The View From Rattlesnake Ridge
Ruminations from an Unabashed Optimist, an Environmental Patriot and a Radical Centrist
By Wayne D. King
Most of the folks living here in the shadow of Rattlesnake Ridge will recall the months before the election of 2016 as a time when almost no one believed that Donald Trump could win the Presidency. News commentators tripped all over themselves to hastily add to any observations they made about the Republican nominee that “he didn’t have a chance of winning” but . . .
The only person that I can name who called this election in advance was Mark Blyth, a political economist and professor at Brown University whose prescient speeches before the election warned voters that the complacency, or perhaps more accurately the indifference among voters; and – more important – the rage of those in the precariat class would create a seismic shift in politics, delivering the win to Donald Trump.
Blyth based his prognostications not only on the elections here in the US but an emerging trend toward nationalism and authoritarian tendencies worldwide, largely led by the example emanating from the US.
Now here we are nearly two years into the presidency of Donald J. Trump and no one quite knows what to think about what lies ahead, as the saying goes “once burned, twice shy.”
Anyone who thinks that the conviction this week of Paul Manafort or the plea and allocution by Michael Cohen is a sign that we are in the endgame is deluding themselves.
Presidential elections are more than two years ahead but the midterm election is less than 100 days away. It is an election that is likely to set the stage for the 2020 Presidential elections and what transpires in both the halls of Congress and in the streets and communities of America will play pivotal roles in determining both the outcome of the elections and, more important, the country that emerges on the other end of the process.
The damage that has been done by Donald Trump to Democracy and the most fundamental tenets of the American idea and our ideals is profound but it is secondary to the damage that has been done by a broken political system of which he is both symptom and poster child.
Readers of this column will probably be tired of hearing me say Donald Trump is a symptom of our national problems, not the cause. The world is changing around us, shifting under our feet and Congress is clueless.
Truth has been the first victim of this broken system and beyond the immediate implications of each lie and its individual ramifications is the even more dangerous and deepening cynicism that infects the body politic as a whole. The tribalism and identity politics that threaten to deepen and prolong the divisions within our country, largely coming from the left, and the ease with which other bad actors like Russia have inserted themselves into the process, exacerbating the divisions among us and advancing their own agendas should give all of us pause.
The resistance – Democrats and Independents – have every reason to be angry about what has transpired in our democracy over the past four years, beginning with the theft of a Supreme Court Justice appointment from President Obama, a justice that would have assured that we continued to have a mainstream Supreme Court reflecting the broader values of the American people rather than a court that veered wildly to the right.
They have every right to be incensed that Republican members of Congress have put the fortunes of their political party and their individual elections ahead of their obligations and duties to their country;
They have every right to be horrified by the continuing stream of transgressions against both the letter and spirit of our laws and our democratic norms by an administration that continues to violate nearly every norm of acceptable behavior in a democracy – even as our President cozies up to dictators and uses the trappings of his office to enhance his family’s fortunes.
All of these are legitimate grievances. All of them have the deepest of their roots in the savage disparity of wealth that has grown into an existential crisis for our nation even as unstoppable forces of technological change, globalization and the gig economy conspire to make the problem worse.
Ironically, this disparity of wealth is the single most important force empowering both the resistance to Donald Trump and his base support. After all, no grievances can compare with the grievances of a nation of people who have watched for fifty years as the wages and wealth of those contributing most to our economy continue to fall, tipping more and more middle class families into the precariat and further miring those already at the bottom.
So where do we go from here?
If we can begin by acknowledging the fact that these changes in our country drive the current narrative – from which both sides of the political chasm draw their energy – we can begin to see a way out of this quagmire from which we might emerge as a more united nation.
It will not be easy, and Democrats and Independents who are justifiably angry and, perhaps, vengeful will need to swallow hard to assure that we do not let a course correction turn into a wild swing of the political pendulum that sinks the country deeper into a cycle of anger, division and retribution. Such a scenario would most likely result in Democrats taking control of the House and perhaps the Senate in 2018 only to have Donald Trump seize it back in 2020 because the Democrats failed to address the real problems of our nation in their lust to make Trump pay.
In the best interest of our country, cooler heads must prevail.
I’m not a pollyanna about this. Not everyone is going to be ready to reinvent the American dream. There will be those at the margins who will not be satisfied with anything but a pound of flesh.
Among those who have supported Donald Trump there will be some who are unwilling to move. Some who are truly outside of the mainstream.
On the side of the resistance, a significant number of citizens as well as those running for office in 2018 believe that the response to the offenses of the Trump Administration should be for Democrats to double down and “fight like Republicans.” Ignoring the best interests of the country, ignoring the needs of citizens and using their power to gain political advantage over the Republicans.
So the question becomes: will those same Democrats who have roundly criticized Republicans for putting the needs of their country second to the needs of their party be strong enough to stand up to their own base – an understandably angry and sometimes vengeful base – and tell them “We will not play tit for tat with our Democracy” . . . Vowing instead to put the needs of the country before the needs of their party. I pray that they will.
If the resistance emerges victorious in the 2018 elections and then use the transgressions of the Trump Administration to justify behaving in the same manner, they will only further damage our democracy and ultimately deliver the 2020 election to Donald Trump.
We must call upon our better angels, tamping down our own anger in the national interest and do our best to ignore the most extreme forces on both sides to create a healing narrative that speaks to the 70% of Americans who know that we are on the wrong track and who want to renew the American dream for everyone.
We’ve lived with Donald Trump for almost two years, though it often seems like twenty. We can live with him for two more if it will give us the chance as a nation to send him packing on the strength of an election that declares to the world “this is NOT who we are.”
Democrats and the resistance would be far better using the next two years to lay out a narrative and plans for fixing our Democracy and a rigged economy while shining a bright light on the Trump administration. The alternative – to spend our national energy on an impeachment fight destined to go nowhere and from which, under the best of circumstances, we would emerge with President Pence and quite likely a pardoned Donald Trump, is untenable.
In the meantime, it’s time to pump some new life into the old notion of Federalism, Federalism 3.0 if you will. Constructing new ways of building national consensus from the grassroots up. If we rely on a Congress filled with people who are still waging the ideological battles of the past to set the agenda we are destined for more of the same special interest driven policies and our political divisions will only deepen.
The American people are looking for leadership that responds to the challenges of our time. Only this offers the hope for renewing the American story. For the last two years the Republican majority has done almost nothing to address these challenges. In fact, the single legislative accomplishment of this period – the Republican tax bill, has made the problems worse, not better.
To reinvigorate our democracy we must resist the temptation to engage in the same kind of politics and do everything we can to help bring the Republican party back to the political mainstream. Nothing less than the hopes and dreams of the world depend upon it.
About Wayne D. King: Wayne King is an author, artist, activist and recovering politician. A three term State Senator, he was the 1994 Democratic nominee for Governor and most recently the CEO of MOP Environmental Solutions Inc., a public company in the environmental cleanup space. His art is exhibited nationally in galleries and he has published three books of his images. His most recent novel “Sacred Trust” a vicarious, high voltage adventure to stop a private powerline is available on Amazon.com. He lives in Rumney at the base of Rattlesnake Ridge where he flies both the American and Iroquois flags proudly. His website is: http://bit.ly/WayneDKing