Donald Trump is a chest-thumping gorilla reminiscent of Mussolini, while Ted Cruz is a devious fanatic with similarities to Stalin, making him far more dangerous.
After declaring that it has detonated a hydrogen bomb, North Korea has launched a long range rocket. This is making South Korea, Japan and the United States jump up and down in woolen underwear. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, declared that “there can be no business as usual” and promised “we’ll come up with something tough.”
Republican candidates do not believe Power. They berated President Barack Obama for weakness and promised real toughness. Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, promised a preemptive strike on North Korea. Donald Trump was more reasonable. He declared that China had “tremendous control over North Korea” and was best placed to solve the problem quickly and surgically. Trump would let China deal with North Korea.
The rise of Trump with his megalomania, simplistic solutions and powerful populism is ruffling many feathers. In a Der Spiegel article, Markus Feldenkirchen declared Trump to be the world’s most dangerous man. Feldenkirchen is wrong. Like many decent Germans, Adolf Hitler’s ghost continues to torment him and makes him project German anxiety on American reality. There are more dangerous men than Trump and one of them is running against him.
Trump is a boorish bully. To use an American expression, he talks smack. Yet he is more like Benito Mussolini and less like Adolf Hitler. Feldenkirchen shudders on seeing Trump “vulgarly pursing his lips” and declaring that he would “attack head-first again” in the manner of American football. For Trump, concussions and brain damage do not matter. He wants America to toughen up and become great again.
Other Republican candidates largely agree with Trump. They are simply not as candid as him. Donald Trump is certainly scary, but Ted Cruz is terrifying.
In this week’s primary debate, both men were asked about waterboarding. Once, Uncle Sam deemed this practice torture. After World War II, it sentenced Japanese prisoners of war to death for waterboarding. Cruz was too clever by half and claimed that waterboarding was merely enhanced interrogation, not torture. He made a convoluted case for using it sparingly to protect American lives and keep the country safe. Trump boldly declared that he would bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
Prima facie, Trump’s response is crass, but Cruz’s is the more sinister. Trump is impulsive. He is full of bluster. Cruz is calculative. He is bringing torture in through the back door. Cruz is smoothly insisting that torture is not really torture. And he would use “enhanced interrogation” only sparingly for bona fide reasons. Trump is merely a chest-thumping gorilla. He is a modern counterpart to Benito Mussolini. Cruz is more like Joseph Stalin. Underneath his reasonableness lies a ruthlessness that is more controlled, doctrinaire and bloodthirsty than the comic book buffoonery of Trump.
The now chubby Cruz was a star debater at Princeton. He then went to Harvard Law School where he did well again and clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Cruz played a key role in George W. Bush’s legal team that defended his victory over Al Gore in Florida. He understands the power of the judiciary and is already planning to install “rock-ribbed” conservatives in the US Supreme Court.
Cruz’s wife is a Harvard MBA who works for none other than Goldman Sachs, an investment bank that sees itself as the “pillar of the free market, breeder of super-citizens” who do “God’s work.” So many US Treasury secretaries have come from Goldman Sachs that its detractors see the bank as “a creepy, conspiratorial vampire squid of finance.” Yet this slick climber of the greasy pole has passed himself off as a rebel and is the darling of the Tea Party. Trump is a mere poser, while Cruz is a frightening plotter.
Like Marco Rubio, Cruz is a first-term senator. Rubio takes up extreme positions, including opposition to abortion in the case of rape, incest and danger to a mother’s life. Yet Cruz does so with a fanaticism that is more intolerant. He was one of the three senators who voted against confirming John Kerry as secretary of state. When Obama appointed Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, Cruz smeared the old war veteran with insinuations that he had received money from foreign governments and extremist groups.
For all his manifold flaws, Trump is willing to make deals. In this week’s debate, he talked about the need to “take care of people dying on the street.” It might seem inconceivable, but Cruz is more inhumane than Trump. This doctrinaire senator calmly took an ideological position. He talked about repealing Obamacare and did not mention what he would do about those who were dying on the street. In 2013, Cruz railed against Obamacare for 21 hours on the floor of the Senate, causing the shutdown of the federal government.
Cruz is not a fellow who brooks any compromise whether on taxes or on abortion. He takes a similar hard line when it comes to the right to own guns. Cruz’s chilling video in which he cooks bacon on a machine gun offers an uncanny insight into his pugnacious personality. Unsurprisingly, when The New Yorker profiled him in 2014, it titled the piece “The Absolutist.” Former classmates, fellow lawyers and colleagues on Capitol Hill loathe Cruz and use epithets like “wacko-bird,” “abrasive,” “arrogant” and “creepy” to describe him. Yet Cruz has managed to march on. While Trump likes notoriety and publicity, Cruz cares only about power and how to wield it to achieve his purpose. Cruz in the White House is a terrifying proposition.
In some ways, what is happening in the Republican primary is the smashing into smithereens the edifice that Ronald Reagan built. Reagan promised “reforms that will get government off our backs, out of our pockets and up to the standards of decency and excellence envisioned by the founding fathers.” He championed American exceptionalism, painting the picture of the US as the “last best hope of man on earth.” He talked of freedom of the individual with low taxes and less red tape. Internationally, he threw the gauntlet to the Soviet Union. In an iconic speech in Berlin, Reagan asked the Soviet general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, to open the Brandenburg Gate and tear down the Berlin Wall.
Yet there was a sinister side to Reagan. People of color in Asia, Africa or Latin America always took the words of this draft dodging second-rate actor with more than a pinch of salt. This man who gave rousing speeches about freedom supported the South African apartheid regime. At home, he practiced dog-whistle politics. He appealed to white voters in the Deep South by championing states’ rights, which was code for allowing states to practice segregation, and kicking off his election campaign in Neshoba County, where the Ku Klux Klan murdered three civil rights workers in 1964.
Reagan is now the great god of the Republican Party. Everyone swears by him. In this week’s debate, Ben Carson invoked Reagan’s 11th Commandment of not criticizing fellow Republicans on the god’s 105th birthday. The token black Republican in the primary was prostrating before a deity whom much of the world outside the US regards as racist. Cruz declared that Iran released American prisoners the day Reagan came to power because they feared his strength. Even narcissistic Trump paid homage to Reagan’s ability to make deals with Democrats led by Tip O’Neill.
Republican fixation with Reagan is nostalgia for the last era of American greatness. Americans talk about how Reagan humbled the Soviet Union and engineered its collapse. His sunny demeanor and easy charm are abiding memories for people like Cruz who were coming of age in the 1980s. Greed was good and the roughshod barbarians of private equity threatened the gates of cushy companies. Reagan came to power to “make America great again” and, in the eyes of his devotees,” he did so successfully. If only things were as simple as Carson, Rubio, Trump, Cruz and co would like us to believe.
The Reagan era has run its course. The Soviet Union is buried six feet under. An older monster is back. Increasing inequality is now threatening social cohesion, economic opportunity and political equality. Just 158 families provided nearly half of the early money for candidates campaigning for the White House. Americans are angry because the promise of the post-Soviet era and globalization has turned into the nightmare of low incomes with little job security. Rising costs of education, health care and housing have pushed many into a brutal debt trap. The rise of the Islamic State with its gory beheadings brings back memories of 9/11. Americans are now afraid of their own shadows. They yearn for a simpler era when things seemed safer and the country felt greater.
A deeply divided country is now vulnerable to the likes of Trump or Cruz. God save America!
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