This week, Republican delegates are poised to set a whole new standard for their bearer by nominating sentient E. Coli Donald Trump to be their man in the White House. Many within the less-Grand-by-the-second Old Party (and many more without it) have been scratching their heads harder than pre-school kids with a lice infestation trying to understand how we got here.
Political mathletes have flooded the non-stop-talking channels to explain the delegate distribution of our nominating process, causing even people who have been voting for decades to realize that we don’t actually understand how this country elects a president, (and that we have some straight up legit concerns about the potential skullduggery of the process.)
And the numbers nerds have a point. Trump made it halfway through April collecting delegates without ever winning more than 50% of the vote in a primary. If Republicans had just practiced a little self-selection at the start of this fiasco, they wouldn’t have kept splitting the vote, and a “more traditional” candidate probably would have gotten the nomination. That’s what they get for not believing in evolution. Then again, if their clown car candidates were too proud and stubborn to do basic arithmetic, would any of them really have been a better choice?
Others have posited that after decades of Fox “News” and Rush Limbaugh indoctrinating their base with racist, classist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, anti-intellectual bulls**t, it should come as no surprise that their base has nominated a racist, classist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, intellectually deficient bully. It’s a fair (and balanced) point.
Still others have used sociological data and science words to explain Trump as the kind of super-villain that emerges in times of rapid social change, economic uncertainty, and global warfare. Trump is the excretory hemorrhage that bursts forth once enough people are operating from a desire for authoritarianism and a fear of the “other.” His supporters need the solutions to our problems to be black and white (okay, mostly white) and so they flee from the daunting twin pillars of facts and logic into the safety of blind allegiance.
It’s also possible that we’ve reached a predictable point in our socio-political cycle. I only say that because of, you know, all of recorded history, in particular the last century, aka The American Century. In fact, it only takes a quick journey back in time to suss out the seemingly inexplicable mystery of how we got where we are today.
The year was 1916. Americans were sill feeling inspired by the 1915 box office smash, Birth of a Nation. They were also becoming increasingly convinced that Reconstruction was a bad idea. But in 1917, they put a pin in that to focus on joining what was then called “The Great War.” (I assume because those who weren’t among the 16 million dead came home saying, “Man, that war was so great. We should totally do it again sometime,” right before they died of Spanish flu.)
Once we’d avenged Archduke Ferdinand – who would have been touched and, frankly, more than a little surprised to know we cared – there were rapid social changes on the home front. Black Americans weren’t thrilled that being willing to fight and die for their country hadn’t stopped Jim Crow laws from being in full swing, so they ordered a great migration with a side of race riots. Women were working, voting, and worse yet, dancing. And jazz was all, “Eff you, singular, non-syncopated rhythm, I’ll do what I want.” It was a time of ideological division, which was met with a bit of resistance…
…and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. This cross burning pajama party had been largely dormant for 30 years, but in the 1920’s, they grew to nearly 4 million strong, marched on Washington, and got a bunch of their members elected to public office, including the governor of Indiana!
Fortunately, by 1929, public backlash and the greatest economic catastrophe in our nation’s history did a lot to take the wind out of the KKK’s sheets, and we shifted our focus to the Depression. (Which, p.s., was also totally Great.)
Now, funny story. Due to a bunch of rigmarole with the Treaty of Versailles, the German economy in the 1920’s was largely dependent on the American economy, so when ours went into a tailspin, theirs went down “der Scheisser.”
America responded to the economic crisis by – well, first by repealing Prohibition, because most folks needed a stiff drink right about then – but then by passing the New Deal, which reformed the banks, kept homes out of foreclosure, provided farm subsidies, put people to work, created social security, and ended child labor. It pissed off pretty much everybody.
Germany, on the other hand, made a different choice. They elected a bellowing lunatic who played into populist fears, stoked public anger, promoted nationalism, and scapegoated an entire religion.
Great War, The Sequel: We kick axis, take names, and drop the mic. I mean the bomb. Twice.
After the war, unemployment was way down, since so many people had just permanently left the job market, and Americans celebrated with a baby boom, which went a long way toward getting women out of the workforce and back into the kitchen where they belonged. Black Americans discovered that (once again) being willing to fight and die for their country (still) hadn’t stopped Jim Crow laws from being in full swing. But the economy was booming; the suburbs were blooming, and everyone was getting in shape with a popular new workout craze known as Duck and Cover. Joe McCarthy invented a fun game called Spot the Communist, which was kind of like Pokemon Go, only, instead of collecting Pikachu, you destroyed people’s lives. Republicans formed the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was dedicated to blacklisting citizens and inspiring Arthur Miller.
Fortunately, backlash from the army, the media, and even President Eisenhower put an end to the Red Witch hunts. America was fed up with this bulls**t.
The next two decades saw a civil rights movement, a women’s lib movement and a war in Vietnam. Poor people of all races joined together to Occupy Washington. A president was shot. A president resigned. A president put solar panels on the White House, which meant he had to go.
During this time of ideological division and rapid social change, representatives of a particular demographic staged a 60-day filibuster (led by one of those Klan-elected politicians) to stop the passage of the Civil Rights Bill. They lost that battle and the voters that went with it, which allowed a new party the chance to win the hearts and minds of those who’d been so mis-represented. It took a while for them to coalesce into a new voting block, but once they did, they elected the man destined to fuel misguided political adoration and Republican masturbation fantasies for decades, Ronald “the misremembered” Reagan.
