Part of me—a large part—sees this as a no-brainer. Who, with any claim to sense or logic, would vote for Donald Trump?
But voting is as much, often more, emotional than rational, so one cannot depend on that for preferred outcomes. A lot of people are emotionally committed to Trump. Their reasons are, from what I have seen and heard, based on nothing tangible about Trump. It is all about their own discontent with things-as-they-are.
The problem is—for all of us—that such assessments are based on what we see. And a lot of what we see is scary. It is extremely difficult to take comfort from logical conclusions based on impersonal data when we are deluged with images of pain, death, and imminent catastrophe. Humans are visually-oriented. We panic. If someone with presumed credibility and/or authority goes “Boo!” there is a small, slippery, worm-like core of our inner Id that vibrates in terror and drives our emotional responses.
Trump has been saying “Boo!” very well and he is aided by the news cycle that thrives on ratings bumps from mass shootings, political insanity, scandal, and predictions of collapse from around the world. Saying to yourself, “Now, calm down, this is not a true picture,” is very difficult in the face of events like the Dallas shootings, predictions of lost jobs, the Munich massacre, the continuing struggle in the Middle East.
Even though what we see is based on reality, the conclusions to be drawn are difficult with the lack of detail and the conflicting arguments over what these things mean.
“Why don’t our leaders do something!”
It does little to mollify that worm to be told “They are, they are, you just don’t see everything that’s going on.”
And of course sometimes they aren’t, at least not what we think they should be doing.
Because it is all those unseen machinations which you know are going on that serve to undermine your faith. Because we have been told for decades now that those “back room” goings-on are to our detriment. Powerful people doing things out of sight of the public for their own ends. Nothing good can come of it.
Well, I am prey to the same misgivings. I won’t lie. When it seems so obvious what The Problem is, the demand to know why nothing seems to be happening to solve it is perfectly reasonable. Patience frays. And you know—you know—deals are being done of which you would not approve. And clearly not all those deals work the way the people who made them intended. That only stands to reason.
So you have to ask, “What were they thinking?”
NAFTA is held up as one of the great deals that backfired. What were they thinking?
Well, I don’t think many of them did it with the intent to undermine the American labor force and cost us jobs. Some did, the CEOs and business industry moguls who stood to profit, I’m sure they were looking at the way their expenditures would evolve in that new environment, but even among them I doubt it was with the kind of cynicism one might find in a Darth Vader. They, like most of us, are as susceptible to myth as you or I. They probably “believed” what losses occurred in one sector would be made up for in another. The great American job creation machinery would fill the gap. As well, the immigration problem drove some of that, and we all know that the major driving force in most of that immigration had to do with the lopsided economies of Mexico and the United States. All those people were coming here because at home they could not find work and what work they could find did not pay enough. NAFTA might have brought the economy of Mexico up to as viable level to provide jobs at home and thus curtail the flow of illegal immigration.
I don’t think anyone expected the drug war to reach the heights it did.
But even without that, the machine logic of cost-benefit analysis ultimately swept away any “higher purpose” behind NAFTA and it became what it is, a horrible construct that has gutted a lot of American industry. To my mind, the crime was not that it failed but that in the face of that failure it wasn’t scrapped.
That almost never happens, though. Does it? We put these huge and complex things into place and, oh my, they don’t work the way we thought they would. But do we ever go back and say, “Enough, shut it down, this won’t work.” Rarely. Very rarely. Because of their complexity, because of the ancillary deals made to put them in place to begin with, because of the evolving dependencies they create, they become Rube-Goldberg structures impossible to undo without bringing destruction down upon even more people. So they have to be modified, amended, something over here has to change before we change this thing over there, otherwise…
Whether we like it or not—and for the most part we don’t—this is how the world works. It is all a huge, complicated Rube-Goldberg Thing that works inefficiently but is kept in place because otherwise chaos follows.
Trump is telling people he can tear it all down and we can start over—without killing anyone.
Or at least without killing anyone here. On some days he talks blithely about bombing the shit out of people who are not here.
Either way, he is telling people that huge, vast machine can be removed and things will get better.
It is flat out untrue.
Those mechanisms have evolved over time to do one basic thing—prevent chaos.
Granted, chaos happens anyway. Here and there, now and then, in relatively small pockets and doses. Because the mechanism changes—on its own or by intent—and that is one of the consequences.
Ronald Reagan gutted our national healthcare system which provided succor to the mentally ill. The consequence of that single act was to shut down facilities that had been caring for those suffering a variety of mental illnesses. They ended up on the street. We have the homeless problem today as a direct result. People died. He broke a system and probably, naively, expected the slack to be taken up by private institutions, and instead people died. Did he intend that? Certainly not. But he believed in certain myths and falsehoods and acted without regard to realities. He thought he was doing something correct, if not necessarily good.
