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So, this may be what it felt like to live in Bavaria during the rise of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in the 1920s, if not Berlin in the 1930s when Adolf Hitler abolished all opposition, consolidated the power of the Nazi Party and took over as chancellor, riding a wave of extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism to the dictatorship of a Depression-wracked nation.
Hyperbole? Perhaps. But people were desperate back then, feeling financially crushed by the elites and suspicious of dark-skinned “others”. There is that same sense of unease and oppression in the air these days in America, and it’s a cloud generated by the at-times fear-mongering, racist and xenophobic campaign of President-elect Donald Trump.
Despite the need to address the pressing issues raised by Black Lives Matter and the concerns of immigrant families fearful of being broken apart, Trump did little to help dissipate the cloud of fear on Monday by appointing alt-right Breitbart publisher and white nationalist Stephen Bannon as his top White House strategist.
I spent the last year telling my three boys that no one as openly dismissive and frequently hostile toward immigrants, Muslims, Jews, women and disabled people would ever wind up in the White House. I have never been so horribly wrong about anything in my life.
Now they see that bullying, insulting, intimidating and threatening behavior can take you to the highest office in the land, invalidating everything I’ve taught them for the past decade plus. Diplomacy, statesmanship, dignity and class will apparently get you nowhere in Trump’s America.
With Veteran’s Day so recently in our rearview (while its meaning should be front of mind 365 days a year), I’ve struggled to imagine how my career Air Force and Vietnam veteran father would have reacted to a Trump presidency. I think in general he would have applauded some of Trump’s fiscal positions, his stance on some social issues, and his isolationist tone on matters of foreign policy.
My late father and I agreed strongly that the Obama administration took far too many liberties with foreign incursions, acting without congressional approval in Libya, Iraq and elsewhere, and that former Secretary of State Clinton was a big part of that. But I also know my dad would have condemned Trump’s vulgarity and cavalier discussion of pulling out of NATO and using nuclear weapons. And he would have been appalled by Trump’s invitation to Russia to intervene in our election — an anathema for someone who served during the Cold War.
A civilian judge after retiring from the military, my father and I also agreed to some extent that our immigration system needs to be fixed. He was no fan of the social costs of cheap labor passed onto to us by the businesses that benefit and a government that turns a blind eye. But once in the country he believed in treating our immigrant workforce fairly in the legal system.
Looking back on my blogs throughout the election, I can’t say that I predicted the election results, but I certainly saw a lot of warning signs that Clinton might not have the cakewalk pollsters were predicting.
On Feb. 9, here’s what I wrote during the peak of the primary season, when Bernie-crats were viciously lashing Clinton’s coziness with Wall Street and her hawkish foreign policy positions and the Clintons were firing back just as hard instead of listening to the working-class angst:
“[Clinton] and former prez hubby Bill should stop hammering back so hard on Sanders for stirring up the base on a very real issue not just for progressive voters but also the broader electorate – the abuses on Wall Street that led to so many middle-class Americans, including many right here in the Vail Valley, losing their homes, retirement savings and overall faith in our financial institutions.
“Meaningful Wall Street reform is still badly needed, and right now Clinton doesn’t appear to be reading that source of national rage correctly. Rampant speculation on mortgage-backed securities, sometimes fraudulently and criminally enabled by bank executives, very nearly plunged the country into a second Great Depression, and Obama has done very little to ensure it won’t happen again.
“The Clintons, partially to blame for the banking deregulation during their time in the White House, need to take this matter far more seriously in order to answer the trust question and start earning the support of millennial voters who have lost faith in a rigged system. Hillary Clinton also needs to beat the drum of income equity much harder, because there are a lot more women who are the primary breadwinners these days than when her husband was in the Oval Office in the 1990s.
“Lastly, Hillary Clinton just needs to own her Iraq War vote and admit it was wrong to invade in 2003 and engage in unilateral regime change, thereby destabilizing the entire region for the past decade. Yes, Saddam Hussein is not missed, but there are dozens of equally reprehensible strongmen all over the world who should be eliminated. It’s up to the people in those countries to affect regime change, not the United States to the tune of multiple trillions of dollars of blood and capital.
“If they don’t come around, the Clintons are going to find themselves facing an independent billionaire candidate who’s a lot more electable and far wealthier than Trump in the form of former New York City mayor and current Vail second-homeowner Michael Bloomberg.”
Bloomberg, of course, decided not to run, and who knows if he would have done any better than Clinton, who did wind up winning the popular vote. It’s pointless now to speculate on how Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren or other Democratic candidates without all the Clinton baggage might have fared, but it’s clear that the party as a whole – with the exception of Sanders – badly misjudged the level of anti-establishment anger simmering in the white middle class.
I don’t think I underestimated that rage – in part because I personally feel it after losing a great deal of money and our home to a short sale in the housing bubble. Meanwhile, our tax dollars went to rescue the institutions that caused the crisis, while no executives were jailed or fined and instead collected obscene bonuses.
Here’s what I wrote on that topic on Sept. 28 in another (in retrospect misguided) plea to millennial voters, who actually did come out and support Clinton:
“I get the frustration with the corporate-shill Democrats, many of whom have allowed rampant abuses in the banking industry and even backed fracking and the coal industry. But the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House would be way worse.
“The GOP has in its party platform that it wants to sell off publicly owned federal lands for energy extraction. It would be an enormous environmental disaster if third-party Bernie Backers cost Clinton the White House.
“Lastly, think about Trump picking the next Supreme Court justice, who will likely be the deciding factor in whether Obama’s Clean Power Plan is ultimately adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“And if none of that moves you to vote for Clinton, consider that Trump has openly stated he will revisit libel laws and clamp down on media critical of his administration. This may be one of the last anti-Trump blogs I’m allowed to write if millennials don’t get off the sidelines and help advance Obama’s climate agenda by electing Clinton.”
The derailing of recent advances in clean energy remains a primary fear of mine, but an overall selling out to corporate interests is my greatest concern. Rather than stand up to companies that have taken over our political system and richly rewarded the 1 percent at the expense of the shrinking middle class and growing lower class, Trump will make things even worse than what the Democrats foisted off on us for the past eight years.
Far from an outsider who will shake things up, Trump is a tax-evading beneficiary of bankruptcy laws who uses every government loophole to line his own pockets. I get the anger that kicked the Dems out, but I have zero confidence Trump will make things better for the white middle class.
And I’m absolutely confident he’ll make things worse for the working poor in this nation. Civil liberties will be curtailed with Bannon calling the shots, and America will become a less inclusive, less tolerant nation.
In church last Sunday, our pastor urged healing, forgiveness and coming together as a congregation and a nation, and I will try to forgive those who put Trump in office – especially if they did so to combat a rigged system. But if they voted for any of the hatred, violence and intolerance promoted by Bannon and his ilk, I not only won’t be able to forgive, I will loudly call for their ouster back into the marginal shadows of this great democracy.