I am old enough to remember 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president, and Ronald Reagan, after several attempts, finally achieved some level of political gravitas as a two-term California governor. In that election, Reagan faced George H.W. Bush, John Anderson, Phil Crane, John Connally, and Bob Dole. Only Bush gave him a challenge (not much of one), and of course became Reagan’s VP pick–though at the time, that shocked the Republican world since everyone believed it would be Gerald Ford.
Carter was such a poor, and poorly thought-of, president that Sen. Ted Kennedy gave him a real run for his money in the primaries, capturing a full 42% of the votes cast. Such is the power of an economy mired in “stagflation” and America the laughingstock of America-haters of the world. We did nothing to stop Iran’s collapse (and in fact accelerated it by admitting the Shah into our borders) into the hands of the radical supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini; we did nothing to stop the FSLN Sandinistas from destabilizing Nicaragua.
Carter’s view was that this is the new normal. Reagan destroyed him with optimism. Thus, the old political order of career politicians, popular military leaders, and country-club Republicans was disrupted by a man who actually believed in what he was selling.
Reagan was so effective that, despite scandals and a mental decline, his Vice President Bush won in a rout, purely on his coattails, while the Democrats recalibrated and settled for…Gov. Mike Dukakis, tank-sitter.
Then the Clintons took over the Democratic Party, and never let go. If not for the superstar hypnotic power of hopey changey Barack Obama, we would never have had the opportunity for the next round of disruption. Against Obama, the Republicans tried the same formula Democrats tried against Reagan: play to the stable war hero and pair him with a woman. McCain did 21 states better than Mondale.
In 2016, Democrats should have run Biden, but the Clintons had control and Hillary wanted another shot. Plus, Obama didn’t offer much in the way of coattails. Hillary’s Brooklyn dream-team thought they had this whole thing thought out, down to Her coronation at the Javits Center under a glass ceiling.
Instead, we were rudely disrupted from the genteel political tranny of victim identitarianism and national collective shame, via Hillary’s candidate, Donald Trump, to the politics of identitarianism and good old fashioned ass-whippings. It left Clinton asking “what’s a Twitter?” while Trump commanded millions of bots and trolls to swarm against even his most casual critics.
Trump’s ruffians threatened pundit after pundit from his own party, while the candidate flaunted his “if I were king” indugences: throwing reporters out of pressers, firing up crowds with shouts of “lock her up!” and mocking disabled journalists. It was a campaign totally immersed in feelings, and largely surrounded by incompetent boobs, who happened to hit the right nerve of a country tired of Obama’s “new normal.”
What was disruption in 2016 is now the new normal heading into 2020. Trump’s daily outrages have become little more than a chirping in the nation’s ear. The media’s weekly “beginning of the end” proclamations have become the butt of social media memes. The president’s allegation that Democrats have conducted a witch hunt for three years has become the de facto truth, regardless of what witches have gathered around Trump for the hunting.
There is no room for policy in any political discussion leading to a vote–on anything. Budgets with trillion dollar debt price tags are given 90 minute debates on the floor of Congress, with just three days to digest over a thousand pages of pork barrel politics. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren toss around “free everything!” promises as if money literally grew on trees, while AOC and her flock promise to stop global warming by sending America back to the stone age.
We have entered the time of politics by the feels–the ‘TFW’ age. The feel when you care more about owning the other party by trashing all your own principles. The feel when you condemn hatred from your political enemies but defend it from your own tribe. The feel when nothing matters but winning–except the other guy losing.
(I’d reference a particular scene from “The Rise of Skywalker” except it would be a spoiler–but the reward for helping your enemy so your real enemy will lose is the same as what happened in the movie.)
The feel when a Jew like Bernie Sanders can stand up and defend anti-Semitism, while accepting the endorsement of an acknowledged Jew-hater, yet blame Trump for rising anti-Semitism, who has done more than any president since Harry Truman for the State of Israel.
The feel when John F. Kennedy would recognize his party today, but not as Democrats–he’d recognize them as Communists. The feel when the first Republicans, fighting against slavery, would recognize their party today–but not as the party of Abraham Lincoln–they’d recognize the Know-Nothings from the 1850s.
The year 2020 will be a year of new normals, and like 1979, nobody is able to see past its opaque curtain. We can only hope that in the next year, and the four after that, we can rise up to another vision, one of optimism untinged by petty vengeance, of courage unbridled by thin-skinned egotism. We can hope that we can be free of the feels and get back to a sane fiscal policy.
We can also do more than hope. The feel when you wake up and the future has arrived.