I was born in 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. The bankers and stockbrokers had had their way with America and the world at large. Everyone but the bankers were suffering. Depression-suicides were common. We had not yet even begun to foresee the coming trauma of WW II and the Hitler era of world-wide murder. Of late, because of that creature known as Trump, I have begun recounting the presidents I have known. It is an impressive list, filled with the Greats and the not-so-greats.
1933-1945 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt – he had taken over from that wastrel Hoover and led us successfully out of that depression and through the catastrophic war begun by Hitler. When one thinks of great presidents, his name springs to mind. Although I was very young, I actually remember him speaking to us over the radio (remember radios??) in his fireside chats. In addition to overseeing our successful war effort, FDR actually brought us out of the depression by creating the Works Progress Administration which put folks to work on public works projects. He also, remember, created the Social Security system, which our republicans hate mainly because it is successful, people love it and it was created by a democrat.
1945-1953 – Harry S. Truman – from a haberdasher in Missouri to the senate and thence to the vice presidency until FDR passed on, when he became president. Harry seemed a true man of the people. He helped bring WW II to an end and then saw that Cold War begin. I well remember the Berlin Blockade when the Soviets walled off Berlin, laying claim to the whole of East Germany. My brother-in-law Niels served briefly as a flight surgeon on the Berlin airlift flights traveling from London to berlin to relieve the blockade.
1953-1961 – Dwight D. Eisenhower – The first election in which I participated as a voter (and I have voted in every election since, including that four-year period when we lived abroad in India). How could you not love Ike? He was a major factor in our winning the war. I wasn’t yet a committed democrat or republican. Ike ran against Adlai Stevenson, an intellectual who was a handsome candidate, but had no chance overcoming the Ike leadership-glam. Ike created the interstate highway system, which created many jobs but also linked the nation together via a national road system.
1961-1963 – John F. Kennedy – the first election where I really loved the candidate. JFK was so remarkable, and his wife so glamorous and gracious. It was like they were created explicitly to become president and first lady. He was of course also the first president in my lifetime to be assassinated by one of our numerous armed right wing crazies (thank you NRA). I think I never fully recovered from his assassination.
1963 – 1969 – LB Johnson – Ahhh Lyndon . . . you had a tough job and you committed yourself more than admirably. Succeeding the killing of JFK, Johnson found himself in a difficult place. JFK was well liked and Johnson was a Texan, better known there than elsewhere. But he actually was a skilled politician, where JFK was an amateur at the game. In addition to that nasty war in Vietnam, LBJ gave us The Great Society. The Great Society was a set of domestic programs in the United States launched by LBJ in 1964–65. The main goal was the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. President Johnson first used the term "Great Society" during a speech at Ohio University, then unveiled the program in greater detail at an appearance at University of Michigan. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, rural poverty, and transportation were launched during this period. The program and its initiatives were subsequently promoted by him and fellow Democrats in Congress in the 1960s and years following. The Great Society in scope and sweep resembled the New Deal domestic agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some Great Society proposals were stalled initiatives from John F. Kennedy's New Frontier. Johnson's success depended on his skills of persuasion, coupled with the Democratic landslide in the 1964 election that brought in many new liberals to Congress, making the House of Representatives in 1965 the most liberal House since 1938. While some of the programs have been eliminated or had their funding reduced, many of them, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act and federal education funding, continue to the present. The Great Society's programs expanded under the administrations of Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, although republicans later began to hate these programs, again because they were successful, well liked and begun by a Democrat. Republicans do so hate successful programs begun by Democrats. Why don’t they start their own successful programs you might ask? Well, they do. They’re called tax reductions for the wealthy.
1969-1974 -- Richard Milhous Nixon—Tricky Dick. He was the first in a now long line of presidents I voted against. Nixon was smart, and skilled at the game of international intrigue. He won the election in part by promising to end the war in Vietnam. His plan was simple—bomb the hell out of a formerly neutral nation-Cambodia. Actually his plan was a now classic republican strategy—cut and run when you are tired of the mess you created. So, we finally cut and ran out of Vietnam with our collective tails between our legs—the first war we actually lost. Happily Tricky Dick was run out of town on a rail.
1974 – 1977 – Gerald Ford – Ford took over when Dicky fled the scene. His task was hopeless, and he did the best he could under the circumstances.
1977 – 1981 – Jimmy Carter – The best I can say about Jimmy is, he is far and away the best ex-president we have ever had (I expect Barack Obama to challenge that title). I actually left the worlds of private non-profit research at The Urban Institute to join the government to run an evaluation office in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. I enjoyed that change of scenery and loved working with my colleagues there. I discovered there that the government bureaucrats so despised by republicans are actually, largely a bright and committed group of folks who try to do their best for the people of America.
