I had a dear friend who died way too young of alcoholism. Actually, he fell down a flight of stairs and ruptured his spleen, but was so weak because of a decades-long diet of Rolling Rock beer that he never recovered. I've wondered for many years about when my friend "turned the corner." That is, when was the moment he stopped being a smart and sociable guy with a steel-trap mind and a story for every occasion and became a menace to himself. I've wondered the same thing lately about Donald Trump. When did he stop being a smart and sociable guy with a steel-trap mind and a story for every occasion, turned that invisible corner and became a menace to us?
In Trump's case, the corner-turning question is easily answered, but only if you look through the so-called wrong end of the telescope. What I mean is that Trump didn't turn any corners. He's been the same pretty boy with megalomaniacal tendencies as he made millions and then billions with a trademark insouciance about everyone and everything not having to do with feeding his ego, who flirted with running for president and then dove into the deep end of the pool despite having not one iota of real-world political experience. Who changed is us, people who have wakened to the possibility . . . no, make that the horror, that Trump is capable of winning the Republican nomination.
Am I -- or we, because a lot of people share my view -- being hysterical? After all, Trump is so bloody frightening not just because he prattles on about 1,000-mile long walls, deporting millions of people, pulling up the welcome mat against refugees, surveilling mosques and creating a Hitler-like registry for Syrian ex-pats wile not being quite sure where Syria is, all of which is scary enough, but because he has so much support for doing those awful things. And in fact got a bump in support after the Paris terror attacks and continues to lead all national polls for the fourth consecutive month barely 90 days before the first cluster of primaries and caucuses.
I'm a guy of a certain age and sensibility. When I saw the label Hue™ on a piece of my girlfriend's lingerie while doing wash the other day, I immediately though not of the fashionable woman's underclothing line by that name, but Huế, the ancient capital city by that name and the site of one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. And I have never minded doing household chores, a round-about way of saying that I play things as they lay. Take things as they come. How else could I have written about and analyzed politics for nearly 50 years without resorting to a Rolling Rock diet? (Work with me on this, okay?)
The Battle of Huế was in 1968, which I have long considered to be the seminal year in modern American politics.
There was an awful lot blowing in the wind (sorry, Bob) in 1968. This including the onset of enormous social changes involving race, gender and sexuality, a war whose crappiness had become obvious to even the most jaded jingoist, the end of the Democratic hegemony on the White House, and not least the emergence of Richard Nixon and a new kind of conservatism embodied in his Southern Strategy, which was designed to rake in political support in the once Democratic South by appealing to the racism of white guys, a deeply cynical ploy that has defined Republican politics for nearly half a century and more recently its slow but steady marginalization as a national political force as America morphs into an incredible rainbow of colors before the GOP's lily white eyes.
If 1968 was a watershed year (or perhaps water closet year is more like it), 2016 is shaping up to be its bookend, and the common denominator of both years is fear -- fear of the unknown and fear of forces at work home and abroad, which Republicans were adept at exploiting for political gain then and are trying to exploit for political gain now. In this respect, Trump is their perfect candidate.
I spent some time in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco 1968, although most of my brief stay was across the bay in Berkeley, which also was awash in free dope, free love, free music and free lentil loaf. I can tell you that the flower children I encountered were not talking about Nixon's Southern Strategy. These kids of my generation -- baby boomers all -- were talking about consciousness expanding and making the world a better place. Naive, perhaps, but well meaning. Sadly, what those same boomers are talking about today is America losing its way.
And face it, we boomers blew it big time.
The gap between rich and poor has become a yawning gulf. Main Street is in crisis. The 9/11 attacks could have been a teaching moment, but instead unleashed deep-seated hatreds that have bubbled back to the surface as Parisians resolutely return to their cafes and we seethe in front of our televisions and video games. The failure of old-style liberalism is complete.
In politics, timing is everything. In that respect, the emergence of Barack Obama had less to do with him than the moment. Same for Donald Trump. Hope and change has become no hope and don't forget to give me my goddamned change.
§Could my friend have been stopped once he turned the corner? No. Can Donald Trump be stopped? Perhaps not from getting the nomination, which the Republican Party richly deserves even if we do not, but my own sturm und drang notwithstanding, I cannot imagine a scenario whereby Trump won't get his sorry ass kicked back to his Fifth Avenue penthouse next November.
I take no comfort in this not because I don't think presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will be an okay president. She will, and may even have a semblance of an mandate if her margin of victory is as great as I anticipate and her coattails are long enough that the Senate returns to Democratic control.
I take no comfort because we are paying a terrible price for the fear and ignorance the cowardly Trump is engendering. He wants nothing more than for us to lose our way when we should be remembering it was resolution and bravery that made America great -- and a beacon of hope for the world.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click HERE for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR. USED WITH PERMISSION.