The current batch of presidential candidates leaves me feeling nothing. I don’t feel inspired by any of them. I don’t feel interested in any of them. All I feel is…nothing, a generalized emptiness that edges into contempt.
You may feel the same way. When it comes to politics, disappointment is now so routine that we simply take it for granted. None of the candidates has anything positive to offer. All they are offering is a continuation of the same tired old policies.
It goes almost without saying that the mainstream Democrat and Republican candidates are two names with almost no distinction. Both of these parties long ago were bought out by big money and corporate interests, and ceased to care about the plight of the average man in America. Yes, of course, they pay lip service to the Old Ideal, and they are great readers of idealistic speeches on the teleprompter, but in the end they will do little to upset the status quo.
Enter the entertainer
One current maverick has generated some hype, which I suppose has the merit of offering some entertainment and excitement. Donald Trump has crashed the party and has been pissing in the punchbowl, and the establishment candidates don’t quite know how to respond.
But in the end, it is difficult to see Trump as anything more than a consummate showman, a carnival barker who functions as a North American version of Italy’s bunga-bunga tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. Trump likes to spout off at the mouth, to talk about how rich and successful he is, and to rip into the arrogant establishment marionettes like John McCain and Hillary Clinton. And they do deserve every bit of scorn that Trump pours on.
But Trump remains an entertainer, an egoist looking for a platform. His penchant for glitz and invective is not the stuff that statesmen or good leaders are made of. He lacks judgment and caution, and these will be his undoing. You may remember, several years ago, that he launched into one tirade after another against television personality Rosie O’Donnell, who had slighted him in one way or another.
Instead of responding and moving on, Trump went on the attack against O’Donnell, slamming her with personal insults. While these videos (which you can find on YouTube) may have been amusing, and while Trump may have scored off O’Donnell, there is something distinctly unmanly about such a performance.
To waste one’s time repeatedly attacking a fool is a fool’s errand. Trump emerges as an enraged child, an arrogant egoist who cannot deal with the insult on his sense of self-importance. These videos reveal the character of the man.
Is the end approaching?
The only positive thing that emerges out of the current bumper crop of campaign nonentities is the fact that we are one step closer to hitting rock bottom. How is this good? Because history suggests that good presidents emerge only in times of crisis. Several historical examples make the point.
When Abraham Lincoln first took office, the nation was in the worst situation it had ever been in. Half of the Union had seceded. Lincoln was nearly universally looked on as a country-bumpkin unfit for office, a man who had not even received a majority of the vote. He was too timid for the radical Republicans, and perceived as too radical for many others.
The first year of the war was a terrible one for the Union. At that time, the South produced the majority of the world’s cotton; and the blockade of Southern ports threatened to bring in the intervention of France and England. The British would have been satisfied to see the United States self-destruct. In Paris, Napoleon III entertained fantasies of being a North American power, and to this end installed a puppet in Mexico City.
No military victories were forthcoming, either. In the field, the Union was getting trounced in nearly every engagement. Lincoln’s generals were slow to move, inept, and more interested in squabbling among themselves than in moving against the enemy.
But slowly the tide began to change. Lincoln’s deft handling of political crises (like the Trent Affair, the issues with border states, and the handling of the slavery issue) showed that he was a master of maneuver. On the battlefield, the victories began to happen, first in the west with Grant’s capture of Forts Henry and Donelson, and then slowly in the east.
James Knox Polk remains one of the most underappreciated presidents, but his record is extremely impressive. He was nearly an unknown when he entered office, but embarked on an extremely aggressive foreign policy that oversaw serious territorial issues like the Mexican War, the acquisition of the Oregon Territory, and the annexation of Texas.
The Great Depression of the 1930s presented another example of a leader appearing from nowhere to manage a crisis. When Franklin Roosevelt took office, the United States was flat on its back. Millions were out of work; consumer demand had plummeted due to the fact that no one had any money; and people’s confidence in the political system had nearly evaporated. Revolution was not quite in the air, yet, but things were definitely headed in that direction.
But Roosevelt possessed boundless optimism, perhaps a product of his personal victory over the disease that had crippled him. He also came from a family that truly believed in the value of public service in its own right. Step by step, Roosevelt took action to address the crisis. His methods sometimes worked, and sometimes did not. But he at least did something, and gave the appearance of hope that stood in stark contrast to the negativity and confusion of his predecessor Herbert Hoover.
Am I disappointed that I have no candidate that I can feel enthusiastic about? Yes. But I’ve gotten used to that feeling. We live in an age of political mediocrities. Those who hold the reins of power are not willingly going to share what they have, and no president in my lifetime has been able or eager to stand up to them.
But give it time. We still haven’t hit rock bottom. People are still too smug, too self-satisfied, too fat, too happy, and too deluded. And maybe that’s what it will take. Meaningful reforms can only happen when there is no other choice. And when the crisis is at hand, then, and only then, will the man of the hour appear.
I keep my blade sharp, and await his arrival.
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