It feels distant now that two-thirds of Republicans are in full pearl-clutching mode over the other one-third’s fervent embrace of Donald Trump, but it was just weeks ago that basically everyone considered the candidacy of a golf course and bankruptcy mogul to be a joke. The Huffington Post even made a big splash by announcing they would only cover Trump’s campaign as entertainment, not politics, because he’s a “sideshow.”
Now here we are at the end of August and Trump’s nativist know-nothingism has a commanding lead in the Republican race and a commanding presence on the HuffPo politics page.
I’m not looking to bash on the Huffington Post since at the time it seemed like a logical extension of expectations for a Trump campaign, even if it looks supremely silly in hindsight. I’m looking to bash all of us — media, activists, pundits, voters, non-voters — who through disdain, disinterest or disenchantment allow the political system to become a circus.
Another Trump case in point: Being pressed by George Stephanopoulos to explain how he would actually build a wall across our southern and get Mexico to pay for it, Trump insisted it was simply a matter of “management.” This is, of course, prime grade bullshit but it’s part and parcel of what a certain angry, disenchanted, and racially aggrieved white voter wants to hear. They expect everyday lies from everyday politicians so when Trump pretends to “tell it like it is” he can unleash whoppers that satisfy those followers’ visceral needs.
And the outbreak of idiocy is contagious. Jeb(!) Bush waded into the debate over so-called “anchor babies,” found the water was too deep and decided to get out by declaring anchor babies were really only a problem with Asians. Now Republican candidates are falling over themselves to pledge an end to birthright citizenship, one of the historic elements of the American experiment, because history only matters when it jibes with their current political beliefs.
It’s not limited to immigration. Discussion of LGBT issues has devolved to specious arguments about cake baking, fear mongering on religious freedom, and asking which candidates would attend a gay wedding. Candidates are competing to see who can get the government furthest into a woman’s uterus while pandering to open-carry lunatics who want to see a gun in every hand and a full clip in every pocket.
On economics — what Republicans have considered hallowed home turf ever since Reagan blew up the deficit to historic proportions — (!) Bush has promised 4% growth, a pie-in-the-sky economic fantasy that belies nearly every fact about the U.S. economy over the past 50 years. Naturally, former governor and current charlatan Mike Huckabee thinks it’s such a great idea that he’s promising 5% growth, because the best way to counter a fantasy is with a bigger fantasy.
Which brings us back to Trump, the man who took the sideshow of Republican primary politics and turned it into a full-blown circus of contortionist elephants. He pledges to “make America great again,” ignoring that much of that past greatness was built on ideals we reject today (slavery, misogyny, trails of tears, child labor, just to name a few). He bellows that vague “negotiation,” “management” and “strength” will make our country great again and hears himself echoed from his scrambling fellow candidates.
This is the low-rent hucksterism of men trying to sell your town a monorail, the culmination of substance-free business theories promulgated through misleading Powerpoint presentations. It is the end result of an electorate with such low expectations for their political system that idiotic platitudes and promises seem like the best options.
To paraphrase one of the architects of our current political climate, you go into an election with the democracy you have, not the democracy you want. If we’re going to do better, we need higher expectations.
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