Last Tuesday evening I retired around 11 PM, expecting – with odds of at least 60/40 – to wake and find that the classic, “late-reporting precincts” had pushed Hillary Clinton over the top. As I dropped off, I was already framing my explanation of how the country would be affected by voters’ unfortunate decision to give Hillary Clinton the presidency, despite her ethical lapses and flagrant disregard for the nation’s security.
But the fish did not flop that way. Instead, my wife – awake half the night, herself – greeted me at 7 AM with the news of Mr. Trump’s amazing victory. We could hardly believe it. Confounding most experts, Mr. Trump won 290 electoral votes of twenty-nine states – including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – while Mrs. Clinton won twenty states and 232 electoral votes. (With 96% of the vote counted, Mr. Trump leads Mrs. Clinton by 0.3% in Michigan. The winner will take Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.)
Instead of having to describe the “sadness” of a Clinton-win, I have been reading articles in the reverse vein in the Washington Post and New York Times, written by columnists who are aghast that The People – who they thought would surely overlook Mrs. Clinton’s “trivial” flaws – took a leap of faith and elected business-tycoon Donald Trump.
Politicians across the country are also in complete shock, with some leaping (figuratively, at least) from tall buildings. Others are following the waggish doggerel of yore: When in turmoil, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. As Confucius (might have) said, “Truly, one cannot lose them all.”
Establishment types – including such worthies as George Will, Mitt Romney, and much of the Bush-clan – were betting on Hillary Clinton to utterly rout the Trumpster and clear the way for them to rebuild the wreckage of the Republican Party under their measured guidance: i.e., something along the line of “Republicans – we’re not as bad as you think.” Some even “predicted” – hoped for, would be more accurate – a Clinton win of historic proportions, like the one inflicted on Barry Goldwater in 1964.
In that campaign, Democrats and the media scared the public with the infamous “Daisy Girl” TV commercial, which shows a young girl idyllically picking daisies as a voice-over ominously counts down: 10-9-8… Suddenly, the horrific, roiling image of a nuclear blast fills the screen. Only LBJ could save us from this fate; but “crazy” Goldwater would blow up the world. In March 1965, as colleagues and I listened to LBJ’s call for 500,000 troops to fight North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, one wiseacre cracked that it was lucky we didn’t elect Goldwater. He would surely have gotten us into a land-war in Asia.
Today, millions of people across the country are in a panic. Their world has been turned upside down. At some colleges, classes were cancelled so students could grieve and receive counseling to help them cope with the horror that has befallen the country. Young schoolchildren – scared to death by the Trump-boogeyman that teachers, Democrats and the media have created – are in actual distress. And among what we once called the “adult” population, Facebook-rants are being posted, angry e-mails are flashing back and forth, and relationships are being damaged – perhaps irreparably – by intemperate words and actions. It is a truly bizarre time. I’ve been following politics since the late 1950s, but I’ve never seen anything to match this. At any moment I expect bearded, be-robed guys to emerge on street-corners, bearing signs that warn “The End is Nigh.”
I was a college freshman in 1960, when America elected its first Catholic president. Having had a fairly strict Protestant upbringing, I considered this a pretty radical departure from tradition. It’s hard to imagine it now, but in those days Protestants thought Catholics were the “enemy.” Pamphlets were circulated warning of Catholics’ plans to establish a world-government with the Pope at its head. But as a young bucko – busy playing football, singing songs, studying math, and watching the girls – I wasn’t too alarmed that our dashing young president went to mass on Sundays. It didn’t top my list of concerns. Like most Americans, I assumed that the country would work things out, as we usually did. In 1960, we were still drawing from a large reservoir of optimism produced by our triumphs in World War II and the robust economy of the nifty fifties. What could possibly go wrong? We could surmount any situation.
Of course JFK didn’t exactly run on the idea that everything in the garden was lovely. In particular, he bashed the Ike-Nixon economy, which had been crippled by the 116-day steel-industry strike of 1959. President Eisenhower finally invoked the Taft-Hartley Act’s 80-day “cooling-off” period to get the industry (and the country) going again, but the damage was done. The strike had wide repercussions across the economy. Automobile companies – unable to get the steel they needed – were beginning to seek foreign supplies. By 1960, a recession – mild, in historical terms – had set in.
Senator Kennedy also hammered the so-called “missile gap” between us and the Soviet Union – claiming that we were losing to the Russkies. President Eisenhower and Vice-president Nixon vigorously denied this, but with Soviet space-exploits on full display, the public suspected that they were probably ahead of us. With his rakish good looks and easy charm, the Senator barnstormed across the country on the motto: “We can do bettah.” The media absolutely loved the guy. They thought the future had arrived.
The election was a real squeaker, with the sour odor of fraud lingering over Illinois and Texas. But Americans accepted the result with equanimity and went about their business full of our customary optimism. I don’t remember anyone panicking, seeking psychiatric counsel, or vowing to flee the country. (The flight to Canada by young men escaping the draft came later.) Of course, we had no inkling of the tumultuous decades of war and political/social unrest that lay ahead. (After all, with a photogenic babe like Jackie redecorating the White House, the world seemed pretty OK.)
