Post-Rational Politics

Author: Gary Hart

It seems very possible, if not probable, that Trumpism will not disappear with Trump.  He did not create the “base” that supports him.  With the help of some clever advisors, he discovered it and captured it…right out from under the nose of the Republican Party.

Too many smart commentators and would be pundits are assuming a Trump loss will magically disappear the “base”.  I don’t think so.

Consider whether what Trump discovered (but did not create) was a new politics that may, or may not, be peculiar to America.

Let’s call this new politics “post-rational”.

America’s Founders were products of the largely Scottish and English Enlightenment that put science and facts before mediation by monarchy and church.  They presumed that, with access to education and information, including contested information, men and women were rational creatures who would reach proper conclusions in both self-interest and societal interest.

With several notable exceptions, largely detailed in the well-known Hofstadter book, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, we have generally adopted this Jefferson/Madison/Hamilton assumption.  We are rational people who know the truth when we see and hear it and find it in our collective interest to follow it and the leaders who uphold it.

But then several things happened.  Assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, CIA plots, Cold War secrecy, conspiracies real and assumed, and much else.  The confidence by the people in their government gradually, then massively, was eroded.

If you cannot trust the people you elect, then who can you trust?

Nobody, said the Fox network starting in the late 1980s.  Don’t trust any of them.  Your government is a swamp of self-interest and routine corruption (the “revolving door”), and there was increasing evidence to support this.

And, by the way, don’t trust the press and media.  They are covering up, or ignoring, wrong-doing and not telling the truth.  What they are giving you is “fake news.”

Even for small town and rural conservatives, don’t trust the Republican Party.  It’s run by self-serving career politicians doing what Wall Street and big wealth tells them to do.  Trump didn’t take over the Republican Party; he replaced it with the “base” eager to reject ambitious political leaders trying to be president in 2016 simply by ridiculing them and calling them names.  No position papers, no agenda, no thought, no rational arguments.  Just name calling.  And he moved on to do the same thing to Hillary Clinton.

Overwhelmingly, the “base”, systematically misinformed by Fox News, formed a closed social and political system in which facts were irrelevant, “trust me not your lying eyes” was the watchword, and an alternative universe was created.

America is now divided into two separate universes, one the remnant of the rational Enlightenment and the other a closed system impervious to facts, documentable information, perceivable truth, and one almost completely dominated by conspiracy.

There is no virus.  Anthony Fauci is perpetuating a myth to get rich and hurt Trump.  Putin or anyone else is welcome to surreptitious participation in our elections so long as it helps Trump.  Climate change is also a myth.  Our government is really run by a “deep state.”

Donald Trump is welcome to say whatever comes into his mind so long as it helps him and hurts the hated liberals.

Evidence that all this is fantasy and will pass on when Donald Trump does is welcome.

I fear we are teetering on the edge of a precipice with 50 million of our fellow citizens on one side and the rest of us on the other.


25 Responses to “Post-Rational Politics”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    America will most decidedly fall into the precipice if it doesn’t try to turn the ship of state around and soon.

    Of course, it won’t turn on a dime and there may always be Trumpism, in one form or another. But, I think change is comin’ …


    our senator has it right, but in the countries like America, a minority is fallen victim to this mind set, in other countries, it is vast sections, behind demagoguery, Hungary, Russia, Brazil.

    In the UK we do demagoguery with lightweight comic demagogues and a sense of humour, ie Bojo the clow…!

    We need to remember, as my father did, some countries elect worse, my father was in the Mussolini youth, he was forced to be in it and saluted the Duce in person, then helped the partisans!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    My view is sense can prevail. If it did in Italy, why not in the US?!

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Lorenzo, we cockeyed optimists must stick together!

  4. John Dedie Says:

    Trumpism won’t disappear. Neither did Goldwaterism, Reaganism, 1960’s radicals. They just go dark until they find a new leader.

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Yes, John. They just need to be properly managed in a sustained fashion.

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    So that no one leader can ever bring them to light, again.


    That is so true of any who could describe thus, and you cannot know how true, for I had a wonderful encounter with the late great Mary Martin, the star of Broadway and the West End, first to sing the song you refer to, in the show written for her, South Pacific a decade and a half before I was born. I wrote to her as a youth in London, visited her at her hotel, and have a gift of a book she presented to me, a very wonderful Texan woman!


