A Hinge of History

Author: Gary Hart

There has been an assumption that once Donald Trump leaves office, American politics will return to its traditional patterns.  There is an increasing likelihood, however, that he is disrupting standard political norms and practices for years to come if not permanently.

The probability increases daily that American politics is in the midst of historical, irreversible changes.  Patterns are emerging in the Trump era that reflect little if any similarity to anything previously experienced in the nation’s history.  These include ideological restructuring of the judicial system, denigration of the role of the free press, concentration of greater power in the executive branch and shrinking the role of the legislative branch, rejection of America’s role as leader of the democratic world, alignment of American politics with nationalistic movements elsewhere, rejection of science and facts, and steady presidential reliance on falsehoods.

The strongest evidence for the assertion that all this and more is establishing a permanent pattern is this administration’s ability to trample on tradition, custom, and established practice and get away with it.  A clear pattern of behavior has emerged for a long enough time that it is a fundamental altering of the American character and not merely the antics of a foolish and misguided executive.

For the first time in a long lifetime, little attention is given to our history, no obligation is felt to heed the lessons of former leaders, leaders read no books, ignorance has become our standard, critical public offices are left vacant, childish rants have replaced thoughtful dialogue, democratic allies are demeaned and tyrants praised.

The nation is divided between two cultures, one blue and one red.  The red culture rewards the president’s behavior at every turn and encourages even greater excesses and aberrations.  The blue culture fails to produce statesmen of stature and is increasingly represented by public figures drawn into the vortex of vulgarity.

The era of Trump witnesses the destruction of the traditional Republican party and the isolation of the Democratic party into coastal red enclaves with little opportunity for expansion.  What we are witnessing is not merely a recurring cycle in American politics.  We are witnessing a fundamental altering of traditional structures, ideologies, and norms into forms unfamiliar in our history.

There have been recurring cycles in American political history and reemergence of the paranoid style in American politics.  Absent serious depression or war, however, the current dismantling of reasonably stable traditional structures is assuming the caste of permanence.

The era of Trump is undertaking a wholesale restructuring of the executive branch of government that will make its ultimate dismantling and shrinkage easier.  Being repealed by executive order are not simply regulations and practices constructed by the previous president but by presidents of both parties over many decades.

The president’s party in Congress shifted massive wealth upward to the already unseemly wealthy, and resistance was slight and momentary.  It will be a long time, if ever, that a fair tax code is reenacted.  Reorganization of government is to be the smokescreen behind which a system of public assistance to those in need will be dismantled.  If so, it will take decades to put it back together if that can ever be done.  Care for the needy is the very center of civility.

Already programs for alternative energy, climate protection, public education, expanded health care, and nature preservation are being dismantled.  The dream of conservatives to eliminate social assistance since the age of Franklin Roosevelt is now underway.  Soon the national government’s role will be defense and reallocation of wealth upward.

And the good times roll on.  The era of Trump seems permanently buoyed by an expanding economy, one that had already substantially recovered from its 2008 market deregulation disaster well before the era of Trump began.  As uneven and unfair as it is, a strong market is preferable to its alternative, even if it raises mostly the gilded yachts.  Few will be successful in challenging the Trump deconstruction of American politics during this rising tide.

The emerging new political order will be one of vulgarity, American against American, false information, propaganda replacing debate, smallness of stature, diplomacy by assault, every man for himself and devil take the hindmost.

What are we leaving our children and future generations?  In a word, a different country than the one we inherited.  It will be more callous and less caring, a meaner, cut-throat, take-no-prisoners politics, political power in the hands of money thanks to Citizens United, scorn poured on idealism, red and blue ideological media, politics in the hands of the children of Trump, symbolically if not literally, crude, boastful, tasteless rhetoric, American leaders embarrassed and embarrassing on the world stage, and little if any sense of the greatness of our history.

