In 1976, I remember my mom voted for Jimmy Carter for president. It surprised me because I was a fan of Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate. Both Carter and Ford were decent men, and their debates were informative and issues-oriented. Back then, the big scandal was Jimmy Carter’s admission, in an interview for Playboy magazine, that he had lusted in his heart. What innocent times! Two generations later, we have a Republican candidate, Donald Trump, who by his own words has done far more than lust in his heart.
My mom would have been appalled by Trump (as are many people today). My dad, I think, would have found Trump objectionable and shallow. One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “the empty barrel makes the most noise.” He didn’t respect other men who bragged and bellowed about themselves. And he didn’t like anyone who was a sore loser, those who, when they lost, resorted to “sour grapes.” Even before Trump has lost (if he does), he’s already resorted to sour grapes, claiming the election is “rigged” against him.
I know my parents would be against Trump. Would they be for Hillary? I don’t know. I think my mom would have voted for Hillary, respecting her struggles as a woman for equality and fair treatment in a man’s game (and politics in America is still very much a man’s game, despite important strides made by women). My dad? When in doubt, he voted for the Democratic Party. As a firefighter, he was a union man who knew first-hand the hard experience of factory workers and the penury of a hand-to-mouth existence during the Great Depression.
Resuscitating my parents to vote in 2016: yes, it’s fantasy, one that I share with Tom Engelhardt, who wrote this telling article at TomDispatch.com on next week’s election and what his parents would have thought of the whole spectacle. To me, two aspects of election 2016 are especially telling when compared to 1976:
- On foreign policy and national defense, Hillary Clinton is running to the right, not only of Jimmy Carter, but of Gerald Ford, a moderate Republican.
- Donald Trump not only lacks the fundamental decency of Carter and Ford: he lacks any experience in public service. His entire life has been dedicated to making money. This may qualify him to run a business, but it doesn’t qualify him to run a country and to represent a people.
A few more words on Trump and what his rise represents. Trump is the candidate of casino capitalism. He’s the logical terminus of a system that wants to run everything for profit, winner-take-all. Such public systems and concerns as education, health care, the prison system, even the military, are increasingly run as businesses, often privatized, the operative words being “efficiency” and “productivity” and “growth.”
With so many sectors of American society being privatized and run as for-profit businesses, with corporations being enshrined as superpower citizens with especially deep pockets to influence public elections, with the media also almost completely privatized and also run for-profit, is it any wonder a candidate like Trump has emerged as the business leader to “make America great again”? Americans used to call men like Trump “robber-barons.” Now, some Americans treat Trump as a savior.
In America, we seem to measure societal progress strictly in terms of economic growth as measured by GDP and the stock market. Such measures are indicative not of true progress but of our shallow desires, our preference for glitzy materialism. Again, isn’t Trump the very embodiment of insatiable appetite, bottomless greed, and casino capitalism?
I know my parents — decent members of the working classes — wouldn’t have voted for him. Hillary, I think, would have been their (reluctant) choice. And I think they’d hope for better candidates in 2020, or, at the very least, a political process that takes vitally important issues like climate change seriously.
Seriousness of purpose is what we need in America, along with courage, honesty, and strength of mind. Let’s strive for those in the aftermath of this depressing election season.