|George Wallace in 1968 seems to|
have similarities to Trump
It’s also taken that long for supporters of Hillary Clinton, the dominating figure for the Democrats, to stop laughing and concede that he may not be the easy to whack piñata they once envisioned but a serious solidification of the hatred for establishment that he feeds on.
It’s somewhat of a surprise that it has taken this long to recognize that dissatisfaction, fear and the fever to “Do Something! Anything!” is a solid part of the American makeup. It has been there for generations, sometimes lurking but sometimes leaping forward. Resistance to the two party system has long endured, sometimes quite intelligently changing the shape of our electorate and the shape of the parties, sometimes more brutally upsetting the ability to lead the nation.
Such hatred and angst still could fade, but for the first time, leaders in both parties are genuinely worried that there is something lasting underneath the bizarre random attacks on all opponents that snake out like toads from Trump’s mouth.
After all, this is an era of celebrity television in every home and Trump has been flicking his tongue as a news item for 35 years. Writer Dalton Trumbo thought the blacklist was the “time of the toad” in American politics, when people cowered in fear of being labeled Communists, but this may be the new era given how many Republicans who know better refused to attack Trump.
There is no ideological similarity on the surface between “Feel the Bern” (for Sanders) and “feel the Trump” -- until you peel back the skin. Dissatisfaction with Beltway politics has long been part of the American makeup and there have been many attempts to move the outsider feeling into the center of our discourse.
|Ross Perot a similar outsider in 1992|
Similarly there were threads in the Occupy movement that touched on national economic concerns. Ditto Black Lives Matter, which recognizes how much white supremacy has dominated America’s justice and economic system and whose leaders don’t believe the power structure can change that from within; in the Nader movement that many still feel cost Al Gore the presidency (and certainly felt that even more after the George Bush war in Iraq); even in the Perot movement that first looked like a threat and then became an ally for Bill Clinton. (Remember that “giant sucking sound” from Mexico? Imagine what words Trump would use today.)
|Some think Ralph Nader cost Gore|
the presidency in 2000.
Normally, Trump’s boastful claim to making a business deal, itself somewhat questionable given his track record, would immediately be recognized by the voting public as no basis for governmental ability. But today as celebrity publicity and advertising invades all sectors of our lives, as people thunder for instant gratification associated with better consumer products (as if that has anything to do with step-by-step governing), as ignorance of the complexity of politics and world relations allows simple-minded thinking to dominate, all restraints are lifted from our quest for a white knight from outside D.C. to return the US to balance.
That white knight search has existed for decades, except previously we thought a governor from way outside D.C. or a junior senator still free of Beltway taints was the answer, since they had some political acumen and background to justify our belief in the Outsider.
Look at the presidential legacy back into the 1970s. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush even Barack Obama were considered the white knights from outside Washington to bring change to the nation.
That, of course, gives the presidency too much credit for correcting our problems. It fails to recognize how each of those names was eventually embraced by their party’s establishment, turning the Outsider concept inside out.
It is hard to conceive of our first black president as a white knight, but he was considered the acceptable change-agent Outsider, though I do think that absolute resistance to what is clearly a Democrat eager to deal has much to do with his skin color. Without that, the ability to paint him not as a typical mainstream Outsider but an alien would be hard to do.
The group attack even on Obama’s moderate ideas may have helped pave the way for Trumpism. (Remember in the 2012 election from the sidelines he harped on Obama as the foreign-born maybe Muslim invader? He made Obama’s birth his main target, as if his ascendance to the White House was planned from a crib in Kenya – yet he is now a serious presidential candidate? Remember, too, how back then, the Republican establishment laughed up their sleeves at him but failed to take on his idiocy directly, which may also have laid a red carpet for his entry into presidential politics.)
America is still looking for a white knight but this time seems willing to go even further than in the past, to someone totally lacking in governmental ability, someone willing to shoot from the hip at long-established constitutional principles. It is the triumph of P.T. Barnum, clearly believing that a “sucker in born every minute” and selling the White House is not much different than selling Ivory soap.
Ironically the second choice on the Republican side is a totally dislikable no-holds-barred non-negotiator on issues named Ted Cruz, also fighting the Beltway from his Senate seat. And then comes yet another Cuban American who has lost all appeal to intelligent and diverse Hispanics (few of whom identify with aging Cuban Americans who want to keep their home country closed to diplomatic overtures), Marco Rubio, whose own skeletons are creeping over his ability to give a good political speech.
In a remarkable and largely undercovered speech Jan. 4 in New Hampshire, campaigning for his wife, Bill Clinton not only touched on all the instincts she had to help people long before any election or public position, he also spelled out what usually are the reasons candidates are chosen in this lengthy presidential job interview. Whether you agree with his assessment of his wife, he detailed what used to be the touchstones of what the nation wanted: “I do not believe in my lifetime anybody has run for this job at a moment of greater importance who was better qualified by knowledge, experience, and temperament.”
But is that what the public is looking for this year? Normally the hatred morphs during a campaign to something akin to scruples -- a familiar last name, a record of gubernatorial accomplishment or a native intelligence and sense of caring.
But this time we are still waiting for knowledge, experience and temperament to raise their heads in the polls. Frankly not since George Wallace in 1968 have we seen one candidate able to channel so many streams of discontent into his campaign – and Wallace, who carried 10 million votes and actually won several state primaries, was a segregationist who built much of his support by attacking the media for revealing he was a racist. If that sounds familiar, you’ve been watching too much television.
Over time in a campaign a search for competence has tended to triumph over fear and dissatisfaction. No one can promise such a return to balance this time.
Those disappointed in their own lives usually turn from taking it out on candidates to choosing the one who seems most empathetic and still has a plan. That “plan thing” may be evaporating. It is compounded by older white Americans blaming the president for inevitable demographics making them a minority. Or by rights for homosexuals and transgender people they interpret as endangering their independence. (Hard for me to identify with that though I am white and over 70, but while I have no fear on this, I am apparently a nonfearful minority according to national polls of older whites.)
It is intensified by people who can’t see the millions benefiting from the Affordable Care Act but are hung up on either their own premiums or the dire premonitions of their right-wing elected officials. Programs for economic progress are sidetracked right now by everyone’s hope that they, too, can become a billionaire like Trump, though he like many rich people who claim to be self-made started with an inherited fortune. But as that dream of wealth slips away, anger at the status quo rather than common sense methods to change the status quo seems to increase.
Few thought such diverse negative apprehensions and self-centered thinking could coalesce around one candidate or even elevate toward majority status after decades lurking in the shadows. But now that desire for an Outsider seems to be helping Trump.
It’s not as simple as that famous old quote from the Pogo cartoon -- “We have met the enemy and they is us.” Suddenly those basic issues of public education, public intelligence and required patience in a democracy are coming to a boil, with Trump as the point of the boil no one seems able to lance.
Whether the rise of Trump can continue is now an open question. But it is no longer the impossible thought it was six months ago. That should scare the bejesus out of all of us.