Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trump Presidency Just the Latest in a Series of Steps Down

About a decade and a half ago,  it felt like everything in the country,  and indeed in the world,  was falling apart at the seams.

Mostly, these changes seemed to be happening in the United States, and it was not making things better, but decidedly worse. Of course, all of this started at the top, with what passed for leadership in the White House.

Seriously, that was what it felt like. The United States of America was almost an entirely different country than what I had known it to be. Torture was increasingly being accepted as necessary,  and even welcomed by some as both a form of retribution, as well as a method of obtaining information. This, despite strong evidence that it is in fact not a very effective method of actually getting valuable or reliable information.We were also starting illegal and immoral wars under false pretenses, blatantly lying about it and inventing the reasons justifying an invasion of Iraq, and did all of this against the world's wishes. Much of the rest of the world began to view the United States as the most serious threat to world peace. Environmental regulations were being attacked and dismantled, and climate change was viewed with extreme skepticism. Paradoxically, when the Bush administration finally did admit a few years later (after Hurricane Katrina) that climate change was real, it still did next to nothing to cut emissions. And of course, there was blatant corruption involving corporations with ties to the administration, from Enron to Halliburton to Blackwater, and looser laws (code word for that, the seeming magical catch phrase "deregulation") was allowing corporations to get away with still more corruption, which caused the economy to sag for most of Bush's presidency, before almost completely derailing towards the very end of it. And through all of these serious economic problems, Bush kept pushing for lower and lower taxes, particularly for corporations and those privileged few at the very top.

All of this came with the backdrop of the most serious national security disaster and failure in recent American history, a kind of present day Pearl Harbor, if you will. Most Americans initially liked the manner in which Bush responded to the September 11th attacks. This, despite the fact that he and his cronies used that tragedy to grab onto more power, pushing through ever more invasive legislation, most famously the PATRIOT Act. Still, he won the election in 2004 for another term, even though his popularity ratings had nosedived, and they would continue to sink well into his second term, where they remained at almost historically low levels for the duration of his time in office.

Most Americans were fed up at the end of those long years, which were filled with numerous problems. The nation's reputation had not come out of them untarnished, and most of the rest of the world viewed the country through much different eyes, and not for the better. It seemed that the country, and indeed, the world, could not wait for a regime change right here in Washington.

At the time, especially early on during the Bush years, I was worried that the Bush administration was perhaps just another in a long series of steps down. After all, the country had moved in what felt like a very wrong direction ever since it elected Ronald Reagan into the highest office. Ever since then, each Republican president grew worse and worse, and it felt that the Democratic presidents were on board with this damaging, corrosive, and corrupt ideology, as well. But the absurdities were even more glaringly obvious with Republicans. From Reagan to Bush Sr. to Bush Jr., it all felt like things were going downhill, and fast. Yet, these were only the presidents. There were other horrendous politicians who seemed to occupy themselves with making the country worse, and less free, and they were on both sides of the political aisle. There were guys like Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay and Bob Packwood and Joseph Lieberman and Dick Cheney. But the country kept electing these clowns into high offices, and into positions of prominence, distinction, and influence. Then they turned around and wondered why the country seemed to be going down the tubes!

But I held out a ray of hope that Bush had just been bad enough for people to finally have learned their lessons. I was not fully convinced, mind you, and the fast rise of the Tea Party almost instantly dissuaded this line of thinking. But for a little while, I thought that there had been enough opposition to Bush and his policies, and that most people (or at least enough people) were tired of these elitist policies that were destroying the country.

Boy,  was that ever wishful thinking!

Fast forward eight years, and enter President Donald Trump. In other words, enter our present predicament, and the latest round of prominent politicians who have absolutely no answers, yet who the American people still trusted with the highest and most prestigious positions in the land. Once again, we are edging closer to illegal and immoral wars, as well as to torture. Once again, environmental regulations are being rolled back, and worse, climate change skepticism, and skepticism of science in general, is politically in vogue. For that matter, faith in trickle down economics is also again in vogue, as are relentless tax cuts to corporations and the very wealthy. Yes, once again, we have a president who seems to be comfortable with lying, although he does it even more relentlessly and effortlessly than any president before him. Once again, elitist and even racism mindsets are having a field day, and are wining one political battle after another. Once again, we have a president who subscribes to the notion of "American exceptionalism" as giving him, and the country, the green light to do whatever the hell we want in the world, wherever and whenever we want to do it, for whatever reasons that we see fit. And not surprisingly, once again, America's formerly good name is being dragged through the mud, as still more and more people the world over view the United States with increased skepticism and distrust. Once again, many around the world view this country as the biggest threat to world peace.

And you know what? They are not necessarily wrong. In fact, they are quite right, and this has never been so glaringly obvious as with Trump at the helm. The man most undeserving to hold the highest office in the land is now in charge, and his loyal base does not seem to notice or care about which promises he quickly tossed aside once actually in power. Hell, I know one guy who I formerly thought an intelligent and thoughtful guy (hard to continue to think of him in this same manner given much of what he has said and the beliefs that he has revealed since November), and he still proudly declares that he voted for Trump. Just the other day, he was blaming the "black Nazi" president who somehow, according to him, never goes away, for the Russian news going off the air. It is amazing how much people seem to live in a world almost entirely of their own making, believing whatever "facts" they want to believe in. Does it matter to him that Trump already was unable to deliver on some of his key promises, such as getting Mexico to pay for his damn wall, or making sure all Americans are covered in his proposed healthcare bill, or that he has failed to divorce himself from his businesses or release his taxes to the public, all of which he promised to do before becoming president, only to renege on these since taking to the oath? Not one but, apparently.

