Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

November 23, 2016

The Election of Wishful Thinking

By David K. Shipler

            Mark Twain is said to have once advised, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” So it might be said of Donald Trump. If you don’t like his policy on this or that, just wait a few minutes. It was true during the campaign and has been the case since the election.
His shifts have stoked the wishful thinking that some on the left have embraced since his candidacy. First, his cruelly personal, bigoted assaults were supposedly so off-putting that voters would surely flee from him in droves. On the contrary, he did better and better as the primaries proceeded.
Then, conventional wisdom in the press and political establishment held that a) he would moderate his tone during the general election campaign to appeal to a broader electorate, or b) his repeated misogyny, crude ignorance of the world, and narcissistic rants would propel him into the dustbin of history. He did not moderate, and he made history instead of being buried by it.
All assumptions about the power of good manners, truth-telling, and common decency fell by the wayside. Whenever Trump said something obnoxious, and especially after the recording surfaced of his boasts about his predatory sexual preferences, The New York Times and other mainstream news organizations rushed to hear from the distraught and fractured Republican leadership about the party’s imminent disintegration and how it might put itself back together again after the expected devastating loss.
Most of the chattering class, including conservative Republicans, couldn’t believe that voters would tolerate his rude attacks on sacred cows—the parents of a U.S. soldier who had died in combat, a former P.O.W. named John McCain, a Miss Universe, a handicapped reporter—or his flirtation with Vladimir Putin or his nonchalance about NATO commitments and the spread of nuclear weapons. But even when his poll numbers dipped after an egregious remark, the support then steadied and never signaled the collapse that some political coverage predicted.

November 9, 2016

Let History Judge

By David K. Shipler

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.
                                    --James Madison

            In the Revolution of 2016, alienated Americans have set the stage for a hard lesson in how democracy can be used to disable democracy. It would not happen at once, but as gradually as if the constitutional body were afflicted by an autoimmune disease. The curing power of the people’s voice would be turned against itself. The strong hand at the top, so fervently desired by the forgotten and ignored, would evolve into a counter-revolution of authoritarian demagoguery, which even a tradition of pluralism could not withstand. This is the gloomiest scenario.
            There is another scenario, however. It envisions a successful test of the ingenious American system, imagined and created to separate, check, and limit the power to reign and abuse. The Constitution restrains and holds. The president’s autocratic impulses are shackled to the rule of law.
            Nothing in Donald Trump’s pronouncements, policies, and behavior so far suggests that he grasps or accepts the constraints of the Framers’ inspired concepts. He fired up masses of aggrieved citizens by promising them decrees, not proposals. He talked as if he could do whatever suited him, as if no legislative branch existed, no courts stood to thwart his whims. He has recognized no principle of protecting minority interests. He has nurtured a cult of personality more suitable to a dictatorship than a democracy.
            Therefore, it is reasonable to expect in him a president who will push far past the boundaries of his constitutional prerogatives by trying to politicize law enforcement and the judiciary until they are mere shadows of justice. It is logical to expect a president who will insult and dismiss citizens along racial, gender, and religious lines, as he did during his campaign, and continue to give license to the hate-mongers among us. It is likely that he will use the bully pulpit of the presidency to divide and diminish this once-great nation, and even to bring dissidents to subservience.