Maybe I’m imagining it, but I believe I’m detecting a pattern. It seems that we Americans often reflect the personalities of our national leaders. Not every time, but generally.
When Reagan was president, Democrats disagreed with 90% of his policies. Nobody more so than then-Speaker Tip O’Neill. They’d lock horns publicly, meet behind closed doors to hammer out policy, then hop in the president’s limo and go into town for a few beers together. Yes, that really happened. Reagan was a staunch conservative, but he had a very likable personality which he used it to charm the pants off his opponents. The public at that time—though politically divided, seemed to mirror Ronnie and Tip. They OPPOSED each other, they didn’t hate each other. It was just politics.
The guy (IMHO) who changed all that comity and “niceness” was Newt Gingrich. He wore his contempt for his opponents like a badge of honor. He was able to transfer that contempt to his fellow partisans by spearheading the impeachment of a democratic president for cheating on his wife—even while Gingrich was HIMSELF cheating on his wife. I don’t think any elected official up until that point has done more to divide us than Newt Gingrich. If you were paying attention 20 years ago, you know what I’m talking about.
Post-Gingrich, things settled down a bit. But the seeds he’d planted while Speaker began to sprout. His party’s hatred for Bill Clinton was easily transferred over to his wife, and we all know how that turned out.
During the Obama years, Democrats pretty much reflected Obama’s nickname: No drama Obama. We became him. It was a period of reason and compassion for the left. The right on the other hand, led by the divisive, hateful leadership of Mitch McConnell and his ilk, did the opposite. They followed the trend established by Newt Gingrich ten years earlier, and literally conspired to oppose him from Day One. In fact, even though he was out of power, Gingrich was an invited participant to the secret conference held on Inauguration Day 2009 where the GOP plotted their course to bring Barack Obama down. I guess they needed Gingrich to remind them how to really HATE.
Now we’re in the age of Trump. He was described as a “fucking moron” by his own Secretary of State. A man who truly is the personification of the people who elected him: largely white working class, not terribly well informed about current events (unless you call Fox News “news”), who share Trump’s disconnect from women’s issues, minorities, immigrants and a free press. They are him. And he is them.
“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
~ H.L. Mencken
That’s the bad news. Trump is real. Mencken’s nightmare scenario has arrived. And with him has come the raging anti-democratic policies of a Congress servile to his every whim. They are happily reflecting everything he IS: corrupt, racist, sexist and stupid.
The good news, is that he’s temporary. The damage he’s doing is terrible and will be long-lasting. But it will end one day, just as Senator Joe McCarthy’s era did, as Gingrich’s did, as Cheney’s did—and yes, as Caligula’s and Hitler’s did. But the day will come when we’ll be looking back on this insane epoch with hindsight. And remembering how hopeless it all felt at the time.
This too shall pass.