As Bill Clinton might say, it all depends on how you define “it.” In this article, “it” means Revolution. Experts, so-called, on such things never seem to see one coming until the rebels are coming down the chimney and the situation has gone completely out of control. The American Revolution of 1775-1783 is a good example.
A few wise heads in the 1760s British Parliament saw great risk in treating American colonists like lackeys who could be bullied and fleeced at will. But from George III on down, most leaders acted arrogantly. They burdened the colonies with a succession of new taxes without consulting a soul in America. Then they sent thousands of troops to occupy Boston. Finally, colonists’ patience ran out and the whole thing went over the cliff. Few (over there) dreamed that a few bedraggled colonists (over here) could threaten the established order in North America. By the time King George’s government saw how dire the situation was, it was beyond salvaging. The experts never saw revolution coming, so they couldn’t defuse it with sound policies or handle it wisely when it arrived.
Not every revolution is successful, of course – especially at the national level. Success requires a confluence of luck, resources, popular support, incompetent opposition, and a significant advantage – like an entire ocean of separation, as in the case of our 1775 revolt. In 1861, eleven southern states of the USA had some of those advantages when they decided to secede and form the Confederate States of America. They had motivation, spirit, fine military leadership, and the good fortune of being opposed, at first, by unprepared and poorly led Union armies. Unfortunately, they also had a huge disadvantage in resources and population, which worked against them in a long war.
The American Civil War – southerners still say there was nothing “civil” about it – was immensely costly in blood and treasure, and ruinous to the nation’s unity. The whole mess might have been avoided by prudent measures, good will, and compromise on both sides. But experts again failed to see what was coming and how bad the results would be when it came. Leaders and soldiers of both the Union and the Confederacy thought the war would be over (in their favor) in a few weeks. Only a few visionaries, like General Sherman, saw that the war would be long, bloody and very expensive.
The French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, of course, are classic examples of political explosions that very few predicted. In 18th century France, class differences and their associated levels of wealth (or poverty) had become grossly exaggerated. Aristocrats lived in great luxury, while millions of peasants either starved or scratched out meager livings. France’s upper strata remained aloof, indifferent and blind to the storm-surge a-building. Lulled by centuries of wealth and privilege, the aristocracy had no inkling of the explosive future. Ironically, French leaders, themselves, imported the very seeds of revolution by helping us to succeed in our rebellion against Britain. Tales of those dramatic events, related by returning French soldiers, eventually produced the spark that set off the French Revolution.
In Russia, similar disparities in wealth and privilege also prevailed, but war was the trigger for two revolutions. In 1904, a disastrous naval defeat inflicted by Japan set off the 1905 revolution. Disorganized and poorly focused, it was crushed by the secret police and the army. The empire then enjoyed a decade of recovery and prosperity in which working class people saw marked improvement in their standard of living.
But once again war broke up the party. After Serbian terrorists assassinated Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife in June 1914, Austrian leaders decided to “punish” Serbia militarily. Fancying himself the Great Protector of the Slavs, Czar Nicholas II mobilized his armies. When he wouldn’t stand down, Austria-Hungary’s ally, Germany, declared war on him. Various alliances were then activated, igniting the ghastly conflict we call World War I. Neither the Czar nor his advisors foresaw the catastrophe ahead. Three years of war wrecked the Russian economy. Its armies suffered nearly 2 million dead and millions more wounded. After the Czar was deposed, Lenin’s Bosheviks overthrew the revolutionary government and took over.
Other revolutions – not just the shooting kind – demonstrate the thesis that revolutions are rarely foreseen. Our own 1960s “sexual revolution” clearly shows this. American society’s pressure on young people to delay marriage to later and later times in their lives because of increased schooling demands finally ignited an explosion that only a few social analysts foresaw. Some had warned that it was unrealistic to make young people delay legitimate sexual expression until their late 20s or even 30s, but most institutions, including churches, ignored those warnings. Something had to give, and finally it did.
Right now, the USA is in the midst of another social revolution, and once again the “wise ones” didn’t foresee it. There were rumblings for several years, but politicians and “analysts” brushed them aside. The revolution has no exact name yet. Some call it “populism,” but I prefer to call it the Revolt of the Normal Culture. In an immediate sense, it is a reaction to eight years of a radical presidency that has rendered the country unrecognizable and almost ungovernable. But it is also a pent-up protest against creeping degeneracy in our once moral and upright nation. Normal Culturists are disgusted by a government that seems to be working against their interests and traditional morality, and they desperately want to reclaim the country.
