Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Conservative Blogger Unmasks Laura Ingraham's Fake Populism of Mr. Trump

 by Nomad


It's always a pleasant surprise to find a post of the past linked on other websites. Okay, it's rather flattering. However, when the site that links is called "American Conservative," I tend to be wary about checking to see what gives. I was intrigued, but at the same time, prepared to be insulted and mocked. What I found, to my amazement, was something unexpected.
Common ground.

The Busy Ms. Ingraham

It's an understatement to call the 54-year-old Laura Ingraham a busy lady. She is a nationally syndicated radio show host, an editor-in-chief for her own website, a long time Fox News Channel contributor and starting soon, a full-on Fox News TV host. She riding a wave of conservative broadcasting and publishing that been very good to her. 

She is also a writer of bestselling books like Shut Up & Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America, The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in All the Wrong Places and The Obama Diaries. a fictional collection of diary entries not written by President Obama. And finally, there's this year's bestseller to be, Billionaire at the Barricades: The Populist Revolution from Reagan to Trump.

So make no mistake: Ingraham knows the value of mass appeal and the fine art of saying what the angry mob wants to hear. Her solution to the immigration problem was to deport illegal aliens "by the thousands,” and that would include their families. She has also decried the "hostility toward religious faith today" and the danger of “ creeping secularism and "religiphobes." 
Not everybody is a fan, however.

A Huffington Post writer labeled her the "Right-Wing radio’s high priestess of hate" and added that "she’s more aggressive than Limbaugh, more blatant than Hannity, and more rational than Beck or Savage." 

This kind of hyperbole can, I suppose, be expected from a self-proclaimed bastion of liberal politics like HuffPo. It's a very different story when less hysterical analysis is handed down from a conservative site.

What is and What is Not Populism

The article that caught my attention was entitled "Laura Ingraham’s Phony Populism."  The author is former career congressional staff member. Mike Lofgren and he has a few important things to say on Ingraham's latest book.

In particular, Lofgren points out that while she might have been one of the few pundits who took Trump seriously at a time when he was little more than a bad joke, she also has a major blind spot. Her thesis that Trump is somehow the political descendent of Reagan is, for plenty of reasons, on extremely shaky ground. Is Trump a really populist with a workable agenda as Ingraham claims? Lofgren thinks not.
At bottom, it has something to do with being (rhetorically) for the people, against elites, mobilizing the masses to pass an agenda regardless of rule-bound institutions like legislatures and courts, demagogic appeals, and a tendency to evolve into charismatic, one-man rule.
Against elites? Trump? The idea that a billionaire who lives in palaces that look like somebody went nuts with a can of gold spray pain could ever understand the problems of the "unwashed masses" who live from paycheck to paycheck, well, it was always going to be a hard sell. 

During the campaign, Trump outlined his policy in extraordinarily vague terms ("It's going to be great/wonderful/beautiful" and "I will surround myself with experts and then I will make the decision"). The crowds might have cheered and jeered but specifics were hard to come by. All that was fine during the campaign because clearly his typical audience did not care a hoot about the complicated details and wouldn't have understood them anyway.  

All of this ran smoothly until it came time to formulate a cohesive policy based on the promises he made to his supporters. At that moment, the problems with Trump's populist rhetoric was exposed as a fraud. It became a game of hiding the truth and hoping nobody understood the depths of Trump's ignorance.

 The ethos of a populist politician before Trump came lumbering into the room.   
It is hard to define populism, and it becomes harder to square it with any appraisal of Trump’s record in office. Ingraham’s hope that he will succeed as long as he sticks to his campaign platform, and her warning that he will be repudiated otherwise, becomes a no-fail tautology if she also gets to decide what constitutes a populist agenda.
Ingraham in her book warns that either Trump must keep his populist promises or he is doomed to fail. It's a make-believe game. Ingraham asks her reader to pretend that candidate Trump was ever really serious in the first place. Where's the evidence for that?

drain the swamp cartoon

How Not to Drain a Swamp 

No matter how elastic Ingraham's definition of populism, Trump has definitely fallen short. Despite his promise to "drain the swamp" - the very ethic of populist politics, Trump, from the moment he was sworn in, did the opposite.

He might have promised to rid the country of "the entire corrupt Washington Establishment" Yet, without blinking an eye, Trump installed people like Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin whose connection to Goldman-Sachs are multigenerational. So all that talk about Hillary being in the bankers pocket's was balderdash of the highest order.

And that tough campaign rhetoric about running lobbyists out of town might have sent people like Ingraham swooning but it was never meant to be taken literally.
When Mnuchin was part of the OneWest Bank. the bank reportedly spent $90,000 lobbying the federal government. 
Chicken feed. 
But as recently as 2016, Mnuchin was the director at CIT Group, that bank reported spending nearly $4.4 million on federal lobbying. Thanks to Trump, Mnuchin is now on the other side of the lobbying table. 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was a once upon a time the CEO of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company by market value. That's also a corporation that spent more than $73.4 million lobbying the federal government during Tillerson's tenure. Nobody in the Trump administration seemed to consider how this background might warp- in extremely complex ways- Trump's foreign policy away from his populist pledges.

