It’s the morning after Donald Trump’s unexpected US election victory. I’m going to sound like an insufferable old man here for a minute or two, because I knew this was going to happen.
My faithful readers (both of you) will be aware that I have been convinced for a long time (decades) that the United States is in irrevocable decline. I grew up in the 1950s which saw the spring blossoming of America’s post-war prosperity which was reflected here in Canada. And I went to university in the 1960s when all of us post-war babies rose up and told the American establishment we’d had enough of its shallow materialistic greed.
We didn’t invent the right and the left in those years, but what was going on foreshadowed a dynamic that I dimly started to understand wasn’t going to lead anywhere nice. I posted on “Politics” awhile ago, outlining how opposed values, especially deeply-held values, tend toward fundamentalism, polarity, and increasingly destructive opposition. This polarity has, I seem to have figured out maybe 30 years ago, a temporal pendulum-like momentum.
John Kennedy and LBJ were Democrats, the “centre-left” of their era in the US. During the war in Vietnam, with all the doubt and divisiveness that preoccupied the United States at that time, the sensible centre, still the majority, understood that things were not going well, and concluded toward the end of the 1960s that these left-leaners weren’t solving the problem. Richard Nixon was elected at the start of 1969, and although he did some remarkable things, everyone knows how that ended up. He was replaced by fellow Republican Gerald Ford. Through the 1970s, things just got worse. Surely, the swing-centre seems to have concluded, these right-leaners don’t have the answers either, and Americans next got Democrat Jimmy Carter. His failure to “make America great again” led to Ronald Reagan, through the same amnestic mechanism driving the need to change, because things were still bad, and getting worse.
Looking at Carter and Reagan, I think we can see the beginning of the kind of locked-in instability I’m talking about here: “Wobble”. Fed up with leftist Democrat Carter, the American public reached out for somebody really way over on the other side. Although Bush senior succeeded in slightly watering down Reagan’s fairly radical right-wing agenda, exactly the same swing back and forth continued in the early 90s with the election of Democrat Bill Clinton, as a reaction to Reagan. And toward the end of that decade, George W Bush, another less-charismatic and probably dumber conservative, was the electorate’s reaction to Clinton’s failure to stop the unstoppable downward trajectory of America.
Widely derided, Bush was followed by the first African-American president, the dignified, and cautious Obama, who for all his personal skills put in place the sharply left-of-centre program that his election as a reaction to Bush seemed to demand. He faced opposing Congress, accomplished only a few of his programs, but of course left what turned out to be a majority of Americans still angry, dissatisfied, and wishing for what many of them (or at least their parents) remembered as the halcyon days.
Fast-forward to the present. Because the country and the culture are still in decline, now steeper than ever, the bright and rosy economics of the 1950s and indeed the 1960s are a far-distant dream, jobs are scarce, and the country is less and less respected in the world, we have to, panics the American public still accustomed to world domination, do something. Change! It is the terrifyingly tragedy of democracy that a general election provides the illusion that we can do something, can change things for the better.
And so, the dynamic of wobble carried last night’s election, with an even more wildly radical reaction to Obama, way way way over to the other side.
It’s a characteristic of wobble that the swing of the pendulum widens. Trump is a crazy cartoon of the right as everyone knows, but he was the only choice for the population, especially the not-so-bright slightly-greater-than-half of the population, believing his lies about returning America to greatness (and everyone to prosperity and that now-distant confident world superiority).
Who knows what he will do, and not do. We can only hope that the harm won’t far far exceed the background decline of his country over the next four years.
And I find myself, emotionally, embarrassed on behalf of our national big brother. Much as I’ve cheered when we beat them at hockey and prominent Hollywood celebrities make fools of themselves, as a Canadian I know my country can’t stand up to the rest of the world to save us from being gobbled up and having our lovely lives demeaned. We need our big neighbour. I love to hate them, but finally have to admit the United States has always been a benign protective figure in my imagination, and in political truth.
Sadly it’s been fading slowly for forty-plus years, and now all of a sudden it’s turned into a sad and scary clown. What will happen to little old us?