A Tragedy Foretold

Author: Gary Hart

After November, expect an avalanche of analyses as to how the Trump phenomenon could have happened and, in some cases, how it can be prevented in the future.

A persuasive school of thought will link this phenomenon to the loss of privacy two or three decades ago and the consequent decline in the caliber and quality of political leadership in America.  The cost of the loss of privacy is the loss of respect.  And the loss of respect guarantees that men and women of talent and virtue will not submit themselves to the mockery of a mob of anonymous internet trolls and semi-literate political analysts.

Jefferson supposed that America’s future rested with “the aristocracy of talent and virtue”.  He did not mean that only aristocrats possessed those qualities.  He was too radical a democrat to believe that.  Rather, he believed that, largely due to widespread public education, a cohort of leaders with talent and a sense of public duty would form a new aristocracy, one not of wealth, family, and class but one of natural leadership ability and commitment to the common good.

Jefferson would not have been surprised by Abraham Lincoln in the least.

Jefferson would be surprised, shocked might be a better term, at the Trump phenomenon, one that appeals to baser instincts, latent prejudice, and mob hostility.  Like his friend James Madison, as well as the other Founders, he understood the hazards of demagoguery.  But he also believed a free press would reveal demagoguery, ignorance, prejudice, and vulgarity and an enlightened citizenry would quickly dispatch those exhibiting these qualities.

What neither he nor others could have anticipated was an amalgamation of mass media obsessed with sensation and scandal falling prey, virtually lock, stock, and barrel, to a demagogue who cleverly understood those same media’s thirst for daily doses of outrageousness disguised as “reality”.

The First Amendment’s unique protection of the press was for the purpose of providing independent information and enlightenment about the public’s business, not as a guarantee of profits for newspaper barons and corporate networks (especially corporate networks licensed by the public itself).

In the vacuum created by the disappearance, with some notable exceptions, of the aristocracy of talent and virtue, and given the replacement of public service as a noble profession by ideological entrepreneurs eager to please one interest group after another, the Trump phenomenon now looks virtually inevitable.

The Party that permitted itself to be co-opted by a reality-t.v. demagogue will spend considerable time rethinking its priorities after November, seeking to re-establish its true identity, and calculating the cost of a “Southern strategy” that expanded into an evangelical strategy, a gun strategy, an anti-immigrant strategy, and so much else..  Its “family strategy” meanwhile has managed to embrace a thrice-married nominee without so much as a blink of shame.

After the great train wreck of 2016, there remains the possibility of a serious political awakening in which the needs of media sensationalism take second place to the search for a new aristocracy of talent and civic virtue, the rise of a new generation of young men and women looking less for a career in elective office and more for a chance to ask what they can do for their country.

It has been estimated that fewer than 9% of the American people selected the two major party candidates for national leadership.  And it is a distinct possibility that fewer than 50% of eligible voters will decide between these two.  The fact that fewer than a quarter of eligible voters will select the next president should be cause for alarm and a judgment on us who hold our nation’s future in trust.

We could all do much worse, after this descent into democracy’s cluttered basement, than to engage in some soul searching about citizen responsibility for self-government, resistance to demagoguery, serious consideration about our nation’s future, and thoughtful discussion of alternative economic, foreign policy, and security approaches in an age of new realities.

Such a national renewal after the current nightmare would be greatly helped by the re-emergence of statesmen and stateswomen too long absent from the public arena.  But, in the end, it is really up to each of us.

4 Responses to “A Tragedy Foretold”

  1. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    I would like to propose some additional issues that could also be a part of our collective soul searching process.

    Let us consider what drives our collective desire to accumulate and control so much matter and energy when we find the successful realization of this desire brings no real or permanent satisfaction.

    What was it that the indigenous Peoples of America valued more highly than we do and why? They valued it so highly that they abandoned the idea of conquering the natural world and chose to live in in harmony with it. This choice led to their ultimate destruction at the hands of the Nature Conquering Peoples. Were they really the ignorant savages that the European migrants believed them to be or were they the thing of great value that the Great Spirit was willing to risk in order to redeem the Peoples who had lost their way?

    Have we become like the matter we desire to possess which is bound by Law to follow rules of behavior and be at the effect of Forces that we have no real Freedom to resist? Like Esau in the biblical story, have we sold our collective birth right for some pottage?

    In my view, the opportunity to meld civilizations which wisely utilizes what technological achievements we have made in harmony with the Nature which supports our material existence is here now. The window of opportunity may be closing quickly and may close entirely for most of us.

