Trumplandia One Year In (and the Road Out)

As a recently baptized sexagenarian, the years seem to be slipping by much faster although, thanks to Trump, the last one seems like five.  I’ll add this decelerating time-warp deception to the list of Trump swindles since that bizarre night, one year ago, when the Trump family took the stage in the Hilton Midtown Hotel in New York City.  Dazed by victory, their heads spun around the outcome no one, including them, expected allowing them to seize the American presidency and move their hoodwink-America show to the White House.  As the clock struck midnight and morning light followed, the perceived existential threat of 9/11 was transposed into the very real existential threat of 11/9: Donald Trump.  Weirdness has always been a staple of American identity, but most often is expressed as a scintillating adornment of the American condition, rather than Trump’s weirdness, which is a daily beatdown-cum-scourge imperiling the American Dream.  Alas, here we are one year hence.

The question I am asked over and over and over again is, “How and when will we be rid of this cad?”  Absent a failure of health, which is certainly foreseeable given Trump’s gluttonous behaviors and demands of the presidency, I tend to agree with Roger Cohen’s (New York Times) recent assessment that puts Trump’s reelection as more probable than any forced departure.  As for Republicans in Congress who hold the keys to impeachment, unless their own reelection is unlikely, like Senators Corker and Flake, or their own life facing an imminent end, as with Senator McCain, they have thus far been as complicit in the Trump presidential fraud as my own Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton, and Senator Cory Gardner, who undoubtedly rise every morning drinking Koch Brothers’ Kool-Aid from a faux-crystal Trump slipper.  These Republican men and women, who masquerade as standard-bearers of their party, are little more than traitors to American values and institutions.  Here’s hoping they are retired from public office at the earliest opportunity.

To be clear, there is good news on this otherwise regrettable anniversary, but before I get to that we must all accept responsibility for creating the environment that allowed Trump’s election.  Understanding the larger cultural context is necessary to change our ways to assure future Trumps do not recur.  Many have cited the Democratic Party’s failure to consider the needs of the forlorn working white segment from forgotten American zip codes, but there exist larger and more pervasive trends that allowed Trump to hijack the American presidency.  Three core principles: individualism, perfectibility, and exceptionalism, that truly made America great since its founding, have been flipped to their obverse fiendish rivals since the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the profound expansion of wealth that followed.  Here is what I mean by these principles:

  • Individualism—We have free will and we are accountable for how we exercise it.
  • Perfectibility—We have the capacity to make things better and the obligation to leave things better than the way we found them.
  • Exceptionalism (the exemplar kind)—We set the example for others to follow.

Unfortunately, one of the effects of becoming the world’s lone superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union was the absence of a willing and able contender to keep U.S. power in check.  Indeed, winning the Cold War was a victory, but also left us vulnerable to the impulse of hubristic overreach including the temptation to violate the sovereignty of other states militarily, economically, and culturally.  In addition, in the last three decades the U.S. has enjoyed an historical expansion of wealth due, in part, to the “peace dividend” (political and economic) created by prevailing over the Soviet Union and, more so, by the transformation of the economy—led by U.S. companies—from analog to digital.  Notwithstanding the concentration of this wealth among fewer people as this transformation played out, a cultural malaise set in marked by a number of developments including hyper-consumerism, increasing obesity, anti-intellectualism, and a general inclination toward self-absorption, which created a wave of apathy and nihilism that swamped the spirit of America from coast to coast. The result is that these core principles morphed as follows:

  • Individualism became Narcissism.
  • Perfectibility became Entitlement.
  • Exceptionalism became Hubris.

Ironically, victory and affluence turned a vibrant and compassionate American society into a real-time display of Dante’s seven deadly sins: envy, wrath, lust, greed, gluttony, pride, and sloth.  People behaving badly, from Wall Street to Hollywood to Washington D.C. to Main Street, has become the norm.  And no, the evidence does not suggest greater piety would have saved us.  The fact is the destructive transformation of these principles occurred during—correlates with—the highest period of religiosity in the history of America.  Morality and righteousness may not be symbiotic after all.  Add this to the propensity, enabled by social media, to become siloed into our own self-affirming worlds and a perfect storm of intellectual and moral decline produced an electorate vulnerable—even receptive—to manipulation and fraud.  The petri dish that is the American experiment became a viable host for the cancer that is Trump. The good news is, we can lift ourselves out of this morass.  Trump did not create these conditions; he simply exploited them as any con man might.  We can be disgusted by his behavior, but we remain in control of, and responsible for, our own.