1981-1989 – St. Ronald of Reagan – Ronnie is a funny dude. He began life as an actor of mediocre standing. Then he became, of all things, California’s governor. And in almost his first act in that capacity, he began destroying the California school system by reducing the funding allocated to that system. California went from having one of the nation’s finest systems to having one of its most troubled. Building on that grand republican success story (republicans do so hate an educated public), he ran for and won the Presidency. At the time, I was a member of the government bureaucracy, running an evaluation office in Health and Human Services (Carter had run the Ed unit out of town on a rail). But I had a nice office and great people to work with. Then came Ronnie. He chose as a secretary, Mr. Richard Schweiker, a failed senator from Pennsylvania. And then life changed at DHHS. He brought in a new boss for me, who turned out to be the stupidest man I ever worked for or with in my then 25 year working career. He was supposed to be running evaluation, but knew nothing about the subject and had difficulty carrying on an intelligent conversation on almost any subject. And Secretary Schweiker was best known for falling asleep in his own large meetings. And the Prez? Well what can you say?. He sold arms to a terrorist organization, and then brought chaos into Central America. Oh and he also bombed Lebanon from afar. Yeah, he was less than great, but repubs loved him then and love him still (well look at his competition). He actually caused me to leave government and rejoin the private sector in my own business, because I was afraid I would go brain-dead working under Reagan.
1989 – 1993 – George H.W. Bush – Poppy Bush. He seems a bit of a cipher. He is perhaps best known for giving us Shrub, arguably one of our worst presidents.
1993 – 2001 – William Jefferson Clinton – Well, Bill was a bit of wild one. But, at bottom, he was very smart. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and was a Rhodes Scholar. As Prez, he stood somewhere in the middle. He opposed Sadaam Hussein, put NAFTA into existence, passed a Child health Insurance Act, and tried but failed to enact health care reform legislation. He also put Charter schools into play, for which we should award him black marks, since he may have paved the way for that catastrophic disaster Betsy DeVos. His impeachment for multitasking in the White House came as no surprise, since he was by all counts a successful president, overseeing one of the longest economic booms in our history, and leaving the country with a budget surplus.
2001 – 2009 – Shrub – Ahhhh, dear Shrub, one of our less well-endowed presidents. He was a draft dodger as a young man, taking advantage of daddy’s stature to escape Vietnam as a pseudo-pilot in the National Guard. Oddly, he won the race for Texas gubernatorship, but it is Texas, isn’t it? He ran sort of against Clinton, since republicans spent much time and money decrying Bill. But our nation had changed, and the rowdies of our world wanted a republican, regardless of his intellectual capacity. He was a true republican, taking Clinton’s budget surplus and creating one of the largest deficits we had known, rivaling St. Ronald’s deficits (but Reagan believed in the Laffer curve, by which it was theorized, if you reduced the tax rates, you would increase the tax revenues. Unfortunately, like all such doofus-theories, it was a fake and produced very, very large deficits). But Shrub, like most republicans, loved wars. So he concocted a fake story about Iraq and WMDs and invaded without actual cause, thereby helping to create chaos throughout the Middle East, and at least inspiring the creation of ISIS. Thanks Shrub.
2009 -- 2017 -- Barack Obama – Ahh, how we miss Barack. He actually ran a clean presidency, pretty free of scandal, seemed to have a model marriage and family and was super-bright. And, he was Black, well, he was African-American born in Hawaii, although according to his republican opponents, he was a Muslim terrorist born in Africa and should not have assumed the presidency. But republicans have never been big on facts. In response to his presidency, a “Birther” movement began, and the Tea Party began (the Tea Party seems to be the KKK wing of the republican party). Movement Birthers kept arguing that Obama was not a natural born citizen, despite all evidence to the contrary—again republicans are not big on those fact things. By all accounts, Obama remained a successful president, and actually succeeded in enacting a health care reform act that provided health care to millions of American formerly uninsured. Republicans do so hate that kind of thing. They spent years trying to destroy that system.
2017 -- ??? The Drumpf – and now we come to the reason for my depression. Donald J. Trump, arguably the most potentially catastrophic president in my lifetime. His buds apparently colluded with both our extreme right wing and the Russians (an odd partnership, since the right wing used to be opposed to most things Russian, especially where Vlad the Impaler Putin is involved) to create a viable opponent to Hillary Clinton. However much Hillary ran a flawed campaign, she did not deserve (nor did we the American public) such an awful and fact-free opposition. Trump won by, a) lying about almost everything (how can you tell Trump is lying? Well, when his opens his mouth and words come tumbling out, he is lying), and b) by the simple act by many, millions of people not voting. “Oh, we don’t want to vote for Hillary, because she forgave her flawed husband, oh and she had a private e-mail server.” So, by the simple act of staying at home instead of voting, the Drumpf won the race (not the popular vote, but that’s another subject).
So, now we have a serial liar, a sexual predator, a serial womanizer, a compleat narcissist, a sociopath, and a deeply flawed and unsuccessful business person to be president. He apparently cannot read, perhaps because of his serious ADHD, so he seems not to know much of anything. His big book, The Art of the Deal was written by someone else, because he also cannot write beyond those 140 characters he gurgles out at 3:00 AM.
