Imagine for a moment if John F. Kennedy had spoken lovingly of the Soviet Union, advocated policies in their interest, said they were America’s moral equivalent, and openly called on them to hack Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign in 1960.
Imagine if in response the communists launched a massive propaganda campaign that reached millions of our citizens, all aimed at getting Mr. Kennedy to the White House. And by a razor-thin margin, the Massachusetts senator does get elected, becoming our 35th president.
Once in office, it is reported that the new leader does not read his briefing books, knows little about government, and spends most of his day in “executive time,” a vague phrase that could mean anything from real work to watching television.
During meetings, he seems obsessed with undoing the legacy of the former president, Republican Dwight Eisenhower, even when his own advisers try to steer him in another direction. American policy becomes chaos, guided by one’s man’s neuroses, not expertise, reason, or the national interest. A comprehensive nuclear arms accord with Iran is repealed, despite the military’s insistence that it was a strong agreement for the United States. It was his predecessor’s accomplishment and therefore had to go.
In response to national outrage over the Russians’ propaganda effort, Kennedy goes against the opinion of his own intelligence agencies, says it never happened, and does very little to prevent it from happening again.
Things get so bad, even the Democratic speaker of the House testifies to the new president’s incompetence and unfitness for office.
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If the history of the 1960s did indeed go this way, Kennedy, instead of being seen as a visionary leader, would have been impeached, thrown out of office, and treated as a laughing stock by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Yet Donald Trump has governed exactly in the manner that I’ve described, and he remains one of the most popular conservative presidents ever.
What we’re witnessing is a total breakdown in the norms of our society. The Republican Party, which has traditionally presented itself as the strong defender against tyranny, has bent the knee for a man who embodies so much of what the right claims to fight against.
Perhaps they feel the economy justifies all the ugliness, but the facts say otherwise; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage and job growth is lower than what it was under Barack Obama. We are not in a recession, that’s true, but Trump hasn’t done any better than the man he claimed was an absolute failure.
The alleged economic turnaround never happened and that’s even after the passage of a $1 trillion tax cut, which raised the deficit to a record level. Sure, the stock market is doing great, but how exactly does that help those struggling to get by, who can’t afford rent, let alone 50 shares of Apple?
The only meaningful thing Trump has given his base is the satisfaction that comes from seeing a leader who thinks the way they do, who mouths their worst prejudices and fears. The mission to “Make America Great Again” is nothing more than a placebo drug, the raw thrill of knowing the president is just like you.
I always thought our country was better, that it had a tradition of nobility and goodness that would prevent such a corrupt man from reaching the White House. Unfortunately, this post-decency era shows we are as flawed as any people on earth.
We just never realized it until now. Past leaders were cautious in their political approach; from FDR to Obama, they refrained from appealing to our darkest impulses.
Then Trump came along, and what do you know, the American people proved themselves susceptible to being conned. Confronted with a man who mobilized fear and demagoguery to unprecedented ends, our resistance weakened, and voters elected him to sit in Abraham Lincoln’s chair.
I suppose I should have seen this coming; we are after all just human beings, with the same skin, bones, and hot red blood seen in everyone else.
But it was nice to believe this nation was different, for a little while.
Joshua Heath is a Valencia resident and a magna cum laude graduate of UCLA. He has served two terms as a delegate to the California Democratic Party. “Democratic Voices” runs every Tuesday in The Signal and rotates among several local Democrats.