Toxic Moxie: The Fascist Phenomenon of Donald Trump and the Elections of 1968 and 2004

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Toxic Moxie: The Fascist Phenomenon of Donald Trump and the Elections of 1968 and 2004

I’ve been trying to think, this morning, of the last time I heard the word “moxie” out loud. It’s been a while. A long, long while. It’s possible that the generation listening to Kendrick Lamar’s music has never heard the word, and would not be able to make any reasonable conjectures about its meaning. For that matter, I myself did not know until recently that the word’s first usage applies to a soft drink that is still made in the Northeastern United States. For most of my life, though, I knew of the word in only one context: a patriarchal attribution, often intoned with a slight sense of awe: “He’s got a lot of moxie.”

If the word does in fact have primarily positive associations (“daring, courage, spirit”), Donald Trump exemplifies a toxic moxie. I won’t belabor the obvious list that anyone can put together of “Trump Thumps,” his take-down, on-the-rubber-mat moments of mind-boggling asininity. I would rather get right to the heart of what seems to confound so many observers: how exactly is Trump pulling this off?

“It’s déjà vu, all over again.” As in 1968. And 2004. Except this time the politician is from New York, instead of the South. The parallel with the 1968 presidential election has only kicked in during the last ten days, as the primary season moved to the Deep South. Unfortunately, the surge of support for Trump has an ineradicable kinship with Governor George Wallace’s presidential run in 1968. One must never forget that the voters who sided with Wallace not only had many children, but grandchildren, too, and their family values included heavy doses of lingering segregationist attitudes. In case one has any doubts about the continuity of American reactionary politics, please take note that the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER reported three days ago that NASCAR CEO Brian France has endorsed Donald Trump. According to the Observer, France’s grandfather endorsed George Wallace. That, in 2016, a politician could be feasibly juxtaposed with a segregationist such as George Wallace should give one enormous pause.

It is not the parallels with Wallace’s campaign, however, that can best account for Trump’s staying power in the political arena, but rather a key moment in a debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush in the 2004 election. “They invaded us,” President Bush said, referring to his decision to invade Iraq. Kerry pounced immediately on Bush’s utterly ludicrous statement and forced him to backtrack rather awkwardly. Iraq had not invaded the United States, nor had it taken any part in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. One would think that Bush’s distortion of reality would demonstrate, once and for all, his unfitness to be the President of the United States.

To my naive dismay, Bush’s reiteration of a lie that will live in infamy did not make any difference in the polls taken in the days after that debate. Support for Bush did not waver in the least. Those who were for Bush did not care if the commander-in-chief had publicly revealed his mendacity in leading this country into a war that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. At that point, I knew the election of 2004 was a hopeless attempt to remove a criminal blight on American history. If Trump is still popular despite his outrageous commentary on a variety of topics, it is only because the same factor of ideological docility is percolating through various strands of the electorate.

Although Trump is an overachieving opportunist, he still has a decent chance — heading into the Mid-West primaries — of being nominated by the GOP as its presidential candidate, and if he is denied that accolade, it would not surprise me if he ran an independent campaign. As for the outcome of the latter effort, my guess is that he would probably receive a smaller percentage of votes than Wallace did in 1968, but that would not be a permanent rout of Trump’s factions. All that such a result would gauge is the chronic weaknesses of this nation’s ability to come to terms with its dubious history and the likelihood of another such attempt at a moment of yet greater crisis.