Aberration or New Reality

Author: Gary Hart

Though it is far too early to consider whether America’s current political circumstance is an aberration or a new reality, it is instructive to contemplate both alternatives.

Aberration: the Trumpian era, whether four or eight years long, is a frolic and a detour, signifying nothing historic except the result of accumulated anger by a significant number of Americans at immigration, globalization, the seismic shift of our economic base from manufacturing to information, a cultural revolution, and perhaps most of all the widening gap between the urban elites of wealth, education, and power and virtually everyone else including a stagnant and eroding middle class.

As with populist eras in our past, this one will run its course when a dispossessed generation has shuffled of this mortal coil, technology creates even more new economic opportunities for the successor generation, the middle class stabilizes and recovers, and optimism regarding the future returns.

Central to the restoration of relative normality will be an age of political reform such as replaced the populism of the late 19th century and introduced an era of good government and citizen participation.  The corruption of our national government by a widening plague of special interests, legitimized by the one of the most unconscionable Supreme Court decisions in American history, and the revolving door available to lobbyists and elected and appointed officials is a powerful reason for our public discontent.

The corruption of the Republic, more than any other single factor, opened the door to the Trumpian era, an era that will not end so long as citizen distrust of government continues to be so wide-spread.  We cannot restore our Republic from the Trumpian era so long as we are adrift on a sea of corruption.

New reality: the Trumpian era represents a permanent departure by the United States from 240 years of democratic government which, though occasionally stumbling, was based on reasonable compromise between two dominant parties, an expanding economy based on manufacturing and industry, and an increasingly willingness to play a statesmanlike role in guaranteeing relative global stability.

The new realities are the election to power of those with little if any diplomatic experience, with only casual observation of governing practices recognizing experience in public life, with disdain for traditional decorum and maturity, with delight in constant turmoil domestically and internationally, with little regard for the opinions of mankind concerning American behavior, and an adolescent glee in perpetual chaos.

This America stretching years and decades into the future is fundamentally a different nation than it has been for well over two centuries.

But if the gap in wealth continues to grow, if walls are built on our borders, if education is privatized and health care unaffordable, if other nations fill the gaps in leadership we are creating, if ice caps melt and sea levels rise, won’t the American people at least restore a legislative branch willing to stop this destructive departure from sound and sensible government.

This corrective works if and only if there remain men and women of statesmanlike stature willing to enter public service.  The most serious consequence of the Trumpian era of new destructive realities is the denigration of public service as a noble calling, especially for young people.  As recently argued, bad politics drives out good politics.

Despite having one Party control all three branches of government, we now have elected officials afraid to hold town meetings, unable to fashion major legislation a majority will accept, cowed into submission by the partisan media megaphone, and afraid of their own constituents.

When was the last time a national leader told us to ask what we could do for our country.

If we have entered an era where the President conducts the public business like a game show host, where he refuses to separate the national agenda from his private business, where he encourages the intervention of a hostile foreign power against his political opponents, and where he claims entitlement to his own set of facts, and if that era becomes the new reality, then the America of tomorrow is no longer the America of history.

5 Responses to “Aberration or New Reality”

  1. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Your closing is a fear inducing thought and hopefully will not happen, but…
    “If we have entered an era where the President conducts the public business like a game show host, where he refuses to separate the national agenda from his private business, where he encourages the intervention of a hostile foreign power against his political opponents, and where he claims entitlement to his own set of facts, and if that era becomes the new reality, then the America of tomorrow is no longer the America of history.”

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>>Central to the restoration of relative normality will be an age of political reform such as replaced the populism of the late 19th century and introduced an era of good government and citizen participation.

    This seems key.

    But, the question is what is meant by political reform.

    My definition begins with a Democratic party that finally takes its role seriously and demonstrates that it actually knows what good governance is and how to encourage citizen participation through the apparent lost art of persuasion.

    If the last six months is any indication of the extent of what Democrats are capable of in this regard, then I fear it’s time to start getting used to the new reality and to a new idea of America.

  3. Paul G Says:

    “If the gap in wealth continues to grow, if walls are built on our borders, if education is privatized and health care unaffordable, if other nations fill the gaps in leadership we are creating, if ice caps melt and sea levels rise, won’t the American people at least restore a legislative branch willing to stop this destructive departure from sound and sensible government?

    This corrective works if and only if there remain men and women of statesmanlike stature willing to enter public service. The most serious consequence of the Trumpian era of new destructive realities is the denigration of public service as a noble calling, especially for young people.”

    – Gary Hart

    “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor,
    it cannot save the few who are rich.”

