At some point, historians will have a field day with the Trump Administration and how the hell this all happened. We’ll see references to those left behind finding a (scapegoating) voice, those white nationals needing demonized targets, those greed-heads celebrating non-progressive economics, those hypocritical evangelicals rationalizing anything in the name of anti-abortion, those protectionists and isolationists defying all things global and those spineless GOP enablers prioritizing party and career over country. And, yes, those far-left Bernie Sanders activists who sat out 2016 because they couldn’t rally around the establishment Democratic alternative.
There likely will be references to Huey Long, Fr. (Charles Edward) Coughlin, George Lincoln Rockwell and maybe Richard Spencer of contemporary “peaceful, ethnic cleansing” notoriety. And the increasingly authoritarian pattern we’re seeing internationally–from Brazil to Hungary–will not go unnoted.
But no explanation would be complete without these two names: Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. While it’s sacrilegious to even include those two in the same sentence, it’s also relevant in chronicling how we got here. The year 2008 could live, ironically, in infamy as well as fame.
As soon as John McCain, unconscionably playing the non-patriot, pander card, put Palin on the ticket, the stage was set for the American devolution. No longer would it be unprecedented to put somebody so blatantly, embarrassingly unqualified on a presidential ticket. By lowering the credible-candidate bar to such depths, we had raised the possibility that a narcissistic, pop-culture con man would have a shot at getting elected and establishing a Whites-only House.
And even though President Obama was hardly the embodiment of all things liberal, he was still the first African-American president. But while many celebrated the symbolic ascendance of an eloquent, minority president, the pendulum came careening back to taunt those who were decidedly not celebrating.
The tauntees only needed a perfect-storm, anti-Obama candidate to vent with and vote for. The political version of the Rev. Jim Jones was ready with the faux-populist Kool Aid.
Now we await 2020 to see if 2016 was a teachable moment in our history–or its turning point.