In spite of the damage done by Trump’s cadre of kleptocrats and incompetents—traditionally known as a president’s cabinet—the broader population appears to be emerging from denial, fear and despair, and organizing to reestablish the values and institutions that underpin the American Dream and American leadership throughout the world.  Unified and inspired people are the antidote to Trump.  Six thousand Indivisible chapters across the country did not exist one year ago and they are now evolving from reactive resistance to proactive agents of change at all levels of government.  Personally, I can credit the festering lesion Trump has inflicted on the American presidency for compelling me to engage anew with many Republicans, Democrats and Independents who are unwilling to stand by and watch Trump’s shit-show of avarice and deceit. “Repeal and replace”—like that touted by Republicans in the healthcare debates—is now being scrawled with Sharpies on the headshots of congressional Trumpsters who have learned how uncomfortable town halls can be, and who correctly fear the ballot box in 2018.  And while too many aggrieved citizens still sit idly by wringing their hands over Trump without getting out of their chairs to act, or opening their wallets to support, I am hopeful they will at least show up at the polls at their next opportunity to vote the bastards out.  This is no time to be a bystander in the battle for America.

The challenge now is to move from anti-Trump to pro-American Dream; to reestablish American values and exert those now-quaint norms of honesty, humility, and service such that individualism, perfectibility, and exceptionalism once again supplant narcissism, entitlement, and hubris.  This means shifting from defense to offense; to become proponents rather than just opponents.  As true patriots, we must rally around the flag of the American Dream and put forward declarative and realistic proposals that clearly illustrate the benefits of our candidates and policies to a vast majority of Americans, not just those who share our ideological silos.  This is hard and honest work, which is kryptonite to people like Trump and his pathetic sycophants.

As my former fellow Texan, Barbara Jordan, wrote:

Are we to be one people bound together by common spirit, sharing in a common endeavor; or will we become a divided nation?  For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future.

One year later, we know what we are dealing with in Trump.  This is no time for fear; this is no time for indifference.  We must challenge ourselves and our leaders to become, once again, ardent advocates of the American Dream.

By |2017-12-30T19:45:14+00:00November 7th, 2017|Donald Trump|0 Comments

Democrats, It’s Time to Wise Up

As we move into the second half of Donald Trump’s first year as president, the lists of unprecedented things—from Trump’s seemingly limitless lies, to the tally of bizarre actions by his cabinet members, to the volume of leaks from the White House that appear to require the tensile strength of a fire hose—the greater and more curious development may be the Democratic Party’s abject failure to seize the moment and bring anti-Trump energy to bear on consolidating power.  Not since anti-Viet Nam War movement and Watergate in the late 1960s and early 1970s have so many Americans been apoplectic about our national leadership.  And yet, the Democrats, Progressives, Liberals, Berniecrats, or whatever name is claimed, seem bereft of a compelling plan to exploit the craziness that has metastasized throughout the lymphatic system of the Republican Party.

Earlier this month the Democrats, led by Senator Charles Schumer of New York, attempted to brand a new plan with the slogan “A Better Deal.”  The announcement was so lame—so painfully weak and inauthentic—it reminded me of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis’ fateful 1988 ride on top of a tank wearing a helmet meant for a much larger man.  Further, it mirrors Trump’s transactional disposition in an attempt to suggest the Democrats can out-Trump Trump.  The ultimate irony may be that the Democrats need look no further than the Republicans to learn how to win; yet they are so addled by their inability to look beyond narrow self-interest in favor of a big inclusive narrative, so reluctant to work within the political system to harness its power, and so intoxicated by years of throwing back shots of nihilism that they may squander this generational opportunity Trump has so assiduously delivered.

