Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Deeper Implications Of Trump

As Donald Trump continues his campaign to win the Presidential election, I am alternately frightened and amused by the reactions he is getting. I've pretty much stopped worrying that he is going to win the election; his own erstwhile party, or at least those members of it that are used to wielding power for their own ends, cannot stand him. But what frightens me is that as he stumbles from what those of us with a modicum of intelligence and a functional conscience regard as gaffe to gaffe, with the occasional more sinister utterance escaping his lips, there is a significant portion of the electorate--as much as 45% of us--that thinks that he is the best choice of those still running to be President of the United States.
One of the things that marked the United States of America as very unique over the course of world history is that even in the days of thirteen colonies, the population (or at least the segment of it that eventually would come to possess the right to vote) was very well-informed about the political process of their land, and very much involved, as well. The American Revolution succeeded where many revolutions fail because it was 1) broad-based; whether Patriot or Loyalist, almost everyone from New Hampshire to Georgia knew what was going on and had deeply-held opinions on it, and 2) was not an explosion of long-oppressed peons detonated by one crushing burden too many, but rather a more or less conscious choice by people used to having a major voice in their own affairs that saw the home country's renewed interest in them after the Seven Years War as, essentially, an invasion from abroad. A good modern parallel would be a house with several teens in it dealing with the return of a father that has been away from home since they were toddlers; he might be the parent, but he is in no way going to be a respected authority figure, and woe to the man that attempts to assert authority because he thinks he is entitled to because he is a biological father. And after independence, this broad-based interest and involvement of the populace in civic matters continued. It was one of the causes of the Civil War; the idea of the Union mattered , a great deal, to those that would do the fighting in the Union Army, and allowed them to overcome what was essentially an entire different culture and people fighting for independence.
The Industrial Revolution started to change this fact of our national life, but large-scale interest and knowledge about politics continued down into my lifetime, and correspondingly, so did involvement in and investment in the process. We started to lose our way in the 1960's, as the combination of increased circuses to distract us and widespread disillusionment with our elected officials eroded our sense of civic engagement. There were many factors, too many to really get into in any detail this morning, that were causes of this, but an underrated one was that the United States, for the first time in its history, was deeply involved in global affairs. With the stakes so much higher, with so much more riding on outcomes, decisions and actions were made and undertaken by those in office that did not lend themselves to discussion or even open knowledge about. The role of American corporate interests grew larger, as their field of play grew, and they began to bargain with those holding office that were concerned with "winning" the global battle for interest, influence,and power with other nations.
And after 1980, the perfect storm began to brew. The government that had been of, by, and for the people became a government that served those that fed it the fuel--money--to keep it running. One of the Peters that was robbed to pay the Paul of corporate interests was civic education, and the concentration of wealth upward was one cultural factor that led to more and more of us becoming disinterested and ignorant of political affairs on both local and national levels; it's hard to maintain intense interest in what is going on with the government when you are struggling to make ends meet. Other factors included more and better distractions (the sexual revolution and all its offshoots), better and more centralized control of the information process (the media has both changed form and passed into control of fewer hands, and thus it has become easier to create and maintain a message that has proved to be mostly propaganda) by elites, and a culture change that makes a virtue of militarism (and its concurrent necessity of finding enemies and threats to justify it).
Does all this lead inevitably to Trump? Yes--if not Trump, than a Trump-like figure. We still have the form of democracy without the voters having the information and inclination to actually know what the hell they are voting for. For about twenty years, the system churned out candidates with no real discernible differences between them, and those holding power were pretty much able to pursue their ends unchecked. But it is inevitable that an ambitious person with the means to grab attention would arise--and Trump's rhetoric and simplistic beliefs attract so much support because there are now a large number of people who fill out ballots that literally do not know better. A wall to keep out immigrants? Yeah, that sounds great... never mind that it would logistically impossible, ineffective, and completely ignores the fact that immigrants are a straw man issue, that the real problem is the people hiring illegal immigrants. Any "serious" Trump proposal is similarly logically flawed, but the "simple solution" is all that most of those voting now are capable of grasping, because they haven't paid attention to politics in this country for their entire lives. And what little they do know is propaganda, not the result of careful consideration of all relevant information.
And I'm not sure that this state of affairs can continue much longer. While for this election cycle, I am more amused than alarmed, the deeper implication is one I've written about previously. The people pouring untold billions into the political process are going to want to see a return on their investment. If this is the way that future "democratic" elections are going to go, that process is going to be dispensed with by those that hold the real power and influence in this country. And I will be totally unsurprised if Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, is the one that meets an untimely demise during this campaign. Clinton, whatever her faults, is no threat to the status quo. Trump is a loose cannon not beholden to the system. And it is possible that one of the few kleptocrats that think that this country belongs to them is going to take direct action to forestall even the remote possibility that this guy will ascend to the Presidency.
We have had a remarkable respite, given what a violent culture this is, from assassination attempts of leading political figures; I can't think of an attempt between 1980 and whenever it was that Gabrielle Giffords was shot (I think 2011). But I think that respite is about to come to an end.

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