The Rise of Anti-Establishment Populism

9780700621934UPK author Dr. George Hawley was quoted in this fantastic Toronto Star story examining Donald Trump’s “anti-establishment” presidential campaign. Hawley’s book, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism offers a complete, complex, and nuanced account of the American right in all its dissonance in history and modern day.

In the story, Hawley states that conservative intellectuals have strategically dealt in anti-establishment populism “with the understanding that they would always be able to remain in control of it…. And now they find themselves completely aghast: they see that someone else is coming along and using those exact same latent tendencies in the electorate to fuel his own rise and is completely not beholden to them, and they’re utterly horrified.”

 

Donald Trump, His Porn Pledge & the Historic Relevance

Nixon porn exploBy Douglas M. Charles

In the current presidential election cycle, we have witnessed unprecedented firsts from the nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump. We have seen this major-party presidential candidate say racist, misogynist, xenophobic and all manner of unorthodox or shocking things, like threatening to pull out of NATO and praising Vladimir Putin. We’ve also seen him borrow from the political past. He’s dredged up and embraced the previously discredited America First movement of the early 1940s, and he’s borrowed the Law and Order mantle of Richard Nixon in 1968. In early August Trump announced, to some excitement and drama, that he had signed the Children’s Internet Safety Presidential Pledge, a declaration crafted by an anti-pornography group claiming it seeks to protect children (they all do) and calling itself Enough Is Enough. This latest news item involving The Donald is also nothing new. Focusing on pornography or obscenity and appealing to people’s perceptions of decaying morality has been a standard GOP modus operandi since the late 1960s and Richard Nixon and ever after.

By the late 1960s, after various Supreme Court rulings liberalized federal anti-obscenity law, leading to a boom in the pornography industry, some Americans unsurprisingly became concerned. Around the same time (1970), in the realm of politics, political scientists concluded that Democrats won elections on economic issues while Republicans won by appealing to social issues. The GOP and Nixon fully embraced this idea and appealed to the great “silent majority” of Americans who worried about crime and respected decency, and Nixon squeaked out an electoral victory. Nixon continued to push social issues as president and focused on the pornography boom as something dangerous to Americans. A scientific presidential commission had even been formed by President Lyndon Johnson to study the issue, and the report was due out during Nixon’s first months in office.

The commission concluded that pornography did not contribute in any significant way to America’s various social problems of the time. Nixon would have nothing of it, and pushed the issue going so far as to arrange an all-out effort to discredit the commission’s report and advocating for the strengthening of federal anti-obscenity law. Nixon staffers even drafted an internal report on “The Pornography Explosion” and wanted to “activate all of the anti-obscenity groups” against the commission’s report. Nixon hoped to change the law (but the GOP had only minority numbers in Congress) or push for new obscenity prosecutions to develop a possible new Supreme Court ruling in its favor. Neither happened, but Nixon’s appointing of four conservative Supreme Court justices did slow, if not stop, the liberal trend in obscenity case rulings.

This trend then continued with certain GOP presidents. During the Reagan years pressure mounted again to do something about pornography, which resulted in Reagan’s attorney general, Ed Meese, releasing his own utterly un-scientific report concluding that pornography resulted in sexual violence and social problems. Even still during the 1980s fewer than 100 people were charged under federal anti-obscenity statues and only 71 convicted, a dismal record reflecting the continuing liberal evolution of Americans’ attitudes about the issue. Still, the issue was good for Republican base politics.

Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush, however, was not much interested in this aspect of social politics and neither, of course, was the Democrat Bill Clinton. But when George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 he resurrected it as an appeal to his right-wing evangelical base who wanted something done about obscenity and pornography. Bush won the election and even tried, but failed, to reinstate federal prosecutions of adult obscenity — unsurprisingly claiming an aim to protect children, an age-old proclamation —  which had previously faded away. When Barrack Obama assumed office in 2009 he ended the Bush effort (except for the focus on child pornography) as a drain on resources, but socially conservative Republicans tried to push back and demanded the Obama Justice Department do something about the alleged threat pornography posed to American society.

So Trump’s resurrecting the old ratty dog of pornography and its threat is really nothing new. It’s an effort to motivate the GOP’s socially conservative based in hopes to drum up votes. Could anything come of Trump’s anti-pornography pledge? Perhaps. But obscenity prosecutions have actually diminished steadily not just from the 1960s but throughout most of the 20th Century and into the next. It would be legally and socially very difficult for a President Trump to revive anti-pornography targeting and prosecutions; George W. Bush tried and failed miserably. American culture and social attitudes have just evolved too far to care much and see successful prosecutions. Then again, it would also depend on Trump winning the election, and that seems unlikely.

Douglas M. Charles is the author of UPK books, The FBI’s Obscene File: J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau’s Crusade Against Smut & Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s “Sex Deviates” Program.

Trump Bashing from on High

9780700622719In a recent article in the Washington Post Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments on the consequences of a Trump presidency are discussed by legal scholars, including Louis J. Virelli III, author of the recently published Disqualifying the High Court: Supreme Court Recusal and the Constitution. Professor Virelli discusses what might prove to be grounds for recusal if a Trump administration takes office next year.