If we have entered another dimension in American politics, even semi-permanently, who among the next generation and beyond will seek public office, to face the demagoguery of political opponents and the media as well, to constantly beg for money, to risk character assassination at every turn, to rely on media advisors and “strategists” for a message benign enough not to offend anyone but not visionary enough to excite anyone either.

If economic growth, or the appearance of it, is sufficient to enable the destructive Trump era for a few more years, we will be well enough down the road of deconstruction of political life as we have known it.  It will have changed unalterably.  Those who might welcome that outcome have no idea of what they are inviting.  All current indications suggest it will not be pretty.

Every hour and every day the seeds of a different country are being sown.

It is not too late to stop this runaway political train whose ultimate destination is yet to be known.  It will take statesmen and women who care deeply about our country.  It will take parents who care about their children’s public legacy.  It will take genuine American patriots who know our country is great already and must preserve, not destroy, what made it great.

In a mass democracy such as ours. there are no magic wands to turn the entire political process around.  It takes articulate candidates who know history and who understand the complex issues we face.  It requires civility, the ability to communicate in language everyday Americans can understand.  It means spending time organizing, first local neighborhoods, then communities, then whole States, then the country.  It requires restraint from hostility to those who disagree.  Most of all, it requires moral authority, the strength of leaders and followers to follow their consciences, to do what is right, to stand for the nation’s best principles, to exercise passive resistance and peaceful protest against that which is wrong.

These are the practices methods that finally brought civil rights, ended the war in Vietnam, let to women’s rights, and encouraged the environmental movement.

After a lifetime as a reformer, this is not an argument against changing political structures and policies to address new realities.  It is an argument against willful trashing of national ideals, principles, agreements, equity, fairness, and justice to serve the undemocratic interests of nationalism, racism, bigotry, and concentrated wealth.

Great nations have a soul.  That soul can be lost or destroyed.  We have entered an era where America’s soul is in the balance.  Language is losing its meaning.  Truth is squandered every day.  Conscious efforts are being made to drive permanent wedges between segments of our society, to turn Americans against Americans.  For what purpose, we are not told.

Consider an American politics without a conscience or a moral center.  Consider our politics without mutual respect, empathy, or common decency.  Consider leaders chosen for their rudeness, deceitfulness, and vulgarity.

We have a sacred trust.  We are stewards of the values of truth and justice.  We have a solemn duty to preserve these values for those who will follow.  If we fail, America fails.

12 Responses to “A Hinge of History”

  1. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    I really do not know what to say but do realise it must be said. This site has a its core a man and a message that makes me ever aware of why as an Englishman who married someone of American origin, I feel as close to that country as ever, was before I met her, shall be forever.

    Senator Gary Hart you are one of the thinkers who make me think of ways my thinking , efforts, involvement, in culture, politics, humanity, can unite our countries and heal them both and those in them and elsewhere.

    I want at the age you were when you did not and had not become the Presidential candidate, to serve, to help, to commit to the task at hand.

    Many or few of us, those who are not on the right , but nor on the far left populist alternative, we , those who are inspired by the politics espoused here, and that tradition we call Liberal, classical, social, and Democratic,who are not impressed by extremes we find anywhere, or extremists we see everywhere, we are ready and able and wanting to prevent the doomsday scenario at worst, the complacency alternative, at best, we must unite.

  2. JD Kinnick Says:

    Considering the recent successes of “Socialists” in the Democratic party – I have to wonder aloud how far left will the DNC drift? I proudly supported Sen. Hart in 1984 & 1988. The party of Hart, Scoop Jackson, Church, Bayh, Muskie, HHH, and other statesman has been replaced by one that prefers “open borders” and a”you didn’t build that” mentality of resentment toward those who are successful. Both parties need to work on their civility.

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    JD Kinnock,

    It never ceases to amaze me how “you didn’t build that” as been so completely misconstrued to mean a mentality of resentment toward those who are successful. Or that Democrats prefer “open borders”.

    If Democrats are going to win elections, then they are going to have to figure out how to communicate to people.