So when Trump promises to undo, repeal, destroy, etc in order to make the impatient and the poorly-informed and the uncomfortable vote for him, he is lying about it being a good thing. People will die. Chaos will follow.
He’s lying willfully, because he understands “deals.” He knows about unintended consequences and he knows the pernicious tenacity of such constructs. He knows very well that if he does half of what he’s promised you and I will be in a world of hurt.*
Which brings me to Hillary.
I’ve been listening for years as people on the Right—and even in her own party—have vilified her. No doubt, some of the complaints have bases in fact. She is a technocrat. She understands those Rube-Goldberg systems of which I spoke. And for better or worse, she seems to understand that they must be managed. Destroying them leads down rabbit holes from which escape may be problematic at best. So she has spent her career engaged in the unglamorous, often unexamined job of maintaining systems which many regard as horrible. Here and there, from time to time, change can be worked on them, but never quickly, never in sweeping gestures, and rarely in terms that are easily explicable to those determined to not understand.
This is one of the reasons we see president-elects, almost always, change at least the priorities of their promised policies upon taking office. The difference between desire and the achievable, between the ideal and the possible. Sometimes that difference is not so great that the perceived “abandonment” of principle is very obvious. Sometimes it is. But it is, I believe, the responsible acceptance of the realities that creates the discontent for a president who seems to back off from campaign promises. You cannot just displace or destroy what you don’t like—unless you’re willing to see people die. Change has to come slowly.
It is the logic of our interconnectedness.
I believe Hillary Clinton understands this. Probably better than most. During the primary season, comparisons showed consistently that she and Sanders were mere degrees apart in terms of policy. Bernie was, in his own way, promising what Trump is promising—tear it all down and put up something that “works.” Hillary is more cautious.
I’m not going to rehearse her presumed “crimes” here. As I’ve said before, anyone who has moved in the circles she has for as long as she has will have made deals and done things that can easily be construed as criminal, depending on how they’re spun. The fact remains that the Republicans have spent millions and millions to find something that would put her out of the running if not in jail and have flat out failed. Hillary’s reputation as untrustworthy is perfectly understandable, because we go to that simplistic metric at all levels—the guy arrested and jailed, despite the Constitution, is always presumed guilty, otherwise why would he have been arrested and accused? Whether we like it or not, that’s just where we go. Hillary has been accused and accused and accused and found not guilty so many times that now, even if she did do something wrong, likely the accusation would have no greater force than all the false ones. But it has backfired by proving her to be one of the more honest candidates. Of course, those who already don’t like her won’t ever believe that.
Her choice of vice presidential running mate has caused further consternation among those who want to see sweeping reform. The desire was for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. Two thoughts on that. One, I have almost never seen a presidential ticket—at least, not a successful one—with two firebrands on the same ballot. A president doesn’t need a co-president, and frankly I would like to see a return to the days before Cheney in terms of the personality of VPs. Elizabeth Warren or Sanders both would be constant critics and because of their reputations and status it would be impossible for them not be in the limelight. Someone like Kaine is a smart choice.
But the other thing about both of them is their power in the Senate. I want them both there. We need a congressional overhaul and you don’t make positive change by sidelining your best people. I would have been disappointed had Hillary picked either of them. It would not have bode well for the Senate in the long run and would have gained Hillary only short term benefit. As I said, she understands how these systems work and this was a clear demonstration of that savvy.
To all the Bernie fans who claim they won’t vote for her. Don’t shoot the rest of us in the foot. Bernie needs to be in the Senate where he can be both effective critic and strong ally for a president who will be inclined to work with him. Refusal to support Hillary this time around is petulance on par with Trump’s die-hard acolytes. Think long term. The system needs change, but you don’t do that by wrecking it first. I know you don’t like Hillary, but so what? It may well be that she’s your best hope of getting some of what you want—and what we need—done. Saddle her with the same GOP congress, minus either Warren or Sanders, and that likelihood goes down. View Sanders and Warren as the anchors of a new congress, we could see some good stuff happen.
My two bits, adjusted for inflation.
*The Gold Standard for the idea that sweeping change can happen is FDR. And yes, he did a LOT. But consider—the system was already cracked and dysfunctional and nearly broken, globally, when he did that. And then WWII happened. The situation provided the opportunity by itself scrapping huge parts of that apparatus. His job was less changing the mechanism as it was creating new machinery to do the job no longer being done. We do not have that situation now and we had better hoe we don’t see such a situation. 2008 was bad but things still functioned. As bad as it was it was still not historically on par with the Great Depression.