    Elizabeth thanks for that, and continuing from there, keep informing us or encouraging us with your positive Bidenspeak!

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Bidenspeak. I love it, ad Bidenitum!

    Take care, Lorenzo, and all friends here …

  10. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Speaking of slogans …

    Biden/Whoever 2020 … from my other favourite blog.

    Or, from Team Biden, simply,

    Biden/Whoever 2020

    Who says we don’t need slogans! 🙂

  11. Michael Says:

    Trump’s base was created over 50 years beginning with Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Constant ‘us v. those people’ race-baiting over that time created fertile ground for talk radio and Fox News to foment a perpetual state of rage in the media bubble they created. Using and ‘us v. them’ strategy to get people to vote against their own economic interests eventually created a vast frustration in which it was only a matter of time before a con-man demagogue like Trump was able to take control of it all and turn it into a cult. If the sane population simply bothered to vote, which can never be taken for granted in this country, the crazies could be marginalized. The larger question is, what does it all mean for the Republican Party? They are its base voters after all. I cannot imagine a post-Trump political world in which the base simply falls in line and support the likes of Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio or John Kasich. The coming split in the Republican Party could mirror the split in the Democratic Party prior to the Civil War. If the Democrats are bold enough to take full advantage of their position, something else that cannot be taken for granted, it could set the nation on a new course economically and politically, which would have majority support, especially as younger generations solidify their power as the dominant voting bloc. In a logical world, the Republican Party would reform itself to this reality and a new era of consensus politics similar to the one in the 40 years after WWII could be born. Unfortunately, the world isn’t a very logical place at the moment.

  12. H Patrick Pritchard Says:

    Michael, Certainly your observations have great merit, but as stated there are variables to consider i.e. voter turnout and Democrat unity. There is still a core of unstable folks with a penchant for violence to consider and a massive Republican effort at voter suppression to overcome, particularly in battleground states.

  13. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    What an excellent comment. It states the situation/problem in insightful and concise terms, analyzes the possibilities that are available to the various parties, and proposes a logical solution. Thank you for this wonderful piece. I would like to post this on my Facebook page with proper attribution of course, if you will permit me to do so.

  14. Michael Says:

    H Patrick Pritchard, I agree that turnout is key. I think Democrats will be unified; Trump and McConnell will see to that. Voter suppression is always a problem in many areas, and the immediate answer is to overwhelm the suppression tactics with as big a turnout of Democrats as possible. I think we also have to worry about foreign entities hacking into voting machines. Republicans have shown themselves so unconcerned that they seem to be expecting it to work in their favor.

    Stephen Pillow, sure, post it wherever you like.

  15. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    For what it’s worth, there seem to be a lot of so-called Democrats who are having a real hard time getting enthusiastic about Joe Biden. Mostly because they don’t have a clue about who he is. Take that for what it’s worth.

    Just don’t be too surprised if Trump is re-elected. I’m just sayin’ …

  16. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    In other words … time to get on board with Joe – wholeheartedly, no ifs, ands, or buts about it!

  17. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    So, I’ve come across another quintessential Biden slogan, compliments of Tom Friedman’s latest NYTimes column,

    Respect science, respect nature, respect each other. Biden 2020.

    I think it’s a winner!

    Or, Biden/Whoever 2020

    Because, I’ve never put so much faith in a leader’s decision than I do in Biden’s pick for his running mate. It is going to be so nice to not have to worry about one single solitary thing when Biden is POTUS. I’m so, so, so very looking forward to it …

  18. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Happy Canada Day, everyone! Happy Fourth of July, too. 🙂

    Have fun and stay safe. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Ahem.

    I’ll be lounging poolside for the next three days. Except the pool is closed for Pandemic I. 🙁 Hoping the planet gets through this one before the next one is upon us.

    Welcome to another world …


  19. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    The host, a former JFK 1960 presidential campaign volunteer and acolyte—who might himself have been a damn-worthy successor to our noble 35th President—writes of America’s evident repudiation of its founding enlightenment-derived civic creed:
    ”But then several things happened. Assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, CIA plots, Cold War secrecy, conspiracies real and assumed, and much else. The confidence by the people in their government gradually, then massively, was eroded.

