Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Autoimmune Response

“ ‘Washington Post’ Reporter Frustrated Every Space In Parking Garage Taken Up By Anonymous Source”
 —Headline from The Onion, May 30
The improbable rise and election of Donald Trump has flummoxed people so badly that they struggle to find some comparable historical figure to help make sense of him. Quite a few of the more excitable ones quickly reached for the almost-always-inadvisable Hitler comparison, as well as fascists like Benito Mussolini. Some went for Argentina’s populist crook Juan PerĂ³n. Others likened President Trump to his putative bromance partner Vladimir Putin. I myself wrote in this blog of a potential similarity to Italy’s buffoonish media magnate Silvio Berlusconi.

Lately another comparison has occurred to me, and I am confident few others have thought of it—Chile’s Salvador Allende. Sounds nuts, right? Politically, two men could not be further apart. If you have any admiration at all for one of them, you will certainly have no time at all for the other.

The late Chilean president has been on my mind because my novel authoring efforts have again transported me back to South America in the early 1970s. (Yes, I have indeed seized upon a topic that allows me to plug my available-real-soon-now third book.) Events of that era in Chile figured into the plot of my first novel, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. They figure even more prominently in the sequel, which follows the further adventures of twentysomething Californian Dallas Green, who insists he is not interested in politics but keeps getting drawn into political situations anyway.

Indulge me with this Trump/Allende thing. First, let’s note the stark differences between them. Allende was a veteran politician and the head of a well-established political party, which was the Socialist Party. Trump is a businessman whose political views over time have been all over the map. His first ever elective office was president of the United States. He was elected on a platform that was pro-business and nationalistic. Allende, as a self-avowed Marxist, was very much into state control of the economy and spoke the language of international solidarity. The two are clearly poles apart ideologically—and that assumes Trump even has a real ideology.

So why do I see a correlation between the two? For one thing, both were presidents elected legally but by electoral minorities. Allende received just 36.6 percent of the popular vote, a slight purality ahead of Jorge Alessandri, the conservative independent candidate, who received 35.3 percent. The Chilean Congress functioned as an effective Electoral College, and the centrist Christian Democrats threw their votes to Allende. They came to regret that strategy. Nearly three years later they joined the rest of the political opposition to declare Allende’s presidency illegal. As for Trump, he of course won the Electoral College despite receiving only 46.1 percent of the popular vote.

In another parallel, both Allende and Trump caused alarm by perceived ties to foreign leaders. In Allende’s case, he was well known to be a personal friend of Fidel Castro. He was photographed several times holding an AK-47 Castro had given him as a gift. When the military came to oust him, he used that weapon to take his own life. (For years his supporters insisted he had been murdered, but eventually his family conceded that he had died by his own hand.) In Trump’s case, many observers were puzzled—if not outright unnerved—by the fact he was given to praising Vladimir Putin’s leadership and did not subject the Russian leader to the same outbursts he directed at most other world leaders. This hysteria continued to the point where Trump’s former campaign is being examined with an eye to possible collusion with the Russians and Trump himself has been reported to be a target for his possible interference.

The fundamental similarity between Trump and Allende is that each, in his own way, represented a threat to his society’s establishment. In Chile’s case, the conservative establishment—with support from the U.S. government—resisted him at every turn. Things reached a crisis when Congress condemned Allende for disregarding judicial rulings, ruling by decree, unlawfully confiscating land, and allowing his supporters to arm themselves while others were not so allowed. Three weeks later the military removed him and took control of the country.

In the current American case, it is the modern liberal establishment that cannot abide Trump. Talk of impeachment began before he was even inaugurated. From the outset, his administration has been undermined by a tide of leaks, not only from his own staff but from intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The leaking campaign extended as high as then-FBI director James Comey, who acknowledged in testimoney before Congress that he had leaked his version of a conversation with Trump with the (successful) intention of triggering a special counsel investigation. That investigation is headed by Comey’s personal friend and longtime colleague Robert Mueller. He has a sterling reputation, not unlike Comey’s, although Comey’s has suffered some since his recent testimony, where he came off more as an insider schemer than the boy scout had seemed before. As for Mueller, some are now looking askance at the fact that his hires for the probe are tending heavily toward those on record for having donated generously to Democratic candidates and political action committees. Moreover, the investigation is unusual in that, as far as I can remember anyway, it is the first one which is trying to establish whether a crime was actually committed as opposed to investigating a crime that has already been established as having been committed.

If there is one overriding similarity between Allende and Trump, it is that their presidencies both evoke the image of a foreign organism pushing its way into the body politic like a pathogen, causing a furious reaction from antibodies trying to ward off the infection. In Allende’s case, it was conservative society, businesses and the military that reacted. In Trump’s case, it is the Democratic party, the corporate media and, most of all, the legions of entrenched career government employees to whom some refer as the “deep state.”

What seems to be forgotten in the heated political environment is that, in a democracy, the political leader you revile was put there by millions of people. Allende may have been a threat to Chilean democracy, but he was supported by a large segment of the population. Many of his supporters wound up being imprisoned, tortured, killed or forced into exile.

What has gotten precious little acknowledgement since the U.S. election is the fact that nearly 63 million people voted for Donald Trump. Those voters had not seen their most serious concerns, fears and problems recognized and treated seriously by politicians of either major party. Rightly or wrongly, they tried to send a message by electing a president opposed by the establishments of both parties. If they turn on the news or pick up a newspaper—and who knows how many of them even bother anymore—what do they see?

Maybe some number of them read the president’s tweets and/or blogs sympathetic to him and still urge him on. Those who do not, on the other hand, must see little sign that their message in November was received or taken to heart by anyone in Washington or the corporate media.