At this point in American history, the Democratic Party is a lot like a henpecked husband. Kicked out of the house, he stands on the sidewalk with his meager possessions strewn around him, wondering what just happened, and why. Meanwhile, the GOP is the spiteful wife, eagerly, viciously, turning the kids against him, telling anyone who will listen what a miserable bastard he is, and planning how to take for herself the house, the car, everything they once owned together. The point isn’t just to get all the stuff, it’s to leave him with nothing, to destroy him in every possible way.
Obviously, this didn’t happen overnight. It built up over years.
Here’s how I think we got here.
Just FYI, my observational baseline stretches back to John F. Kennedy. At a fairly early age, I was kicked awake politically by three events. The first was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the standoff over nuclear weapons that had us practicing duck and cover drills under our elementary school desks. The second was the space race with the Soviets, and the grand vision, dear to my science-fiction-loving heart, of Americans going to the moon. The third was the assassination of JFK, announced in mid-afternoon shortly before Thanksgiving break by my sixth grade teacher.
If you’re younger than me, that probably all sounds like ancient history. Dry facts stuffed away in the past that have no bearing on today. But we doddering older people experience it as MEMORY – real events that have had an effect on our lives and the lives of others.
In my memory, at least, it pretty much started with Nixon. Whatever you might think about presidential politics, in the modern era it MOSTLY proceeded with honesty and honor, with some large amount of respect for the powers, limitations and image of the office. But whatever good Nixon did, and there was a lot of it – opening relations with China, establishing the EPA, traveling the world to meet with foreign leaders – was overshadowed publicly by his actions in Watergate, where he oversaw the coverup of GOP operatives breaking into Democratic Party headquarters. Never admitting any wrongdoing, Nixon resigned rather than be impeached. His Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier amid allegations of bribery, tax evasion and money laundering during his term as governor of Maryland. The two of them had a hostile relationship with the news media for most of Nixon’s term, resulting in an almost paranoid presidency that placed a high value on secrecy and loyalty to Nixon, rather than to the nation.
Note I used the word “publicly” in the previous paragraph. What none of us knew until later was that Nixon started his first presidential campaign – against departing president Lyndon Johnson, and his chosen successor Hubert Humphrey – with an act of pure treason.
In late 1968, Nixon knew there was a pending breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks. Johnson would announce a halt to bombing in North Vietnam and Vietnam and the U.S. would negotiate further agreements in the cooler atmosphere of a cease-fire. That action would bolster the positive image of the Democratic team, possibly cementing a win for Humphrey.
To prevent such a result, Nixon dispatched an aide to talk to the South Vietnamese ambassador, telling him to withdraw from the peace talks until after the election, as he would get a better deal from Nixon. Note that this is not mere conjecture – there were actual tapes detailing the acts of Nixon and others. Nixon not only committed treason in order to win the White House, he deliberately prolonged the war, resulting in further deaths of American troops on the ground in Vietnam.
Nixon actually campaigned with the argument that the Johnson war policy was in shambles because they couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table. Once in office, he escalated the war with military intervention in Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives – quite apart from the lives of the Laotians, Cambodians and Vietnamese caught up in the new offensives – before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within our grasp in 1968.
Something especially enraging to me personally, Nixon also oversaw the 1970 murder of four unarmed war protestors, college students, at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. The National Guard fired 67 rounds into a crowd of unarmed Americans, killing four, wounding nine, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The dead were Jeffrey Glenn Miller; age 20; Allison B. Krause; age 19; William Knox Schroeder; age 19; and Sandra Lee Scheuer; age 20.
Point One: Nixon the secretive, calculating traitor, blessed with callous disregard for human lives. A Republican.
Point Two: Another Republican President, Ronald Reagan, a man famous – and popular – for his homespun, non-intellectual approach to matters of state. Also a man who was, arguably, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
And again, Reagan did a lot of good. Pushing a massive military buildup in the U.S., he helped along the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War. But he also helped destroy unions, famously firing more than 11,000 air traffic controllers striking for better wages, better equipment and fewer stress-filled hours. He backed a constitutional amendment favoring prayer in public schools. He kicked off the War on Drugs and ignored the AIDS epidemic.