    – John F. Kennedy

    “Virtues are lost in self-interest as rivers are lost in the sea.”

    – Franklin D. Roosevelt

    “It has been my experience that people who have no vices
    have very few virtues.”

    – Abraham Lincoln

    Perfectly qualified – by a proven lifetime of prescient accomplishments in public service and private business all the while dedicated to the restoration of our republic – still, our honorable host remains virtually imperfect in enemies’ eyes.

    Such is the way of a bullying tabloid world of hypocritically outrageous standards.
    But for the rest of us who see ourselves as equally dedicated to the restoration of our republic and impressed with such a lifetime of accomplishments, we are fools if we also believe only a “perfect” human being can help us restore our republic.

    A litany of best policy wishes for our nation is no substitute for a philosophy of sound and sensible government led by a dedicated, heroic visionary statesman like Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, or JFK. But would either be “perfect enough” today?

    Young people, especially civic-minded students of history and government in great US cities such as Boston need direct reminding that our best leaders were not “perfect” as human beings, but they were each loyal to the same one master: We The People.

    It is a tragic measure of our increasingly destructive tabloid media, that “fake news,” especially over the last 30 years, has deceptively and systematically disconnected some of our best leaders from the rest of us; their natural followers.

    But we have the ‘perfect’ antidote … “the poor man’s television:” the internet and – if used without bullying / stooping to conquer – the truth will out and our educated citizenry will slowly but surely right our ship of state to restore our republic!

    As a less-than-perfect founder of our republic once wrote, and our honorable host and age-less traveling educator/diplomat/thinker/statesman eloquently restates today:

    “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free,
    it expects what never was and never will be”

    – Thomas Jefferson

  4. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Ms. Miller expresses many of my concerns regarding the future actions of the Democratic party and whether or not it is capable of doing what is needed during the current crisis. I am convinced that the current leadership of both the Democratic party and the Democratic representatives and senators in Congress are able to remove themselves from hindering this new need, but will continue to cling to their current positions and attitudes and drag the party further into the depths from which the party shall never return.

  5. Eric Jacobson Says:

    Sen. Hart frames an important question: Whether Trumpism is a departure “from the America of history.” But the “America of history” in my almost 63 year lifetime is NOT the congenial place Hart sketches and alleges is currently being disrupted politically by uncouth arrivistes. Rather it is a nation dominated by (and in desperate need of a solution to) the “arch-conservative problem” it has had since at least the mid-1950s when far-right plutocrats started their socio-economic-political-cultural-judicial jihad against truth, justice and the American Way. See generally Duke history professor Nancy MacLean’s new book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America: https://scholars.duke.edu/display/pub1254590

    Whether and to what degree (if any) Trump extricates the nation from the clutches of conservative rightist elites who own, run and rule America will determine his political destiny and place in history. So far, so…bad.

    For a variety of reasons, at the top of my list of books to read this summer was Seven Days in May, by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Baily II. Written in 1961-62, it is a (highly plausible) fictional account of a planned American military coup d’etat set in the early 1970s at a time when a then Democratic U.S. president (named Lyman) had pushed through the Senate a nuclear arms control agreement with the Soviet Union that was opposed by arch-conservatives in the Pentagon, Congress and civil society.

    The coup’s author is the incumbent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (named Scott) who resembles Curtis LeMay. The leading Congressional treaty opponent (and one of the coup plotters) is a Senator from California (named Prentice) who seems to be based on Ronald Reagan, a former Democrat turned arch-conservative ideological pitchman. In civil society the leading treaty opponent (and another coup plotter) is a television network news commentator (named MacPherson) who has fringe rightist views, a character who is a forerunner of today’s bloviating rightist tv rogues such as Bill O’Reilly. Spoiler alert:

    The coup plot is discovered initially by a patriotic aide to Scott (named Casey) who notices something is amiss and informs the president. The engrossing twists-and-turns over 7 days are worthy of a spy novel and render the characters in this masculine and alcohol-and-tobacco-saturated era (think Mad Men) with real-time verisimilitude. At President Kennedy’s urging Hollywood made a feature film based on the book with an all-star cast, one I’ve not seen but the trailer for which suggests that it treats the material as a form of “pulp fiction” and may not really do justice to the quite good book (especially for one written by journalists not novelists): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsMuK_Sos58 . See also Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRiZtqVPJ9U .

    In the book the Republic is preserved and the cautionary tale ends with a Fourth of July type soliloquy by the incumbent president at the conclusion of a press conference. That was back when journalists were RESPECTFUL of presidents and presidential candidates, as they are supposed to be: Eg. look at how respectfully and cooperatively Huntley and Brinkley treated JFK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_PItl4Bk7M . (Also note JFK’s deft grasp of issues even though he was relentlessly centrist and rather indifferent to what Michael Harrington called during those years “the other America”.)