The lack of a tight, compelling, and over-arching narrative that provides a large tent to attract enough people to truly affect change is the first and probably the most egregious failure of the Democratic Party today.  Democrats are adept at listing all the things they want, but weirdly deficient in their capacity to articulate those needs within a belief system—a narrative based in why (as opposed to what, how, where, and who).[1]  Their many attempts to bring like-minded people together often quickly devolve into a resource competition between particular interest groups concerned with economic inequality, healthcare, environment, immigration, women’s rights, etc. The Republicans on the other hand have, for decades now, wrapped themselves in ideas and beliefs rather than dialing too far down into the detail of policy until, of course, they assemble enough power to implement change.  This strategic disposition has served the Republicans very well: they control the majority of state houses throughout the country, and all three branches of our Federal government.  Their narrative has the American flag as its central symbol—they own patriotism even while many of them barely qualify as more than lapel-pin patriots.  They speak of beliefs, not wants or desires; of a limited role for government, of fundamental values that emanate from the Constitution (and the Bible), of a country that sets the example for the world as opposed to the Democrats who compile lists of grievances in search of “a better deal.”

This Democratic penchant for issues rather than ideas is deeply ingrained in the DNA of the Party and on display recently by one of their standard bearers, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, at the meeting of Netroots Nation progressives in Atlanta on August 12th.  She ticked off her list of popular progressive issues then struggled (and failed) to place them within an inclusive over-arching narrative, or vision, astonishingly borrowing Trump’s tired trope that “the system is rigged!” as her preferred punch line.  She railed against a common target of Democrats—the evil of corporate power—even while a more abhorrent evil, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, were marching and killing in Charlottesville, Virginia.  She managed to touch every special interest in the room while fundamentally failing to provide them with a reason to come together under a transcendent value system that might unite them in something more than hating Trump, power, and wealth.  She may have improved her own political prospects for 2020, but she did nothing to move the Party onto stronger footing.  She and Senator Schumer are squandering the opportunity provided by Trump.

The second strategic failure of the Democrats has also reached legacy status: the propensity to fight a system from the outside rather than penetrating it and accessing its power to achieve transformative objectives.  Michael Tomasky, columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of Democracy: a Journal of Ideas summarized this condition best recently in The New York Times where he argued,

One key difference between the right and the left in this country has been that the right has worked an inside game while the left has mostly remained outside the system.  That’s how it has been since the late 1950s, when the modern conservative movement was first organizing itself and its leaders made the conscious decision to work within the Republican Party.  The Republicans of that time were full of centrists and liberals.  It wasn’t a club die-hard conservatives wanted to join, but they did.  They decided rather than fight the power, they wanted to become the power.  And, of course, they have.

Meanwhile, Democrats are not only unsure of what to call themselves today, they easily succumb to the simplicity of factions—of self-identifying with what they want in the moment rather than a larger ideal—unable and often unwilling to find common ground within their own party, by and between their many myopic, and frankly selfish, leaders.  This is exacerbated by another anti-system sentiment that perpetually keeps power beyond their grasp: low voter turnout among 18-44 year-olds.  This modality is highly unlikely to provide a path to power within a system that will endure well beyond the life of their current concerns and desires.

The third strategic impediment to the success of the Democratic Party is its penchant for nihilism.  While the Republicans proudly espouse an exemplar strain of exceptionalism—that America is the chosen land for people who themselves have been chosen to lead the world to a better place—the Democrats tend to wallow in a nihilistic broth of self-pity.  Jimmy Carter became (in)famous for his “national malaise” jeremiads, and was subsequently easily defeated by the sunny disposition of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” that offered Americans absolution from the sins that concerned Carter.  Occupy Wall Street may have been the movement that established the residency of this condition in the modern Democratic Party.  Begun as a leaderless movement with no particular objective other than raising awareness of economic inequality and revealing that Wall Street is governed by (surprise!) greed, their followers accomplished nothing in terms of change but painted the Party as a home for downtrodden Millennials who believe they have no chance of success in a game that is—wait for it, of course—rigged!  Perhaps this is a revelation for some, but people are not generally attracted to negativity and cynicism.  Rather, people want to be associated with winning teams; they want to be for something—proponents—rather than against everything—opponents.  It’s much more fun to have the ball and play offense than it is to look at others playing with the ball and hoping someday to join in the fun.  Republicans understand this, while Democrats, to their great peril, find bewildering comfort in whipping themselves with the repudiation that accompanies failure.