    Our supposed adversaries boast of the power and prowess of their engines of destruction. We in turn counter with similar claims of our own. We are caught in the delusion that everything is a zero sum game and that there can be only one winner, (if winner is even the right word to use). How long can we count on Jesus request of His Father to forgive us on the grounds that we know not what we do, to restrain Him from regretting ever having conceived Us in the first place.

    There I things I can only express in metaphor. Please have patience with me in this regard.

    I see the seeds of recovery in the people who supported Senator Sanders’ bid for the Presidential nomination. If we have time, we may nurture those seeds and cultivate their growth in order to produce a People who are truly Free and Capable of transforming this nation into one we would feel no shame in presenting to the Great Spirit and to which He would joyfully reply “…and it is Good”.

  2. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Senator Hart

    I like the way you , at an age greater than many , have such a positive and forward looking nature , a wisdom that sees the loss of innocence and common sense in modern politics and discourse , but does not give in to the cynicism and negative vibes so prevalent in the media coverage and discussion. I learn from you ,and others I admire , a generation above me , or sometimes more, in feeling as if it is possible to be getting younger as I age , naturally , as we all do , I now about the same in numerical years as you were in the mid eighties , with all the hope of the White House ahead of you !

    And herein is an important thought. You mention privacy , the loss of it .You more than most know how it can be a special thing , and the loss of it a terrible one.But would you be as wise as you are , if you had not been through that experience then? Would you have been as motivated by the desire to make up , with true service , for what you could not do as President ? I genuinely believe you had the qualities to be a different kind of President .But your career and personal integrity shows it is more important to be a different kind of human being above all.

    As with our colleague Paul Borg , I see some potential in the enthusiasm shown for the Bernie Sanders campaign , but we must not forget the similar level of energy in the original candidacy of Barack Obama.

    It is a sad, or perhaps reflective, moment when we can honestly say that all the good that the present incumbent in the White House has done or tried to do , has paled into insignificance , compared to the nastiness and meanness of the response to his efforts from some quarters.What a horrible and offputting aspect of modernity , is the hue and cry of the mass media and , in America , the extent of the polarisation!

    Public service carries on regardless of the attention given to the rich and famous , to the loud or vacuous. We need to find our way forward by looking at the contribution we all , each or any of us ,try and make , in our thoughts, and words, and deeds , who do not make the impact that the demagogue does , but a far greater one, for its being motivated by good.

  3. UncleStu Says:

    “The Party that permitted itself to be co-opted by a reality-t.v. demagogue will spend considerable time rethinking its priorities after November, seeking to re-establish its true identity, and calculating the cost of a “Southern strategy” that expanded into an evangelical strategy, a gun strategy, an anti-immigrant strategy, and so much else.. Its “family strategy” meanwhile has managed to embrace a thrice-married nominee without so much as a blink of shame.”

    The Republican party was not co-opted by Trump – only the leadership was. The Republican party decided, with eyes wide open, to be what we see now. It is not the GOP of old, but they are what they wanted, and still want, to be.

    The only thing they don’t accomplish on a regular basis is the presidency; they do very well in Congress and the states.

    They are “true believers”. How can they change the beliefs that most of them grew up with, and why would they?

    As the great American philosopher Jimmy Buffet said, “Beware of true believers”.

  4. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    As the saying goes, if I had more time I would have made this comment shorter:

    If I understand the host’s drift correctly, Sen. Hart begins by summarizing (in his customarily withering and eloquent prose) Matt Bai’s thesis in All the Truth is Out, the (very partial) 2014 biography of Sen. Hart which focuses on the events of 1986-1987 and beyond. Bai, in turn, gives much credit to Neil Postman for his sociological analysis which attributes the decline of American presidential and lower-level politics into Hobbesian combat and Hunter Thompson-esque “fear and loathing”, etc. to journalists having taken leave of their senses and far transgressed all reasonable boundaries of candidates’ and office-holders’ personal privacy beginning in 1987. The gladiatorial arena thus created (Bai, Postman and Hart assert) is one no normal person of talent and civic virtue would volunteer to enter. This in turn (so goes the theory) has denuded the political landscape of its public moralists and exponents of statesmanship of yesteryear.

