The Ol’ Bloviator has never been loath to mouth off about any and all matters political, and he considers it quite the triumph of self-restraint that he is only now breaking silence on the cascading lunacy that is the 2016 presidential race. The O.B. has always considered American politics the finest comedic spectacle out there, and thus the almost ideal target for his normally irrepressible impulses to mock and ridicule. However, where earlier presidential contests have offered at least a modest challenge to those impulses, this one offers such an unbroken stream profound ignorance, reckless stupidity, and over-the-top meanness that no one who has even walked by a TV set or a newsstand needs any help in understanding that what we are witnessing has the earmarks of a potential tragedy masquerading as epic farce.
With sincere apologies to his esteemed colleagues in political science, the O.B. can tell you without so much as a glance at exit polls that, in primary elections especially, people are more motivated not just to vote but to vote a certain way when they are angry than when they are reasonably content. This, of course, explains why at lot of folks outside the South voted for George Wallace in the 1968 presidential primaries only to drop ol’ George like a hot sweet potato before heading to the polls that November. It was easy enough to interpret surging support in the polls for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as indicative of just such a “blowing-off -steam-before-coming-to-my-senses” reaction among primary voters of both parties. In fact, Bernie already trails Hillary 503-70 in the scramble for the 2,383 delegates needed for the Democratic nomination. With the Super Tuesday slog through Dixie looming large and menacing, the dedicated dreamer of the impossible and impractical dream and the sturdy band of zealots who have fallen under his spell may well be looking at their last dance among the sugar plums.
Not so for the Donald, however. Indeed, not only “No,” but Hell No!” The guy whose very entry into the Republican field was lustily hooted at by every professional and amateur pundit–not to mention several hair stylists–from Harvard to Hahira is not only still standing but looking at excellent odds of being the last one doing so. Since he was edged out in the quadrennial Iowa contest to see who can cram the most “Bevs” and “Berts” into a middle-school cafeteria by the equally scary Ted Cruz, Trump, whom the Wall Street Journal can only bring itself to refer to as “the businessman,” has kicked some serious booty among the wishfully disbelieving.
For months, we waited expectantly for the next in an almost daily progression of Trumpisms,each aggressively insensitive enough in its own right to make Archie Bunker seem like the Dalai Lama, to finally take him down. Meanwhile, the imperturbable Mr. T. proceeded merrily along down, curb-stomping his opponents verbally while besting them first in–then largely at–the polls. Although he Republican establishment finally seems ready to act forcefully against yon Donald’s threat to their party, it appears that they may have stuck with their Nero act a Virginia Reel or two too long. At this too-late date, barring a groundswell of folks desperate enough to cross the Rubio-con with Marco, or indisputable revelations of ol’ Donnie’s excessive fondness for farm animals–and even this is no sure thing– he stands somewhere between “quite likely” and “all but certain” to show up at the July GOP confab in Cleveland (That desperate to win back Ohio, are we?) with enough delegates in his pocket to collect the nomination on the first ballot. Any proportional expression of the perceived improbability of this just a few months ago being impossible, the O.B. can only call upon one of his Mama’s favorite maxims to suggest that somewhere, surely, the band is tuning up to play “Who’da’ Thought It?”
It is tempting simply to conclude that Republicans brought Donald Trump on themselves through the tolerance, even deference that they have increasingly shown to a polarizing array of reckless, loud-mouthed spewers of meanness, and vitriol in recent years. (True to form, John Kasich, in all likelihood the most electable aspirant still in the Republican race, has been unable to get the fatal monkey of moderation off his back and is struggling simply to stay in the race until the March 15 Ohio primary, where, ironically enough, he represents one of the few feeble hopes for slowing down the Trump juggernaut.) What pleasure may be taken in seeing the Republicans being force-fed the bitter fruits of their own venality, however, must be tempered by the fact that their unscrupulousness has taken the rest of us and, for that matter, the rest of the world to the threshold of an era where rage Trumps (Sorry!) reason not just frequently but consistently and thoroughly.
Unfortunately, joining ol’ Pilate at the washbowl is not an option in this case, nor is a self-righteous recusal to the moral high ground, because few of us can escape some measure of responsibility for the currently appalling state of American politics. For example, how many self-professed God-fearing Christians apparently didn’t fear Him enough to step up and cry “Enough!” when his name was mocked and exploited by self-serving posturers like Jerry Falwell, Sr., and, more recently, Jr., whose endorsement of Donald Trump as a man who “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment” truly sickened even so hardened a cynic as the O.B. in its brazen hypocrisy. We Bible-Belters who have been hit more than one hypothetical such as “How would Jesus be received if he visited your community tomorrow?” certainly have good reason to retaliate by asking how He might fare with today’s power-brokering preacher/politicos if he came back determined to run for office with the Sermon on the Mount as his platform. How much does “blessed are the poor in spirit” or “the meek” or “the merciful” or “the peacemakers” resemble anything that ever came out of the mouth of Falwell’s man Trump, or the self-styled uber-evangelical, Ted Cruz, for that matter?
Finally, there is also more than a whiff of culpability among many in the Democratic camp currently watching the Republican Rocky Horror Show with the smug, self-satisfied amusement afforded only by the miseries of an adversary. Each confident but failed prophesy that Trump’s latest shot at the canon of political correctness would ultimately cost him his big toe should simply underscore the depth of the Democratic left’s disconnect with prevailing popular attitudes. The casual presumption that everyone with at least a modicum of intelligence should share their views on transgender issues, any and all attempts to curb illegal immigration, buildings named for racists, sexists, imperialists, and pretty much everything else that might offend anyone but conservatives has finally grown so stultifying that many liberals in the media and (gasp!) academia have cried out for relief.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump benefits inordinately and even proudly from the support of the people whom he affectionately (for now, at least) calls “the poorly educated,” as well as the folks who, as Lewis Grizzard put it, “think the moonshot’s fake and wrestlin’s real.” (Note here surveys suggesting that nearly one in five Trump supporters remains unpersuaded that the Emancipation Proclamation was such a hot idea, and in South Carolina, nearly one in four still wish the South had come out of the Recent Unpleasantness on top.) For all that, however, Trump’s troops are actually drawn from a reasonably broad demographic, and polls consistently show him stronger among self-identified moderates than Tea Partiers or rock-ribbed conservative regulars. Some of this may be written off to Mr. T’s lack of ideological consistency–his extremism is more of a selective, or even knee-jerk sort. But the point here is not simply that he is pushing a lot of the right anger buttons across a broad spectrum of Republicans, including those still registered as Democrats, but also that there are so many “hot” buttons that work in his favor.
It hardly seems necessary even to suggest that Bernie’s ranks are heavily populated not only by those who are salivating for a piece of his pie-in-the-sky but by those who simply cannot stomach Hillary. Yet, even the sharpest of Mr. Sanders’s jabs at his opponent seems like the thrust of a butter knife compared to the chainsaw approach Trump has thus far wielded so effectively against his rivals. Whatever happens from here on out, the fact that D.T.’s ostentatious contempt for his fellow Republicans has played so well for this long with so many of the rank-and-file cannot portend well for the GOP. To a lesser but still notable extent, the protracted dalliance with Bernie suggests that a lot of Dems don’t particularly care for their party establishment either. The larger, more portentous question looming over this election, however, is not simply which party’s’ levers get the most pulls in November but how many voters will pull either one with their other hands clamped over their noses and, beyond that, how much longer will they tolerate such a necessity.
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