For several election cycles this faction has listened to Republican leaders’ promises to stop the madness and correct the country’s direction. Voters have placed both the House and the Senate in the GOP’s hands, but they have seen scant opposition to the most radical, lawless and overreaching president in history. Voters refused to support two successive milquetoast candidates who failed to contend for the office by returning liberal fire. At the end of Mr. Obama’s second term, GOP office-holders seem powerless to change the country’s direction.
A ray of hope appeared in 2015, when a bold candidate emerged who said things that Establishment Republicans would not (or could not) say. He gave hope to voters longing for a real leader to reclaim the country they once knew. Not only did he say what people wanted to hear, but his business record suggested that he might actually get something done. His manner is rough and combative. His language lacks the diplomatic polish of experienced pols. He calls a spade a spade (and some other names, too). He’s not perfect (who is?), but he’s positive and he knows how to lead. He wants the country to regain its greatness. Soldiers in the Normal Culture Revolution think they have found their leader.
Of course, this revolution, like others in the past, might not succeed. Guardians of the political status quo have marshaled powerful forces against Mr. Trump to keep him from wrecking the political system that furnishes them such nice livings. Careers of an army of political hustlers depend on gullible voters funding their efforts to “put things right.” The unproductive “results” of those efforts are then used to justify calls for still more funding. “This time we’ll get it done” – echoing the Brooklyn Dodgers’ old cry of “wait till next year…” – is the oft-repeated GOP line. It never happens, but it’s their pitch, and they’re sticking to it.
A Trump victory could mess up this scam, so GOP insiders must stop him. Their power, plus the big money of the Clinton Democrats, might do it. As noted above, revolutions need a confluence of favorable circumstances to succeed. Overpowering opposition resources often carry the day.
Despite his political missteps, ill-advised declarations, and unconventional manner, though, Mr. Trump enjoys a significant advantage. His opponent is not a dashing, silver-tongued slickster in a $2000 Armani suit. Instead, she is a shrill, unattractive, uninspiring, woman of nearly 70. Her “honest and trustworthy” support is barely 30% of the people. Her health-status is questionable. She offers no program except continuation of Mr. Obama’s disastrous economy, unchecked illegal immigration, racial polarization, war against local law-enforcement, gun-control, high taxes, and out-of-control regulation. Her record as Secretary of State was disastrous. The entire raison d'être for her candidacy is something called “presidential temperament.” She claims she has it, but Donald Trump does not. With no more than this to offer the country, is it any wonder that her main pitch amounts to: “I am not Donald Trump”?
Meanwhile, a torrent of Mrs. Clinton’s deleted e-mails is gushing forth. Her lies about classified information on her private server are being disclosed. The FBI Director has “damned her with faint praise” for sloppy handling of classified material that would land most civil servants in jail. Her poll-lead over Mr. Trump is shrinking. He is on the move, while she hides from the media except in set-piece speeches where she can’t be queried. Reporters have noticed that she hasn’t held a press-conference for nine months.
In any normal campaign, Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy would be toast. But opposition to Mr. Trump within his own party has kept her afloat. Solidly in her corner, the media hope they have damaged The Donald enough to give Mrs. Clinton the win. All this could compensate for her disastrous record and corrupt mingling of State duties with fund-raising for the Clinton Foundation. Dispirited Normal Culture soldiers might desert and let the most corrupt candidate in our history enter the Oval Office…
…But maybe not. As Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” In 1980, Big Media mercilessly trashed Ronald Reagan as a “dumb actor reading lines.” He was: incapable; totally unfit for the presidency; an “amiable dunce;” a maniac who would blow up the world. (Sound familiar?) Sure, they said, Mr. Carter had some bad luck and made a few missteps. It might be close, but Ole Jimmy would pull it out. Voters weren’t buying, though. Totally shocking the political pros, hordes of voters turned out to reject Mr. Carter’s “malaise.” Against all odds, Mr. Reagan won and went on to bring unprecedented prosperity and security to the country. His presidency made history.
Will history repeat itself? No one knows. But the Reagan Revolution shows that in politics anything is possible. The forgotten People of the United States are the wild card in 2016. Dems and their media pals might be whistling past the graveyard, thinking that Mrs. Clinton has it in the bag. Mr. Trump could ride the Normal Culture Revolution all the way to victory.