Mananlyzing in Stereo: Land, Localization of National Politics, or Should I Call the Feds for an Eviction?

American Political Development is history at its worst.  At least, that’s what some historians who reside in the United States and teach in American history might say about our field — it’s “presentist.” We throw in any American teleology, or pull any trajectory into reverse.  But is it reverse engineering?

As we start from the present and move backwards, digging and delving into all those institutional nooks and crannies, tracing, mapping, and locating the so-called origins of any public policy that spans the United States, from the laws establishing the defunct ICC to the EEOC, are we really being presentist, or are we “institutionalists”?  (The damn autocorrect makes me put this in quotes.)  It’s not a search for APD; it’s a search for the American nation-state, or at least that cozy social-welfare policy state, which today seems like magical thinking, or (heaven forbid) what the so-called conservatives call the “nanny state?”

In fact, though, it’s not the search for the American nation-state, nor the American states.  It’s closer to home than that. And aside from “manalyzing” with David Waldstreicher in the course we’re team-teaching this semester, I’d say Trump has managed to localize the nation-state — for me, that is.  It’s the localization of the State — the Sovereign, not the states.

And it only makes sense, if you study corruption.  From Papi Trump (the German?), to Papa Trump (the Swede, haha), and now baby Trump (not Donald J., but the one with the comb-over hair), they all bribed politicians in the states, as well as serving the State, let alone all the neighboring municipalities in greater New York.  So it comes as no surprise that Penn Station would house all those lobbying the nation-state, foreigners and domestic lobbyist no matter.

After all, how did robber baron Cornelius Vanderbilt have so much money after receiving so much public land? The business of America has always been business. That said, we have to remember that Trump is a developer of “real” estate (i.e. physical property). There’s no other eviction that hurts so much as what a landlord can do by making one homeless. So why do so many liberals believe Congress could ever evict Trump out of the White House?

More later. But for now, David?

“Manalyzing” in Stereo by Distinguished Professor David Waldstreicher, team teaching American Political Development 2020

As the historian in this manalyzing duo, of course I feel less responsible for the limits of the field of American Political Development, more excited about how it might help compensate for some of the foibles of historians….

Yes, the lesson of Trump is that it’s corruption all the way down, corruption as  a multigenerational (American Political) tradition, yet on a spiral that makes it somewhat different each time. The grandfather was all about railroad towns and hotels (brothels), and land, exploiting his fellow immigrants. The father about urban segregation and (un)creative destruction.  The grandson about the simulacrum of luxury, leveraged gloss, and televised publicity as ponzi scheme. Party politics had to be the endgame because it undergirded the possibilities of profiting from infrastructure all along.

Alas, as the trigenerational story suggests, the other continuity in the Trumpian spiral appears to be the reliance on whiteness, which is why Trump so repeatedly doubles down on it, why he seized as no one else on the notion that Obama could not have possibly been born in this country. The surprise at the daily untruth or tweet covers over the primal lie of his politics, and the willingness of 40+% of voters to accept it so as not to have to accede to the other party’s kinder gentler corruption. After all, the system constantly tells us, in a democracy, origins and history don’t matter. The question is always, which of two sides are we on?

It’s funny today to hear both the president and allies trumpeting party loyalty against (Bain capitalist) Romney, when Trump ran against party and the establishment. Only a long-term approach to American politics can capture how he has recapitulated the Jacksonian art of turning from antipartisan outsider to enforcer of more party loyalty than ever, in just a  few years. Partisanship relies on, feeds on, putative outsiders, sometimes  in order to contain the real insurgencies. Part of Trump’s appeal is to perform and capitalize on American ambivalence about the problems that result from the normal workings of the system. It is tempting to conclude, for the moment, that he fits all too well into institutional patterns even as he shatters norms. We’ll see — and we’ll study…..

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