A history prof was the lone Democrat on the faculty at our college in the ‘60s. He was a good-natured young PhD, liked and respected by everyone. We tolerated his views and even gave his New Deal liberalism a polite hearing. When I met him at an alumni gathering, 40 years later, I asked him if he was still a Democrat. He ruefully shook his head and said the party “had left him long ago.” The New Deal was a fast-receding speck in the rear-view mirror by then, and he saw that Democrats were no longer the champions of the working man that they were in days of yore.
1980 was a much more disruptive “change-election.” The news-media – we still linked “news” and “media” in those days – were mostly pulling for (and expecting) President Carter’s re-election. They had been drumming the theme that Ronald Reagan was “just a dumb actor reading lines.” He was “acting a role.” There was no way he could be fit for the office. OK, he was a two-term California governor, but that was considered a dubious credential. It was widely whispered that the former B-grade film actor was just a figurehead, while others did the actual governing. We simply couldn’t have that in the presidency. Besides, he was a “cowboy” who might pull the trigger and blow up the world. He even had a ranch and rode horses, for heaven’s sake. All Republicans were believed to be warmongers. (Sound familiar?)
Mr. Reagan’s win produced much greater shock to the body politic than did Mr. Kennedy’s. It wasn’t a close result – Mr. Reagan took 44 states – but yellow-dog Democrats believed he would hurt poor people and cut Social Security pensions. A daughter of old college chums said she hoped we could just hang on and stop him before he “wrecked the country.” (She believed it, too.)
Ten years later, amidst a booming economy and unprecedented prosperity, academics were still bemoaning the damage done by the “Reagan budget cuts.” Even Hottentots in Africa knew that Reagan had ruined the country. In 1987 I was shocked to learn that Swiss friends thought him more dangerous than Soviet Leader Gorbachev. They considered him an ignorant airhead who would probably pull the nuclear trigger.
With all that history behind us, I hope 2016 will go down as the absolute nadir in election insanity. I wonder if things can get much worse in terms of open rebellion over election results. There is rioting in some cities, and there is even wild talk of “turning” some members of the Electoral College to stop Mr. Trump from becoming president. And, as I stated earlier, there is also much animosity and disruption at the personal level.
Following my pre-election article (“Just a Flesh Wound”) – which joked that the mortally wounded Hillary-campaign resembled the crippled Black Knight in a madcap ‘70s movie – an old college-comrade wrote, questioning my faith and scolding me for writing “…such political refuse and then asking God to allow the election of a person who overtly walks over everyone in his path.” Our Alma Mater had taught him better, he said. Evidently I missed the lesson where students were taught to argue political issues by impugning another’s faith. (A tactic first mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I believe.)
In truth – all kidding aside – this is very thin ice for any Christian to stand on. If we think someone’s ideas are misguided or wrong, we can certainly say so and argue the point. But judging the genuineness of a person’s faith is waaay above our pay-grade. The Bible says only the Lord knows a man’s heart. We’ll all do well to remember that.
After the election, another reader wrote, urging me to use my “bully pulpit” to deal with the “…hate that is being spewed out all over in Trump's name. Blacks, immigrants, and other minorities are genuinely scared,” he said. “This is not hysteria, it is real.” I couldn’t tell where he thought the “hate” was coming from – hopefully not from Republicans. The ones I know didn’t vote to hurt anyone (except for a few who voted for Hillary to hurt Mr. Trump). We’re neither xenophobic nor Islamaphobic. We’re Normal Culture folks who want the country to get serious about things that can and do hurt us. Electing new leadership – flawed though it might be – was the only way to make this happen. Putting Mrs. Clinton – with her record of “public service” – in the Oval Office was unacceptable.
The jury is still out on what steps Mr. Trump will actually take to keep his campaign promises. Democrats and their media allies are already on the attack, trying to “flip” Mr. Trump – or at least make it appear so – on some of his signature objectives. Trying to turn him on Obamacare – Mr. Obama’s controversial legacy-achievement – is their first salvo. But I doubt that it will succeed. Premiums are through the roof, and 70% of the people oppose it. Mr. Trump knows what the people think. It’s why he won.
My counsel – for what it’s worth – is that Mr. Trump should say little until he takes office. Then he should go big with a political Blitzkrieg. (I have no doubt that his inner circle is advising him similarly.) Meanwhile, he should keep Dems and media talking-heads guessing about his plans, and keep them occupied by trotting out his cabinet-choices in slow-motion. Do some presidential things, like visiting the troops and sitting down with Pentagon pooh-bahs. Pundits were very concerned about Mr. Trump’s “temperament,” so he should put on his CEO hat, show the flag, and act the role. A man of his experience will have no trouble doing this.
All this might obscure the crucial fact that Mr. Trump must reassure his voters – at the earliest moment – that he fully intends to follow through on illegal immigration, taxes, jobs, energy, health care, the crazy transgender bathroom-diktat, and the defeat of Islamic terrorism. If he welshes on his deal with those who brung him to the big dance, there really will be hell to pay. But I don’t need to tell him that. He already knows it.
For our part, I urge citizens of every political stripe to roll up their sleeves, hitch up their pants (baggy or not), and get to work with hope in their hearts and a spring in their step. Let’s expect great days ahead. In Rodney King’s famous words: “People, can’t we all just get along?”
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection…” (Abraham Lincoln, 1861)