After four decades in politics, public policy, and public service it is easy to convince yourself that you have actually seen it all. Yet every time it seems you are capable of facing any situation that may arise you find yourself shaking your head and realizing that in fact you have not seen it all. I have developed many friendships over the years covering all sides of the ideological spectrum and both sides of the partisan divide. Professional political operatives find ways to communicate with one another that masks the deeply held philosophical roots that drove them to this business in the first place. Oh sure, some become so jaded that they lose their proverbial souls, but most that I know still believe deeply in the righteousness of their policy preferences and party affiliation. Rarely does the ebb and flow of elections interfere with personal or professional relationships.
The election of Donald Trump is sorely putting this system to the test. The viciousness of debate and dissolution of friendships I have personally witnessed over this election is profoundly indicative of the deep divisions within the country. For a liberal such as myself I rationalize that if we could survive Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush through a combination of the systemic checks and balances that are such a bulwark against tyranny and corruption and the ‘street wisdom” of the American electorate we would be protected from ultimate collapse. This has led me to ruminate loudly to those not as well versed in the history or experience as myself that the sky is not falling and what we are witnessing is merely a momentary speed bump on the expressway to progress.
Such thinking has helped me to cope with the profound sadness and concern that accompanied the shockingly unexpected results that have brought us to the place where we are today. I am not naive enough to believe that the election of Hillary itself would have solved all the ills facing a worried and fearful nation and I was not particularly happy about the sheer fact that the 2016 Presidential election was a choice between two candidates with extensive baggage, serious character flaws, and a stubbornly elevated level of unpopularity. It was for this reason that I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. He represented my values and my positions on the important issues confronting the nation and its future. But this election was not necessarily decided upon issues as much as personality. Trump was elected primarily to project power, but power must be tempered by vision and wisdom.
I, along with many others, simply did not believe that Donald Trump would be the ultimate nominee of the Republican Party. I, along with many others, felt that the election would pit two candidates with differing ideological and issue-oriented views on major problems against each other. I, along with many others, believed that the two-party system that had been the bedrock of this democratic experiment for the past two and a quarter centuries would once again prevail and the system would accommodate solutions based upon compromise, rationality and reason.
The elevation of Donald Trump has put to rest any such misguided notions. The ascendancy of the Tea Party faction of the GOP over the past six years started the unraveling of the accepted orthodoxy that compromise would yield stability, an absolutely critical component of the Founders’ foundation for our government. The accompanying dysfunction that outright obstruction has yielded has destroyed popular acceptance of the idea that our governmental leaders and institutions are capable of delivering the public service demanded of them.
You can “drain the swamp” without building a luxury hotel where it once stood. What Trump’s ascension to the White House represents is a massive loss of confidence in our system of representative democracy. A sufficient number of voters simply decided that he as an individual was more important than the institutional construct that governs the country. Many have likened this development to the rise of fascism in the 1930’s. At the very least it represents a rebuke to the concerns of the Founding Fathers who valiantly constructed a system intended to protect to the greatest extent possible against the rule of a monarchy.
Trump is an affront to the two-party system. Republicans know this but are content to ride the wave of power and control for the immediate short-term. They willingly accept an abdication of their responsibility to conform to the rule of law and at least temporarily will abide by the dictates of the ruler. Whether it is better that Trump has no ideological or philosophical foundation or not only time will tell. The gamble on behalf of the GOP is that they will be able to steer him at least initially towards acceptable policies that conform to their agenda. This may be a dangerous gamble as Trump does have definitive ideas about one thing and that is the power to make decisions. His initial personnel decisions should signal a warning to establishment Republicans that they may be dealing with a runaway train. Whether they will be able to stop it once it picks up enough speed to do serious damage evidently is a risk they are willing to take.There is even sinister and cynical discussion gaining currency that would posit impeachment to make room for President Pence, who is seen as a much more conventional vassal to carry out an ultra-conservative agenda.
The rules of the game most of us have known for our lifetimes are changing. This is what a large number of the American electorate wanted, not a majority, but a large enough number as to legitimately make him President. The recklessness the American electorate has exhibited is truly remarkable and fraught with peril. Not only here in America but internationally. The theme of the election has been to make America great again and it was punctuated with vague and pandering pronunciations as to how individuals, not society or the world, will benefit. Greed has overtaken sensibility and the price of personal avarice and greed upon all nations and future generations will cast a gigantic shadow upon our need to develop a more egalitarian, humanitarian, and peaceful world.
We may survive Trump and Trumpism but it will come at the expense of progress. One can only hope that we as a society will come to our senses before too much damage is done and reverse the terribly short-sighted and destructive course we have embarked upon. Under any scenario we must continue to fight to preserve what is left of our dignity as a nation. The real battle is only now just beginning.