Unfortunately, this is probably not some isolated incident, either. There are likely similar stories all across the country. Hell, I know quite a few people who I had formerly thought a little higher of in terms of their intelligence, only to have these perceptions blasted once they expressed enthusiastic support of Trump. Maybe that sounds terribly judgmental of me, but frankly, Trump is and always has been such an unbelievable narcissist and lying con artist, and this has never been a hidden or obscure fact since the guy first became famous. How anyone who was familiar with him all the way back in the 1980's, and has watched him since, could not come to the same conclusion is, frankly, beyond me! And how so many Americans, even here in the heart of what is supposed to be liberal elitist territory, can jump on the Trump bandwagon and get on board with all of his xenophobia and climate change denial and all of his other arrogant positions and mannerisms, is just beyond me! Frankly, it is hard for me not only to take Trump seriously, given all of his lying, but it is hard for me to not look upon the man as anything but ridiculous, and a bad joke. Frankly, it speaks very poorly of anyone who failed to notice all of the negatives about the man, or rather, who made a point of looking the other way in order not to see the obvious.

When I was a kid, it felt like President Ronald Reagan was in charge for just about forever. I remember the day that he was first inaugurated, and people talking about him as the new president, although ironically, I do not remember Jimmy Carter's last day as president, even though it was the same day. Already, Reagan was influencing the perception of the news in such a way that my own memory of active presidents begins with Reagan, and not Carter, on that day, even though Carter began that day still as president. My family was very skeptical of Reagan, although we lived in a very conservative town, where almost everyone seemed to support Reagan. Reagan just had that style, but he was hard to beat. He could speak articulately, even eloquently, and obviously could move people with his speeches, like he did with his address following the Challenger disaster. You could easily see why he was known as "The Great Communicator."

That was less the case with his Vice-President and eventual successor, George H. W. Bush, who took over. It felt almost unreal to me that someone other than Reagan could be in charge, because Reagan had been in the White House from the point that I was six years old, all the way to when I was 14, and in high school. Bush never had that same kind of easy sway and grip, and I still personally remember him looking at his watch during a presidential debate in 1992, almost as a signal that his time in office was up.

Still, there was a Republican revival in 1994, led by Newt Gingrich, and another step down. In 2000, George W. Bush basically stole the election, and became president. He came across as much less impressive than either Reagan or his own father, and lowered the bar still further. After eight years in office, the country was much worse off than it had been, and this reality was undeniable to a vast majority of Americans.

Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in 2000, and they already were in control of the Supreme Court. But for most of Bush's two terms, they gained still more power, until finally, people began to wise up to just how bad a president he was, and the extent of the damage that he was doing to the country. Their grip on all branches of government was loosened, and of course, in 2008, Obama won the presidency, along with a Democratic majority in the Senate.

But almost immediately came the rise of the Tea Party, which was still yet another step down. It should be noted that Obama, like Clinton before him, had accepted a pro-corporate stance that moved the Democrats in an alarmingly neocon direction in their own right. When Obama's term in office expired, the Democrats forced through Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that she was clearly struggling in the Democratic primaries, and seemed like a much more vulnerable candidate than many had expected her to be. That should have sounded a warning to the mainstream Democrats, but they apparently remained deaf to it. Many of them still have not heard the news, and continue to blame everyone else on her loss in November.

Which brings us to Trump, and the wide majority rule of Republicans, once again, in every branch of government. Still new lows, and the bar gets lower and lower each time. Trump is, far and away, the worst of the Republicans, in terms of his qualifications and personality, in the last 37 years. I am not sure that I would give him the dubious distinction of "worst president in history" just yet, as Bush Jr. still holds that. After all, Trump has not yet started an illegal and immoral war against the world's wishes that saw an estimated one million Iraqis and thousands of Americans die, with many hundreds of thousands more injured. Clearly, however, Trump is getting closer to this distinction as truly the worst president ever.

My biggest fear is that the country still has not learned it's lesson. That guy that I am talking about, and a few other enthusiastic Trump supporters, have not let his obvious nonsense and incompetency rain on their self-indulgent, "alternative facts" parade.

Frankly, that makes me worry - quite a bit - about what might come next, and if the impossible might happen. After all, I never would have thought that anyone would make George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and their ridiculous excuse of an administration, look moderate by way of comparison. But after seeing Trump rise to victory, it now feels as if anything goes, and the country has abandoned all standards. And that is what makes me nervous about what, or who, is coming down the road next!

Because we still seem to be in the process of descending, collectively. And there are precious few signs politically to suggest that we have learned much of anything, and are finally deciding that we have had enough. Apparently, millions of Americans like where we are, and the direction which this country is going in, and that is the scariest thought of all!

It's enough to keep me up at night, sometimes!

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