Trump was right about the problem, but wrong about the solution
It's not working...
“Why the hell did so many Americans buy Trump’s lies?” one member of my author’s group wondered obliquely, just before the 2016 election. It was a common question to which many self-appointed thought leaders have since trotted out an almost bewildering range of answers.
As his administration was wracked by scandal after scandal, the inevitable follow-up questions were, “How is he getting away with it?” along with the sotto voce observations, “If Obama did this…” And “Why are Republicans” going along?” Especially now in 2023, with Trump gone, why are the likes of MTG and Lauren Bobert apparently trying to outdo Mr. Trump?
Theories abounded and still do. A few explanations most of us have heard include demographics, Dems’ rhetoric alienating the working class, too many “Hillary haters,” gerrymandering, etc. All true — up to a point. But I wonder: Are we and the pundits overlooking an uncomfortable truth? One that few seem willing to consider? Maybe Trump was right!
Truths Hiding in Plain Sight
End-stage capitalism and decaying democracy are real things, and don’t most thoughtful humans recognize this painfully apparent truth? Washington is a swamp of double-dealing, cronies — all lobbying perpetually money-starved legislators. Many of those legislators then “misrepresent their actions to constituents, to phrase it more politely than their actions merit. All the while, way too many gerrymandered districts immunize the hypothetical stewards of the public trust from the consequences of their corruption.
That Trump was clearly the last one likely to drain the swamp does not invalidate the truth dribbling from his frequently lying lips. The swamp most definitely needs draining. But is there another dirty little secret most of us are ignoring? We—the people—are encouraging this pattern of behavior by permitting it. We uncritically allow ourselves to be seduced by corporate America’s deceptive messages bombarding us on television, in print, social media — or all the above.
We all know lobbyists have woven themselves so inextricably into the fabric of our government, that even well-meaning legislators struggle to implement the changes we (and they) all know are needed. And many if not most of us have shrugged our shoulders, muttering under our breath that it’s hopeless.
In so doing, we perpetuate the tyranny of a minority. We’re allowing the privileged few to leverage bottomless advertising budgets, while the for-profit news media consciously shapes opinion to artificially divide us.
So, yeah. Trump was right about the decay in the system. He was just wrong about the solution. Not only can he not fix it, he would actually make it immeasurably worse. And now that he plans to run in 2024, we need to resist the temptation to underestimate him again.
"Through a glass, and darkly..."
In a sense, Putin’s war on Ukraine is a salutary reminder of where the journey to the dark side leads. The tyranny of a strong man or even the quasi-democratic dominance of kleptocratic billionaires rarely works out for most of us. As seductive as the notion of “getting things done” may seem in our age of partisan gridlock, it often reads better than it lives.
When the perpetuation of power becomes our decisionmakers’ principal focus, detachment from reality often follows. Arrogance, fear or both increase distance from reality. And there are way more toxic examples of “populist” leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, and Putin than historically benevolent autocrats like Marcus Aurelius.
Inevitably, necking down decisions to a few “best and brightest” plagues decisions with the limitations of the few deciders. Putin’s decisions leading to the morass in Ukraine is a case in point. If he felt answerable to the Russian people writ large, would he have invaded? I think his silencing of the independent news outlets in Russia is an eloquent answer. We must not permit ourselves the self-delusion of believing it can’t happen here, where Republicans now suggest “Ukraine is not our friend and Russia is not our enemy.”
Disruption as a Catalyst
Returning to the U.S. as it is today, Trump may ultimately prove to be the necessary disruptive force we need to re-energize our representative democracy. But as Professor Mastrovik cautions in West of Tomorrow, “never confuse the necessary with the good.”
The damage done not only by Trump but the many taken in by Fox Noise’s reinforcement of his falsehoods will require our concerted and collective effort to repair. Some on this platform have opined we may already be too far gone. Too dysfunctional to get back to a place where renascence is even possible.
And in the interests of honesty, I have doubts of my own. But my doubts, however well founded, do not relieve me of my duties as a citizen to work toward what I think is right. And the self-appointed realists notwithstanding, who has had the greatest impact on our world? Is it the pessimistic realists or the dreamers persevering in the face of “hopeless” odds?
Surely most of us will acknowledge it’s the latter. The Spartans’ defense of Thermopylae; the soviet defense of Stalingrad in 1942; Martin Luther King and so many others’ epic struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. Or the Ukrainians’ courageous defense of their way of life, at immense and continuing cost all come to mind. These are the stories that fire our soul with renewed hope.
Nobody asked me, but...
As painful as these uncertain times are, we’ve been here before. The nearest recent analog for what we’re going through today seems to me to be the Industrial Revolution. The confluence of the Enlightenment and rapid technological advancement swept away what was left of the Middle Ages, giving rise to the modern world as we know it.
Today we enjoy the benefits. But history reports that the benefits weren’t — and even today still aren’t — equitably shared. For generations, angst, despair, and excruciating pain were the lived experience of the majority.
Fast forward to the third decade of the 21st Century. In the throes of multiple, mutually reinforcing paradigm shifts, we find ourselves in a place where — like the Industrial Revolution — the familiar frames of reference have been swept away.
Trump’s backward-looking message — to the extent we can dignify his words with the term — rely on uncertainty and fear to work. And because there are (as yet) few if any obvious landmarks to replace them, doomsayers once more herald the looming apocalypse.
Most of us sense “The System,” is failing us. Whether we’re talking about politics, the mechanics of daily life, or our daily interactions with each other, divisiveness and discord seem woven into our lives. In a comment I read on a post here on Medium recently, someone commented that the leaders aren’t proposing any solutions to the problems we can all see.
Really? What movie are you watching? It’s not that the problems are going unnoticed or that solutions aren’t being proposed. It’s that they can’t get through a congress too divided to even honestly consider them on their merits, never mind work out compromises.
This is true not because it must be, but because we have allowed it. If we don’t like the outcome, shall we not get off our tuckus and be part of the solution?
The journey we must take is signposted above all by both a sense of personal and shared responsibility for outcomes. Shrugging our shoulders and blaming some mythical “they” while trying to monetize doom is the coward’s way out. In the final analysis, whatever happens nationally and globally, we are responsible. Are we not all part of an interconnected, mutually dependent world? Few of our individual or collective decisions, however hypothetically trivial, are without consequences.
Considering a Shift in Thought
We are the answer to most of the problems we have, as potentially scary as that is. I’m neither wise enough nor eloquent enough to sell a prescriptive solution applicable to all. But are not most of us at least half-right, and in consequence, a potential part of the solution?
As citizens of this world, cannot all of us offer some small portion of ourselves for the benefit of all? Some tiny sliver, if you will, of the solution? Angst aside (and I feel it too), shall we not act in a way congruent with our conscience and an awareness of our neighbors,’ our nation’s or our world’s needs?
As surely as I’m gazing with my slowly failing, bespectacled eyes into this LCD, I am certain everyone reading this can do something that will make our world just a little better. If you haven’t already, I urge you to find it and take it up. Forget the angst and move on, with or without hope. Someone on this site has some of the answers. We are the ones for whom we have been waiting.
D.B. Sayers is the author of six books with two more in the works. You can subscribe to Smoke Signals to stay up to date on his work.