Paleoconservative Aspires to be Fire-Starter-in-Chief
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
Yusef Salaam was a frightened 15-year-old when Donald Trump first entered his life. Trump ran full-page ads demanding his execution for a crime he didn’t commit. “He was the fire starter,” Salaam said.
But Trump, despite being born with big money, has always seen himself as the little guy fighting the odds. It’s a preposterous narrative he’s hoping to ride all the way to the White House, just like the original “I am not a crook” president, Richard M. Nixon, who also dreamed of remaking the Republican Party in his own image.
This week, with the GOP convention in Cleveland, Trump takes a giant step forward on that trail. But Trump’s scale and scope of lying would even put poor old Tricky Dick to shame.
Trump’s Core Lie
Consider, Trump’s core public identity — that of a fabulously successful businessman. How much of it is real? How much of it is sheer, multi-faceted illusion?
“It has not been easy for me,” Trump said in a New Hampshire town hall meeting this past year. “I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.”
Trump, who also inherited $40 million or more, may be so spoiled he regards a million dollar loan as “small,” but he’s not a billionaire, he just plays one on TV. In 2005, Tim O’Brien published TrumpNation, in which three confidential sources estimated Trump’s net worth as “between $150 million and $250 million.” Trump sued for actual malice. He lost, unable to prove he was worth anywhere close to what he claimed.
Trump’s financial disclosure from this past year, again claiming billionaire status, was both hopelessly muddled and disingenuous. Pulitzer Prize-winning financial reporter David Cay Johnston recently pointed out that Trump claimed his Westchester golf course and clubhouse were worth more than $50 million, compared to just $1.35 million in state tax documents.
“That is a 97 percent variance, an irreconcilable difference that raises yet again questions about Trump’s integrity, not to mention the size of his fortune, which he has testified he values differently as his emotional state shifts, regardless of objective facts,” he added.
Trump wants to brand himself as a world-class billionaire, but his real brand is that of a world-class liar. Trump lies so profusely he has overloaded the media’s ability to deal with his lying. The Guardian has a regular feature, “The Lies Trump Told This Week,” but it makes no pretense of being complete.
This past December, as Politifact considered its annual “Lie of the Year” award, “We found our only real contenders were Trump’s,” they noted. “But it was hard to single one out from the others. So we have rolled them into one big trophy.” Collectively, 76 percent of the 77 statements checked registered as “mostly false,” “false” or “pants on fire,” far surpassing any other candidate. So they combined all Trump’s false claims for their “Lie of the Year.”
Among the specific lies Politifact mentioned were Trump’s claim that “thousands of people cheered” in Jersey City as the Twin Towers came down; that “The Mexican government … they send the bad ones over;” that 81 percent of whites are killed by blacks; and that the federal government is sending Syrian refugees to states with governors who are “Republicans, not to the Democrats.”
These lies formed a cluster, promoting a paranoid world view filled with threatening “others,” which is a core belief Trump shares with a significant contingent of conservatives. Another cluster of lies emerged around the economy, starting with two intended to falsely portray President Barack Obama as ridiculously bad for the economy.
This past June, Trump claimed that the gross domestic product was below zero, “It’s never below zero,” he said. Actually the figure Trump referenced was GDP growth, and it’s been below zero 42 times within 68 years. Then, in September, Trump said the unemployment rate may be as high as “42 percent,” which was four times higher than the broadest unemployment-rate measure (including part-time workers) of 10.3 percent.
In August, Trump told another lie, intended to impugn Democrats’ economic policies more broadly. “We’re the most highly taxed nation in the world,” he said. But the United States is actually either average or low-tax, depending on different methods of comparison.
Although Trump told many more lies than these, two clusters of lies are particularly significant, giving us a handle on what Trump’s candidacy is all about, even as the GOP convention does its best to distract and dissemble.
Trump’s economic lies are what make him a good Republican. Republicans are the party of business. They know how economics work. That’s their mantra. But it’s a lie. In reality, the economy routinely does better under Democrats than it does under Republicans, as documented by historian Eric Zuesse in They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010. The data is overwhelming, which is why Trump and other Republicans so readily resort to lies.
The record is especially clear if you only consider how the bottom 99 percent of Americans have fared. From 1947 to 1973, a 26-year period when New Deal economics dominated, the average income of the bottom 99 percent increased 103 percent. From 1973 to 2007 — the year before the great financial crises — the average income increased just 10.6 percent, even though it was a longer period, of 34 years. Indeed, if you eliminated the growth of the Clinton years, incomes would have fallen by 5.7 percent.