And yet, his loyal troops continue to love and support him. It has been pointed out that all of his many flaws were well known months before the election, so his supporters knew about them but did not care. They voted for him because he gave the country the middle finger almost every time he opened his mouth. So, facts do not and will not ever enter any conversation with Trump supporters. Their support is based on hatred and anger at the power elites. Arguing facts with them would be akin to arguing facts with a squirrel.
So, all of his many promises about making America great again were patently just lies. He promised to protect Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and to create a new health care system that would cover everyone and cost less money. All were lies, as we now know by his first budget proposal.
He continues to cozy with his Russian friends, even to passing on State secrets, yet we sit around sucking our thumbs. The journalists who report his flaws are declared to be fake journalists out to get him. He actually had the nerve to declare that, "Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly," he said in his commencement address in New London, Connecticut. Really, you bozo? Worse than, say Kennedy, or maybe Lincoln? Worse than Nelson Mandela?? But that is the compleat narcissist speaking. He knows of nothing beyond himself.
But what are we to make of all this? He has even exhausted the comedians who have trouble keeping up with his latest stupidity. A recent article written by Ken Levy in AlterNet comes closest to informing us about Trump and Trump supporters.
“. . . even though all the economic data indicate both that the unemployment rate is consistently below 5 percent and that immigrants help to improve the economy, Trumpists are determined to believe just the opposite. Their resistance to the economic facts, then, must be motivated by some deeper, non-economic concern.
The left insists that this deeper concern is cultural: Trumpists love Trump because they share his racism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, and misogyny. There is much to be said for this hypothesis. Neither Trump nor Trumpists seem to take equality very seriously, even though it is a cardinal principle of the Declaration of Independence and 14th Amendment. Even in 2017, they harbor toxic, hierarchical views of race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion and a pathological need to feel superior to other groups of people. Their worst nightmare was the country almost replacing the first black president with the first female president.
Trumpists feels as though the country “broke up” with them during the Obama era. They felt, and still feel, alienated by the left’s identity politics (“political correctness”), disparaged by the left’s opposition to traditional values (anti-gay rights, anti-abortion, anti-feminism, and religious faith), and weirdly threatened by the left’s view of government as an institution designed to solve problems that capitalism either creates or fails to solve.
All of this, plus the anger and hurt of feeling dumped, explains why Trumpists love Trump: he shares their bitterness and resentment. As long as he keeps giving all those self-righteous, contemptuous “elitists” the finger, a gesture that started with his birtherism, it doesn’t matter what else he says or does, how many lies he tells, how many mistakes he makes, or how many detrimental policies he advocates or enacts. All that matters is that he keep disrupting and subverting the arrogant, oppressive establishment—or “deconstruct[ing] the administrative state,” as Trump’s white nationalist advisor Steve Bannon put it.
Trumpists’ politics are ultimately rooted in raw emotion, not principles or thoughtful ideology. Much credit goes to such macho, anti-intellectual, grievance-stoking propagandists as Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and—until his recent termination by Fox News—Bill O’Reilly. Female commentators like Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin have also won their hearts (not minds) by routinely bashing the whiny, controlling, effeminate liberals.
It is not clear whether Democrats can win over these narrow-minded, cultish voters in 2018. They are just not amenable to rational debate about the merits of Obama-era regulations or the dangers of autocratic populism. So Frank Rich is right: Democrats should leave them alone. They should stop feigning empathy or trying to shape their policies around Trumpists’ bigoted worldview. It is a complete waste of candidates’ valuable time and resources.
Yes, Democrats should still advocate progressive policies in all 50 states. But they should also keep in mind that these efforts don’t satisfy Trumpists, don’t alleviate their self-inflicted wounds or quench their thirst for retribution, nearly as effectively as childish insults and petty name-calling. Because Trump will always beat his competitors at these primal diversions, Democrats should concentrate entirely on uniting and motivating the other 65 percent who are already in their camp. That’s more than enough to win most state and federal elections.
One thing is certain: given recent events, Republicans don’t get to yell and scream about national security—or emails, private servers, or Benghazi—ever again. Nor do they get to yell and scream about pretty much anything else. Their ignorant, narcissistic, unprincipled, and unpatriotic standard-bearer has cost them whatever moral high ground they pretended to have for at least a generation.”
So, we really cannot expect to engage the Trumpies in debate, because they seem uninterested in facts, and prefer screaming or middle-fingering to debate.
And what about the republican politicians, the Paul Ryan’s and Mitch McConnell’s of this world? Since they seem to have no ethical or moral dimension, it will be difficult to debate with them either. They can only be defeated at the polls. They will try to rig the elections by gerrymandering if they can. It’s what they do, given their absence of an ethical dimension. So, we must watch, we must challenge in the courts, and we must, above all else, VOTE. It is how democracies actually remain democracies. Trump is the alternative.