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Trumped, Part II (or is this 1856 all over again?)
(originally published June 2016)
The day after the California primary the television news organizations lost little time analyzing the results. My personal bias, shared by many others, is of someone who being unable to support either major party candidate, will be going the third party route for the fourth consecutive election cycle. My respect for Bernie Sanders, even though I disagreed with him on several issues, is now moot. So it might well be 1856 all over again, but more on that later.
Honest television news coverage is hard to come by, but I find the PBS News Hour the least objectionable of the lot – no pharmaceutical ads or breathless celebration of pop culture personalities is a pretty good competitive advantage. Having said that, I was quite surprised (well, not really) by the list of guest analysts Judy Woodruff had on the News Hour the day after the primary. The three she invited to analyze Mrs. Clinton's big win in California and consequent locking up of the Democrat nomination, took turns gushing, giggling and swooning over the prospect of a female candidate at the head of the ticket. If there was any analysis, I must have missed it. The job of the next two guests was to analyze Trump – and analyze they did. The way two Australian tag team wrestlers would analyze or double-team an opponent trying to keep his hair from being mussed up. No gushing and swooning included. That I can tell you. One hundred percent.
I mention this (description of unprofessional television news coverage) because it might be one of the root causes of Trump's phenomenal rise in popularity. Candidates for high public office, who reporters and pundits dislike for partisan or ideological reasons, often feel compelled to choose their words extra carefully for fear of being ridiculed or attacked for politically incorrect speech – politicians who reporters favor can say almost anything they like with no worries. Since avoiding candor in favor of mush turns many aspiring politicians into the Washington Generals, I suspect that Trump, by reversing the paradigm, throwing caution to the winds and double-downing on harshly-expressed opinions, figures he really has nothing to lose. He probably remembers and learned from the 2012 election campaign when after the first debate a measured Mitt Romney toned down the rhetoric, pulled his punches, and took great care so as not to be perceived as being too aggressive. One of the minor events in the Romney campaign, which quickly became a cause célèbre, was the famous private meeting with some donors and party regulars in which he candidly recognized the demographics of his support base. The clandestinely-recorded meeting, rather than being covered up by television news reporters, was trumpeted and re-broadcast gleefully and endlessly in the weeks leading up to the election. Trump may be a cheeky narcissist, but he's not stupid. Understanding the television news media for what it is, he probably figures he may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb.
So the nominee of the Republican party is a successful real estate developer and reality show host, lacking in government experience but not shy about saying what's on his mind. The sad part of all this is that many if not most television news people probably don't even understand that by constantly attacking Trump in their clumsy transparent way, they only succeed in adding to his growing number of supporters. The electorate has become increasingly sophisticated of late, which may explain why even though they distrust politicians in general, they distrust the news industry even more.
And Mrs. Clinton? Admittedly she is somewhat politically astute. In the mid-1970s, after failing the District of Columbia bar exam (two thirds of the applicants passed), she moved to Arkansas where her now-husband was entering politics and prospects for career advancement were more favorable. She did pass the Arkansas bar exam. All of this, of course, is old news to people who have followed television news coverage over the years. Like Trump, she has an abundance of negatives – only one of which is the unresolved e-mail controversy, which has nothing to do with having a private e-mail address. It's about public servants in high places having a private server. Unlike public or “cloud-based” e-mail which is vulnerable to private or government surveillance, owning a private server means having your own “cloud” (a dedicated computer with lots of storage) that others supposedly have no access to.
Benghazi aside, there are those with more knowledge of such matters who have good reason to suspect that many of the undisclosed e-mails relate to Mrs. Clinton using her position as Secretary of State to arrange for highly-paid speaking engagements before conclaves of super-rich members of the banking and financial community, such as Goldman-Sachs and others – to say nothing of groups representing the interests of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, Germany, a Canadian company promoting the XL pipeline, and others. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt used Hebrew slave labor to build their grand monuments and symbols of immortality. Immense sums of money, in exchange for influence, is what is needed for the Clintons to build theirs.
All of which brings us back to 1856. In the interests of disclosure, my connection to the Republican party goes way back and is more a matter of family tradition than policy position. The people I vote for come from nearly every political party. At any rate, my great, great grandfather (Thomas Huckans) left London and emigrated to the United States in the early 1840s and soon after became a Whig, the political party on both sides of the pond generally in opposition to executive tyranny. He must have voted for (or at least supported) Whig presidential candidate Henry Clay (KY) in 1844, since he named one of his sons, my great grandfather, Henry Clay Huckans (who later joined the Union army). Clay and Frelinghuysen ran on a platform of “A protective tariff: No annexation and consequently, no extension of slavery!...” and lost to Democrat James K. Polk in a tight race.
The Whigs' last hurrah was in 1848 when they elected Zachary Taylor, whose term was finished out by Millard Fillmore after Taylor died while in office. In 1852 the Whigs decided to ditch Fillmore and nominated Gen. Winfield Scott who was soundly trounced by Democrat Franklin Pierce. Hopelessly split and unable to deal with the issues of the protective tariff and expansion of slavery (one of the reasons Whig congressman Abraham Lincoln had earlier opposed annexation of Texas and later quit the party), the Whigs realized they were going in all directions and accepted the fact that they were dead ducks who had finally gotten the news. In 1854 Horace Greeley and others began to form the modern Republican Party from the wreckage of the Whig Party, Free Soilers and other splinter groups and in 1856 nominated John C. Fremont (soldier and explorer) as its first candidate. Winning 11 states to Buchanan's 19 (Fillmore, on a third party ticket, won 8), Fremont nonetheless finished strongly in both the popular and electoral vote count. Even though the Republicans didn't win in 1856, they replaced the Whigs which only proves that the two party system is always subject to change and realignment.
2016 is becoming an interesting year. The ranks of the Republican party are being swelled by angry and obstreperous populists, including many former Democrats, and are as difficult to control as a herd of cats, while Democrats have become shameless group-identity politicians (e unum pluribus rather than e pluribus unum) with big ties to monied interests. And with so many working class Democrats supporting Trump this time around, one must wonder what sort of realignment is in store.
Voting Libertarian will be a lot easier this time (considering the major party alternatives), with Gary Johnson and William Weld (former governors of New Mexico and Massachusetts) heading up the party's national ticket. Some recent polls have them in the mid-teens, and when contemplating the unpleasant choice of either a bombastic narcissist or an almost-certainly corrupt individual with a pathological aversion to truth-telling occupying the White House, Johnson and Weld are looking pretty good. And if you're not into the socially liberal and economically conservative ideas of the Libertarians, you might want to consider voting for Jill Stein on the Green Party line or writing in Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, or Roseanne Barr.