    “If you cannot trust the people you elect, then who can you trust?”
    If I may respectfully restate this mother of all passive-voice understatements in the active voice: The public overwhelmingly lacks confidence in government today primarily because:

    1) wealthy campaign contributors primarily finance the campaigns of candidates for elected office, donors who expect- and receive politicians’ allegiance to the execrable status quo in return, and

    2) essentially all government personnel are servants of- and all government entities are uniformly captives of: private and special interests and have no allegiance whatsoever to the public interest.

    As Sen. Hart implies, it wasn’t always thus:

    President Kennedy was our last Chief Executive to have let his conscience and the public interest be his guide. And to have made this ethos and the associated “enforcement of progress” (in leading JFK scholar Donald Gibson’s apt phrase) the hallmarks of his Administration.

    It worked: Throughout his ~1,000 days in office, “President Kennedy was riding high.” Bob Dylan so describes JFK in his recent gripping musical and lyrical masterpiece about the Kennedy assassination titled Murder Most Foul: (Listener discretion is advised: The song will make you verklempt.)

    As Dylan alludes JFK’s approval ratings were always upwards of 70% and on the day he was “shot down like a dog in broad daylight” (in Dylan’s blunt phrase he employs advisedly, not gratuitously) Kennedy was leading his likely 1964 Republican presidential campaign opponent Barry Goldwater in public opinion polls by a 67-27% (!) 40 POINT margin. See .

    The JFK assassination had a profoundly disorienting skewing effect on the character and promise of the 2 generations of Americans that were collectively coming-of-age on that “dark day in Dallas, November ‘63, a day that will live on in infamy” (as Dylan put it in his song’s somber “open”).

    Dylan specifically adverts to the (good, bad and ugly) counter-cultural currents of “the Sixties” (~1964-1974)—eg. Woodstock and Altamont—that today’s “OK boomer” generation reveled-in for years following JFK’s assassination.

    Dylan pointedly (and rather startlingly) calls-out baby-boomers for their (guided?) lapse into frivolous distraction, solipsism and electoral-political apathy in the months, years and decades following the Kennedy assassination.

    Leavening the rebuke somewhat Dylan (rather broadly) hints that these seemingly coincidental developments (from the Beatles to the Aquarian Age) may have been artificially wrought and yet another facet of the conspiracy that took Kennedy’s life and totally eclipsed his leadership ethos from American public consciousness—really never to return (at least not yet).

    A boomer icon Dylan could have used to fortify his point but didn’t is musician David Crosby. In 1967 Crosby had rather courageously used the spotlight of his substitute appearance at the Monterrey Jazz Festival to air the truth about the JFK assassination. In introducing the song “He Was a Friend of Mine” Crosby said of JFK:
    “He was not killed by one man. He was shot from a number of different directions — by different guns. The story has been suppressed, witnesses have been killed, and this is your country.”
    Two years later he was giving his generational peers distinctly different counsel in his song “Long Time Gone:”
    “Speak out, you got to speak out against the madness
    You got to speak your mind, if you dare
    But don’t—no, don’t no—try to get yourself elected
    If you do you had better cut your hair…”
    This is how privileged boomers and their immediate elders, in Dylan’s rather steely view, came to enjoy driving their “long black Cadillac[s]” while the demonic rightest rogues (plural) who murdered JFK—and with him “faith, hope and charity”—had a (long-running celebratory) “party going on behind the grassy knoll.”

    Therein lies the essence of Dylan’s lament (and mine as well): That the self-centered children of JFK’s era lost all touch spiritually with Kennedy’s noble public-interest-minded leadership ethos and never roused themselves to both solve this American crime-of-the-century and (even more importantly) make a concerted effort to suitably REPLACE JFK and his brother RFK who was murdered 4.5 years later. Instead (in sum) they “threw in the towel” in another deft Dylan lyrical-turn-of-phrase.

    True, as Dylan says of the charismatic late President: “It was a hard act to follow, second to none.” But that did not excuse the millions of young adults, youth and children at the time of his presidency from striving to avenge his “murder most foul” by recruiting and elevating leaders of comparable talent and leadership acumen.

