I am not a Trump enthusiast.
I am not anti-Trump either.
I am trying to look at this from a pragmatic perspective and determine how we got to this point in our current political process. Trump is the symptom of a larger ailment plaguing both parties, but, more specifically, the Republican party. We cannot fault Trump for garnering the support he has. It is, after all, still a free country. The electorate is allowed to vote for whomever they choose. They are so fed up with the current state of the country and our government, they are desperate for an outsider — someone who is going to make them feel like he is not just another say-anything-do-nothing politician. But, would someone like a Donald J. Trump have risen to such heights had he run for office just a decade or two ago? What’s happened in the last 10-20 years to create the atmosphere where someone like Trump can capture the imagination and support of so many?
Let’s start with empty promises and the impression of a “do nothing” Congress. In my lifetime, I remember the Reagan revolution. The political tides turned in the space of one election cycle, following the abysmal term of Jimmy Carter. Conservatism was given a try and it was so successful, by 1984 Reagan was able to win 49 of the 50 states when he ran for reelection. Reagan had found a way to broaden the Republican base to unprecedented levels. He won over conservative Democrats, moderates and independents as well as fellow Republicans. The American people began to believe in themselves again and attributed that new-found sense of American exceptionalism to the economic turnaround taking place under Reagan’s leadership. We lived up to the ideal of what it meant to be a world power, eventually kicking the Soviet Union in their money belt and bringing that wall of communism down. Americans were feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Fast-forward to the Bill Clinton era. A master of triangulation, he knew his success in office was directly related to his popularity with the American people. Rather than take a hard-line stance (at least behind closed doors), he would use polling to find an acceptable middle-ground with just about every issue. Even if he touted a rigid policy in public speeches, he was astute enough to know he had to maximize his likability at every turn, which meant showing Americans he was accomplishing something. When the Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, they said they were going to pass welfare reform. Clinton was adamantly against it, until he found the majority of Americans were in favor of it. So, he signed the bill into law and when it turned out to be effective, lowering unemployment and fueling more economic growth, he changed his tune and went so far as to begin taking credit for its passing. When that same Congress passed the first balanced budget in decades, he was also quick to sign it. The American people were seeing politicians making promises and then finding a way to make many of them come to fruition. Obviously, not every campaign promise was kept. But, there were enough successes to placate the electorate.
So, how did we get from there in 2000, to the “do nothing” Congress so many Americans see today? How did we get to a point that we now see terms like Republicrats or Democans used to illustrate there no longer seems to be any differences between the parties?
I believe the rise of the internet as an everyday communication tool is at the heart of it. The advent of the 24 hour news cycle was dwarfed by the sudden ability of so many to instantaneously publish information to the masses. Websites, e-publishing, blogs, video blogs, social media all grew out of the mainstreaming of the internet in the late 90s to where we are today. Cell phones led to smart phones, leveraging the internet in a massive way. Everyone can now be a roving reporter, complete with camera, microphone and the ability to push content out to just about anywhere in the world.
Politicians and their records are now under the biggest electron microscope in the history of mankind. With each passing year, their electronic records grow and we are at a point where many of our politicians today have never known a time where their speeches and writings were not immediately digitized and shared on the net. Want to know if a politician has changed his or her tune on an issue? Just do a a simple keyword search and you will find any moment in time where they have contradicted themselves. The more their records became accessible, the easier it was to see inconsistencies, leading to higher levels of mistrust in our elected leaders.
Let’s face it, the internet is like any other tool. It can be used for good or for evil. It’s not the fault of the net, but of the user. The amount of misinformation and propaganda that exists on social media is almost mind-numbing. We are inundated non-stop with internet meme’s decrying one thing or another. Facts get muddled. Logic is obscured. Reason becomes a distant after-thought.
We are now more aware than ever when our politicians lie, contradict themselves or fail to follow-through on their promises. Combined with the relentless onslaught of messaging via social media, Americans are growing both numb and disenfranchised with the body politic. No one believes our elected leaders will keep their word. They’ve shown us over and over (and then documented and shared over and over and over and over…) that the vast majority of them will say whatever they need to get reelected and then it’s back to business-as-usual. And, when a politician does stand-up, they are crushed under the weight of the establishment within their party — a non-stop attack of “go along to get along” or else!