    That politics has become (in sum) “a vast wasteland” (to borrow the phrase JFK’s FCC chairman Newton Minnow used for commercial tv in 1961) in inarguably true. I started out a January 2015 op-ed article on precisely that note. See: http://la.indymedia.org/news/2015/01/267095.php . Our nation’s public moralists HAVE been sidelined. And we ARE paying a very high price as a society. I discussed some of the ways in that op-ed primarily as it relates to the legal profession, which has been diminished virtually to the justice-vanishing point, and is destined to remain so for decades.

    Btw, those who beg we non-conservative adamant Never-Hillary voters to “think of the Supreme Court” — shades of “think of the children” — overlook the fact that the federal judiciary as a whole is already essentially ruined, the rightist and centrist bad apples having long ago rotted the entire barrel. Occasional decent rulings like this one only prove the general rule: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/LegalizationNation/archives/2016/08/16/9th-circuit-smacks-down-rogue-pot-prosecutors-dispensaries-legal-shield-holds-up-in-federal-appeals-court . A decades-long reclamation project will be required to replace the predominant incumbent rightist-robed-bullies with justice-oriented judges.

    The problem is NOT going to be solved by putting a few more moderate Stephen Breyer-types on the SCOTUS and circuit courts, which is essentially what Hillary would do. We need at least arch-liberal (including civil libertarian) William O. Douglas clones, and even if Hillary wanted to appoint one or more of Douglas’s ilk (she doesn’t) she wouldn’t be able to find any. Our law schools have been admitting the wrong kind of people for so long, that few staunch idealists ever join the bar of their respective states anymore and those who do are about as welcome in power positions such as judgeships as skunks are at garden parties. I wrote about this problem 19 years ago here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlT2diVnV4dFhpTmM/view?usp=sharing . But I digress.

    I am dubious that the primary cause of the drought of public moralists in politics is the press temerity/privacy-depletion phenomenon the trio of undoubtedly sincere and thoughtful voices (Bai, Postman, Hart) advert-to. I blame the drought primarily on our corrupt system of privately financed campaigns. The 5 decades in which the quality of elected officials plummeted into mediocrity are the very same years in which 1% elites in both old parties conducted a hostile-takeover of American politics in part by establishing rules of campaign finance that super-empowered the wealthy politically by positioning them to legally “bundle” large volumes of 4-figure dollar contributions by individuals and couples and deliver them directly to candidates each election cycle. And also positioned the wealthy to funnel into the parties and campaign committees boatloads of “soft money”. All in exchange for access, influence and policy results.

    In my view this was the genesis of the massive systemic corruption the host decries in his most recent book titled The Republic of Conscience. It is the campaign finance system that long preceded the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling (legalizing unlimited donations to- and spending by superPACs so long as they don’t coordinate with candidates) and will still be in place if and when Citizens United (CU) is ever abolished.

    As Bernie Sanders observed, a political revolution is not made in the living rooms of well-to-do socially liberal Democratic members of the 1% donor class. On the contrary, the members of this donor class, along with public employee unions, have for many decades conducted “extreme vetting” (so to speak) of candidates for public office and thereby ensured that upstanding non-pliable candidates could not raise sufficient funds to run successful campaigns. These Democratic power-brokers might as well have posted a sign on their office doors stating: “No earnest progressives need apply”. I know. I tried.

    A quick anecdote: In my last campaign in 1993 I sought a seat on the LA Community College District (LACCD) Board of Trustees. It is not as inauspicious a position as it may seem. The catchment area of the District is “yuge” — encompassing 10 schools throughout a land mass greater than Los Angeles County. Although it paid a stipend-level salary I declared my intention to work as a Trustee on a full-time basis. Since it required money (I lacked) to raise any appreciable sums of money to publicize one’s candidacy in those (pre-internet) days, I raised modest sums from friends, family and a few progressive notables (Stanley Sheinbaum sent me $200 I recall with pride and gratitude, as did the host’s acquaintance and former Colorado neighbor Don Henley), and campaigned mainly by press release and by attending candidate forums at the various community colleges throughout the district.

    The campaign coincided with a dicey moment in Los Angeles history when the entire city was on tenterhooks awaiting the result of the federal civil rights criminal prosecution of the racist officers who had sadistically beat Rodney King to a bloody pulp (which atrocity was caught on video by a resident nearby). The jury’s acquittal of the officers at the end of the state court trial in Simi Valley had triggered the worst race rebellion (“intifada” we might call it today) since 1965 in Watts, which happened when I was a 10-year-old and which my father helped me understand (just as he was candid with me about the Cuban Missile Crisis when I was 8). At the candidate forum in Los Angeles City College in April 1993 I read an “open letter” appeal for calm in the event the officers were again acquitted. (Fortunately they were convicted.) My remarks appear here following my campaign brochure: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlSkVyVk55Z3oyVlU/view?usp=sharing . But I digress again.