  4. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    JD is correct, Gary Hart seems to know we are both right, even as we are not right wing! The reverse, farther left is as likely to produce hot air, steam and fiery argument, though nothing of decency, policy and civility.

    My country has a leader of the opposition more at home with Castro supporters than those of Kennedy !

  5. Neil McCarthy Says:

    Both parties do not need to work on civility. That is a classic example of false equivalence. No Democrat running for president or any other office has called Mexicans rapists, woman numbers, or opponents crooked or “liddle” or “low energy” or a host of other puerile taunts Trump launched. No Democrat has undermined NATO or the European allies. No Democrat has called for the imprisoning of children whose parents file asylum petitions. The notion that Democrats are for open borders is a total canard; the Obama Administration enforced the immigration laws more rigorously than any prior administration. The current call to “abolish ICE” is not (unlike the GOP demand that Obamacare be repealed) a call that nothing replace it or that borders be “open”. That is all part of the lie Trump and his enablers tell.

    The notion that the Democratic party is drfting so far left is also off the rails. On the one hand, over the course of the last thirty to forty years, the Republican Party has literally become a full on right wing party. The far right GOP then defines any Democratic alternative as leftist. Neither Clinton nor Obama were leftists (or even 1960s and 1970s liberals).

    On the other, those who call themselves “socialists” would not be recognized by the folks who created that ideology — people like Proudhon or Owen or Marx. This is Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez on what she means by the term — “The definition of DFemocratic Socialism to me . . . is . . . that in a modern. moral and wealthy society, no American should be too poor to live.” For her, that means Medicare for all, a federal jobs program, and public financing of elections. It does not mean state ownership of the means of production. In sum, this is just an updated version of the New Deal.

    Democrats should stop fighting with themselves. The difference between Ocasio-Cortez in NYC and Mikie Sherrill (a woman, veteran, ex-Ass’t US Atty and ostensibly establishment Democrat running in an open district in NJ now represented by a Republican) on issues is negligible to the point of non-existent. The Republicans will pretend otherwise but Democrats should not help them out.

  6. Gary Hart Says:

    Cogent comments all around, as usual. It was an honor to serve with those Democratic Senators JD singles out, and quit a number more such as Mike Mansfield. But there were in those days great moderate Republicans such as Javits, Mathias, Percy, Case, and others who were purged from the ranks as that party turned sharp right. The day will come when the Democratic party will put forward a creative and inclusive economic blueprint, an alliance based foreign policy for the 21st century, and a military reform program to address new threats. All this based on its ancient principles of fairness, justice, and equality. Then politics can begin to turn a positive corner. Gary

  7. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Neil up in the sky lalaland is common on the left and harmless, there is a nasty left, not common in the Democratic party as you are correct they are what we in Europe call social liberals or social democrats. Those Democrats bandyng the word socialist need to get with it, that ideology is as discredited and outdated as jargon as is the wretched phrase, neoliberalism!!!

    Senator Hart the Republicans are the party way before any of us, who had La Guardia , Wilkie, and in your era, Lindsey,Rockerfeller, another world!!!!!!

  8. Neil McCarthy Says:

    Lorenzo:

    I suppose if words have fixed meanings, you are correct about “socialist”. But if Trump has proven enything on this side of the pond, there is a certain Alice in Wonderland character to our use of language; with him,”real” news is “fake” news and “lies” are “truthful hyperbole”.

    So, I am not too worried about the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes who do the organizing and win their elections being a little historically sloppy with their terms. And more importantly, the young millenial voters who she got to the polls (in an off-year primary during the first week in June no less, but more about how our stupid election laws and schedules actually depress turnout and faciliate right wing government later) don’t care. They barely remember the 1990s and could care less about pre-1989 fights with Socialists and Communists.

    I’m not saying I would do the same thing were I running (in fact, I did run– twice — and did not say anything approaching that; indeed, because “liberal” was anathema back then, I avoided that term too). But I am also not going to get too exercised by the less cautious and very courageous types like Ocasio-Cortez, who, in my mind, could well save the republic.

