Trump’s America: How We Got Here

Trump 4At 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.

So:

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.

He and his team lied America into a second war, with Iraq, on ginned-up evidence, resulting in the deaths of more than 4,000 American men and women, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced Iraqis. Also not to mention the huge price tag – estimated at a trillion dollars or more – entirely unbudgeted, of the Iraq War.

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.

  • Alfred Kamal Etheredge

    I agree. We are going to get exactly the president we deserve with a heaping helping of evangelical Christianity to boot. But I survived Reagan. I survived idiot Bush. I’ll probably survive this. But yeah, we’re fucked.

    • Pofarmer

      I honestly didn’t expect all the hard right Evangelicals that Trump is appointing.

      • yazikus

        He is rewarding loyalty, and Pence is the wormtongue whispering in his ear. Those evangelicals are also the price Trump had to pay to win- without them, the evangelicals would not have come out en force to vote Trump. It is nightmarish.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, how the hell did he even come up with Pence? Pence is/was one of the least popular Presidents in the U.S. What scares me a little bit, is that Trump is a New True Believer, and that is dangerous.

          • yazikus

            I think Donald’s only god and master is Donald, to be sure. But I don’t know how Pence secured his spot.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    for some reason there is a toolbar on the left side of the screen wih twitter,fb,google etc. it blocks a good chunk of the text. I hope the author or manager of this blog fix it since the page is pretty hard to read with that stuff blocking that much text. If i click the ‘options’ button it says I need to create an acct with this ‘service’. Nope, i give patheos an email so i can post. I aint giving some 3rd party vendor on this page ANY personal info.

    • Hank Fox

      I’m sorry about that. No idea what to do about it.

    • Jim Jones

      I don’t see it but I run an adblocker.

    • silverwhitemoon

      Suggestions:
      – download and run a free ad blocker (cnet.com has a few – or google’s adblock)
      – switch browsers (run in Chrome, firefox, Internet explorer – or try Tor – then no one can track you.)
      – play with the font size (ctrl+ or -) This might adjust the spacing of the ad on the page
      If none of that works, you could: click anywhere on the page and then: ctrl+A and then ctrl+C and go to a text or word document and hit ctrl+V and read everything offline

  • Myna

    Talk to anyone who works in public service and you’ll hear the same grievance over and over again, and that is that most people are simple minded and do not live or consider any reality beyond what appears two feet in front of them and even that short range is generous. Give them a piper, and they’ll follow. And you are right, the Limbaugh types & Fox News manufacturers are nothing if not brilliant in their design. It’s all about parroting memes and the willing abdication of discernment.

    The dazzle of Trump is he holds up the mirror that reflects a validation to the average Jane and Joe lemming that fiction and willing ignorance is more palatable than reality and that fear (hate) is less taxing than acceptance (love) and that placing blame on oppositions and nebulous monsters makes you feel safer. One of the downsides of the media is that the artificial appears so real that when serious consideration is imperative, it’s nearly impossible for the simpler mind to decipher. Pawns to cleverer minds, the supporters of Trump and his ilk have widened the doors for the mad men to come.

  • Reagan gets far more credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Collapse was imminent by the mid-late 70s. Russian’s involvement in Afghanistan was as unpopular there as Viet Nam was in the US. They also couldn’t manage to keep food in the stores. The entire Soviet system was near collapse by the time Reagan was sworn in. He may have sped up the rate of collapse by a year or two, but that’s about it. It was going to happen anyway. Also, we still haven’t paid off the debt he ran up for that military build-up and tax cuts.

    • Jim Jones

      > Reagan gets far more credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

      He shouldn’t. It was the Beatles who broke the USSR.

      > Also, we still haven’t paid off the debt he ran up for that military build-up and tax cuts.

      Yep. Jimmy Carter never started a war; never “got his blooding.” When he left office, the US was the biggest creditor nation on Earth. After the incompetent Reagan took power, the US became the biggest debtor nation on Earth.

  • Robert Templeton

    Hank, if I may refer to you by first name, I am deeply proud and heartened to read your commentary here. Sometimes, I feel that there are too many nuances and things that I have missed that others dismiss or negate. Maybe I didn’t notice the same things that they did. You view bolsters my understanding of reality and reasoning for dismay at our government and its actions.

    As Alfred notes (and I assuredly hope to be in the affirmative here), we have survived these tribulations (though not all of us). We have each other to gather against the storm if must be.

    • Hank Fox

      Robert, thank you!

      • Jim Jones

        BTW: “In my memory, at least, it pretty much started with Nixon.”

        Earlier.

        Business Plot

  • Pofarmer

    I had a fairly long discussion with a landlord the other day(I farm full time and have several) who is in his early 70’s. He says “I really think that Trump will bring jobs back to America.” “I think he knows how to do it.” Folks have got all these hopes pinned on Trump. He played the strings perfectly. What will happen not if, but when he fails at that, is hard to say. I’m afraid that he and his handlers are good enough at the slight of hand that the frogs in the pot won’t realize what’s going on until it’s too late.

    • Robert Templeton

      What absolutely, fricking amazes me is how the lower and middle classes buy Trump’s ‘I’m a regula’, hard workin’ guy like youse and I’m gonna fix it’. Really? I mean, REALLY? Trump isn’t a ‘rags to riches story’. He’s a ‘riches to more riches to some bad investments to fagetaboutit’ guy. He hasn’t worked a ‘job’ ever. He is a player, a manipulator, a superficial person who knows that to win, you have to play your cards and be a poker face. That is it. And people bought this?

      We ostensibly need to forcibly require critical thinking in K12 education!

