Posted Friday night, December 23, 2016. Revised to include quote from Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail January 3, 2017.
“President Nixon ‘works the crowd’ at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.” White House Press Office. 1973. Courtesy Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Via Wikipedia.
And yet, in the end, [Thompson] ends up right back where he started, right back in Dick Nixon's America, a nation of "200 million used car salesman with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable." ---from Matt Taibbi's introduction to Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson.
Lots of fear and loathing out there (and in here) concerning what our President Trump is going to do to make life more miserable and dangerous than it already it is. This morning he seemed bent on re-starting the nuclear arms race, although since the Soviet Union’s long gone---you’d think his buddy Putin might have clued him in on this---it’s not clear with whom he intends to race to Armageddon. I’d bet the Iranians. But it could be North Korea. China’s also a possibility, although he seems more eager to have a trade war with them. And Russia can’t be ruled out. Putin’s his pal but Trump doesn’t really have pals and he has a record of betraying partners, employees, investors, clients and customers, and the people who pass for his friends. Loyalty is not one of his virtues. Unless it says TRUMP on it, he doesn’t care what he does to it. Lucky for his kids they bear his name.
But while what he is going to is frightening to contemplate, it’s what he’s already doing that’s depressing me tonight. Doing and has been doing and has already done.
Making this a nastier place to live.
Making us a nastier, meaner, and more selfish people.
Making us dislike and distrust each other and in the process dislike and distrust ourselves.
And in this he’s simply continuing the work begun by Richard Nixon and built on by Ronald Reagan and furthered by George W. Bush.
Nixon didn’t actually start it. The country was already dividing six ways from Sunday when he took office. But he didn’t become President by promising to bring us together. And he made no sincere attempt to do it once he was in the White House. He ran on the lie that he had a secret plan to end the War in Vietnam and a stated determination to restore law and order. The secret plan was to sabotage the peace talks and then keep the war going for four more years and expand it. Law and order meant only the problem is THEM! Those PEOPLE! Those OTHERS! The ones who AREN’T LIKE US! His appeal to the Silent Majority was calculatedly divisive. The message was clear and it was meant for the white majority, who’ve never been as silent as they like think. For one thing, they can’t shut up about how they don’t whine and complain like other people they could name. They love to whine and complain about how other people whine and complain. At any rate, the Silent Majority was the White Majority and they knew it---they knew that being white made them the majority and the majority rules, right? In fact, the majority gets everything it wants and THEY, THOSE OTHERS get only what the majority feels like sharing, which has usually turned out to be nothing or, at best, not much.
Nixon’s domestic policies, as much as he had any he cared about, were mostly a matter of buying off the White Majority by giving them whatever they wanted while making it perfectly clear that none of it had to be shared with THEM, THOSE OTHERS.
Our long national nightmare wasn’t over when he helicoptered off the White House lawn, waving and grinning like he was leaving a retirement party with a new gold watch in his pocket, all too characteristically pitying himself to the end. It had barely begun. Shortly after, along came Reagan to warn us about the Welfare Queens and strapping young bucks and to declare that government wasn’t the solution, it was the problem. What he was telling us, with a twinkle and a chuckle, is that everybody crying for help was in reality a cheat and a thief and that government didn’t do anything but set itself up to be cheated and robbed by THEM, THOSE PEOPLE, those OTHERS.
He told us not to trust our government and in a democracy that’s basically telling us not to trust ourselves or our fellow Americans. It’s a repudiation of the idea of self-government. We can’t be trusted to govern ourselves. All we do is vote to give ourselves free stuff. By “we” of course he meant THEM, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS not “you” particularly. “You” are smart, and wise, and good. But everybody else? Well, there he goes again…
Bush accused everyone else of being traitors. If you weren’t with him, you were against him. You were one of THEM, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS. And so once again Americans were encouraged to see fellow Americans as not with them, but against them, as being THEM, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS, and not US.
Now we have our President-elect Trump who barged onto the scene othering all and sundry, starting with President Obama and moving on to Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, the disabled, women, everybody who wasn’t going to vote for him---all of them were THEM, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS and their removal, their banishment, their arrest, their deaths were what was needed to make America great again.
Whatever was wrong, whatever had made America less than great, THEY did! THEM, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS did it, to America, to YOU, to US! And THEY, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS would have to pay for it!
THEY, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS would get what’s coming to them at last. And whatever THEY, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS took---stole---from YOU, from US would be stolen back. WE, US, the good plain folk, the real Americans would get it all back and we wouldn’t ever again have to share.
That’s it, the whole basis of our President-elect’s political program. Anger, resentment, vindictiveness, retribution, punishment, revenge. Very Serious People who keep expecting the Republican Congressional leadership to finally get fed up with him are missing the point. His politics are their politics. They are Nixon’s heirs too. Nixon's, Reagan’s, Bush’s. They’re in government to make sure THEY, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS are punished. They’re in government to make sure WE, US GOOD PLAIN FOLK don’t have to share, any of it, it being the country and the benefits of living here.
A whole lot of Trump’s voters are going to find out that they’re actually part of THEM, THOSE OTHERS. Because US, WE REAL AMERICANS, WE GOOD PLAIN FOLKS aren’t rich and only the rich matter to the Republicans as human beings. US, WE REAL AMERICANS, WE GOOD PLAIN FOLKS matter only to the degree we’re useful in making the rich richer, and, individually, none of us are useful in any great degree in that process.
But most Trump voters won’t notice or allow themselves to care if they do, because they’re Republicans. The greater part of their lives, most of them, their whole lives, many them, has been lived in Nixon’s America, Reagan’s America, Bush’s America, and they’ve adapted easily and comfortably. They don’t care what’s being done to them by their own Party as long as THEY, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS are having worse done to them.
And if millions of THEM, THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE OTHERS turn out to be other Americans, well, isn’t that just too darn bad?