Something about this political season has encouraged a string of blockbuster new hits at the Bad Historical Analogy Theater. All political seasons introduce a handful of entertaining new acts, but something about the unpredictability of national political life in the Age of Trump has really lit up the marquees on the Great White Way of Facile Comparisons. The presence of multiple political dynasties, the institutional and ideological implosion of the Republican party, the campaign finance Wild West of Citizens United, and the rise of nontraditional candidates have all stumped pundits and political writers of all stripes (and abilities), and in the face of such novelty and uncertainty many of them have an unerring instinct to grasp at historical analogies to explain what we’re living through. Most of those analogies are terrible, in that they rely on superficial similarities for their explanatory power, while papering over vast historical differences that undermine any explanation they purport to make. And if there’s one thing this blog is against, it’s Bad Historical Analogies. Read more
Tag Archive for Election 2016
As Frank Rich pointed out in his recent meditation on the political phenomenon of Trump, political observers and pundits have struggled to identify historical precedents. The most popular, according to Rich, have ranged “from the third-party run of the cranky billionaire Ross Perot back to Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin, the radio-savvy populist demagogues of the Great Depression.” He also fingers Joseph McCarthy, Hugo Chávez, George Wallace, and his favorite, the fictional, comedic “unhinged charlatans” of Mark Twain. For Rich, Trump is the real-life embodiment of the fictional political con-men of American cinema, characters who though their sheer outrageousness call into question the legitimacy and sanity of the political system as a whole. Rich foresees some potentially salubrious effects of Trump’s brazen act of real-life political satire, because his performance will lay bare precisely how naked the emperor really is, thus necessitating reform. I think that’s exuberantly optimistic, to the point of naiveté, although he gets points from me for trying to find a silver lining the dark cloud of Trumpism. But I’d like to suggest another older and more jarring precedent for Trump: the “Founding Fathers” themselves.