At the United States 1964 Republican National Convention, Senator Barry Goldwater famously (or rather, infamously) declared that “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Goldwater had previously voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, demanded a bigger war in Vietnam, even hinting at the use of nuclear weapons to “defeat communist advances”, and outlined a series of other views which placed him in the “extremist wing” of the Republicans. There was even an amendment moved at this spiteful convention by Governor George Romney (Mitt Romney’s father) seeking to ban “extremists from the right” being elected as Republican candidates for President.
In the subsequent US presidential election Goldwater lost to incumbent President Lyndon Johnson in one of the largest margins in US electoral history — Johnson won a landslide of 63% of the vote to Goldwater’s 38%.
Ironically, Goldwater’s campaign theme was “A choice – not an echo”. That experience still reverberates truth in US politics today with the emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican Presidential candidate of 2016.
If we line up the issues and policies that Trump has been advocating, it is easy to refer to him as an extremist because those policies are very far outside the mainstream. For instance, banning Muslims from entering the USA; immediate deportation of immigrants who entered the USA without legal documentation; building a “big, beautiful wall” on the Mexican border to solve migration issues; repealing NAFTA and other international trade agreements; and increasing America’s already enormous defence budget that is equal to that of the combined defence budgets for Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, UK, India, France and Japan. This list is scarily longer.
In an eerie echo of 1964, the better electoral pundits, such as Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com, write consistently about Trump’s 35-40% vote winning capacity. At the time of writing, it seems clear that Hillary Clinton will win the election in two week’s time, and possibly by a margin equal to Johnson’s.
Commentators are already describing this particular presidential race as “the Trump moment” and a “post-truth politics” that will stay around for many years. Herein lies the fundamental difference between contemporary US politics with the 1964 experience, with the variation auguring badly.This new phrase, “post-truth politics” means that political candidates appeal to people’s emotions, not facts or reason. Logic and detail are discarded for sound-bites and appeals to feelings ‘that something is wrong’.
Goldwater’s extremism was grounded in policy positions that he believed would work within the existing political system. Trump’s extremism is based in a self-belief that ‘I alone can fix it’ — a form of grandiose narcissism that we know as demagoguery.
We don’t think of Trump as neither a true Republican nor intellectually rigorous or competent; more that he has an instinct for selling the solutions that the people on the margins are wanting and pandering to that audience in outrageous ways. He is the reality TV star and ultimate political outsider. The man whose real politics is the two-finger salute.
What is truly frightening about all this is that Trump has broken so many shibboleths of political discourse, that it will no longer be as remarkable when Trump V2.0 comes along.
And when that person does, as they surely will since he has opened the door for them, they will apply two of the key lessons of Trump’s amazing campaign to win their own presidential race: (1) win the hearts, not the minds of the electorate; and (2) don’t bluster like a buffoon — be more articulate and emotionally persuasive than V1, even if what you’re articulating is still just as vacuous. With Trump V2.0, we face the prospect of a real demagogue in the White House. That is a scary thought: a coherent and persuasive ‘Trump’ actually winning the most important electoral race on our planet.
There are only 2 ways to stop this happening.
The first is upholding the integrity of the US Constitution that is structured specifically to prevent this from happening through the separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and legislative branches of government. However, given the pool of crazy the Republicans have been swimming in these last 20 years (meaning blocking every initiative in Congress) the judiciary has been dealt out of the equation and the executive (the presidency) has arrogated more power to get anything done.
The second way is for Hillary Clinton to fully succeed as president: to create the economic conditions that lift more people back into the middle class, to lift the minimum wage of the working poor, to succeed with an American foreign policy that restrains the autocrats of Russia, China and Iran, and reassert American dominance of global affairs.In other words, to create a sense of betterment and confidence in the US and within its polity. This is a tough ask given the forces arraigned against Hillary succeeding, including the Republicans (or what is left of them after this election) themselves.
But there is no choice. If the American people do not get this right, the US faces the real prospect of changing from a Republic to an Empire. Exactly what the American founders warned about. The price of allowing King Solomon’s words ring true is just too great: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”