Day of the Donald: Redefining American Politics

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“The more I know, the less I understand; all the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again.”

– Don Henley, The Heart of the Matter

Up is down, green is brown and Donnie Diamond, the billionaire New Yorker with the personality of a carnival barker, has taken hold of the inside lane to the Republican nomination for President of the United States of America.

The Grand Old Party seems unable to cope and unprepared to deal with this brand of insurgency. Never mind that the party of corporate supremacy created the monster that became Donald Trump when it sponsored the obstructionist uprising known as the Tea Party. The party knew it had to lay claim to a populist message to disguise its corporate roots and what better way than to channel rage against the machine into a political force. They didn’t care that it fed on bigotry and intolerance. The GOP has been home to southern bigotry ever since the parties traded places with the civil rights movement of the sixties. The party is comfortable with bigotry. As long as the corporate masters could control economic policy, they didn’t care what directions their rightwing insurgency would explore.

They didn’t expect the Donald. They laid down the red carpet and opened the doors but they didn’t expect a candidate without the proper credentials to crash the party.

If the Donald leads this parade all the way to the convention in Cleveland he will have fundamentally altered the heart of the party. First and foremost, Donnie has laid waste to the free market mandate that both parties have embraced since the day Bill Clinton announced the end of big government and redefined the party of labor as the party of Wall Street. When Trump proposed a tariff on Chinese goods to bring industry back to America, he aligned his campaign with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a position that no Republican would ever dream of taking.

Those of us who follow politics remember 2008 when Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama danced around the issue of fair trade without ever committing. Both knew their funding depended on their undying support of the free trade mandate. When Obama was elected no one was truly surprised that he became a champion of free trade. Hillary Clinton would have and will do the same if she is elected president.

This is what Bernie Sanders inexplicably refuses to do: Demand that Hillary commit to the principles of fair trade. Demand that Hillary pledge her allegiance to the core conventions of the International Labor Organization, asserting the right to a living wage, decent working conditions and basic benefits. Demand that Hillary actively support the Employee Free Choice Act, establishing the principle of majority rule to found a union in the workplace. Demand that Hillary support the repeal of Taft-Hartley and support the abolition of “Right to Work” laws nationwide. Demand that Hillary throw her full support to the Equal Rights Amendment, which would end wage discrimination once and for all.

It is not that difficult to contrast the labor policies of a fair trade democratic socialist to a free trade corporate Democrat but you have to be willing to make the case. You have to insist night and day, relentlessly and face to face, that the people have a right to know what promises Hillary made to Wall Street and the corporate elite behind closed doors.

If Uncle Bernie drops back now, as many expect, without ever having truly challenged the Clinton machine, Hillary will fall back to the policies that attracted Wall Street financing to begin with. If that happens and Donnie Diamond wins the Republican nomination, the Democrats will face the prospect of losing the vote of common laborers.

No one really knows what Trump would do as president. We can be certain he would not build a wall across our southern border and get Mexico to pay for it. We can be certain he does not support unions or the rights of labor. We can be certain that income inequality and making the rich pay their fair share are concerns that will not be on his agenda. Beyond that we have no clue.

What the supporters of Trump are saying to the political establishment is loud and clear: F*ck you! Frankly, it is hard to argue with the sentiment.

It is fascinating to learn that a younger Donald Trump, with the idea of a political future, consulted with Jesse Ventura, the insurgent independent who captured the governorship of Minnesota in 1999. Ventura was a professional wrestler with no experience in the political arena. He was loud and brash and unafraid of disturbing the ruling class or violating the dictums of political correctness. Key to his success was splitting the electorate. He knew he couldn’t win a one-to-one showdown. His ceiling was in the 35-40% range. He had to run as independent against two major party opponents.

The Donald has enjoyed the benefits of running against a baker’s dozen of Republican candidates, none of whom are particularly appealing. He’s had it easy. If he continues his run against multiple candidates through Super Tuesday, it will be extremely difficult to stop him – unless he murders someone in open daylight.

Applying the Ventura experience to the Trump phenomenon, it does not bode well for a Republican White House. Considering that he has already thrown away the Latino vote, you have to wonder how serious his bid for the White House really is. Like Robert Redford in The Candidate (1972) maybe it’s just about running. He never really thought about it. He never thought he’d get this far. Who did?

It’s all about winning, baby, and the Donald has already won. His star is shining brightly. He has pre-empted the political process and converted it to his own reality show. A part of me admires him for his moxy. A part of me wonders if Sanders might have done the same with a broader field of Democratic candidates. A part of me wonders why Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown or Barbara Boxer didn’t want to be president.

A part of me worries that an unscrupulous billionaire egomaniac, willing to exploit the very worst of human nature, has come this close to the most powerful office on earth.

No matter. The show must go on. We recalibrate our understanding of American politics and endure the consequences.

Jack Random is the author of Jazzman Chronicles (Crow Dog Press) and Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press.)

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