What sets Trump apart from the GOP establishment is his attempt to capture the justified anger that people feel as a result of such a long period of almost no growth, except for the 1 percent. And, this is where his first set of lies comes in, those directed at demonizing others, exemplified by his racism. Although establishment figures of all stripes have claimed that Trump is “not a conservative,” he’s actually well in tune with the older school of paleoconservative thinking. This is where the real battle seems to be shaping up between different conceptions of what makes a true conservative.
Trump: A Paleoconservative Who Is
Paul Weyrich was one of the chief architects of the New Right, and the last book he wrote, The Next Conservatism, coauthored with William Lind, illustrates the connection, researcher Bruce Wilson explained.
“Trump advances core paleoconservative positions laid out in The Next Conservatism — rebuilding infrastructure, protective tariffs, securing borders and stopping immigration, neutralizing designated internal enemies and isolationism,” Wilson said.
Wilson pointed out that Lind was a driving force in developing and promoting the idea of “political correctness” as a kind of conspiracy, the same way that Trump uses it, which he also refers to as “cultural Marxism.”
“Lind’s narrative goes like this: after the initial success of the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks got bogged down and failed to take other countries, such as Germany,” Wilson said. “So a small school of Jewish Marxist intellectuals, the Frankfurt School, came up with a neat answer: The revolution hadn’t spread because the culture wasn’t receptive enough. First, you had to change the culture. You had to destroy conventional morality and religion, especially Christianity, and undermine other existing cultural institutions…. You had to promote ‘political correctness,’ the slavish privileging of the feelings of just about any identity group except white European-American Christians (especially male) and you had to push multiculturalism, the notion that all cultures are all equally valid. Both of those serve to demolish existing standards.”
This notion of “political correctness” as a vast conspiracy echoes how earlier paleoconservatives saw a “Communist conspiracy” behind everything they didn’t like, from civil rights to women working outside the home. Trump himself was profoundly influenced by one of the key figures from the McCarthy era: McCarthy’s one-time top aide, Roy Cohn.
“Next to Fred Trump, Roy Cohn was the single greatest influence in Donald’s life,” said Trump’s first biographer, former Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett in a recent Democracy Now! interview. “Roy himself told me they talked 15 times a day…. [Cohn also] represented all five of the organized crime families in the City of New York. He was the middle man between Donald and all these mob guys.” Barrett named two dozen mob associates of Trump in his book.
Mob connections were crucial to Trump’s life story as his own family and government connections, Barrett explained. Trump’s most important deals were based on his father’s connections, opening doors to get him started, and co-signing loans to get his projects built, including the Grand Hyatt and Trump Towers in New York, and Trump Plaza, his first Atlantic City casino.
But, like his father, Trump was also “a classic state capitalist,” whose wealth was built largely on the basis of public subsidies and political favors.
“Everything that came to Donald came through political connections,” Barrett said. “And, they were political connections forged by his father over decades.”
But when it came to the low-income housing commitments Trump made in return for millions in Atlantic City subsidies, “he failed on all of them,” Barrett said.
All this deal making with shadowy figures was routinely protected by confidentiality agreements, lawsuits and legal threats. Trump’s been involved in thousands of lawsuits over the years, and Cohn was the mastermind who taught Trump how to use the law this way, as an instrument for bullying people. In fighting the Department of Justice’s discrimination lawsuit (See sidebar, “Trump’s Long History of Racism,” p 6.), Cohn first filed a $100 million counter-suit, that was quickly tossed out. He then tried to have the DOJ’s lead attorney held in contempt of court, claiming she had turned the case “into a Gestapo-like investigation.” That, too, was quickly dismissed as baseless. But it shows how Cohn’s over-the-top style, pushing wild accusations through normal legal means, had a lasting influence on Trump.
Hunting Their Own Demons
There’s something even deeper going on, however. Cohn was both Jewish and gay, while McCarthy was vehemently anti-both. Cohn repeatedly denied he was gay, but he died of AIDS in 1986, and was a main character in Tony Kushner’s 1993 play, Angels in America. The kind of other-hatred that drove Cohn and McCarthy often involved repression of the fact that something demonized in others was actually shared with them.
We see this vividly in Trump when he projects his chaos and divisiveness onto others—mobbed up Donald calling out “crooked Hillary.” Then promises that he is the answer to the very problems that he helps inflame. There’s also a more subtle counterpoint worth noting.
Blaming “cultural Marxism” for the erosion of “traditional culture,” as paleoconservatives like Lind do allows them to pretend that there’s nothing in the tradition they supposedly defend that would support what they find offensive. That requires ignoring centuries — if not millennia — of earlier cultural and political thought, much of which was foundational to American political thought. “All men are created equal,” was already a subversive notion, from the very beginning.
The “good old days” that paleoconservatives long for are simply a myth, an escapist fantasy. And, that is where Trump wants to take us, with his vague, sweeping promise to “Make America great again.”