Judicial Recusal Becomes a Hot Button Issue in the Trump Campaign

9780700622719The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Williams v. Pennsylvania confirmed the close relationship between recusal and constitutional law. As I argue in my new book, Disqualifying the High Court: Supreme Court Recusal and the Constitution, recusal at the Highest Court must be treated exclusively as a matter of constitutional law in order to both properly protect litigants like Mr. Williams and to ensure that our most powerful courts are able to fully perform their public duties.  This has important consequences for several hot button issues, including the ongoing disputes over whether certain Supreme Court Justices are fit to preside over politically controversial cases and Donald Trump’s accusations that Judge Gonzalo Curiel is unfit to participate in the ongoing fraud case against Trump University.

Written by J. Louis Virelli III, author of Disqualifying the High Court: Supreme Court Recusal and the Constitution

Trump Faces Multiple Challenges in Selecting a Running Mate

9780700622023Joel K. Goldstein, author of The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden, analyzes the difficulties Trump must deal with in choosing a vice presidential candidate for the 2016 election campaign, in an article in Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Among those challenges is Trump’s lack of established relationships with Republicans from the four feeder groups: senator, high national executive branch official, governor, or member of the House of Representatives.

Bull Moose or Bull Mouse: TR, Donald Trump, and a Third Party

9780700616060Donald Trump has recently mused about the possibility of a third party candidacy should the Republicans select someone other than him as their presidential nominee. Trump, who leaves few thoughts unexpressed, will thus stir memories of another Republican who, failing to get the GOP nomination, launched his own political party to win the White House. In 1912, defeated at the Republican National Convention by the forces of President William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt took his delegates out of the convention and nominated himself on the ticket of the new Progressive Party. In terms that would suit the most fervent of today’s evangelical Republicans, Roosevelt proclaimed that “we stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord.”

Roosevelt made a strong race against the Democratic nominee, carrying six states with 88 electoral votes. He got about 27% of the popular vote and was an overall second behind Woodrow Wilson’s 41 %.  But he did lose. Popularity and charisma took Roosevelt only so far. Like other third party hopefuls from Robert M. La Follette in 1924, George Wallace in 1968, and Ross Perot in 1992, the partisan allegiances of the general electorate in the end frustrated third-party runs.

The similarities and differences between Trump and TR are interesting. Roosevelt in 1912 did not hint at a third party run until a month before the GOP convention. Here is Trump a year out dropping public warnings to the party that he might use his wealth to underwrite a third party run. Yet cursing the party establishment did not work for Roosevelt in 1912. Although his ill-treatment at the convention, and allegations of stolen delegates, initially justified his defection, he soon abandoned that strategy in favor of a reform program based on his “New Nationalism” of expanded government power.

It seems unlikely that Trump, who rarely goes near substance, would emulate Roosevelt’s, effort to lay out a blueprint for an America with greater corporate regulation, enhanced social justice for poorer elements in society, and a larger role for the federal government. Whatever one concludes about Roosevelt in 1912, there was a serious mind at work engaging the contemporary concerns of his time.  It is hard to imagine Roosevelt giving out the personal information of his opponents or attacking the war records of prominent senators. When friends brought him alleged evidence of Woodrow Wilson’s marital indiscretions, TR rejected it out of hand and would not use it, even though he disliked Wilson intensely.

When Roosevelt came to the Republican convention in Chicago, reporters asked him about how he felt. He said he felt as fit as  a “Bull Moose,” and that mighty animal became the symbol of Roosevelt’s third party.  There was an element of a sore loser in Roosevelt’s decision to leave his political home, but he redeemed himself, at least in the eyes of history, by the intellectual content of his campaign. Much of the liberal agenda of the 20th century emerged out of Roosevelt’s third party campaign and came to fruition in the New Deal and Great Society,

Donald Trump seems very adept at articulating popular grievances on immigration and foreign policy in language that, though often coarse and indelicate, resonates with the Republican base.  His preemptive assertion that he might take his marbles, his helicopters, and his audience appeal and run alone should the GOP delegates reject him is characteristic of someone with an ample ego and a large fortune. As Theodore Roosevelt learned, however, there is more to politics and running for president than one-liners and insults.  It is one thing to rattle the Republican National Committee with a third-party threat.  It is quite another to do the hard work of building up a genuine third party in all fifty states and make it a real political option.  Trump may be a master of the art of the deal, but at least on his record so far, there is little evidence of the capacity to do retail politics with any realistic prospect of success against Republicans and Democrats in a national election. One of TR’s successors, Warren G. Harding, spoke of the joys of vague rhetoric in political matters. Harding called it “bloviating.”  Trump is a serial bloviator. When it comes to a potential third party, Donald Trump is more likely to be remembered for his temporary celebrity than as an heir of one of the great politicians in American history, Theodore Roosevelt, and his memorable third-party run in 1912.

-Written by Lewis L. Gould, Visiting Distinguished Professor of History at Monmouth College and author of “Bull Moose on the Stump: The 1912 Campaign Speeches of Theodore Roosevelt” and “Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics“.