    What is most germane to the host’s post is that when I sought the (for all practical purposes, outcome determinative) endorsement of the public employees union representing the LACCD faculty, they made it clear during the interview that their price for endorsement and associated support via mailers and other publicity that made them effectively “king-makers” in this lightly publicized race for a down-ballot public office, was unalloyed loyalty to their agenda consisting almost exclusively of higher pay and lessened work hours for community college teachers.

    I told the union’s board led by Leon Marzillier that I would listen impartially to representatives of all the stakeholders within the system, including students who faced ever-escalating fees and were negatively impacted by the infrequency with which certain courses integral to their academic and vocational educational endeavors were taught. See my campaign brochure and reply note to 2 students who wrote to me, which is the last item linked just above. Needless to say I didn’t get the faculty union’s endorsement. I later duly complained about this corrupt system in a published op-ed. See here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlcXdHeTZlM0ttSHc/view?usp=sharing . Nothing has changed in the last 23 years (with the significant exception of the advent of social media as a lower-barrier-to-entry online publicity and fundraising tool).

    This dominion of monied- and special interests who fund only pliant sock-puppet pols (who don’t chaff at forfeiting their independence) is to my mind far more responsible for today’s dearth of good men and women in politics (what the host refers to as Jefferson’s “aristocracy of talent and virtue”) than the nuisance of press intrusion into the private lives of candidates and office-holders or the paralyzing fear of same.

    The malicious contempt visited upon candidates and incumbent officials by the First Amendment-protected, arrogant unelected know-it-all and conservative-agenda-driven members of the establishment press can be dealt with by counter-measures, such as those the Clintons employed in 1992 and Donald Trump employs today (“I saw blood coming out of her [Megan Kelly’s] eyes…out of her wherever…”). Trump’s edgy counterpunches are gross and crude yes, but effective, as is Trump’s direct wholesale condemnation of 75% of the mainstream media’s utter dishonesty. Truer words were never spoken! Most of the public fully AGREES with Donald Trump on that score! And I suspect there are very few (if any) past- or current supporters of Sen. Hart who can or would disagree with Trump’s caustic assessment of what he routinely calls “the dishonest media”. On this score anyway, I’m with Trump.

    Why on earth Sen. Hart chose to capitulate to the media locusts and abdicate his likely presidency in May 1987 rather than vehemently counter-attacking them and standing his ground (as he started to do at the outset of his withdrawal speech when he implied that his answer to the consideration he was giving to quitting: the 1988 presidential race and the pursuit of elected office altogether, would be “Hell no!”), is still a mystery 29 years later. CBS News (the network broadcaster of record) chose to memorialize it (as usual unfairly to the host) this past May on its flagship program Sunday Morning. See that segment and my comment thereon here: http://fyre.it/za0SfT.4 . If I must reluctantly say so myself (and certainly no one else will), the content of my Mailgram ( https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlaEpqRTgxNFJzUFU/view ) imploring the host not to end his highly promising candidacy (which I doubt he received in advance) is the real Tragedy Foretold.

    How do we fix our corrupt campaign finance system and remove the “bought and bossed” pols it produces? A big part of the solution lies in enabling large volumes of small donors to support “little Bernie” candidates (for lower offices than the presidency) and thereby enable those candidates to run credible campaigns against neoliberal Democratic and Republican opponents. To date it is not clear that the spectacular success of insurgent presidential candidates (first Howard Dean in 2004, then Bernie in 2015-2016 and now Donald Trump (see here: http://nyti.ms/2aitfw2 ) in raising “yuge” sums from multitudes of small donors, has been- or can be duplicated for worthy candidates for lesser offices. But that is where the hope lies.

    Any and all candidates still funded in the “old school” manner by large numbers of bundled 4-figure donations from members of the traditional 1% donor class are I believe inherently conflicted and should be drummed out of public life. If the host will permit a Jewish citizen married to a Muslim citizen to quote the New Testament (as I’m sure he will) the adage found at Matthew 6:21 applies: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” To paraphrase Lincoln, campaigns must henceforth be funded only by small donations received from the everyday people if government of, by and for the common people is not to perish from America.

