On the evening of November 8, 2016, I retired around 11 PM, expecting – with odds of at least 60/40 – to wake and find that the classic “late-reporting precincts” had pushed Hillary Clinton over the top. As I dropped off, I was thinking of how the country would fare under voters’ unfortunate decision to overlook Hillary Clinton’s ethical lapses and flagrant disregard for the nation’s security, and give her the presidency.
But the fish didn’t flop that way. Instead, my wife – awake half the night – greeted me at 7 AM with the news of Mr. Trump’s amazing victory. We could hardly believe it. Confounding most “experts,” Mr. Trump won 290 electoral votes of twenty-nine states – including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – while Mrs. Clinton won twenty states and 232 electoral votes. Mr. Trump ultimately won Michigan’s 16 electoral votes also, bringing his electoral total to 306.
Instead of having to describe the “sadness” of a Clinton-win, I read articles in the reverse vein in the Washington Post and New York Times, written by columnists who were aghast that The People – who they thought would surely overlook Mrs. Clinton’s “trivial” flaws – had taken a leap of faith and elected business-tycoon Donald Trump. Politicians across the country were also in complete shock, with some leaping (figuratively, at least) from tall buildings. Others followed the waggish doggerel of yore:
When in turmoil, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.
As Confucius (might have) said, “Truly, one cannot lose them all.”
Establishment types – including George Will, Mitt Romney, and much of the Bush-clan – were betting on Hillary Clinton to utterly rout the uncouth Trumpster and clear the way for them to rebuild the wreckage of the Republican Party under their measured guidance: i.e., something along the line of “Republicans: we’re not as bad as you think.” Some had even “predicted” – hoped for, would be more accurate – a Clinton win of historic proportions, like the one LBJ inflicted on Barry Goldwater in 1964.
In that campaign – which I remember well – Democrats and the media scared the public with the infamous “Daisy Girl” TV commercial,1 which showed a young girl idyllically picking daisies as a voice-over ominously counts down: 10-9-8… Suddenly, the horrific, roiling image of a nuclear blast filled the screen. Only LBJ could save us from this dire fate. If elected, “crazy” Goldwater would blow up the world. In March 1965, as colleagues and I listened to LBJ’s radio-address calling for 500,000 troops to fight North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, one wiseacre cracked that it was lucky we didn’t elect Goldwater. He would surely have gotten us into a land-war in Asia.
Following the 2016 election, millions of people across the country were in a panic. Their world had been turned upside down. At some colleges, classes were cancelled so students could grieve and receive counseling to help them cope with the horror that had befallen the country. Young schoolchildren – scared to death by the Trump-boogeyman that teachers and the media had created – were in actual distress. And among what we once called the “adult population,” Facebook-rants were posted, angry e-mails flashed back and forth, and relationships were damaged – perhaps irreparably – by intemperate words and actions.
It was a truly bizarre time. I’ve been following politics since the early 1950s, but I had never seen anything like it. At any moment I expected bearded, be-robed guys to emerge on street-corners, bearing signs warning that “The End is Nigh.”
I was a college freshman in 1960, when America elected its first Catholic president. Having had a Protestant upbringing, I considered this a pretty radical departure from tradition. It’s hard to imagine now, but in those days Protestants thought Catholics were the “enemy.” Pamphlets were circulated warning of Catholics’ plans to establish a world-government with the Pope at its head.
But as a young bucko – busy playing football, singing, studying, and chasing girls – the dashing young JFK’s attendance at Sunday mass didn’t top my list of concerns. Like most Americans, I assumed that the country would work things out, as we usually did. In 1960 we were still drawing from a large reservoir of optimism produced by our World War II victory and the robust economy of the nifty fifties. What could possibly go wrong? We could surmount any situation.
Of course JFK didn’t exactly run on the idea that everything in the garden was lovely. He bashed the Ike-Nixon economy, which had been crippled by the 116-day steel-industry strike of 1959. President Eisenhower finally invoked the Taft-Hartley Act’s 80-day “cooling-off period” to get the industry (and the country) moving again, but the damage was done. The strike had wide repercussions across the economy. Automobile companies – unable to get the steel they needed – started seeking foreign supplies. By 1960, a recession – mild, in historical terms – had set in.
Senator Kennedy also hammered the so-called “missile gap” between us and the Soviets – claiming that we were losing. President Eisenhower and Vice-president Nixon vigorously denied it, but with Soviet space-exploits on full display, the public suspected that JFK might be right. With his good looks and Irish charm, the Senator barnstormed across the country on the motto: “We can do bettah.” The media absolutely loved the guy. They thought the future had arrived.
The election was a real squeaker, with the sour odor of fraud lingering over Illinois and Texas. But Mr. Nixon declined to challenge the result, and the voters accepted it with equanimity. We went about our business full of our customary optimism. I don’t remember anyone panicking, seeking psychiatric counsel, or vowing to flee the country. (The flight to Canada by young men escaping the draft came later.) We had no inkling of the tumultuous decades of war and political/social unrest that lay ahead. (After all, with a photogenic babe like Jackie redecorating the White House, the world seemed pretty OK.)
A history prof was the lone Democrat on the faculty at the college where I studied in the ‘60s. He was a good-natured young PhD, liked and respected by everyone. We gave his New Deal liberalism a polite hearing. When I met him at an alumni gathering, 40 years later, I asked him if he was still a Democrat. He ruefully shook his head and said the party “had left him long ago.” The New Deal was a fast-receding speck in the rear-view mirror by then, and he saw that Democrats were no longer the champions of the working man that they were in days of yore.