Back in 2013, before James Mattis became Trump's Defense Secretary,  he was elected to the board of directors of General Dynamics. Although one of the largest aerospace and military defense contractors in the world, Trump never considered the possibility of conflicts of interest.  Last year, General Dynamics spent over $9 million on lobbying efforts in Washington and with Mattis in charge, there's every reason to celebrate Trump's swamp draining. 

Other questionable cabinet appointees include  
In each of the names on the list, the same kind of deep corporate connections virtually ensures that corporation's interests are well served. Those interest will always take priority over middle-class Americans. 
Whether you happen to be conservative or liberal, it's hard not to see that Trump's populist line was all a con job to win over voters. It was never about draining swamps but about capitalizing on the muck and mire that already existed in Washington.
*   *    *
But that's how Washington works you say. There's no getting around it and Trump would not be the first dreamer to march into the capital and realize that the system was too big to budge, you say. 
That's possible but, as Lofgren notes, it goes well beyond just corporate infiltration. On a week to week basis, President Trump betrays his over-sold populist image in a variety of ways.
It would be equally difficult to see how this conservative constitutional literalism could indulge a leader who threatens a free press exercising its First Amendment rights.

The Voice that Will Not Be Questioned

When Trump boldly declaimed "I am your voice" it also meant- (whether it was recognized at the time or not)- there would be no other voices to judge or criticize.
By February-less than a month from being sworn into office- White House adviser Stephen Miller was telling the American public that the president's power 'will not be questioned.' 

Later, this demand for obedience applied to members of the press and finally to the American people as a whole. It would also apply to members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat. How long will it apply to committee investigators and even to justices of the Supreme Court?
Where was Ingraham's populism in all that?  

And this unhealthy decadence seems to have spread outward with Trump at its center. Take the Religious Right. What happened to its professed religious principles under Trump. The leaders of conservative Christian organizations made the most irrational excuses when it came to endorsing a person who in all ways represent the opposite than the moral code they supposedly uphold.
Lofgren asks this perfectly legitimate question:
How do they tolerate a goatish libertine divorcee and philanderer as the incumbent to an office that they claim should serve as a role model and moral lodestar?
The answer is simple. They choose to look the other way. All of the things they say they believe in, like Christian charity and tolerance, has been made a mockery. And blinded by the chicanery, they refuse even at this late a date to openly withdraw support for Trump.

Evangelicals are not telling their flocks- the same people who dutifully voted for Trump- that there 'was “no question” that God was supporting Trump. This implies that to question the president's authority is to question the authority of God.
That's a far stretch from anybody definition of populism.   

The Transition to a Power Hungry Cult

The truth is that Ingraham's concept of populism has nothing whatever to do with expressing the wants and needs of the people.
A cynic would conclude that the term populism, when applied to Republican politics in 2017, means this: keep the rich up, the poor down, foreigners out, and everybody else distracted by scapegoats. Meanwhile, line your pockets at the public trough, as Trump has done with massive Secret Service payments to rent space (even golf carts) at his properties, and fill your top posts with enough billionaires to make George W. Bush’s cabinet look like a Soviet Workers’ Council.
The rise of Trump has nothing to do with either conservatism or populism. According to   Lofgren, these terms have become " mere advertising slogans" "the flavor of the day." It is no longer a viable concept but "a vehicle" for the ambitious politician to ride into office. Or, in the case of Ingraham, higher ratings on TV and radio and more lucrative book sales.

The Conservatives who make up so much of the GOP are no longer interested in orderly governance. Their mission is to hang onto power by feeding its base just enough propaganda not to question too many things. The Republican party has forsaken the basics of high school civics and instead, says the writer, we witness
"an endless series of stunts: from inviting Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and Sarah Palin to the White House, to spending a week feuding with the widow of a soldier killed in action, to sending the vice president to a football stadium (at vast taxpayer expense) so he can walk out before the game starts and “prove” something to the Trump base."  
Without principles, the Grand Old Party is creeping dangerously close to a "cult of personality" much like those in North Korea, or Russia or dozens of other troubled nations.

Trump Laura Ingraham

And this is where Lofgren delivers his most potent criticism of Ingraham's book. Writing like this, he says, play a role in making the conservative movement the mess it has become.
He isn't talking about the echo-chambering of Fox News, nor the fake bestsellers that make the propagandists wealthy and famous. Lofgren is referring to something more insidious: Ingraham's book serves the cause of camouflaging the nature of the operation.

So, what is that operation, according to Lofgren?

Clinging onto power and dividing up the spoils.