As I begin this blog I am filled with sadness, anger, incredulity and despair; the full spectrum of emotions at the recent election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. The enormity of that result cannot be exaggerated. This is on the level of the world being found to be flat, aliens landing in central park or Big Foot being captured. All of what we generally accepted to be true about the world has been shaken to the core. We accept that there is a wide political divide among Americans and that such divisions may lead to heated arguments and sometimes distasteful actions but for the most part we carry on with our lives with the belief that those in positions of power are sane and have a modicum level of responsibility not to blow up the world. That assurance was based on the belief in the collective wisdom of the American people not to allow such a thing to happen.
That belief has been thoroughly shattered. In retrospect, we should have seen this coming. Donald Trump was successful in his huckster magician strategy against a field of 16 Republican primary candidates. Sure, there were some other extreme candidates in the field (I count Trump among them), as well as some other long shot candidates (Fiorina, Pataki, Cruz, Rubio, Paul and Graham), but there were a few legitimate candidates including Bush, Kasich and Christie (before his decline) whom, in my view, would have been a formidable opponent to anyone the Democrats would have put forward. As a Clinton supporter, I watched with glee as each of them dropped by the wayside whileTrump maintained his level of support below the 40% mark. Never did I believe that enough Republicans would revert to their tribal instincts to support such an openly unsuitable candidate as Trump, much less that a significant number Democrats would switch or choose to stay home. Trump may be a third rate business manager but he is a first rate showman. He kept the spotlight on himself and his core support behind him by simply echoing rightwing talk radio’s and Fox News’ rhetoric for the past 30 years. Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly and the like had cultivated huge audiences over the years which provided an instant backing for a presidential candidate who was willing to repeat what they had been listening to for all these years. It didn’t matter that there was no consistency or any connectedness to some coherent policy in what was being said. Trump made them feel good and provided vindication for all the anxiety, frustration and insecurity that had become the hallmark of the 21st century global reality and domestic partisan stagnation.
In electing Trump the US has symbolically endorsed the bigotry and anti-immigrant rhetoric he espoused. The fact that over 2.5 million more people voted for Clinton is of little consequence since he will be the face of America for the next four years at least. Moreover, the abandonment of commonly accepted norms and talk of dismantling of institutional checks and balances have begun. Trump did not disclose his taxes and business connections during the campaign, it is not clear that he will be required to remove his conflicts of interests, and some laws will have to be changed to move forward with some of his stated cabinet appointments. The Republican majority in both houses of congress are loath to oppose him as they finally have the opportunity to institute the kind of government that they craved over the past decades.
It is not hyperbole to remember that Hitler’s rise to power began with a slow dismantling of the institutional checks and balances of the country. We would be wise to stay mindful of the big picture and not focus too closely on the magician’s hands nor listen to his voice. As Trump’s unexpected victory has proved, It can happen here.