This Nov. 8 election will likely seal the coffins of twin zombies – the misguided ideologies that have been the controlling falsehoods of the Donald Trump and Ronald Johnson’s campaigns.
Zombie One: All the country needs is a businessman at the top to get us out of the mess the world has become. (Ludicrous Corollary: Sure, Trump is horrible, obscene, gross, but Hillary is worse.)
Zombie Two: Being a career politician, rather than signifying public service at its best, automatically means corrupt and hateful person eager to be enslaved by Washington gridlock. See Ludicrous Corollary above.
(We’ll leave aside the irony that Hillary Clinton, who has been out of office for four years, is painted as the ugly politician while Johnson, the Wisconsin senator who gives way to every political bidding of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, still tries to sell the caveman message: “Me businessman good, Feingold politician bad.”)
The businessman argument has become the timeless ploy of corporate candidates, suggesting that because they survive by all means necessary in the jungle of profits they are the ideal for success in the public environment, where choices for the people without concern for profits are the hallmark. You take one look at D.C. and you could think (without deeply thinking) that someone from the outside is needed. That hope elected Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush the second and Obama, all regarded as outside knights to the rescue. Now Trump hopes the electorate has lost its head even further since all of those had careers as politicians.
“What this country needs is a good businessman.” You often hear Trump voters say that despite evidence of his inadequacies and even as their jobs have been stolen more by business maneuvers than trade deals or environmental demands from D.C. The electorate always needs a scapegoat and right now the most successful president of the last 30 years is tagged you’re it.
That oft-heard complaint – “we need a businessman” -- neglects how government has long mastered business tools better than the private sector has – indeed businesses turn to the government again and again as models of statistics, data and economic forecast as well as weather forecast. The proficiency of government is evident in the low-cost administration of Medicare and the high-speed reaction of first responders, who almost inevitably are government trained and licensed. Would you really fly on a plane if the government wasn’t overseeing?
Not only businesses but people rely on government regulations in all sorts of areas – food safety, drug safety, worker safety. Businesses may occasionally struggle with those, but not the public who wants more in the way of food and drug oversight for sure, recognizing that commercial farms, supermarkets and pharmaceutical giants are the worst offenders if left on their own. The clamors are equally loud when worker safety regulations are violated for profit. Day in and day out, hundreds of regulations guide our lives – from driving on the right side of the road to who wires our buildings.
Nor do the conservatives do much about the regulatory mess of the tax code, a complex muddle that allows teams of corporate lawyers to dodge taxation and stop lawsuits over profits moved overseas. Everyone agrees the code warrants improvement, but the stubbornness emerges on the conservative side when you try to unravel business loopholes and on the other side when their lobbying groups get busy. Except with Clinton in the White House and the Senate back in her party’s hands, the head of the banking committee becomes Bernie Sanders, a bulldog on revising the tax code.
No, the main GOP objections to regulations fall in two areas – environmental rules and small businesses, though the Democrats have supported the small business concerns of simplifying for years. Part of the complexity there is that while small businesses create most of the jobs, they also cause most job losses as businesses fail, and many of the rules are about that seesaw.
The environmental objections are often inflammatory on the stump and exaggerated in reality, because the government is trying to limit toxins and reward companies that also do. Both activities require precise measurements, extensive records and red tape. We can argue about the details but not about the need to protect the environment, which makes the attack on the EPA way too simplistic.
Donald Trump demonstrates how the trickeries and boastfulness of his real estate world are the last things the White House needs. But perhaps he has dealt a death blow to the image of a businessman savior. The good administration that public service demands and the concern about the taxpayer money are vital issues, but come on! Strengths in one area doesn’t necessarily transfer to another. If you want to talk care with money, how much bang are these CEOs getting for their outlandish political bucks? The gamesmanships involved in business may not even be welcome in public office.
The politician zombie is more difficult to kill, because there have been career office holders who have abused that privilege. But there also have been thousands in both parties who haven’t. The nature of government requires people willing to serve for sometimes comfortable but seldom remarkable pay, people willing to give up their normal sense of privacy and master complexities of legislation, both local and national. No wonder real business geniuses shy away from public service.
I became more aware of the power of this zombie when the electronic media was stretching every report in the last week to find and include undecided voters (at this stage?) or unique first-time voters. They found several -- one a 69 year old woman who claimed she had never previously voted (what?) and was big on Trump. She said all men talked like he did (even when not wired on a media bus or preaching at rallies, I guess) and that best of all “he wasn’t one of those politicians like Clinton,” using the politician word as if she had just stepped into something nasty.
Enough politicians have been corrupt or lazy to give that vision some basis. But those examples have been hyped over the reality of how most politicians behave and why their practiced methods are vital in a democracy. So I for one hope that our next president is a good politician and has a supporting cast she can work with.
It’s important to point out that the best of our politicians have a record of sticking with their own principles ahead of party loyalties, and sometimes ahead of their own constituents who may be stampeded by current events. They also work across the aisle, making deals and compromises to move forward. There are more occasions for that kind of decent compromise than voters may realize.
Curiously enough, two of the best at that when they’ve been in the Senate were Feingold and Clinton. Which is why they are expected to win.
The power of those zombie beliefs are strong enough to rise and walk again on another day. Such misconceptions will always be with us. But it would be shameful to let them stagger toward the finish line this time.
About the author: Noth has been a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org. In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain. He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.