He also oversaw the criminal covert sale of arms to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, with the proceeds used to fund the human-rights-abusing Contra rebels fighting against the democratically elected Nicaraguan government. Funding the rebels had not only been specifically outlawed by Congress, it violated international law and breached treaties with Nicaragua. Though Reagan himself emerged squeaky clean from this arguably treasonous act, the scandal resulted in 14 indictments and 11 convictions of members of his staff.
Point Three: George W. Bush, Republican. I have described Bush privately many times as being just about bright enough to run a tire store, and watching him over his presidency, I was continuously amazed that Republicans saw him as an extremely intelligent man who never told a lie, never made a mistake, and whose worst problem as a president was that he was soundly hated by “libruls.”
This rich, privileged frat boy took more vacation time in his first year than any president in history, taking off the entire month of August, 2001, all the while U.S. intelligence agencies were trying to interest him in a report titled “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.”
Shortly after, he presided over the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history. I watched the video of him freezing into immobility in a classroom of second-graders after getting the whispered word, “America is under attack.” His empty face showed not decision and strength, but a profound inability to process what was happening.
Yes, the Iraq War was backed by Congress, but it was a Congress lacking vital information – in fact, operating solely on lies supplied to them by the White House – and forced into a pro-war stance through fears of appearing weak after America was attacked. Lying us into war, the Bush administration was guilty of treason in spirit if not in letter of the law.
Hell, he played golf while we lost an American city, New Orleans, and applauded the limp-dick response – “Heckuva job, Brownie!” – that left 1,833 dead, and 30,000 people trapped in the New Orleans Superdome for five hellish days without water, food or working toilets.
One of the things I especially disliked about Bush was the empty-headed posturing, best illustrated by the “Mission Accomplished” dog and pony show on the USS Abraham Lincoln in May, 2003. Returning from combat operations in the Persian Gulf, the ship was actually held offshore so Bush could make his overly theatrical and expensive stunt of landing in a jet fighter, while a gaudy banner prepared by White House staff was hung as a backdrop to his speech.
My conservative friends, even knowing the facts of the Iraq War, and having seen clearly his administration’s failed rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina, still see him as likeable, intelligent, honest and capable. At worst, they see him as having been taken advantage of by Dick Cheney, or failed by appointees. Any argument about the facts of Bush’s presidency always seem to include “Well, but Clinton, but Obama, but Hillary!”
There has been a progression of betrayal and incompetence in Republican presidencies, probably with the disinclusion of Bush Senior, but GOP White Houses have shown a callous disregard for law, for American ideals, and for American lives, with their right-wing constituency fed a steady diet of false arguments, obfuscations, justifications and outright lies – including insanely vicious attacks on liberal rivals – to keep them firmly on the side of the Right. If you can make your opponent look like a traitor in public, you can actually BE a traitor in private, and less-educated, progressively less rational voters will still love you.
In the mere 10-year reign of Fox News and associated right-wing bum boys such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly, the news media itself has come under attack, being indelibly and probably permanently branded as lying, slanted and untrustworthy. The media has responded by cozying up to the name-callers, moving inexorably rightward, swallowing and rebroadcasting party line attacks on Obama and Hillary Clinton. The result is that, in fact, the news media IS untrustworthy and slanted.
Meanwhile, in a perfect storm of diminished national attention span and a rapid-fire volley of quick-hit memes and catch-phrases on social media, transparently false accusations and half-truths gain ground over actual facts and research.
One huge mistake made on the left is the belief that the instigators of all this stuff are stupid. You’re stupid, they’re stupid, that’s stupid. When in fact, the people pushing it are brilliant at achieving their goal, which is not factuality or truthfulness, but the sparking of strong emotions – fear, hate and paranoia – among their contituents.
