of the world, the same animus and grievances. What we’ve seen over the last five days is sickening and awful. The house is on fire. But it was on fire a week ago. It’s been on fire since November. The truth is indeed unimaginable and terrifying. But we need to accept the full truth of it if we are going to be able to save our country.

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