Ah, Reagan. A union busting, blacklist naming bigot who sold arms to terrorists, and ignored the AIDS crisis because it was “only” killing gay people. What a hero! Who cut funding to mental health facilities, flooding the streets with homeless schizophrenics, and declared a war on drugs that quadrupled America’s (mostly minority) prison population over the next four decades – what a champion of the people! Who used code words like “welfare queen” and an alliance with the religious right to stoke the fears of all those voters democrats lost when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Bill, then pushed through economic policies and a reversal of antitrust laws that were not only detrimental to those said same voters, but have since blossomed into the Great Recession and a near extinction of the middle class. What a national f***ing treasure!
Well, he called ketchup a vegetable and then he became one, so that is a thing that happened.
It is certainly possible to draw a direct line from Reagan to Trump, or to argue that we’re still far too wounded by the former to risk the latter, but let’s get through the century recap instead, just in case we can pick up a few more insightful nuggets.
Bush I raised taxes, so he had to go.
Bill Clinton balanced the budget and strengthened the middle class, so a bunch of politicians who would later be busted for having affairs busted him for having an affair.
Clinton also signed the Telecommunications Act, which (ironically?) paved the way for the extreme media consolidation that’s led to an empire run by conservatives who have spent the last 20 years taking a collective dump on Bubba’s wife. So that was probably a bad idea.
Bush II turned an economic surplus into a trillion dollar deficit, spent another trillion (give or take another trillion) on a war with the wrong country, made it clear how much black lives matter after Hurricane Katrina, and led us into the Great Recession. America was, once again, fed up with this bulls**t.
And so, the family values voters finally got their man! A scandal free Christian who was clearly in love with his gorgeous, successful wife, who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and overcame the odds to live out an American dream many were starting to doubt was still possible, all while raising two polite, intelligent daughters and inviting his own mother-in-law to live in the White House. A man destined to usher in a post-racial era of hope and change where human rights abuses would be ended, war profiteering would be punished, and the middle class would be restored!
But for some reason I just can’t. quite. put. my. finger. on. not everybody was an Obama fan. The Fox “News” fear mongering went into overdrive. And the Koch-fueled “grassroots” movement – comprised of a now very familiar-looking demographic that keeps coalescing at particular times in what’s starting to feel like a trend – known as the Tea Party was born. Although resoundingly silent while Bush doubled our debt, these “fiscal hawks” now grew to (depending on the source) somewhere between five and ten million strong, marched on Washington, and got a bunch of their members elected to public office, including the governor of Indiana!
Which brings us to now. It appears a certain recurring demographic whose support is secured by having their prejudices placated has cottoned on to the fact that all of the promises their politicians made to keep the arc of history from bending towards justice have turned up empty. Gay people are getting married. Women are starring in Ghostbusters. Transgendered people can pee wherever they want. And it looks like soon we might start asking police officers to stop murdering black people. Add to that the fact that we could follow up a black president with a female president, and it’s enough to send some folks spinning in circles screaming, “No! No! No!” It’s also enough to make them put their faith in a reality TV star who “tells it like it is.”
But this time, they’re not alone. This time, we’re living with a political system that’s more oligarchy than democracy, an economy in which the game feels pretty rigged, and a society in which we wonder not if but when the next mass murder will dominate the headlines. We’ve got ISIS, the Zika virus, and a refugee crisis. Global warming is starting to seem like it might actually be a thing, and, again, because I can’t overstate how apocalyptic this is, women are starring in Ghostbusters. It’s enough to trigger some heretofore reasonable human beings into joining the fear-fest.
And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the next president of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump.
When Trump gives a “speech,” it’s something Shakespeare might describe as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” And his supporters cheer their brains out, because that is exactly what they want. (Except for the Shakespeare part – that s**t’s for intellectual snobs.) There are people who feel they are helpless in a world spinning out of control, and for them, the solution is to elect someone whose one and only qualification is that he makes that feeling stop.
And here’s the thing. You can’t fight a feeling with facts. You can provide all the evidence in the world of Trump’s racism and sexism, his bankruptcies, the thousands of lawsuits filed against him by people he’s hired but never paid, the lawsuits filed against him by the lawyers who fought those lawsuits then didn’t get paid, the students he’s scammed with Trump University, the absurdity of his claim that Mexico will build the wall, the dangers of isolationism and why we shouldn’t want a wall in the first place, his complete and total lack of family values, Christian values, American values, or basic human decency. It doesn’t matter. They will not be convinced. They are operating from a place of fear that is 40 – or 400 – or 4000 – years in the making, and that will not be reversed in 4 months of campaigning between the convention and the election. Their fear needs to be addressed, and assuaged, if possible, but that may take another 40 – or 400 – or 4000 – years. Right now, the priority has to be ensuring that it isn’t rewarded.
Based on history, all socio-political signs point to President Trump. But if we recognize that pattern, and we’re fed up with this bulls**t ahead of time, can’t we have a pre-emptive backlash for once before the disaster strikes?
Well, historically, candidates don’t win if they rely primarily on people voting against their opponent instead of for them. So, if you do want to change the pattern, here’s the thing you have to accept. Maybe Hillary Clinton isn’t the manifestation of your passionate idealism – or maybe she is – but she is an experienced diplomat with a crucial understanding of economics and foreign policy who has put forth a progressive agenda and will fight for women’s rights globally and locally. If we want her to win, we have to remind people that she is someone worth voting for. Sure, she’s not all good. Her flaws should make for excellent SNL fodder.
Donald Trump is a bellowing lunatic who plays into populist fears, stokes public anger, promotes nationalism, and scapegoats an entire religion. Nothing about him is good, and his flaws could make for the final installment in the Great War series. If we want him to lose, we have to do everything we can to convince those still open to reason to make a different choice.
If we can’t, well, brace yourselves. Because maybe 100 years from now someone will be able to summarize what’s coming with snarky jokes, but for those of us who have to live through it, it’s going to be fucking terrifying.