Donald Trump and the Joys of Toy Fascism
It's scallop season again here on the East End of Long Island. Out on the Peconic you can see solitary fishermen in small boats with low gunwales assiduously dragging the bay bottom with iron-tongued dredges that scoop up scallops and deliver them to bushel baskets, whence they make their way to our frying pans bubbling with butter, thence to our mouths, where they deliver a salty sweetness quite unlike any other. It's a magical time. The sun is low, but what little light there is gives everything a gentle, wintry feel. People have talked about the light out here on the East End for decades. They say it's why artists like Jackson Pollock and Frank Stella and more recently Nathan Joseph and David Slater and Tracy Harris settled out here. I'm not an artist, so I wouldn't know, but it is said that this light offers a special way of seeing colors. In the summer, they sparkle; now, as winter sets in, they glow.
The light might not have much to do with why the rest of us ended up out here, but the way of life does. This time of year, it's slow. People wander the narrow streets of Sag Harbor following dogs as they sniff their way through the fallen leaves. Downtown, the chairs and tables of the sidewalk cafés have been stored away in basements, and happy hours at the bars and restaurants flood the sidewalk with yellow light as night falls. You can even find parking spaces on the main streets of Sag Harbor! Out on Scuttle Hole Road, the blue and green potato trucks are parked next to their potato barns, the last harvest of the season having taken place a couple of weeks ago. A few weeks back I saw a sign over on the North Fork announcing, "Last Turnips Day — Get Yours Now!"
But as usual, politics roils the waters. Over in East Hampton, locals are fighting the hideous racket made by the Gulfstreams and helicopters of hedge-funders who reside behind hedges as they text Loaves & Fishes to deliver $100-a-pound lobster salad to their shingled McMansions. Here in Sag Harbor, locals have seized control of the city council and the architectural review board has passed a building moratorium in an attempt to rein in the millionaires, who have been "renovating" the village into something akin to a gated community in a suburb of San Diego — with the real estate prices and political leanings to match.
Over in Amagansett on Further Lane and out on the beach in Sagaponack there are doubtless some swells who are filling the bank accounts of the super-PACs and presidential campaigns, but we get only occasional glimpses of them as they exit their Audi R10s and sweep into the American Hotel with Very Expensive Leggy Blondes on their arms. Perhaps with all their "very serious political connections" they know more about what is going on out there beyond our bucolic musings and parochial preoccupations. But even the nail-pounders and wrench-twisters and fishermen and farmers and writers out here have a sense that the politics of the nation are exuding an unfamiliar stench: Fascism is in the air. It's a special kind of gold-plated fascism, a fascism with a special orange color, a fascism with special turned-out lips, a fascism with a special voice, a fascism in a special shiny suit, a fascism that rides around in special big black cars and flies around in special big private jets, a fascism that arises not from ideology but from a special sort of privilege and a special sort of resentment unique to New York City: outer-borough resentment. In short, it's from Queens and it's Donald Trump's kind of fascism. It's Toy Fascism.
Everything about Trump is toy. He has Bratz girlfriends and Barbie Doll wives with very long legs and very tiny waists and very large breasts. He plays G.I. Joe when he talks about ISIS. His buildings are glass-enclosed Erector Sets. His Miss Universe pageant was always a double-A farm team for the Big Leagues of the Trump Bedroom. Even his books are toys — volumes of pretend "writing" sandwiched between covers intaglioed with a pancaked, hairspray-drenched Trump. In an age of rock-star politics, Trump is the John Mayer of presidential candidates. He opens the squared circle of his little mouth and what comes out bears as much resemblance to American statecraft as Mayer's lovelorn reveries do to rock 'n' roll. Turning on the TV and finding Trump at a rally is like going to a Rolling Stones concert and discovering Journey on the stage. Your brain seizes up and you hear a voice in your head screaming, Can this be real? And you actually hear an answer: No! No! It can't be!
But it is. It's the "Trump" we've seen for all these years on the covers of his books, on the Page Sixes of the tabloids, oozing his way into our living rooms in color on our televisions. He's not a real live breathing human being with stuff like sweat glands and the occasional stubble of a beard, even a teeny doubt in his mind. No, what we are watching every day is a "pageant Trump," and it's why the national political press has been so confused. Covering him is like covering the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. It's supposed to be hot and sexy and fun and irresistible, but it turns out to be just a bunch of pneumatic posing — all feathers and sequins and nylon and cheap lace from China, as sexless as one of Trump's silent wives.
The pundit class has been having a really, really hard time with him, haven't they? Every time they've got Trump "figured out," every time they think they've finally nailed him, he slithers from their grasp, boards his private jet (don't you wish Trump's lips were stenciled on the tail, the way the Stones' lip-logo spat its attitude from their touring plane?), and flies away to yet another rally that is sure to be crowded with frothing fans carrying Magic Markers in one hand and a smartphone in the other. Please, Mr. Trump! Sign my chest! Let me get a selfie next to your orange scowling face!