    The resultant disappearance of unbought unbossed public interest-minded leaders in the corridors of power in the White House and throughout the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches created a political vacuum that was filled (for the very most part) by rightist fanatics and centrist mediocrities (in both old parties) who are (in sum and virtually to a person) stooges for the oligarchy: Politicians and senior personnel who literally can’t think- or lead their way out of paper bags. And—having never been acolytes of FDR, the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.—they never could.

    Which is—long story omitted of donor-class-dominated Democratic political treachery towards wage-earners and TrumpGOP world-historical con-artistry of the public—exactly how and why we got Trump.

    In the run-up to perhaps the song’s most poignant lines Dylan describes JFK’s gruesome autopsy before informing us:

    “But his soul wasn’t there where it was supposed to be at. For the past 50 years they’ve been searching for that.”

    Whether they’re conscious of it or not, JFK’s public-interest-minded soul is now informing the reviving left-liberal ranks of the Democratic Party. Alas, their attempted leadership is being predictably fiercely resisted by the guardians of the wretched regressive establishmentarian status quo.

    I do not like bearing bad news but it appears we will make little-to-no progress in fixing today’s irrational political economy, culture and discourse in America in 2020. That is simply because we do not yet recognize that the fault for our present plight lies “not in our stars but in ourselves.”

    We boomers and Silent Generation fellow-travelers who failed to take responsibility for avenging the murders most foul of our heroes by resuming their work, have met the enemy. And to slightly tweak cartoonist Walt Kelly’s famous phrase in Pogo: “He and she is us.”

  20. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    Every single time I think I’ve FINALLY gotten the Murders Most Foul out of my system, you come along with a brilliant post like this and I realize I haven’t moved on, at all. Well, it doesn’t consume, anymore but, still …

    How to get back to a place where campaigns don’t have to be financed by beyond wealthy donors and corporations and the only special interest is the American interest.

    I’m guessing now that it will take coming to terms with many festering sins of the past, not to mention present.

    I wish you well with all of it!

  21. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Correction: Despite listening to Dylan’s masterpiece about 3 dozen times (and picking up new shades of meaning virtually every time) I still inadvertently merged Dylan’s references to the 2 highest-echelon vehicles of my youth: One spoken in JFK’s voice and the other in the voice of one of the “12 million” boomer-generation drivers “listening in” to a famous histrionic disc jockey on their car radios. Hopefully not exceeding the letter and spirit of “fair use,” Dylan’s two lyrical phrases I conflated are:
    I’m riding in a long, black Lincoln limousine
    Riding in the backseat next to my wife
    Heading straight on in to the afterlife
    Wolfman Jack, he’s speaking in tongues
    He’s going on and on at the top of his lungs
    Play me a song, Mr. Wolfman Jack
    Play it for me in my long Cadillac
    My sentence then should have read:
    This is how privileged boomers and their immediate elders, in Dylan’s rather steely view, came to enjoy driving their “long Cadillac[s]” while the demonic rightest rogues (plural) who murdered JFK—and with him “faith, hope and charity”—had a (long-running celebratory) “party going on behind the grassy knoll.”

  22. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Just listened to Murder Most Foul.

    Is it foolish to still believe in the promise of America? … she asks, rhetorically. A few months will tell if we can even get there from here.

  23. Paul G Says:

    Eric –

    Brilliant post indeed to our hero’s essay on “Post-Rational Politics.”

    In the 50+ years since the “coincidental” murders of our very human heroes, JFK and RFK, the same evil forces who robbed us then continue to mindlessly mock, humiliate, exile or otherwise bury their principled apostles, including our honorable host.

    But, as GH often posted – with the advent of a calamity – our ideals re-awaken!

  24. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Thank you for your masterful and eloquent comment and post script. My ongoing concern has always been and continues to be in response to the final sentence in Paul’s response to you. “But, as GH often posted – with the advent of a calamity – our ideals re-awaken!” My rejoinder is “Without action, ideals (new or recently reawakened) accomplish nothing.” We had all of JFK’s, RFK’s, and MLK’s ideals, but as Eric and Dylan point out, we DID nothing with them. Hopefully the “progressive” movement within the liberal minded citizens will take and produce the change that should have happened all those years ago. We the boomers have been resting on our glory days and gone quietly to sleep.

  25. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Everything hinges on November 3 – don’t frak it up!

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