1980 was a much more disruptive “change-election.” The news-media – the term was not yet a non sequitur in those days – were mostly pulling for (and expecting) President Carter’s re-election. They had been drumming the theme that Ronald Reagan was “just a dumb actor reading lines:” an “amiable dunce” acting a role. He couldn’t possibly be fit for the office. Yes, he was a two-term California governor, but that was considered a worthless credential. The word was that the former B-grade film actor was just a figurehead, while others did the actual governing in conservative California. We simply couldn’t have that in the presidency. Besides, RR was a “cowboy” who might pull the nuclear trigger. All Republicans were believed to be warmongers just itching to drop the Bomb. (Sound familiar?)
Mr. Reagan’s win produced much greater shock to the body politic than did JFK’s, but the result wasn’t close. While yellow-dog Democrats shouted from the housetops that he would hurt poor people and cut Social Security pensions, Mr. Reagan took 44 states. A daughter of old college chums said she hoped we could just hang on and stop him before he “wrecked the country.” (She believed it, too.)
Far into Mr. Reagan’s second term, amidst a booming economy and unprecedented prosperity, academics were still bemoaning the damage done by the “Reagan budget cuts.” Even Hottentots in Africa knew that Reagan had ruined the USA. In 1987 I was shocked to learn that Swiss friends considered him more dangerous than Soviet Leader Gorbachev. They thought he was an ignorant airhead who would probably pull the nuclear trigger.
In 2016 I wrote “Just a Flesh Wound,” in which I joked that the mortally wounded Hillary-campaign resembled the crippled Black Knight in a madcap ‘70s movie. Following its publication an old college-classmate wrote to question my faith and scold me for writing “…such political refuse and then asking God to allow the election of a person who overtly walks over everyone in his path.” Our Alma Mater had taught him better, he said. Evidently I missed the lesson which taught students to argue political issues by impugning another’s faith. (A political tactic first mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I believe.)
After the election, another reader urged me to use my bully pulpit to deal with the “…hate that is being spewed out all over in Trump’s name.” He wrote: “Blacks, immigrants, and other minorities are genuinely scared.” Hate being spewed? By whom? Certainly not by Republicans. The ones I know didn’t vote to hurt anyone. We’re not xenophobic, Islamaphobic, homophobic, hydrophobic or any other “phobic.” We’re Normal Culture folks who wanted a leader who would tackle problems that hurt the country. We want decency and order. Electing a non-establishment leader – flawed though he might be – was the only way to make this happen. Putting Mrs. Clinton and her spotty record of “public service” in the Oval Office was unacceptable.
Once all that uproar was behind us, one would have thought that 2016 would mark the absolute nadir in election insanity. But one would have been wrong. A special counsel investigation of Mr. Trump – based on a Democrat-funded opposition-research “dossier” – was immediately launched. It created a huge distraction for the first half of the president’s term, but uncovered no evidence that he had “colluded” with Russian agents (or anyone else) to steal the election.
Despite the media foo-faw of that investigation, the president forged ahead to keep his campaign promises. He signed tax-reform legislation to help working-class people, ditched business-strangling regulations, unchained energy production, and leveled the playing-field of international trade. The nation’s economy is booming; unemployment has reached historic lows; and our armed forces have decisively defeated ISIS in the Middle East. Democrats have fought Mr. Trump to a bloody draw on his attempts to stop the flood of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers, but he is seeking new ways to control the border without relying on Congressional Democrats.
But the president’s remarkable progress under heavy fire has only made his foes double down on their opposition, with the aim of either driving him out of office or mortally wounding him for the 2020 election. They have declared “war without end,” and they show no signs of honoring our bi-partisan political compact to honor the people’s election-decisions, whatever they might be.
In this truly unhinged political environment, even a pretense of serious governance is gone. Now holding a majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats have turned that historic chamber into a circus of baseless insinuations, wild “obstruction” charges, demands for Mr. Trump’s pre-election financial records, and a blizzard of baseless subpoenas to enable interrogation of his business associates. It is dirt-digging that rivals the hand-excavation of the Erie Canal.
The Special Counsel’s report, which cleared the president of any election-wrongdoing, has only spurred Democrats to seek other ways to damage and destroy him. House Democrats are threatening to hold Attorney General Barr in “contempt” for not releasing the Special Counsel’s un-redacted report, as they have demanded. Mr. Barr has cited federal law that prohibits him from meeting that demand, but this cuts no ice with Democrat committee-chairs. They want that un-redacted report, and “damn your law, sir!” Our entire political and governmental system is coming apart at the seams, and we seem powerless to stop it.
At this writing, no one knows how all this will end up. One suspects that House Democrats have not initiated impeachment proceedings because they know they can’t bring any charges that would be supported by actual evidence. Experienced Dems also know that impeachment is a spear with a sharp point at both ends. They can wound a president with it, but history shows that it will wound them, too – possibly fatally. Moreover, it would only amount to political theater, as the Senate would almost certainly acquit Mr. Trump on any impeachment charges.
Today, 17 months before the election, as House Democrats busy themselves with bashing President Trump, some 87 Democratic candidates are running for president on platforms of free stuff, socialism and identity politics. This makes 2020 resemble the 1948 election, when President Harry Truman ran a national whistle-stop campaign against a “do-nothing Congress” which had done little except squabble over how to dismantle the New Deal. Although pre-election polls showed Thomas Dewey with a substantial lead over Mr. Truman, the election concluded with a photo of the re-elected president triumphantly holding a copy of the Chicago Tribune that had prematurely announced his defeat.
My hope – possibly a vain one – still lies in a return to sanity by a majority of The People. I urge citizens of every political stripe to roll up their sleeves, hitch up their pants, and get to work. Let’s expect great days ahead. After all, we’re Americans.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection…” (Abraham Lincoln, 1861)