The GOP, as my friend and co-founder of Freedom Cocktail recently demonstrated, is fractured to the point where it is unrecognizable. The Democrats are speeding head-long toward socialism and the leadership within the GOP seems comfortable with the position of heading the same way, just more slowly. Why? Because who can beat Santa Claus? Both parties have learned that the promise of goodies makes for a mind-numbed and happy batch of lemmings and those lemmings are guaranteed to keep voting for them to remain in office.
Want to win my vote? Want to fix the culture that has led to someone like Donald Trump from surging to the top? It’s time to embrace TERM LIMITS in Congress!
We limit the power of the Presidency to no more than two terms (8 years) in office, yet, senators and representatives can spend generations in the halls of Congress. Many of them have spent their entire careers as politicians, lasting more than 40 years in office. And, as demonstrated, they will say/do anything to retain the power of their office. They are not interested in making tough or unpopular decisions. They refuse to deal with issues like the debt, our country’s massive unfunded liability, the insolvency of social security, the sky-rocketing cost of health insurance and health care (thanks to Obamacare) and our punitive tax-code, just to name a few. Why? Because fixing any of these means making tough decisions. It means taking the candy away from the kids who have been keeping them in office. It means taking off the Santa suit, rolling up their sleeves and actually solving these problems.
By taking away their perpetual stay-in-office-for-life card, we can be assured of at least one of two outcomes: either politicians will return to the will of our Founding Fathers and spend a short time in service of the American people, before returning to the private sector; or, they will ignore their oath of office, but their damage will be limited before returning to the private sector.
Think about it. If any of our current batch of politicians knew they would have to return to the private sector after only a short time in office, and live under the conditions they have created through their term as a legislator, wouldn’t they be more apt to work toward the betterment of the nation rather than themselves? Knowing they can no longer make a living by carving out a different set of rules for themselves, they would have no choice but to try to find a way to implement rules meant to better everyone.
I know. I hear some of you saying, “We have term limits. We vote on our representatives in the House every two years and in the Senate every six.” Sure. Ok. That’s true. Now, ask yourself, how long have your elected representatives been in office? Does it feel like they have a term limit?
Some politicians do find a way to do more good than bad, and in those cases one may argue against term limits. I used to think that way. But, in our current climate, those examples have become the rare exception and not the rule and I have changed my view. The corruptible nature of government eventually taints any involved and the longer someone remains, the greater the risk of turning even the most principled individual over to the dark side. There is too much power and authority for any human being, with all of our flaws and failings, to withstand it’s negative effects for long.
You want to win my vote? Tell me you will make term limits a priority. Tell me then show me you will fight to make it happen. Tell the American people, like I’ve noted above, why it’s needed. Gain our trust and make it happen. No more than two terms for the Senate (12 years) and no more than six terms for the House (12 years). Once you have removed the atmosphere allowing for lifetime positions in governance, I believe you will see an overwhelming change in the culture within the halls of Congress. Take away the temptation for politicians to “do nothing” for fear of not being reelected. Take away the need to buy votes by dolling out the country’s largess, while ignoring the real work that needs to be done.
Donald Trump is appealing to a wide range of Americans right now, not because he is a celebrity, but because he is not a politician. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter if he is inconsistent. It doesn’t matter if his positions have been all over the place. It doesn’t matter that he can say one thing one day and the opposite another. He’s not viewed as a politician. His supporters are desperate for someone different, someone who will make them feel like he cannot be bought. He is winning because Americans love a winner and he makes them feel like they will win, if he wins. He is winning because he is different.
Want someone else to win? It’s going to take a massive cultural change in Washington, D.C., achieved only after the seductive nature of staying in power in perpetuity is removed. It’s the only way for Congress to start regaining the respect of the American people. Until then, we might as well plan on more and more outsiders, including celebrities, throwing in their hats in future races. There is a natural yearning in all of us to follow others in whom we believe and right now there is very little belief in anything the career politician says.
Is there any stronger statement that can be made to show just how far our “do nothing” elected leaders have fallen?