September 29, 2023

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Inflection point: In a quandary over the presidential election

Mark R. Howard | 10/26/2016

I confess I stopped following every turn, fact-check and “gotcha” in the presidential race months ago, when it seemed clear that the race was proceeding along a course in which voters had decided that the candidates’ positions on policies and issues were completely irrelevant to the proceedings.

Forget any real discussions of defense, regulation, student loans, trade, entitlements, taxation. The race, in essence, became a referendum on the validity of the political process itself. If you, more or less, still believe in the traditional way Americans have gone about politics, you probably are voting for Hillary Clinton and her three decades worth of experience with The Process. If not, you’re voting to throw a bomb at that process in the form of Donald Trump.

I arrived at this view because there’s simply no other way to reconcile Trump’s professed views and values with those of supporters whose views and values differ so much from his. Distaste for Hillary Clinton doesn’t explain it all. It simply didn’t matter to Trump supporters what he said or did. Or what positions he took, if it was even possible to determine what his position was. It didn’t matter that he’s not as wealthy as he says he is or that he’s not a particularly good, or honest, businessman. It didn’t matter that he’s irreligious, uninformed and not even curious about issues vital to the United States. Or that as a liar he could give a master class to Clinton. Or that he was willing to slander good and honest men and women who’d served their country or who’d lost children in that service.

Trump’s appeal was simply that he was coming from outside The Process — and that he validated his supporters’ unhappiness with the current state of politics and governance. Racist and sexist? Well, maybe, but Trump’s observations were the sort that you can hear around the dinner table — or in front of the television — in a reasonable share of American homes on any given evening. At times, Trump seemed like a latter-day Archie Bunker with a suit and a business jet.

Trump hearkened to the time that white men could pretty much say whatever they wanted, hold whatever opinions or prejudices they might allow themselves — unconcerned that someone might challenge them with notions of “political correctness” or accusations of outright bigotry. And so Trump supporters, after each Trump jaw-dropper, tap-danced with feeble rationalizations to the effect of “he could have said it better” or “at least he’s speaking his mind” — without any real consideration about what he actually said and what it reflected about how he thinks. Whatever he might say about women, immigrants, Muslims, other politicians or African- Americans, his supporters chose to believe that his ultimate target was The Process itself — and its failure to deliver the economic and demographic wallpaper that his backers see as the Real America.

There is a peculiar sort of irony at work here. Clinton, however much she’s the product of the traditional process, is, by virtue of her gender, a non-traditional candidate. Don’t forget that the U. S. lags just about every developed nation and many developing countries, including Afghanistan, in the percentage of women elected to their respective national parliaments. Pakistan, for Pete’s sake, had a woman prime minister years ago.

Trump, meanwhile, may have twisted the process in a non-traditional way, but he’s a very traditional presidential candidate in terms of being a wealthy white man who, as he’s quick to assure us, knows the system well.

I’m writing this weeks before the election and am as curious as anyone to see how it turns out.

Clinton won’t bring too many surprises as president. The Democratic Party seems to have decided that there is no aspect of life in which the government doesn’t know better and will continue to push policies that, however well-intentioned, are predicated on the notion that if all their programs just had enough of your and my money, everything would be fine. The country, meanwhile, proceeds apace toward a financial cliff.

With Trump as president, who knows? Some assume a Trump administration will be business-friendly, but if business admires anything, it’s reliability and consistency, and Trump seems unlikely to provide much of either.

In one view, the political insurrection that began with the Tea Party and continues with Trump represents a movement with real direction that will shape the nation’s future.

In my view, a new, millennial-dominated America is already taking shape, with its own values, virtues and vices. And Trump, to me, represents only a noisy, rear-guard action against that new reality.

The truth may be that both Clinton and Trump are past their expiration dates, and if the Republican Party can reconstitute itself in a way that makes sense to anyone under 50, things could get interesting in four years. Please stay tuned.

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