Mike Davis :
The undead

Is Trump an improvised, rough-at-the-edges avatar of the Nixon coalition? Ask Pat Buchanan.


Trump the undead? Nixon avatar? Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr.

By Mike Davis | The Rag Blog | November 10, 2016

I finally think I’ve understood why we’re so obsessed with zombies.

The discarded shroud, the rustling in the weeds, the vaporous apparitions seen from Pocatello to Lake Wobegone, the ghost army of admirers… we were forewarned that he was back but failed to pay attention.

On Halloween eve the “New” Nixon Library launched an expensive newspaper advertising campaign, inviting us to “discover how Richard Nixon’s legacy continues to shape our world.” He was the hero, the ads claim, who “protected the environment… desegregated schools, ended the Vietnam War.” “Buy tickets now,” the Library urges.

Almost 60 million of our fellow citizens have. Some have stood in line for decades, unsatiated by the Reagan and Bush years, waiting for a revenge that is colder and crueler. Others — cops, soldiers, vice-principals, frat boys, and traditional husbands — yearn for an old-fashioned Iron Heel that will keep the coloreds and women in line.

White nationalism is a final dose of poison for the Heartland, not Viagra for factory smokestacks.

But tragically, many, rebuked and scorned by both Democratic and Republican elites, are simply curious about what’s inside of Pandora’s Box or, better, Nixon’s tomb. They’ll eventually discover, as did the mythic “hard hats” of the 1970s, that white nationalism is a final dose of poison for the Heartland, not Viagra for factory smokestacks.

If Trumpism seems too improvised and rough on the edges to constitute a real avatar of the Nixon coalition, I invite you to read the collected works of Pat Buchanan. For 40 years he has toiled to bring Nixon – or rather his own idealization of the essential Nixon (sans Kissinger) — back to life in a presidential candidacy based on nativism, economic nationalism, and neo-isolationism.

His own tries for the Republican nomination in the 1990s struck repeated sparks on the willing flints of Southern racism and Midwestern anti-Semitism, but his bigotry was too radioactive for the neoconservatives around the Bush dynasty.

From the perspective of the 2008 election, Buchanan’s pining for the golden age when he was Nixon’s speechwriter, working with Daniel Moynihan and Kevin Philips to transform an inchoate white backlash into a “new republican majority,” seemed little more than a feeble cry from the home for aging reactionaries. Even more obscure — at least to anyone under 90 — has been his ceaseless invocation of “America First”: the slogan of the isolationist movement of 1939-41 that briefly united pacifists and socialists like Norman Thomas with open admirers of the Nazi regime such as Charles Lindbergh.

Yet the archaic narrative that Buchanan curates, along with the demonic Nixon he conjures from the darkness, have suddenly become the haunted script of the greatest political upset in American history. Whether Trump has discreetly schooled himself at Buchanan’s knee or just spontaneously vibrates at exactly the same frequency, the coincidence of ideas is extraordinary.

“What hath Trump Wrought?” the Buchanan blog asked on Monday. “Trump did not create the forces that propelled his candidacy. But he recognized them, tapped into them, and unleashed a gusher of nationalism and populism that will not soon dissipate.” The Republican Establishment? “The [Bush] dynasty is as dead as the Romanovs.”

Also dead, says Buchanan, are the traditional standards of democracy. Trump, he readily acknowledges, lied, dog-whistled, and thugged his way to the nomination and now to the presidency. “Why? asks an alarmed establishment. Why, in spite of all this, did Trump’s support endure? Why did the American people not react as they once would have?… Answer. We are another country, an us-or-them country.”

‘Us-or-them’ countries are traditionally
the potting soil for fascism.

“Us-or-them” countries, of course, are traditionally the potting soil for fascism. Punditry deceived itself that Trump’s ideas and proposals were incoherent and thus not a serious armature for policy. But they make perfect and very dangerous sense in the dialect of Buchanan’s Nixonland. The resistance needs to read the original.