      • Hank Fox

        I have wanted to ask Trumpsters if they think he’s ever done his own laundry, or if he has any idea what bread or milk costs, or car repairs, or if he’s ever had to decide between a family vacation and the kids’ dental care.

      • Pennybird

        He stiffs his employees, his contractors, declares bankruptcy (thanks, Don. Glad to pick up your slack. Again.) and sues everyone in sight. How did that ever translate into “good businessman?”

        • Jim Jones

          He inherited $200 million from his father. He now owes $1.8 billion to foreigners. If he’d let Warren Buffet handle his money he’d be worth $12 billion now.

          Some businessman.

    • Bob Jase

      “What will happen not if, but when he fails at that, is hard to say.”

      No it isn’t, if it was then Christian preachers wouldn’t have spent the past two millenia predicting the imminent end of the world, getting it wrong and being forgiven by their sheep.

      • Pofarmer

        You are, unfortunately, correct, which means there is almost nothing he could do to lose the support of the 18% who voted for him.

        • Bob Jase

          Unfortunately that 18% is the only dependable voting block out there.

      • Lerk!

        This is probably true. When he fails to get them their jobs, they’ll dig in deeper and become ever more convinced that he’s the only one who can do it.

  • Jim Jones

    > 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.

    The GOP is the Traitor Party. It doesn’t even represent those who elect it, only those who buy its favors.

  • Minor Heretic

    As for George HW Bush, he was also a traitor and a scoundrel. Read “My Turn to Speak” by Abol Hassan Bani Sadr, former president of Iran. He devotes a chapter to the 1980 October Surprise, when GHW Bush and Bill Casey negotiated with the Iranians to hold the embassy hostages till after the election. His account was corroborated by Abu Bassam Sharif and Yasser Arafat of the PLO.

    Also note that Bush, through James Baker, instructed then ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie to tell Sadaam Hussein that “your Arab vs Arab conflicts are none of our business ” a week before he invaded.

    The man should have spent the last 35 years in an orange jumpsuit.

  • Bob Jase

    Optomist.

  • Brightwater

    Will you tell us about the parenthetical third large factor if we ask nicely?

    • Hank Fox

      Not at this time. I’m still working it out.

  • Jim Baerg

    I think you Americans need a “Make America a Democracy Again” movement. It would be devoted to stamping out gerrymandering, voter suppression, reversing the Citizens United decision, and probably least important abolishing the Electoral College.

  • Jim Baerg
  • Patricia Meredith

    Completely agree and have been out on the internet saying the exact same things.

  • Hank, is it OK if I print off your entire article and make some copies to some of my friends? It is so lucid and puts a great historical perspective on the last 50 years, which are memories for me, not history!

    • Hank Fox

      Fine by me. Make it clear I’m not a historian, that this is just a view from a first-person-lay-observer.

  • Lerk!

    “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.”
    I’d really like to know what you have to say about that.

    • Hank Fox

      It would take a while to explain, and I’d really have to work on it to get it right. Even so, like I say, I think it’s something most of us would reject. And I wonder if I want to go to the trouble.

  • pagansister

    Thanks for putting the obvious into words—with short history to help. I fear for our country with the SOB that is coming into office. How anyone in their right mind could actually have cast a vote for him still blows my mind. I’m a senior citizen and my first chance to vote (had to be 21 then) was the Nixon election period. The other GOP presidents were not great, but the current president-elect truly worries me more than the other GOP presidents, even with what they did.

  • Alec Welsh

    My Dad says it must be nice to know there is at least one voice in the crowd who understands like we do. Nope, it does not help to know that we are fucked and you see the one other person paying attention and go ya we are fucked. Now being wrong has become more unlikely.

  • candide

    Bush 43 is the thesis; Obama the antithesis. The synthesis is Trump. You cannot excoriate Trump without first blasting to hell Bush and Obama.

    • Hank Fox

      Suggest reasons we might blast Obama.

    • KonCern

      And that means Trump will also be blasted to hell, because he is the combination of the two.
      So are you promoting anarchy…

  • KonCern

    I will what Obama told Trump , ” I wish you well, for if you succeed , America succeeds.
    Obama is definitely the better man…

  • Wuulf

    No, we didn’t lose. HRC received almost 3 million more votes than the GOP candidate who was awarded the Presidency by a majority of the 538 electors.

  • Pennybird

    Sometimes you’ve got to hit rock bottom before you can start the hard climb back up. We have hit rock bottom. Being the eternal optimist, I think, and my slanted facebook feed tells me, that the resistance is big, organized and ready to roll up its sleeves.

    I also think that if we keep lobbing insults at President Trumplethinskin, he’ll just up and leave, a la Rodney Dangerfield: “I can’t get no respect.” So keep ’em coming, and let’s get the Twitter Twit to abandon the office by the first day of spring. We can do it!

  • candide

    Republics can be overthrown not only by military coups or by losing war but also by democracy itself. Read Thucydides on the decline of Athens. Trump’s election could be the beginning of the end, the rising up of the masses — ignorant, violent, bent on only their self-gratification — against those who know better, against reason, history, and common sense. And religion, based as it is on the passions of mankind and man’s desire to believe fables and fantasies, can only help in the destruction of the rule of true republicans.

  • candide

    Trump in the Oval Office is the shameful end to some fifty years of incompetent and untrustworthy administrations and their personnel. Can America survive? I am not certain. We have a poorly educated, selfish, stupid electorate, an ambitiously criminal political class, and two political parties who have lasted far too long without any vision or purpose. We need a revolution, not a violent one but the kind Tom Jefferson anticipated as desirable from time to time, only time has gone on too long without one. The last one was under FDR and it is about time for another. Trump is the symptom of decadence, ignorance, and national narcissism brought together in one man.