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Correcting Course?

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Nixon, Clinton, and now Trump.  Once again, the nation’s capital is becoming consumed with accusation, investigation and scandal.  On the one hand, it’s just politics – a bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred death match.  The egos involved all around Washington make things like this inevitable – these are people that want to win, and are willing to use whatever means are at their disposal to do so – up to and including creating a media firestorm designed to befuddle, not inform, the public.  It has saddened me since my father explained to me during Watergate that when things like this happen politics far outweighs justice.  Yet history has proven my father so correct.  Clinton was/is clearly guilty of perjury. Yet the Senate exonerated him.  Nixon, also guilty, was more noble and the Senate never had its chance.

But Trump seems to be a very different story.  Trump is first and foremost a media creature, not a political one.  I have certainly heard from numerous reporters that there is evidence that Trump’s political victory is accidental from Trump’s perspective; that he sought office to enhance his media profile, not to actually win the office.  That said, temperament and personality quirks acknowledged, he seems to be doing his best to fulfill the obligations electoral victory has placed on him.  I find this admirable, but it is deeply threatening to the professional political class.  This is indeed a bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred political fight, but of a different order.  This is not Republican v Democrat, this is much, much bigger than that.

It is commonly described as “populism” – a term generally used derisively, but all it means is, “support for the concerns of ordinary people.”  The derisive connotations of the term are born of of two factors really.  One is simply cynicism, a conviction that no one would go to the trouble to run for the “concerns of ordinary people;” that claims of such is simply political cover for a different agenda.  The other factor is that some famous populists have also been quite corrupt, which deeply fuels the cynicism.

Populism can be dangerous.  There is a famous quote, variously attributed:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.

Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage.

Indeed, “ordinary people” can be as self-serving as any office-seeker/holder.  But if we buy into the fact that Trump is an “accidental” president then I think we are presented with populism of a very different nature.  We are, in fact, presented with a genuine populism – not a manipulation of voters for cynical purposes, but a genuine and sincere effort by voters to change the direction of things.

Last Thursday, reflecting on the Zito/Todd book, I said:

Over and over again in that book, people talk about being a part of something that is bigger than Trump and bigger than themselves.  Another way to look at that is that Trump may be in front of the parade, but he is not leading it.

Again, Trump is an accidental president, a reflection of a very real change in voter sentiment – an actual bottom-up movement.

If that is the case, then running Trump through the now-standard accusation, investigation and scandal cycle is aiming at the wrong political target.  People are not so vested in Trump as they are vested in the movement.  Taking down Trump simply means they will shove someone else to the fore.  In point of fact, taking down Trump in this fashion will likely only fuel the movement, presenting more evidence that Washington has become a thing detached from the people.

The “media/Washington complex” needs to think carefully as things plunge ahead with Mueller, Daniels, et. al.  They are trying to gain political victory.  They may not get the victory they think they will.


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