A personal note: Last night war was declared on our daughters. I have two. Casey (13) hasn’t cried since she was a toddler but she wept bitterly and inconsolably. Roisin (forever 29) spent the evening outside the Trump party in Manhattan with some dazed Irish journalists. She phoned at 2 a.m., struggling to describe what she’d just witnessed.

Deja vu. On the night before the 1972 election a girlfriend and I managed to sneak into the final Nixon rally, a Nuremburg-like affair at the Ontario, California, airport. We chanted “Ho, Ho Chi Minh” a couple of times as the Reagans and Nixons walked down the red carpet. Of course we were immediately pummelled and tossed on our duffs.

What has haunted me ever since, however, was not the reactionary anger and hatred — which we had all experienced so many times before — but rather the repulsive ecstasy of the mob before their deities. It reminded me of a description I had once read of the sentimental fellow-feeling induced amongst cannibals as they feasted together on their enemies: that is to say, us.

Find more articles by Mike Davis on The Rag Blog.

[Mike Davis is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, and an editor of the New Left Review. An urban theorist, historian, and social activist, Davis is the author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, Planet of Slums, and In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire.]

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7 Responses to Mike Davis :
The undead

  1. Sam Beck says:

    Thank you for your insights. Weeping is the new past time for many of us, no difference of age.

  2. Jo Wilkinson says:

    So good to hear your voice!

  3. francis m says:

    How many of those 60 million were able to vote, are aware of or were even alive during Nixon? Lumping together 60 million voters into one villainous group is just a non-starter, I’m afraid. I’m totally disappointed in Mike Davis’ analysis here.

    Further, not one single mention of the other cheek on the same pock-marked arse, that is to say the Democrats and Hillary Clinton. People vote against something as they vote for something, that’s how it works. Hard working blue, white, whatever collar, whatever race and gender, people to the left and to the right who have been disenfranchised by elitist global capital decided they have had enough. As grotesque as Trump is (a product of US capitalism writ large) he is not yet in same league as the Clinton’s/Bush’s in that regard and therein lies the faintest glimmer of hope for many. Step back and try to imagine 4/8 years of Hillary Clinton – complete suffocation and annihilation for all (including the planet) but the very few.

    It is the same dumb analysis that is being peddled by the media post Brexit. The reality there was, it was the Northern English coal mining/predominantly socialist leaning working class families that swung the vote. It is way too simplistic and convenient for the “left” to construct their pantomime villain and blame the intolerant right, which brings me to the final point and the resultant protests.

    While sad to the core, it is not surprising that most of the “liberal” urbane left choose to wallow within the bubble of their identity politic. Their tears are tears for themselves, for their tribe illusion, for who they think they are. Self gratifying tears of the ego, let flow to distract from the real and horrific impact their lifestyles have on the planet and others. They are not tears or protests for the country or the world at large but of the fear of losing their socially constructed identity, their safe space.

  4. Extremist2thedhs says:

    Such a bunch of bed wetters.
    Identity politics is so entrenched in your way of promoting your worldview that you can’t seem to abandon it even in the face of evidence that it’s no longer working.

    Rag Bloggers are like the addict that resorts to using more to make the feeling happen again. More hurled screams of “racist” into your echo chamber while yourself indulging in racism.

    The only ones who pay attention are your fellow travelers. The rest of us have heard you, feared you, but have now concluded that your just intellectual cowards, bullies, and fit only to be ignored and ocassionally mocked.

    The old playbook no longer works but you can’t stop using it for your game plan. The main stream media can no longer carry your water as they outed themselves as whores to progressive power brokers putting their finger on the scale for Hildabeast. They can’t now reclaim the title of neutral fact checkers. They are effectively being replaced with alternate media and good riddance to them.

    The most important and dangerous thing that Donald Trump accomplished was to give ordinary hard working people the courage (and example) to free themselves from you bullies on the left who would mock them for their choices and beliefs. They have a leader now who can guide then to a future they were afraid had died. They have a leader who has given them the courage to tell you all to go fuck yourselves. He has taught them not to fear the cowards, bullies and liars on the left.

    – Proud to be an Extremist2thedhs

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