    Alas, between the book’s 1962 publication and the film’s 1964 debut the real incumbent president, JFK, who had in fact pushed through the U.S. Senate the first nuclear arms control agreements (re production and testing) with the USSR, was assassinated and his alleged killer (who had pronounced himself “just a patsy” on camera before news reporters) was himself rubbed-out gang-land style while handcuffed and being escorted inside a Dallas police department garage. The official story (the Warren Commission) wasn’t credible or believed by the American people, giving rise to the suspicion that not only could it (an “inside job” coup d’etat) “happen here” but did (albeit through direct liquidation of the elected president not his kidnapping and displacement by a military leader as the book’s plot had it).

    What is important is that ever since 1963, except for token periods, American governance has been dominated by arch-conservatives. The problem this presents is that arch-conservatism — then, now and at all times in-between — has never been the creed of anything near a majority of Americans. Yet somehow every political initiative taken by the non-conservatives as a whole to “take back America” has failed to do so. Jimmy Carter’s failed presidency was one such effort.

    Albeit I’m biased (having devoted years of my life and considerable funds and opportunity costs to the cause) but to my mind the most important political initiative non-conservative Americans as a whole have taken since 1963 to fight the rightist takeover of the United States was Senator Hart’s presidential campaigns in the 1980s. See my comment on The Frontrunner, the upcoming film about Sen. Hart here: https://www.facebook.com/ECJLA/posts/1358263670877912 .

    Alas those high hopes and “ambitions eager to be tried” ( https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlVVh2OFRZcnlJOHM/view?usp=sharing ) ended very badly: Over “seven days in May” 1987 Hart and his non-conservative supporters’ intended electoral political war with arch-conservative Republicans got absurdly transmuted into a personal “flame war” between arrogant big-shot journalists “working for the man” (the arch-conservative establishment) and Hart himself. Hart (ruinously) declined to treat the media as the vicious conservative partisans they were and abandoned the 1988 presidential race. These historic acts of folly began today’s era where presidents CORRECTLY regard mainstream journalistic detractors (think Trump vs. Morning Joe) as brutal cage-match opponents.

    Compare https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/politics/policamp/demo88.htm (the last honest good-faith published account about Sen. Hart and his supporters) with the coverage of Hart after the coup which suddenly vaporized his identity, reputation and political career. For Hart and his idealistic supporters “what might have been” never was, to the great detriment of themselves, the nation and the world.

    In the ensuing 30 years Goldwater-Reagan arch-conservatism has been largely institutionalized by the establishments of both old parties against the wishes of the clear majority of the electorate. The rightist campaign Prof. MacLean chronicles continued apace.

    Looking ahead, it appears that non-conservatives will have trouble regrouping by 2020. One wing of non-conservatives (neoliberals) has joined forces with Republican arch-conservatives while keeping a nominal separate political identity. These forces continue to run the Democratic Party and eg. stole the 2016 nomination from staunch liberal Bernie Sanders via super-delegates and worse rigging during the primary and caucus season.

    Bernie Sanders and his movement may have the mojo to win both the nomination and general election in 2020. But the precedent of George McGovern’s 1972 left-liberal general election campaign is not an auspicious one.

    Sen. Hart, the one political figure who might — might — be able to unify and lead all non-conservative Americans and defeat Trump, is cautious and humble to a fault, possibly STILL unwilling to counter-attack the conservative miscreant mainstream media with the utter contempt and sustained Trumpian fury they richly deserve (which Hart and his team would have to do if Hart expected to survive the avalanche of vicious fake news stories that would greet him if he were to run again as an avatar of real social change) and Sen. Hart may regard himself as having aged-out of presidential contention.

    On the other hand, Hart is the Leonard Cohen of veteran Democrats: “born with the gift of a golden voice” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiAuXRK3Ogk ) as a listen to any of Hart’s public speeches will attest, and Hart’s slightly junior peers Jerry Brown and Joe Biden, as well as the slightly-younger-still Sanders, are making noises about running in 2020. So a crowded geriatric Democratic presidential primary might be “just the ticket”; that is: produce a viable ticket capable of defeating Trump-Pence and deserving to win.

    In 1841, after about 5 decades of zealous party-based partisan political competition and self-government, the poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson keenly observed that alternations between conservatism and innovation (liberalism) are an integral part of the American experience:

    “…[N]ow one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities.”

    All I really know is that in America it will ever be thus.

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