One week ago I wrote in this space that Donald Trump would become the 45th President of the United States. I took no joy in that prediction. My own political views are the polar opposite to those of both Trump, and the current iteration of the Republican Party of the United States. I wasn’t trying to be controversial, contrarian, or even clairvoyant.
I was just trying to be honest.
This morning, media of all kinds are filled with astonishment, hand-wringing, anxiety and anger. There are hundreds of “How could they?” comments. But, in this case, as it has in so many elections, in so many countries, over so many decades, the centuries old axiom of Joseph de Maistre has, again, been proven correct.
Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.
Every nation gets the government it deserves.
I mean no slight to the American people in the use of this observation; I mean only that the electorate followed the path that had been laid down before it, over the last several years. Where that path began, exactly, is hard to pinpoint, but if I had to pick a starting point, I would say that it began in 1968, with the election of Richard Nixon.
Although there are plenty of examples throughout American history where “dirty tricks”, and electoral malfeasance, were either part and parcel of the electoral process, or rumoured to be … ( Joe Kennedy buying John F. the Presidency in ’64, for example. ) Nixon, was the first president that was proven to be involved in an organized process designed to subvert the established system of American democracy. His impeachment and resignation were brought about by an aggressive, and independent media; something that has all but disappeared in this day and age.
Since Nixon’s time, the concentration of power, corporate influence, and social fragmentation within the fifth estate, has greatly damaged the ability of that institution to perform its role in holding the powerful to account. That is one small part of the track that led to our current situation. But Nixon’s venomous legacy, played a much larger role.
The clear understanding that political manipulation on such an astounding scale was indeed possible in such a vigorous democracy, was a discovery that might be described in almost biblical terms. A sort of ” I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven.”, development. From this moment on, things were different.
Both the hapless Gerald Ford, and the decent, but feckless Jimmy Carter, did little to capitalize on the foundation Nixon laid, but in 1980 Republicans picked up where they’d left off, and began to build in earnest. One of their first accomplishments, was getting Ronald Reagan elected.
Reagan wasn’t supposed to win. In some ways, on a much less frightening scale, he was a candidate similar to Trump. The political outsider that few could imagine as President. An actor as Governor of California was one thing; but President? They may do crazy things in California, but the rest of the nation was more staid. Reagan actually trailed Carter in the polls at the end of October. Within weeks, he would win a landslide victory.
The hostages in Iran, the stagnant economy, and the wretched debate performance of Jimmy Carter probably did more to bring Reagan to power than did any manipulation by the Republicans; but his re-election campaign in 1984 forged a new tool, that soon became as valuable to party politics, as a hammer is to any carpenter. That tool, was the slickly produced television ad.
In some ways, this had already come to light in 1964, when the Democrats used the “Daisy” ad to obliterate Barry Goldwater’s campaign in a flash of nuclear terror. But twenty years later, with Russia staggering, and the threat of the holocaust greatly diminished, the subtle negative message of “Morning in America” was a masterpiece of media manipulation. It has been widely credited with pushing Reagan’s campaign over the top; thereby ensuring that his policies of de-regulation in the financial sector, anti-union sentiment, and tax benefits for the rich, would become a staple of Washington politics for the next thirty years.
Now, the path to Trump had a clear direction, and a means to get there.
Through Bush the elder, and Bill Clinton, there was virtually no limiter on the throttle of Wall Street. Greed ran rampant, and the statistical diversion that we know currently as the prosperity gap, began to clearly take hold.
Among those seeming to benefit from these policies, were politicians.
Paid speeches, Board memberships, published memoirs, and occasionally opaque financial dealings brought Bill and Hillary Clinton from a largely middle class existence in Little Rock, Arkansas to a family fortune now estimated at $110-Million. They were obvious, but not exceptional examples of those who became wealthy by playing the game in Washington.
Pacs and Super-Pacs. Dinners at $20-thousand a plate. Political fundraising as a full-time job. Big Money was politics, and politics were big money. The levers of power were no longer available to the general electorate, especially in the Democratic Party, where Super Delegates could blithely ignore the wishes of the party faithful, as expressed in party primaries, and instead lend their considerable clout and support to the favoured nominee of the Democratic National Committee.
Democracy diverted, was democracy destroyed.
At the same time, corporate CEO’s began to capitalize on compensation packages largely determined by friendly directors on the boards of their various industries, rather than on merit, or by profitable performance as head of their companies. And no matter how big the scandal, from Savings and Loans companies, to Enron, to the financial meltdown of 2008; rarely, if ever, did corporate leaders go to jail for their transgressions. That helped begat the belief that there were two sets of laws in society; one for the privileged rich, and one for everyone else.
The path to The Donald was becoming wider, and more well travelled.
Sure, there were missteps and stumblings. No one wanted to see the world on the edge of total financial collapse, but it happened. In Wall Street’s own terms, there needed to be a “market correction” to counterbalance the rampant corruption, and creation of wealth out of thin air, through esoteric tools such as financial derivatives.
And there was a massive correction. But no one seemingly learned from this lesson.
Oh we thought we did. Sure. There was righteous indignation, the Occupy Movement, and the legislative paper tiger known as Dodd-Frank. But realistically, it’s been more or less business as usual. Even through the “transformational” election and administration of Barack Obama, there has been virtually no progress in achieving the goal of bringing the “Haves”, and the “Have-Nots”, somewhat more closely together, in either monetary, or philosophical terms.
There are so many factors leading us to yesterday’s debacle, that politicians alone cannot be held solely accountable. Technology has played a significant role. So have demographics. A rejection of Intellectualism, and fact-based knowledge has done incalculable damage. Religious fundamentalism. Economic globalization. A polarization of political thought. A loss of common civility. All of these things and more, have contributed to a negative societal synergy that made the candidacy of Donald Trump not only possible, but possibly inevitable.
No longer is the vision of “America”, and its “Dream”, held in common amongst the American people. There are divergent visions of what has happened, and what may yet occur. The belief in progress, and the confidence that each generation will enjoy a future that is better than the one before, has been destroyed, and only uncertainty lies ahead.
This is antithetical to most Americans. It belies their faith in the progress, and advancement of their nation and its people, as a whole. Is it any wonder then, that Millions of them are enraged?
Frustrated by the absence of the traditional conventions that allowed them, and the generations before them, to share the commonwealth of the past as “One Nation. Indivisible.”, they have taken the only path available to fundamentally alter that reality.
And in doing so, they now have the government they deserve.
Where that will leave the rest of a shocked, and disbelieving world, is the frightening question that history, has yet to answer.