This past summer I vacationed in Washington, D.C. with my wife. While I have worked in D.C many times over the years, I had not taken in the sights since at least the early nineties. Other than the stifling heat and mini-blackout that affected the hotel we were staying in, it was a fun and informative trip. Some of the exhibits we checked out had extra special significance given that we are in a particularly divisive presidential election cycle.
I have a keen interest in history and politics and there were more than enough museums, memorials and exhibits to keep me interested for the three days we were there. That being said, there were some highlights that stood out. The Smithsonian had a special exhibit about the history of U.S. presidential elections. It focused on the issues that surrounded each particular election, the agenda of the candidates and the views of voters. My wife and I also waited in line to view the Bill of Rights and The Constitution which were kept in a climate controlled case. Seeing the documents up close that are part of the foundation of our republic reinforced what freedom and liberty mean to me. Finally, we spent time at the Holocaust museum. Following the timeline of the rise of Hitler and fascism was particularly significant. The historical footage from that era and the personal accounts of how people were affected made me realize that you can never let your guard down when it comes to politicians and what their true goals are when they seek power.
It was extremely easy, based upon the D.C. trip, to start drawing conclusions about the democratic and republican nominees for president. The first thing that I thought was “this is really the best we have to offer our country and the world?” How can it be that these two individuals were on the verge of the presidency? Both seem especially damaged compared to previous candidates and one, in my opinion, seemed quite ignorant.
After returning home from our trip the election rhetoric and divisiveness really started to pick up. I have had awareness of nine presidential elections in my lifetime and this one by far has had the worst mud-slinging. The Willie Horton episode during the Bush/Dukakis election seems tame compared to what’s been going on this year. While Hillary Clinton has encouraged by her actions a great deal of worthy skepticism by the electorate, the republican presidential nominee has had absolutely no problem injecting xenophobic, racist, regressive and factually incorrect statements into the campaign debate.
Even though it has happened before, particularly in the Goldwater and Nixon campaigns, it seems particularly sad that a presidential candidate would take advantage of free speech and resort to hyperbole that tears at the very fabric of our union. Additionally, his delivery has been very alarming as it resembles authoritarian rhetoric that includes blame-shifting, historical reworking and double-think reminiscent of the novels 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The design of Donald Trump’s language, crafted by many years as an actor and public figure that understands what the media feeds on, is very hard to resist without a conscious effort to question it.
I recently found a remarkable video online that features an interview of Aldous Huxley by Mike Wallace from 1958. In the interview, Huxley posits that conditions are ripe for a totalitarian regime, quite possibly in the U.S., and that the instance of this is “right around the corner.” Here we are some fifty odd years later and Huxley’s prediction can not be ignored. The factors leading up to the election are quite alarming. We have an authoritarian candidate, an alpha-male assuming the role of a father figure that claims to be the only one that can “fix the mess” our country is in. The candidate is also masterful in his use of the media and seems to not only play the media like a fiddle but also has complicit individuals willing to humanize him like Jimmy Fallon and Dr. Oz. Add to those factors voters that are hopeless and eager for change because their lives and livelihoods have deteriorated or at the very least stagnated for years. Many of these people have suffered as a result of the recession and globalization. I fear that despite what any politician says or promises, be it a change candidate or recycled candidate, the jobs and 401K’s of these disaffected people are never coming back. It seems that the world has left them behind and our smartest government officials have failed in the process.
There is a case to be made for change but it is troublesome that voters would consider Donald Trump as a change for the better. Once you get past his provocative proclamations, you are struck with the fact that he has spent his entire life working in his own self-interest and not in the interest of others. He also does not appear to have an understanding or curiosity about the mechanisms of government and leadership outside of his own business. Additionally, he refuses to reveal anything about himself other then the slightest surface details and is on pace to set the Guinness Book of World Records record for falsehoods. If we consider the presidency at its most primary distinction, that of a job, clearly he is shockingly under qualified. I doubt people would get on a plane if a pilot displayed the same attributes that Donald Trump presents to voters yet close to half the country is willing to give him the keys to The White House. The most puzzling part of Trump’s support resides in the fact that in a country that prides itself in freedom, people are willing to risk having their freedom severely diminished by giving an authoritarian their vote.
I can’t say I share much in common with the average Trump supporter. In my opinion, many of their views are misguided and based solely upon irrational judgements and acceptance of falsities. However, I do understand their disenchantment with the political status quo and their desire for change. This is also something that Donald Trump understands very well. While he may not be the smartest presidential candidate the U.S. has ever produced, he might very well be the most clever and certainly the most manipulative. Many people wrote Trump off as a “crackpot” or “dumb” when he began his quest for the presidency. I wish he was as dumb as he presents himself. The truth is that he is smart enough to understand how to get elected yet dumb enough to destroy our economy, involve us in protracted conflicts and destroy our standing in the world. He is George W. Bush on steroids.
What I learned at the holocaust museum was that many Germans made the same mistake about Hitler when he started to gain power in Germany that our electorate is making about Donald Trump. Initially they did not take him seriously and this allowed him to gain a foothold with people that were suffering economically a great deal after WWI. Let us hope that history does not repeat itself and that The United States does not suffer the same fate that Germany did by allowing an authoritarian to ascend to the highest position in our democracy. If that is the case we may very well wind up a dictatorship.