Flashing red lights abound as an autumn reckoning looms
BY PETER F. STEVENS
Like “the flashing red light” metaphor that National Security Advisor Dan Coates employed to warn of ongoing Russian disruption of our elections, the immortal words of Ireland’s Daniel O’Connell, “The Liberator,” define this fractious moment in America’s history: “Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong.”
Politics is suffocating morality in ways too numerous to tally as the rank miasma of the Trump Swamp seeps from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the halls of Congress to every corner of the nation and beyond.
Is the United States facing the juncture that the Founding Fathers feared? The deeper the Trump Administration drags the nation down to a lower realm that makes Alice’s adventures through the looking glass appear normal, the more we have to wonder if the United States is at the edge of autocracy or oligarchy. The president’s full frontal assault on truth, the First Amendment, the rule of law, immigrants, race relations, and women’s rights has blended seamlessly with the GOP’s willingness to abandon its own principles in slavish fear of, or devotion to, Donald J. Trump has truly made his administration like no other in America’s annals. Only the Harding and Grant presidencies have rivaled the corruption of Donald Trump and his inner circle, not to mention his family.
Mike Murphy, Irish American and renowned GOP strategist and consultant, has, like his close friend and mentor the late, great Senator John McCain, called out Trump with the same blunt candor that McCain employed. In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cillizza, Murphy chided the “party of Lincoln” for the “moral cowardice that has overtaken it.” Pulling no punches, Murphy contended: “It’s pretty much a Trump cult in the GOP... but like all cults, it’ll end badly.” He added, “The Republican Party needs to be freed of Donald Trump and Trumpism in order to survive.”
All of which points to what might be a Democratic delusion of a “Blue Wave” in the November midterms. Democrats are as potentially benighted as the president’s hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil political base. Both parties are guilty of “magical thinking.” Dems who are putting the proverbial cart before the horse in regard to impeachment do so at their political peril. Making the midterms a referendum on Donald Trump is fine, but until or unless impeachable offenses or illegal deeds emerge from Robert Mueller, from the federal and state investigations in New York, from a dark corner of the Enquirer’s safe, or from the Kremlin, the reek of the Thump swamp, the prospect that the House (forget about the Senate—the GOP will hold there) will be taken by the Democrats is hardly a foregone conclusion. The Trumpites will turn out in November, as will energized Democrats, but unless enough white women and so-called Independents have been repulsed enough to turn on Trump, the blue wave could prove to be no more than a blue ripple.
Every election cycle, we hear that it is the most important one ever. For once, the adage might be true. This November, the answer as to whether the voters opt to place a legislative barrier on the president or choose instead to plant him and his family squarely above the law, above the separation of powers, and above the Constitution, dangles in the balance.
Donald Trump is masterful at messaging, much as Democrats refuse to admit it. When it comes to branding, his simple and simple-minded slogans have proven effective. “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great Again” teem with racist, sexist, and ethnic dog whistles, but their brevity and lack of nuance work. His branding magnifies the Democrats’ talent for stepping on their own message with clueless mantras. How well did “I’m with Her!” work? About as well as 2018’s “For the People” will likely resonate. Yes, I realize that the phrase is lifted from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (Lincoln himself borrowed it from earlier sources stretching back at least as far as 1384 England). In today’s America, however, “for the people” is far more familiar as the slogan of a certain law firm culling “if-you’ve-had-an-accident” business on late-night TV, web ads, Facebook, etc. Seriously? That’s the best that the Democrats can come up with after all the money spent on focus groups to test run a compelling message?
Blind to History
Countless Democrats and Conservative “Never Trumpers” console themselves with bromides as to how the nation has weathered worse—the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression – and come out intact. Perhaps, but even a cursory glance at the histories of other experiments in Democracy or Republicanism cast shade at such wistful optimism. Look at ancient Athens, where the very term democracy took root from “demos”—“the populace of a political unit.” That democratic experiment took root but eventually withered. The ancient Romans? Even more sobering for present-day cynics, worriers, or intellectual types who have put on historical blinders. In a BBC piece that examines the death of the Roman Republic, the estimable classical historian Mary Beard wrote: “In 133 B.C., Rome was a democracy. Little more than a hundred years later it was governed by an emperor.” She continued: “Rome prided itself on being a ‘free republic,’ and centuries later was the political model for the founding fathers of the United States.”
While no two societies are completely alike, the point is obvious for all those who profess that we in America are so special that we are invulnerable to authoritarian government. “Magical thinking” does not make the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution immune from those who would reshape or tear up both in the pursuit of power and wealth. It happened to Athens. It happened to Rome. There’s a lesson in that for the US, and Europe, for that matter.
Benjamin Franklin, of those founding fathers, grasped the fragility of a two-party system: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”
In Ireland, betting on whether President Trump will win a second term, will be impeached, or will be forced to resign has led the odds-maker Paddy Powers to shorten its previous odds to punters wagering on the Trump administration coming to an end before 2018. The odds went from 10-1 to 4-1. Trump foes, don’t hold your breath. The real likelihood of that happening is close to another number—zero.
Paddy Powers has similarly assigned odds on whether the president finishes his full term. They fell from 10-1 to 4-1. Again, to Trump opponents, it might be a safer bet than the end of this year—but don’t count on it.
Paddy Powers’s odds aside, here are a few numbers that are facts, not fake news. In the 2016 presidential election, approximately 64 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. While Donald Trump won the Electoral College and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by some 2.9 million—Donald Trump’s fantasy of voter fraud by undocumented immigrants notwithstanding—more than 72 million voters stayed home. The actual results show Trump’s 62,894,828 voters accounting for 46.1 percent of the 127,857,058 ballot total against Clinton’s 48.2 percent. If you take into account the approximately 72 million voters who were no shows, Trump’s actual support comes in at nearly 32 percent of the full electorate, with Clinton scarcely better at 33 percent. The sad fact is that due to 72 million voters’ apathy, laziness, or inability to get to the polls, no matter which candidate prevailed, he or she, as well as his or her party, would end up holding office with the support of about a third of the total electorate. Until more voters wake up—no matter their preferred party—America will remain a tyranny of the minority. Any president declaring a mandate is clouding a harsh reality: No matter the margin of victory, it did not denote a majority of eligible voters. Perhaps that is the gravest threat to the American Republic.
The true cynic would aver that our nation’s coin of corruption has the face of Donald Trump on one side, and the faces of Bill and Hillary Clinton on the other. … Trump’s petty conduct following the death of John McCain, and Donald, Jr.’s gem about Watergate titan Carl Bernstein as a “leftist hack” speak volumes about the paucity of character of both father and son. If Louisa May Alcott were still on the scene, her editor might be urging the authoress of “Little Women” to pen a follow-up entitled “Little Men.” … Rest in peace, Senator McCain. No vitriol from the President or his acolytes can tarnish your sacrifice and service to our nation. America always knew where you stood, and throughout your final valiant battle against cancer, you stood virtually alone among your party in speaking truth to power when it came to Donald J. Trump. As with all men and women, you made mistakes from time to time; unlike virtually any other politician, you admitted your infrequent errors publicly. Unlike the man who occupies the only public office to elude you, you had the courage to apologize if you mis-stepped. Yours was truly a Profile in Courage as a warrior, a POW, a Congressman, a senator, and, above all, as a patriot to the core.
Flashing red lights abound as an autumn reckoning looms