The nearly six thousand Indivisible groups around the country, representing the new progressive core of the Democratic Party, took their initial organizing framework from the playbook of the Tea Party.  That proved to be a wise adaptation from a group that has become a stronghold within the Republican Party.  Democrats, Progressives, Liberals, and Berniecrats would do well to revisit other strategic aspects of Republican success to capitalize on what Trump hath wrought for the GOP.  Tactics follow strategy, not the other way around.  Ignoring these lessons may produce the unthinkable: Trump’s second inauguration.

[1] For more on this type of narrative building, see my essays in the “American Identity” collection at https://ameritecture.com/category/american-identity/.
By |2017-08-18T15:13:56+00:00August 15th, 2017|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

The Neverwillbe Reagans

As the Republican presidential hopefuls gather at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library this coming Wednesday evening, there will be, no doubt, a number of attempts to borrow the alchemic allure of President Reagan as each candidate seeks to channel his homespun American exceptionalism.  However, the top-tier, including Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, and Mitt Romney, have very little in common with Reagan.  They are the product of an angry and twisted exceptionalism steeped in religious certitude, nationalistic fear, and elite entitlement.  Perry espouses state’s rights and secession in a manner not heard since Southern Confederates used the same arguments to preserve the institution of slavery.  Bachman suggests we deserved our earthquakes and hurricanes as a rebuke of our evil ways, while Romney claims that corporations are people too.  At its core, their exceptionalism holds a contempt for Americans—especially for those who do not look like or believe as they do—and for the liberal ideals of the Founding Fathers.  Furthermore, while hope is a dirty word for today’s Republicans, commonly derided in the phrase “hope is not a strategy,” hope is exactly what Reagan brought to America.  (While President Obama tried too, he has thus far failed.)

Reagan gave Americans access to a special grace that his predecessor Jimmy Carter couldn’t or wouldn’t offer; largely due to the fact Carter was locked in his evangelical revivalist trinity of sin, redemption, and salvation.  Where Carter admonished Americans to sacrifice in order to alleviate a “crisis of spirit,” Reagan simply offered Americans absolution.  Reagan’s theological innovation was transferring the concept of original sin from the individual to the institution.  On the domestic front, Americans were good, while government and its bureaucracies were bad.  In foreign relations, the Soviet Union was evil, but Gorbachev (the human) was worthy of Reagan’s respect and consideration.  Reagan exalted Americans regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, or even Party affiliation.  Reagan’s ire was reserved for communism, not Americans, which he saw as the principal threat to God’s gift to humankind: freedom.  Reagan’s America was the chosen land inhabited by chosen people who had a responsibility to the world: to establish a divine imperium of freedom.  While Reagan did battle with his political adversaries like Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, when the day was done they would share a drink, a story, and a song.

As charming and effective as Reagan was at attracting political support, it is easy to find fault with his presidency.  Besides his promises, government got bigger, deficits swelled, and illegal activities were conducted from the desks of the National Security Council.  Reagan never delivered on the social agenda of the Religious Right, although that should have surprised no one; as Governor of California, he allowed abortion to be legalized and he supported gun control.  He was often heralded as a great communicator, but he was also a lousy executive.  He lived in his own world where too often fantasy trumped fact; where reason was set aside for faith.  But, Reagan gave Americans something that the dismissive angst spewed by today’s field of Republicans will never accomplish: Reagan made Americans feel better about themselves.

It is a long road to the election in November 2012, and America is indeed in dire straits.  Things might get better by themselves, although right now I’d bet on worse.  But, we’ve been here before; there have been many dark days in our history.  What’s required now is a humble sense of self, a platform of mutual respect, and above all, the courage to do right by our founders and our children.  Reagan’s alchemic American exceptionalism may not be the answer today, but believing in each other and taking personal responsibility to make the country and the world a better place while setting aside certitude, fear, and elitism would honor his legacy in the most worthy manner.  Less than one hundred yards from where the Republican candidates will debate Wednesday night is Reagan’s tomb.  Above it, carved in granite, reads, “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is a purpose and worth to each and every life.”  Reagan loved his God and his country, and he loved Americans.  That is a message the Republican candidates would do well to heed.

By |2017-05-23T19:54:57+00:00September 2nd, 2011|General|0 Comments