Originally written May, June 2017 but never published. Posted at Seeing the Forest Aug 14, 2018.
How Did Trump Happen To Us?
How did Trump happen to us?
We are experiencing a shock and awe attack. Every single day we face a flood of terrible things being pushed at us so fast that we do not have time to react. Our system and commons and norms and standards and protections and rule of law are rapidly being dismantled. We are overwhelmed, exhausted, our spirits wear down, we don’t know what to do. Worse, the country risks normalization and eventual acceptance of the cruelty and insanity coming from the top.
Will we get out of this? With the nuclear codes in the hands of a crazy, egomaniacal, racist, malignant narcissist, will we live another year? If we’re alive will we be in jail?
Our wonderful American experiment in government of, by and for We the People is at – perhaps is past – a turning point. We formed this country by breaking from a system of government of, by and for wealthy aristocrats when in the course of human events it became necessary to sever those ties and declare that we are all created equal. Our country was tested and endured, the unfinished work was advanced, government of, by and for the people continued. We understood that a great democracy has got to be progressive or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy. We were working toward freedom from want and fear, toward the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and the right of every business, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies and the right of every family to a decent home, adequate medical and adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. As we recommitted to the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought we asked what we can do for our country. We tried to have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, building upward toward a Great Society where people serve not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. We looked uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. We pushed and pushed to be free at last, free at last. We thought we saw hope and change at the end of the Rainbow Coalition.
But now… “American carnage” reigns.
Trump didn’t just come from nowhere. This has been a long time coming.
Democracy Off the Rails
How many engines of our democracy have gone off the rails to enable a Trump? How many institutions have been compromised or failed? How many norms and standards have fallen away? How much has rule of law became rule of men and money? How deeply has our trust, confidence and understanding of democracy been corroded?
How did this happen to us?
Trump didn’t just come out of nowhere. The road to Trump goes back a long way. Trump comes out of a steady and intentional undermining of rule of law, norms, equality, civility and democracy.
Trump also comes out of a steady and intentional erosion of trust and confidence in government of, by and for We the People. Trump follows ‘W’ Bush who followed Reagan who followed Nixon. Each began their corruption and undermining of our system where the previous had left off. Each embraced and extended what the previous had done. Each was enabled by the damage and lack of accountability the previous had left behind. (While Carter, Clinton and Obama’s big-money, neo-liberal policies and revolving doors hurt average Americans and undermined faith in our system, they did not attack the system itself.)
But the path of our downfall goes back even farther.
There is a thread from Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex” warning to Trump.
There is a thread from the Tonkin Gulf incident to LBJ’s “credibility gap” during the Vietnam war to Trump.
There is a thread from the public shock after the murders of JFK, MLK and RFK and the shootings of George Wallace and later, Reagan, to Trump.
There is a line from Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon, undermining of public trust in equal justice, to Trump.
There is a line from the Powell Memo through the “conservative movement” and 40 years of corporate/billionaire-funded anti-government propaganda to Trump.
There is a line from Buckley v. Valeo through Citizens United to Trump.
There is a line from Reagan killing the Fairness Doctrine to Trump.
There is a line from tax cuts and austerity budget cuts to Trump.
There is a line from acceptance of deregulation and privatization to Trump.
There is a direct line from Gingrich’s list of nasty words to use when describing Democrats to Trump.
There is a direct line from the post-9/11 acceptance of a “state of exception” and never-ending “war on terror” to Trump.
There is a direct line from corporate-written “trade” agreements and the destruction of organized labor to Trump.
There is a very straight line from the decision to bail out (and not prosecute) wealthy bankers instead of helping underwater homeowners and “Main Street” businesses to Trump.
There is a long, straight and bloodstained line from the racist compromises in our Constitution to the Civil War to Jim Crow to segregation to Trump.
There may be a straight line through all of these to Trump to the end of democratic self-government in the United States of America.
There are so many threads and lines, some of them winding their way to Trump and some of them leading us straight to Trump. There were so few objections and so little resistance as the lines were drawn and followed. These lines eroded rule of law and public trust and norms and standards and institutions.
Our task, all of us, is to expose and sever threads and lines like these.
It’s Not Ideology, It’s Corruption
Trump has exposed us as the frog in gradually warming water that is now near boiling. Do we finally notice the danger?
After more than four decades of corporate- and billionaire-funded anti-government, anti-democracy propaganda blasted at the public, with little response, our democracy is nearly gone. Do we know it yet? Do we fully understand what we have lost?
We are saturated in propaganda instead of information. We are endlessly told that government (decision-making by We the People) is “the problem,” that corporations (decision-making by and for the few) do everything better than government (decision-making by and for the many), that taxes (paying forward the benefits of our education, infrastructure, courts, etc.) are “theft,” that the processes ensuring transparency are “cumbersome,” that regulations (protections) are “job-killing” and that We the People are “moochers” feeding off the “takers” (the wealthy few) if we vote for things to make our lives better (government spending, a.k.a. “pork”).
Why do they do this to us? They do it for the money. It’s not ideology, it’s corruption.
Corruption destroys democracy and our democracy is thoroughly corrupted. Corruption necessarily brings advantage, and the advantaged use their gains to further corrupt the system. The cycle continues until corruption is stopped or kleptocracy perfects. They do it for the money. It’s not ideology, it’s corruption.
We have been the victims of an organized attack on our democracy – a looted carried out for the gain of a few. Organized billionaires and their corporations are intent on undermining and seizing control of our system, for their own personal benefit. They do it for the money. It’s not ideology, it’s corruption.
After decades of this assault, the money has eroded democracy and society – like water eroding a dam. We don’t see the extent to which our country, our system, our politics, our institutions and even ourselves have been corrupted. We don’t see how many things now are not just rigged but designed to benefit of a wealthy few at the expense of the rest of us. This is corruption masked as ideology.
Our system has become one of one-dollar-one-vote instead of one-person-one-vote. We don’t realize the degree to which we have become passive consumers instead of active citizens, observers instead of participants. We allow pay lanes on the highways for people with more money, instead of HOV lanes for cars with more people. We expect our schools to provide job training instead of education. We allow our system to value efficiency over humanity, competition over cooperation. We work to enrich others as our wages and benefits fall behind. This is not ideology, it’s corruption.
If we did fully realize and feel the extent of what has happened to us we would withdraw our consent of the governed and institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form most likely to affect our safety and happiness.
But it has happened slowly, the water warms…
Is There a Path Out Of This?
Will our system withstand the attack? We don’t know. Kleptocracy is powerful.
How do we get back to an American system that is of, by and for We the People? If we get out of this, what must we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
The first step is restoring our own understanding of democracy. The first three words of our Constitution are, “We the People.” Stand back from the page and those are the only words seen – for a reason. The “founders” were making a point.
We must restore understanding of ourselves as the boss, not the bossed. We must believe again in people, not money. We must believe again in majorities not markets. We must remember that our economy should serve us, not us serve the economy.
We must demand transparency, and not accept secrecy. We must return to understanding our government as the only available countervailing power to that of corporations.
Another step in our restoration is understanding how corruption corrodes democracy. We must understand the depth and effect of corruption on our system and on ourselves.
And then we must commit ourselves to investigating and exposing that corruption. That is our path out of this.