The other day, I nearly got into a heated argument with a friend of 40 years standing. Sensing it was coming, we agreed to disagree on the subject and talk about other things. Whew. Because the subject, which quickly raised a threatening response from my friend - then from me - was not worth the loss.
The subject was Donald Trump.
Because so many other “opinionators” have been pounding on the bastard for so long, I’ve tried - with some success - to avoid the subject. But he’s now such an undesirable icon in so much of our lives that his image and verbal obscenities are slopping over into matters other than politics. It’s nearly impossible to turn on a radio/TV, read a newspaper or converse with friends without him appearing because he has tainted so many subjects. He may, I fear, have permanently tainted our history.
I see his lasting damage in two prime areas: politics, society-at-large.
There’s no question Trump has infected civil discourse in the conduct of political campaigns. Because he is successfully drawing supporters with his baseless campaign, there’ll be copycats. Others, seeking political office at any level, will try to use his bombastic, truth-free, violence-tainted ways. I can name more than half a dozen already in national office who’ve come close in past campaigns and who now may be emboldened to step further over the limits of civility and propriety in the conduct of their next one. Especially if Trump - God forbid - has any real success. He’s a cancerous boil on the body politic and marking the low point in campaigns against which future efforts will be compared.
He’s openly and unashamedly seeking to attract racists, homophobes, the deliberately misinformed and others who would follow anyone they sense is saying the things they’re thinking. Trump’s playbook has it’s roots in political ancestors like George Wallace in 1968: “briefcase-carrying, pointy-headed liberals who need to be thrown in the Potomac.” Youthful media types, not alive in 1968, refer to Wallace now because of his iconic imagery representing the characteristics described above for Trump. In a decade or two, George will be replaced by Trump as the race-bating, hate-mongering, loudmouth playing on people’s fears.
For those reasons - and many more - Trump has deliberately created a political atmosphere that, I believe, will permanently alter future elections, the kind and quality of candidates who’ll run and how we elect presidents. Sadly, win or lose, his effects will taint future our politics.
Trump’s other lasting undesirable legacy will be on our nation at-large. Even before him, our society had become coarser, louder and more deeply affected by voices of institutional ignorance and anger. Ignorance seemingly deliberate in the face of facts easily obtained - anger at institutions and leaders caused mostly by a changing world those voices don’t comprehend. They want to deny the changes and sound a badly misplaced demand to return to some point in time when, they believe, society was more “acceptable” and “smaller” problems easily solved.
Trump has become self-appointed avenger for all wrong. “His people” see him as a “Sampson” who’ll personally tear down the institutions they fear as crooked and unresponsive. He speaks to their ignorance of our government and life as it really is by making promises he can’t keep and encouraging them to continue a fight they can’t win.
Maybe his most lasting, decaying influence on this nation is to temporarily lead in the creation of a permanent underclass of citizens. Everyday people who - bombarded by hate radio, false prophets and seemingly unlimited dollars from right-wing billionaires - are encouraged to believe they alone know the “truth.” With constant, phony affirmation, they’re being assured the way they feel and the things they believe are “real,” the “truth,” that “most Americans believe as they do” and any voices to the contrary are lying to them.
Our economy has been hijacked to send 90% of its benefits to the top 1% and allow the other 99% to fall slowly, but most assuredly, behind no matter how hard we work. That’s made millions of Americans angry. Hell, I’m one! The difference is, most of us know why and what needs to be done. The people Trump is appealing to don’t. They believe - and he’s reinforcing those beliefs - we need to turn the whole government upside down, tell the rest of the world to “go to Hell,” take care of only ourselves and bomb any country that doesn’t see things our way.
The danger Trump personally represents to the country and our cherished way of life is, to me, minimal. The more serious, urgent threat is the millions of people who believe him and his medicine man show of cheap, easy elixers, false claims and lies. Those who see him as a “savior in their wilderness” will be here long after he’s gone. They are now - and will continue to be - the political spawn of a blow-dried heretic.