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Pitchforks and Tea Carts

Posted by MLGoodell on February 29, 2016 at 3:55 PM

A long time ago, when American diplomats were being held hostage by Islamist thugs in Tehran, and American power was being held hostage by indecision and cowardice in Washington, I came upon a cluster of suits one lunch hour in downtown San Francisco. They were angry, frustrated, frightened and gathered outside the Iranian-owned Bank of Melli, on Sutter Street.


They were muttering and occasionally shouting, shaking their fists and taking secret pleasure from the frightened glances the young tellers inside would cast our way. Though they would deny it from that day on, each of those present would knew, in their heart of hearts, that terrifyingly delicious taste of putting fear in the eyes of others.


We were a mob. A singularly well-dressed, and well-behaved mob, but a mob nonetheless. We felt a thrill of anticipation when the manager scurried over to lock the door. Our shouts grew louder. At one point I realized I could take control of this mob. I could bend them to my will. It took only the raising of my voice to lead them to riot.


I stepped forward, grabbed the door handles and shouted, “We can break this door down!”


Okay, I spoke the words conversationally. Maybe I even whispered them. There at the moment of decision, I lost my nerve. I decided I didn’t want to be responsible for them trashing the bank, maybe even punching, stomping, beating the employees. I didn’t have what it took to lead a mob. I was too passive to be an activist. I spent the balance of my lunch hour in the crowd, waiting for someone else to step forward.


When the police came to escort the bank employees to safety our impromptu mob cheered. I explained to them you didn’t cheer the police when they arrived, you booed them. But they, like me when push came to shove, were reflexively allied with order and the rule of law.


I was reminded of that incident the other day while pondering the mystery of Donald Trump. How is it possible that he can break every rule of politics and see his support grow? How can he be a bully, a boor, an adolescent shambles, a self-gratifying, self-aggrandizing, self-glorifying egotist and watch his numbers grow? How is it possible that people who have learned over the course of a lifetime to despise people like Donald Trump on general principle can turn with a vengeance on anyone who points out exactly who and what the man is?


Trump supporters, I came to understand, are like that nascent mob in San Francisco. They are angry, frustrated and frightened. They feel let down by the system, by their culture; for them the American Dream is dead. They don’t embrace Trump because they believe he will, in fact, Make America Great Again, but because they are convinced he will destroy what remains of the City Upon the Hill.


They are angry. They are throwing bombs. They don’t care to preserve the system because the system no longer works. How is it possible that the American political system could have failed its citizens so drastically that the middle class are ready to revolt? It is a terrible thing when the middle class advocates revolution, because when the system falls, it falls hardest upon the middle class. It is the middle class which thrives on order, which depends upon the rule of law, which cheers the police when they arrive. If the middle class want to throw things over, things have gotten very bad indeed.


These torches-and-pitchfork condemnations of the Republican establishment, of damning people like Paul Ryan, Richard Lowry and William Kristol as RINOS, as liberal hacks, reveal a kind of sickness, a Dantonesque fanning of the revolutionary flames, of kindling a bonfire while will burn more than their enemies.


Calling Trump a dictator, a Mussolini, has no impact on his mob because they want a dictator. They want a Mussolini to come in and sweep the old edifice away. They are tired of being lied to by the establishment. They are tired of voting for Conservatives only to have them rule like moderates or even liberals. They believe the system is so broken it corrupts even decent men and women, and the only solution is to tear it down.


The break has been a long time coming. It happened, as Mike Campbell said about his bankruptcy, two ways, gradually and then suddenly.

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