  9. Jack DuVall Says:

    Senator Hart’s presidential campaign in 1984 was an opportunity to revive practical idealism and imaginative leadership in the White House in an era of American politics that was perhaps not quite as glittering as it seems in the rear-view mirror. Instead, the system of entrenched party interests endured. Trump, who won a minority of voters in 2016, has sowed a new crop of power-seekers who’ve gone much further. They’re subordinating many of our values to their control of government. Senator Hart is right to issue his warning about the discontinuities ahead if nothing is done to brake the present train of events.

    I believe that ultimately we will reignite the struggle for equal rights and true democracy, not only here but throughout the world. But make no mistake about it: Whether we fulfill our duty as citizens of this country, for which we are historically responsible, and whether we reinforce the consent of the people as the true arbiter of our nation’s goals, are questions that are now at stake more clearly than perhaps at any time in the last century and a half.

  10. Paul G Says:

    “UNHINGED” FROM OUR REPUBLIC: DO WE EVEN KNOW WE HAVE ONE?

    “You have a republic, if you can keep it.”

    – Benjamin Franklin, 81, responding to a citizen, September 17, 1787

    MILLENIALS FEAR FREEDOM (229 YEARS AFTER US CONSTITUTION ENACTED) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/14/opinion/sunday/millennials-freedom-fear.html

    “A HINGE OF HISTORY” EXCERPTS SHOW WHY OUR EVER-HUMBLE HOST SHOULD BE A FRONTRUNNER FOR A LIFETIME JFK PROFILE IN COURAGE AWARD AS THE FIRST MAJOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE TO WIN 25 STATES WHILE PROPOSING VISIONARY IDEAS BUT ALSO REFUSING ALL PAC MONEY:

    “Great nations have a soul. That soul can be lost or destroyed. We have entered an era where America’s soul is in the balance … What are we leaving our children and future generations? In a word, a different country than the one we inherited … more callous and less caring … political power in the hands of money …massive wealth upward (tax cut) to the already unseemly wealthy … For the first time in a long lifetime, little attention is given to our history, no obligation is felt to heed the lessons of former leaders, leaders read no books, ignorance has become our standard … democratic allies are demeaned and tyrants praised …scorn poured on idealism, red and blue ideological media …

    If we have entered another dimension in American politics, even semi-permanently, who among the next generation and beyond will seek public office, to face the demagoguery of political opponents and the media as well, to constantly beg for money, to risk character assassination at every turn, to rely on media advisors and “strategists” for a message benign enough not to offend anyone but not visionary enough to excite anyone either …

    In a mass democracy such as ours. there are no magic wands to turn the entire political process around. It takes articulate candidates who know history and who understand the complex issues we face. It requires civility, the ability to communicate in language everyday Americans can understand. It means spending time organizing, first local neighborhoods, then communities, then whole States, then the country. It requires restraint from hostility to those who disagree.

    Most of all, it requires moral authority, the strength of leaders and followers to follow their consciences, to do what is right, to stand for the nation’s best principles, to exercise passive resistance and peaceful protest against that which is wrong. These are the practices methods that finally brought civil rights, ended the war in Vietnam, let to women’s rights, and encouraged the environmental movement.”

    Though unheralded by breaking-news-gossip-media-for-profit messengers, Gary Hart’s lifetime of proven humanity and principled dedication to our liberty and security echoes the inspired wisdom of Jefferson and Franklin that We The People need if we are to have any rational hope of overcoming our fears and restoring our republic.

  11. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Neil talks real sense and Paul G adds to the voice of our host to inspire me to want to do more in the the US side of my interest and involvement politically as well as culturally.

  12. Tyler Healey Says:

    “We are being tested as we have never been tested before, and if we fail, we fail not only ourselves, but we fail the cause of freedom.”

    Senator John F. Kennedy; Remarks at University of Illinois; October 24, 1960

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