    As to Sen. Hart’s other main drift about the Republicans’ need for constructive soul searching, I suspect the host well knows that that is a total non-starter, and that in the event Hillary defeats Trump (something that is highly unlikely in my view contrary to current convention wisdom) the regrouping of the Republican Party will certainly NOT be led by moderate Republicans such as Susan Collins, Pete McCloskey, et al. who are now defecting to Hillary. Rather it is the far right and Ted Cruz in particular (who makes Donald Trump look like Che Guevara by comparison) who are already champing at the bit and can’t wait to say “I told you so…”. Ugh! (In my humble opinion, anyone of conscience considering both the policy orientations of the candidates and the after-effects of this election on both parties depending upon the outcome, would have to conclude that a vote for either Jill Stein or Trump is called-for; but that is a subject beyond the scope here.)

    I do very much like Hart’s snarling lion-like anti-Trump roar because (unlike when this sort of jeremiad comes from the media) it is part of the “politics ain’t beanbag” figurative fisticuffs American pols have engaged in since the founding of our new republic. I still smile when I think of Nixon’s devilishly brilliant barb about Helen Gahagen Douglas: “She’s pink right down to her underwear.” Whatever you think of Nixon, that was a good one! Mondale’s zinger conjured-up by the wretched Bob Beckel which was directed against the host: “Where’s the beef?”, not so much. Mondale (who had never even seen the Wendy’s commercial line Beckel told him to parrot) was desperate to slow Sen. Hart’s rocket-like momentum that had started here: http://nyti.ms/1XbYJ4J and continued apace, soon propelling the host into a 9% lead over President Reagan in the Gallup Poll. See http://nyti.ms/23VAoFr .)

    Btw, if Sen. Hart keeps bellowing at Trump, he shouldn’t be surprised if Trump notices and snarls back. Few who attack Trump escape Trump’s wrath, at least via twitter. Perhaps Sen. Hart should re-activate his twitter account! With his awesome literary skills, he would be very good at it.

    As to the malicious mainstream media’s “lock stock and barrel” partisanship for one candidate over another, as the host alludes, in 2015 they were all-in for Trump. But that was primarily because Hillary and her DNC minions who were determined to undermine Sanders’ insurgent campaign, abandoned the entire political field to the Republican field of presidential candidates for MONTHS in the second half of last year. Trump took over the entire national conversation and hit a gusher of public support (from independents and some Democrats as well as most Republicans). The rest is history.

    Today, ~3 weeks before the traditional start of general election campaigns on Labor Day the mainstream media has way over-corrected and is vilifying Trump as (in sum) the second coming of Attila the Hun (if not Hitler himself). This ad hominem onslaught is ALL poppycock designed to jam non-conservative voters’ thoughtful consideration of the appealing central theme that Trump is sounding, which is essentially the same patriotic call (but now alas regressive-tinged instead of progressive-tinged) for Americans First solidarity and community that Bruce Springsteen sounded in his 2012 album titled Wrecking Ball: “Wherever this flag is flown, we take care of our own.” On the other hand, Maureen Dowd (who was always fair to the host “back in the day” — I remember seeing her covering his campaign events) has recently candidly pointed out in an important column, that New Yorker (and ex-Democrat) Donald Trump is not the real Republican in the race. Hillary Clinton is! See http://nyti.ms/2aJWSq5 .

    Finally, there appears to be something new in the host’s language and tone recently that if I’m not mistaken (and I may be) may — may — signal a readiness at long last on his part in his senior years to re-enter the political arena himself (at some level anyway). If he were to do so, this most august member of “the silent generation” will (in the event he attempts a political comeback in his early 80s) need to amplify his voice through (“I’m Gary Hart and I approve this message”) political ads in due course.

    In that connection I would be remiss in urging Sen. Hart NOT to make the same mistake that Howard Dean and Bernie Sanders did 12 years apart — namely getting rolled financially by slick Democratic campaign consultants who charged these estimable candidates unconscionable sums for the creation and running of campaign ads, fees based on a wholly inappropriate commercial advertising industry practice that calls for compensation to ad agencies based on a percentage of the cost of placing and running the ads. See my op-ed here: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/15/bernie-sanders-unconscionable-compensation-to-consultants-for-ad-buys/ . Perhaps it will resonate with the host’s sensible midwestern frugal ways.

Leave a Reply

All comments are reviewed by a moderator prior to approval and are subject to the UCD blog use policy.