Alright, enough is enough. I cannot take the hysterics anymore. It was bad enough getting harangued on Twitter about how Donald Trump is the end of America, after publishing my Bernie Or Bust confessional. But, when liberal wonks like Matthew Yglesias start writing articles with titles like “Why Liberals Should Root for Ted Cruz,” that’s where I draw the line. The Donald is bad — a crypto-fascist even — but he is not the worst case scenario by any stretch of the imagination. He is not Adolf Hitler 2.0, and if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, progressives should feel no compulsion to vote for her.
Let’s start out right away by correcting a narrative we’ve been hearing from mainstream media outlets lately, but is better suited to fringe militia group meetings: Dictatorship is not coming to America.
We constantly hear comparisons of The Donald to Hitler, and while there are similarities, there’s just one problem: our political culture—our shared attitudes and practices that shape our behavior politically. We value our codified individual liberties and democratic and republican processes.
Hitler rose to power democratically in the Weimar Republic at a time when Germany’s economy was deeply depressed. Like Trump, he encouraged violence within his movement, he ran on a deeply nationalist and bigoted platform, he showed little regard for opposition or the press, and his supporters saluted him with Nazi salutes. However, that is where the comparison ends.
Prior to the 14 Weimar years, Germany had a unitary ruler known as the Kaiser. Democratic process was by no means an ingrained part of the German political culture. To put that in perspective, the US has been in Afghanistan roughly the same amount of time — and look how stable that country is.
The United States, unlike Weimar Germany, has experienced 229 years of democratic process. Ideologies, policies, and officials change, but the process remains largely and essentially unchanged. And that’s a good thing. It shows that our checks and balances which are codified in our written Constitution, actually work. There are also a bureaucratic bulwark working against radicalism that is clearly functioning.
If he were to be elected, Trump would be subject to the same limitations as any other president. He would serve his term, and he would leave. He would not destroy our government.
That’s not to say he’s not dangerous.
On foreign policy, freedom of the press, and social issues the prospect of Trump is disturbing. The most frightening thing about the prospect of his presidency, however, isn’t his policy platform, or him having the nuclear codes, it is how far executive power has come as a result of George W. Bush’s imperial presidency, and how much further Trump could go. There is a chance he’d do a lot of damage to the institutional barriers within our system, even without destroying them. Additionally, there’s the narrative considerations of electing someone like Trump who makes outrageously racist and violent statements. That is not something we want to spread.
But then there are other considerations as well. Trump is a political outsider with few friends in DC, and even fewer within the GOP establishment. For a president to be effective, he needs a Congress willing to work with him. As it stands, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has been considering a brokered convention to deny the angry blonde billionaire the nomination. Trump holds grudges, which also does not lead me to the conclusion he would be a good negotiator. This means The Donald will not have an easy time with Congress. Even his war powers would be limited.
On top of all that, there is an interesting narrative shift that would occur were he to be elected that voters are tired of establishment politics beholden to corporate interests on both sides of the aisle; that elections should be publicly funded; that the media and the parties cannot force candidates on the American people; that the Democrats—specifically Debbie Wasserman Schultz—should not take progressive votes for granted. That shift wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
The GOP field this year is frightening — but Trump is notably the best among them. And that pains me to admit. He’s the only Republican talking about wealth inequality, ending bad trade agreements, and taxing “hedge fund guys.” Although his current platform is nauseatingly typical for the GOP, in the past he has held moderate to progressive policy positions on a range of topics like health care and women’s rights. In a way, Trump is a lot like Hillary Clinton in that he’ll apparently say anything to win, but his true colors are much more centrist.
On the other hand, there’s Ted Cruz. Yglesias argues that Cruz is a weaker general election candidate than his golden-haired opponent, and that “ [h]is ideas, though extreme, are vetted through the same conservative policy apparatus as everyone else’s.” Yglesias concludes that this makes Cruz a safer bet for liberals in a general election.
I can’t help but be appalled at this reasoning. Talk about ivory tower disconnect! Ted Cruz is perhaps the most dangerous person running. That he is more mainstream than Trump is precisely why liberals should hope he loses. Unlike The Donald, he’d have the support of a (begrudgingly) united GOP behind him. Cruz is a true believer in the Tea Party economic and social platforms. He also polls better in hypothetical match ups against the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, beating her on Real Clear Politics by 0.8 points on average. (He does not poll well against Bernie Sanders).
So am I suggesting disaffected Bernie progressives flock to Trump if Clinton is the candidate? Not at all (I will write in Sanders if I have to, but each to their own). What I am saying is that they should hope he does win the nomination because if it’s Trump v. Hillary, no matter who wins the presidency — the billionaire or the multi-millionaire in the pocket of billionaires — America is roughly in the same position. There will be gridlock, a possible economic crash, and a high probability nothing will really change for four years.
This brings me to my final point.
Instead of worrying about dictatorship and fascism, let’s focus on something more immediate. Let’s target the reason why crypto-fascists like Trump have gotten so far: the oligarchy.
A recent study by professors from Princeton and Northwestern revealed that the United States government responds to the desires of the top while ignoring the general public. As Bernie Sanders has pointed out, this has caused gridlock in Washington because politicians are paid to not govern. Given the frustrating state of the economy following the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, this gridlock only aggravates the situation.
After 60 years of the GOP’s Southern Strategy, candidates like Trump were an inevitability. Trump is able to capitalize on this general anger. Our broken campaign finance system — privately funded elections, the Citizens United and McCutcheon Supreme Court decisions, as well as the regulatory loophole that allows nonprofits to engage in political activity — gave him a megaphone because he can self-fund his campaign. Furthermore, as the DC establishment caters to special interests over public interest, his biggest appeal is the fact that he is an outsider, and doesn’t owe anyone.
The simple fact is, publicly financed elections would preclude people like Trump. However, if the system doesn’t change — if our government continues to represent the desires of the wealthy at the expense of the needs and will of the people — then we really are going to have to worry about fascism destroying our institutional safeguards and social order over time. But it won’t happen in one election cycle or one presidency.