Point Four: Republican traitors in Congress. It’s no secret that GOP now values party loyalty over service to their country, working for Obama’s eight years to oppose EVERY SINGLE ACT of the President, no matter what his intent, no matter whether it would benefit American citizens or not. (Hell, they and their voting base are PRAISING Vladimir Putin, after proven interference in this American election!)
Enter the showman, Trump. He’s not Point Five, he’s the QED, the end result of all this.
Like the clumsy magician he was, we could SEE what he was doing, but his main audience, half of America, childlike and unhappy, ready for any distraction from the faked-up horror show which was Obama, saw only the magic. Trump dropped a drape over their already blinded eyes and pulled their emotional levers – “Make America Great Again,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Deport Muslims,” “Build a Wall,” “Bring Back the Jobs,” “Dismantle Obamacare” – and they eagerly applauded and voted.
This was not ALL the doing of the Right. I blame the Left for
1) Swallowing the lies about Hillary – Benghazi, the emails, dishonesty, Wall Street insider, the image of the vicious bitch who would stop at nothing to grab the reins of power, and who has left a trail of dead bodies in her wake.
2) Being stupidly perfectionistic, expecting miracles and settling for nothing less. And yes, if you voted for Bernie or Jill Stein, if you sat out the election in smug protest, if you were one of those who said in your whiny little voice “Well, I’d rather vote for Donald Trump than Hillary!,” this is definitely your fault. You helped it happen, and Trump is YOUR president, you ignorant little self-involved twit.
(There is a third large factor, but it’s not only something quite a bit more difficult to explain, it’s something most of us on the left would flat-out deny. Because there’s no way WE could be wrong about our basic beliefs and goals, right? Whatever, it’s not something I’m going to get into, because I’m sure few would even listen, much less agree about it.)
In the end, I don’t see any way back from this mess. We have a White House soon to be occupied by someone who probably qualifies as a textbook narcissist — literally mentally ill — of no great intelligence, we have a permanently broken trust in media, and we have a tradition of greed and treason at the uppermost levels of government with which those on the Right are wholly comfortable.
Worse, we on the Left keep foolishly HOPING that this or that will save us. Oh, the Electoral College will save us! Oh, the recounts will save us! Oh, Hillary will fight this! Oh, we can do this or that to oppose Trump! We’ll start a petition! We’ll write letters! We’ll win in the end!
Nope. We lost. And I think the roots of that loss go even deeper than I’ve covered here.
The current great hope is that Congress will impeach Trump pretty much as soon as he enters office. But again, nope. I tend to doubt that will happen.
Even if they despise him, he’s a known quantity, a man willing to make deals, to give them pretty much anything and everything they want, as long as he feels he comes out on top. Whereas simple-minded little Bush was a Humvee that could only occasionally be driven here and there by the Right, Donald Trump is a Star Trek transporter that can beam them anywhere. Lacking anything ordinary Americans might recognize as a conscience, lacking any sense of honesty or fair play or American ideals, lacking any desire even to be publicly consistent, he will go anywhere without fear or concern for long-term effects. And the media will let him.
Once they get a handle on how to flatter and appease him, he will be a right-wing dream machine of bills, Supreme Court nominees, corporate favoritism and military buildup. He will dismantle everything Obama has done, he will finally destroy the middle class, even blithely breaking the law to achieve whatever goals his flighty little head sets on. Better yet, he will look away in boredom while they party in right wing ecstasy.
So yeah, we’re screwed. Things look bleak as hell. To me, it looks like civilization itself is on the line.
The ONE hopeful thing I see coming out of this is the situation’s utter hopelessness.
I HOPE Americans will finally understand that we live in a real world, with real-world consequences for our actions, and that the choice before us is utter ruin (and I’m talking Mad Max-level nastiness) or some sort of muscley response – minus the pissy little whiners – that will get us rising up and forcing real change.
I don’t expect it. But I do hope for it.