The so-called pundit class is having a problem with Trump for a very simple reason. He corresponds to no one they've ever known in politics. His campaign corresponds to none they've ever covered. His voters aren't supporters. They are followers. Fans. They don't respond to him politically. They don't listen expecting to hear positions or policies. What they expect to hear is the orchestral swoon of political arena rock — the power-chord promise and vibrato-vectored big sound of greatness! I'm the biggest! I'm the best! I'm the wealthiest! I'm the American Idol! The pundits get nowhere when they try to convey the hollow empty soullessness of it all, because you can't tell the truth about John Mayer. You can't make an argument against a fan's taste. All you can do is stand back and gape in abject amazement as they line up to buy the T-shirts and the lapel buttons and Trump Red Ties, as they sit for Frank Luntz–led focus groups and expound on how nothing matters but Trump. Not politics. Not policy. Not truth. Not logic. Not the guy pulling the strings behind the screen of the reality show they're watching. Just the guy who's winning. Just Trump. The busiest guys at the big Trump rallies have to be the guys at the door shaking everyone down for Confederate flags. It's OK to pound on the occasional Black Guy. It's OK to scream like banshees when the word Muslim is flung from the stage like a lightning bolt. Racism is OK when it's thinly veiled. But the Trump people must live in total fear of the night all the networks show a few Confederate flags flying out there in fan-land. It's the big no-no, because it would give the pundits a window they could actually see through. No Confederate flags...but keep watching. Trump's toy fascism is only a whisker away from the real thing.
So far, Trump has been able to carry it off. He's stirring up the masses with outrage. He says something outrageous, and his fans parrot him with outrage of their own. Then he escalates the outrage. He says John McCain is a pansy, and the pundits are shocked, but then it's OK. Then he wants to register Muslims, and the pundits haul out their pocket Constitutions and wave them around, and then that's OK. Then he promises to bring back waterboarding, and the pundits loose the dread words George W. Bush at him like poison arrows — and waterboarding goes back down the memory hole. Now he wants to ban all immigration by Muslims, and a couple of Ivy League law professors write op-eds saying it might not be all that illegal. Once again, the pundits have put down their pens.
But you have to wonder — stop me if you've heard this before — how much longer he can pull this off, how much further he can take it. A recent poll reveals that something like 65 percent of Republicans think barring all Muslim immigration is a wonderful idea. I am beginning to think that you could get 65 percent of Republicans to agree to almost anything, and Trump knows this deep down in his soul. What's his next level of outrage? Is he going to suggest arresting suspicious Muslims because they look like they might be planning a terrorist attack? Is he going to suggest holding people behind bars without charges? Is he going to advocate that the shoot-on-sight tactics used by inner-city police forces against black youths be used on itinerant Muslims simply because they're seen walking down the street in a heavy jacket that might be concealing a suicide vest? Again, when, exactly, does Trump's toy fascism become the real thing?
He has begun to use one of the classic tactics of real fascism already. Trump comes up with fake problems and then presents fake solutions. Remember Syrian refugees? The biggest danger to our nation since Ebola! Easy fix! Ban all Syrian refugees! Meanwhile, the visa system appears to be having real problems, since one of the San Bernardino terrorists got in on a so-called "fiancée visa." But do you hear any solutions from Trump? Not a peep.
What's getting lost in all of this Trump-driven panic about Muslims is what Christians (in the main) are doing every single day. According to PolitiFact, 24 Americans have been killed by terrorists in the past decade. Two terrorists killed fourteen in San Bernardino. It's being called the first terrorist attack since 9-11. Twenty-four dead in fourteen years.
Meanwhile, more than 300,000 people died in this country by gun violence over the past decade — either homicide, suicide, or accidents. That's 4,000 times as many deaths from gun violence as terrorism. There have been more gun deaths since 1968 than in all of our wars since 1776. 1,396,755 died in our wars. 1,516,863 died by gun violence in the U.S.A. In 2013, more preschoolers (82) than police (27) were killed by gun violence.
Trump is whipping up a frenzy over fourteen deaths when guns wielded by American citizens have quite literally taken hundreds of thousands of lives over the past decade.
His prescription of forbidding Muslims from entering the country does not address the problem we have with people getting killed every single day — Americans using American guns to kill other Americans. Where is Trump's solution to this very real problem? Hiding out somewhere under that hair-helmet, apparently.
This is the problem with his toy fascism: toy solutions to toy problems, but when real problems arise demanding real solutions? Nothing.
Trump is the Wonderbra of American politics. He pushes everything Up and Out and In Your Face. But you know what's left when the Wonderbra comes off, don't you?
Donald J. Trump sure as hell does.
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