HOW do people learn to accept what they once found unacceptable? In this millennium, it started with President Obama’s first State of the Union Address when Joe Walsh (R)-SC, took it upon himself to act like he was at a hog calling contest rather than a joint meeting of Congress and the Supreme Court when he hollered “You lie!” during the President’s address. It’s gone downhill ever since.
So it is with Donald Trump and many of his mostly white, non-college educated supporters. By normalizing attitudes and actions that, before he came along, were publicly taboo, Trump has taken a jackhammer to American political culture.
This is not an election we Americans as a whole are engaged in. Most of us have tuned it out, minds made up a long time ago. It is something abnormal, infected, and destructive. It really is a national emergency. What we saw last Sunday night was not a display of partisan politics. It was a display of the destruction of partisan politics, and its replacement by a spectacle of psychopathology.
What we saw on Sunday night had nothing to do with positions or ideology or maneuvering or the rough and tumble rules of American politics. It was an attempt at estrangement and deprivation by a twisted would-be tyrant.
What we saw—or what I saw, anyway—was the attempted rape of Democracy for one spoiled, egomaniacal, sociopath.
The recording of him boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy”, long before he was a candidate, was nasty enough. More worrying still has been the assertion by many Trump supporters that his conduct was somehow normal. That’s total bullshit. It’s only normal if you are a psychopath or in a jail cell for some heinous crime against a woman.
The same goes for his threat to throw Hillary in jail, issued in the second presidential debate, if he wins. Does that mean he’s fair game for a jail cell as well if she wins? Maybe that’s how they do things in Russia or North Korea, both of whom he seems to prefer to American Democracy. In a more fragile democracy that sort of talk would presage post-election violence. Thankfully, America is not about to riot on November 9th, and if they do, we, as a country, stand prepared to squish the insurgents like a bug. But the reasons have less to do with the state’s power to enforce the letter of the law than with the unwritten rules that American democracy thrives on. It is these that Trump is trampling over—and which all decent Americans need to defend
If this seems overstated, consider what Trump has introduced to the political lexicon this year: the idea that Muslims must be banned from entering the country; that a federal judge born of Mexican parents was unfit to preside over a case involving Trump; that a reporter’s disability is ripe for mockery; that “crooked” Hillary must be watched lest she steal the election, and that his supporters should feel free to intimidate voters. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote that when many bad things happen at once, societies define deviancy down, until the list of what is unacceptable is short enough to be manageable. When parents wonder if a presidential debate is suitable for their children to watch, Trump’s bullying antics no longer seems quite so shocking.
This way of doing politics is not new. Trump is bringing into the mainstream a strain of for-profit bigotry and faux outrage that was started in the 1980s by Rush Limbaugh, the disc-jockey-turned-radio-outrage-aholic. He was followed by Roger Ailes who took the same formula of hyper-partisanship into the television “news” arena. Both Limbaugh and Ailes have gotten wealthy off of the outrage-for-profit model that has served the GOP well for decades, but has begun to cause them problems.
Of course the new internet medium followed suit with Matt Drudge and his protégé, Donald Trump’s 3rd campaign “CEO” Steve Bannon, who runs breitbart.com, the white supremacist, fascism-heavy conspiracy-theorist’s dream.
And Trump’s reality-television identity makes the suggestion of his being unfit to be the leader of the free world seem less alarming. It creates a vagueness about how serious he is, and how seriously his audience needs to take him. With each new outrage he has a cadre of apologists who hit the CNN-MSNBC, morning shows and talk show circuit who plant just enough plausible deniability (“he’s just being Trump!”) to defuse his most outrageous spectacles. This has to be how some of his most ardent supporters can justify his bizarre alternate reality (“I believe he’s a good man, really, and he’s a great businessman, so he’ll surely hire a great team”).
If Trump were to actually win, Republicans will have to meet the expectations he has created—protectionism, spending increases allied to tax cuts, hostility to foreigners and a retreat from decades of foreign policy. All of which would make America poorer, weaker and less secure.
If Trump loses, Clinton will begin her presidency with tens of millions of people believing that she ought to be in jail rather than the White House. The only hope that I can see in this election is that if he loses so badly that he takes the Republican majorities in at least the Senate down with him. That would give Clinton at least a chance at two years, before the next mid-term elections, to push through increased spending on infrastructure and change the balance on the Supreme Court. But something close to 40% of voters would feel they were being steamrolled by a hostile government. Politics could become even more polarized.
The probable outcome is that she will be the next president but will face a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans—and perhaps a Senate, too. This is a recipe for furious, hate-filled gridlock. There would be more government shutdowns and perhaps even an attempt at impeachment. It would also mean yet more government by executive actions and regulation to get around Congress, feeding the widespread sense that Clinton is illegitimate.
Unfortunately, this is what you get once you start throwing mud in politics. Yet, every so often, you get a glimpse of something better. When Todd Akin lost a winnable Senate seat in 2012, after wretchedly trying to draw a distinction between “legitimate rape” and the not so legitimate sort, Republican candidates and political consultants took notice.
But to affect real change, there needs to be a repudiation of hate politics on a grand scale. Healthy politics involves compromise, because to yield in some areas is to move forward in others. It is about rivals settling on a plan, because to do nothing is the worst plan of all. It requires the belief that your opponent can be decent and honorable, however strongly you disagree. Trump has single-handedly torched such ideas. And we are all worse off as a result.
I started this site to try and explain the facts that define and separate the laws of governmental economics from the economics of businesses and individuals. As a recipient of Masters Degrees in both governmental economics and accounting the differences were drilled into me. Without that understanding, the political environment in this country cannot change. The effects and manipulation of misperceptions of economics has become intertwined with the anger and frustrations of the political ramifications of those same misperceptions and it has resulted in the transformation of good, healthy American politics into banana-republic style politics of demoralization.
In my next post, I will attempt to begin my return to that goal of conveying what I think progressive-minded people must do going forward, assuming Trump loses, in order to begin the process of addressing the problems that are causing some of Trump supporters to feel so frustrated that they see no choice but to support the most anti-American, most unfit man or woman, to ever run for President in the modern era.