The most repeated phrase of late on social media and on talking-head shows is, “This election is unlike anything ever before!”
Each time I hear it I have to chuckle. Is it just a sign of our times that we think ourselves so special that everything we do has to be the biggest or best, worst or most spectacular, than anything ever seen before? Maybe it’s part of the “Let’s make America Great Again” theme, that by making a YUGE spectacle out of our processes we can take some pride in doing things differently.
Surely one has to dig deep in history to find a candidate who was more unusual than Donald Trump, but parts of his character have been exhibited before, just not so many oddities in one package. After all, he is a multiple times party switching, issue jumping, vague, crass, boorish, mendacious, insult driven, egotistical, did I say crass, and unconventional candidate.
We have not seen so many of these characteristics in one candidate in a long time, if ever. He has swayed a consistent one-third of the Republican primary voters to support him.
In this field that started with 17 and is now down to five, one third has been enough to allow him to crow, “I am winning and we will see so much winning that we will get tired of winning.”
His lack of eloquence is stunning. When asked about a specific policy issue, he utters what are even difficult to characterize as phrases, which sound like this: “”We are going to have things, many things, and we are going to be dynamic again.” Or sometimes they sound like this, “And I get that from so many people, ‘Is the American dream dead?, they are asking me the question, “Is the American dream dead?’, and the American dream is in trouble ,but we are going to get it back and do some real jobs. How about the man in the red hat! What a beautiful hat!”
Yes the American dream surely seems to be in trouble and the best evidence is the candidacy of Trump. Surely our forefathers are turning in their graves to think that someone like Trump has an honest to goodness pathway to the most powerful position in the world. In the 19th Century a man who made huge sums of money on the backs of working people, legitimate and illegal, bankrupting his way to the top while leavings scores of people holding the debt bag, would be called a Robber Baron. In the 21st Century, apparently someone like that is a populist. We do live in interesting times.
But history gives us many example of characters running for office who were out of the ordinary. It offers unusual alliances, and has from the very beginning.
One only has to look at the election of 1800, where Thomas Jefferson, running with Aaron Burr, was challenging the re-election of John Adams, after having served as Adams’ vice president.
Still following this? Yes, the former VP was running against the sitting president, with each being from a different party. That election went to the House of Representatives for a winner and it took 36 ballots for Jefferson to be elected, although by the time it got to the House Jefferson was then running against Burr with Adams in third place.
How did Jefferson win? He gained the support of Alexander Hamilton, a strong Adams supporter and a Federalist Party member, but a mortal, (yes mortal, since Burr shot and killed Hamilton later in a duel), enemy of Burr, who pushed several other Federalists to back the Democratic Republican Party candidate Jefferson.
Our election process has always been a bit messy and sometimes much more derisive than calling your opponent a liar, a loser, or someone who sweats. In the 1828 election between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, Adams called Jackson many things including “adulterer.” Jackson accused Adams of being a “pimp” for the Russian Czar using young American girls. In 1872 incumbent Ulysses S. Grant defeated a corpse since Horace Greely died before the electoral votes were even cast.
So now with Trump leading the GOP field for the nomination, the dumbing down of America seems to be going full speed. But we have always had highly variable and inflammatory standards!
Somehow we just survive election years, while searching for someone to lead, someone to rise above the mire, someone to appeal to our better selves. We need Someone who paints a picture for us of what might be rather than throwing mud on the canvas and calling it art.
Ed H. Moore resides in Tallahassee, Florida, where he is perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder. Column courtesy of Context Florida.