Act I flashes back to Reagan’s landslide victory in 1980, as he declares that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Thirty-six years later, his words continue to reverberate. Trust in, and satisfaction with, our government has fallen to all-time lows. The Congress is viewed favorably by only nineteen percent of the country. Who voted for these people?
Donald Trump didn’t get us here. We did it to ourselves. Public confidence in our politics has been tossed on the bonfire by both parties, and for a good, long time. I don’t have to look too hard around my own Party’s house to see the trouble.
Last week, millions of Americans took to the streets to march in protest of the incoming Trump Administration’s proposals (and in many cases, its existence). Some accounts called it the largest national protest march in American history. While this was going on, every major candidate for the Democratic Party Chairmanship went to an aptly-named “retreat,” organized by media-flack/consultant David Brock, to chat up wealthy donors.
The would-be leaders of a Party that crusaded against the Citizens United decision (allowing unlimited campaign spending by independent groups) skipped the people’s march to meet with the monied people. Aspiring champions of women stood millions of them up for a date with a few fat wallets. And they wonder why people don’t believe them.
The electoral college catastrophe that befell the Democrats in 2016 had similar origins. The Sanders campaign repeatedly pointed out that Secretary Clinton espoused Democratic values without practicing them. Profiting off the Clinton Presidency, courting unsavory donors to her foundation, and raking in Wall Street money proved to be fatal handicaps.
Republicans have done their part too. Mitch McConnell updated Reagan with his declaration of principles in 2010, saying: “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” By now we are numb to it, but the idea that a major political party would prioritize its own victory over governing and working with the President the people elected should remain breathtaking.
Having declared the end they had in mind, the means would inevitably be justified. The proffering and toleration of the ridiculous notions that President Obama was not an American, that the country was being overrun by illegal immigrants and, most pertinent today, that the Affordable Care Act and “Obamacare” are two different things, followed easily. The GOP’s willingness to campaign without respect for facts has led us to Act II, the post-factual presidency.
On day five of his Presidency, President Trump’s administration declared that three-to-five million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election. Considering that the election was won by fewer than 100,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, such a level of fraud would be the biggest scandal in the history of US elections. Fortunately, it is not remotely true, and revealingly, the Administration does not intend to investigate this “massive fraud.”
For any Trump die-hards who think it is not a scandal, because Trump won; and of course, the illegal votes would have been against him, remember, we also elected a strongly Republican Congress. We can all probably agree that fraudulent Democratic voters wouldn’t split their tickets.
But the White House press secretary says “the President believes it” and “the President maintains it.” Our country now contemplates a chief executive so reckless that he seeks to delegitimize the process by which he himself was elected. Where does that lead?
But before we can stop to think, President Trump lashes out in what he calls a “war” with the media by arguing that he had the biggest crowd in history at his inauguration. His false claim about his own crowds has been conclusively disproven by indisputable photographic evidence, but he’s sticking with it. If you ask “who cares?” the answer comes back: the President of the United States, apparently.
That Trump chose a memorial to American intelligence agents who gave their lives in the line of duty as the setting for some of his bragging (and in fact, lying) does more than add insult to injury. The serial outrages against facts and decency are acting on us like opioids. The more the administration forces us to swallow, the less effect each dose has. We are being involuntarily conditioned to a government that is not only dishonest, but proudly so.
So there’s the irony: political leadership that had standards of honesty and integrity that were too low outraged the country and yielded . . . political leadership with no standards at all. The norms that Republicans and Democrats of the past merely eroded with what you might call garden-variety corruption, have been blasted to smithereens by a new administration which waves its hypocrisy like a battle flag and awards medals for sophistry in its defense.
We await Act III, which I hope will be the most familiar part of the story. The Republicans declared that holding power was “the single-most important thing,” and their new emperor has led them to the power they desired. But many of them seem to see that he has no clothes. But they loyally admire him, applaud his processions, and carry his train. Otherwise, he might call them unfit for their office, or perhaps worse: “incorrigibly stupid.”
I shouldn’t spoil the ending.