For those of us still in the process of trying to make sense out of the presidential election and its consequences, this might be a useful place to start. And a somewhat hopeful one as well, if you lean to the left. The author makes a compelling case for viewing Donald Trump as occupying a place in presidential history roughly equivalent to Jimmy Carter. It's an interesting comparison, especially if you contrast the differences in the personal lives of the two men. Politically, however, it's a comparison that makes a great deal of sense.
Carter came to the White House in 1976, the first presidential election held after the Watergate scandal and Nixon's resignation. He ran as an outside-the-Beltway candidate, promising never to lie and to provide a government, in his words, "as good as the American people." His opponent, Gerald Ford, was Nixon's unelected successor, presiding over an uninspiring economy and a gaffe-prone image, the latter characteristic being most notable for launching the career of Chevy Chase. On top of this, Ford had granted Nixon an unconditional, blanket pardon that covered all of Nixon's presidency. By doing so, he effectively joined himself at the hip to the Watergate disgrace.
Despite all of these disadvantages, and the appeal of Carter as a newcomer to Washington, Ford almost won. I recall going to bed at college the night of that election, convinced that Ford would win, and being surprised by waking up to a Carter victory. A very, very narrow victory. And no sooner had he done so than he found himself almost in what would become perpetual confrontation with a Congress controlled by his own party. A Congress led by two of the last members of the New Deal generation, Tip O'Neill and Robert Byrd, and one that had demonstrated its independence and institutional fortitude in impeaching Nixon. The outcome? A "disjunctive" Presidency that lasted one term. It would take 12 years for the Democratic party to reclaim the Oval Office.
Now, let's take a look at Trump.
Like Carter, he ran as an outsider, although he built that status not on the basis of his personal integrity (of which he has none). Like Carter, he built his political popularity on flattering his voters, to which he added a willingness to mimic their worst characteristics, including threats of violence. Unlike Carter, he was running against a President presiding over a growing economy, but found a way to distract voters from that fact by relying on the glue that has held the national Republican coalition together for years--race. In effect, Barack Obama's skin color became the equivalent of Ford's propensity for clumsiness. And, much as Ford's pardon tied him to Nixon, Obama's continuation of the Bush-Cheney "perpetual war" in the Middle East (notwithstanding the Iraq withdrawal) tied him to his unpopular predecessors. And, just like Carter, Trump won a late-night, nail-biting, justthisclose victory.
But, just like Carter, although Trump shares power with a Congress controlled by his own party, this Congress has no use for the populism of its President. Like the O'Neil-Byrd Congress, Capitol Hill is in the grip of a rigid ideology--not the New Deal, of course, but supply-side Reaganomics. Take the approach of Republicans in the House of Representatives toward replacing the Affordable Care Act, Actually, they're only planning to partially replace it. How? By replacing much of the Federal subsides for buying health insurance with--wait for it--tax cuts. And not just any tax cuts, but cuts that disproportionately benefit the donor base of the Republican party. In other words, the people most likely to be hurt by this change (if it ever happens) are Trump voters.
And Trump is fully on-board with this, despite the fact that he's promised universal health care in the past. Then again, he promised not to cut Social Security, and look at what's happening to that promise. Out the window. On moral grounds, no less. Don't count on those factory jobs to come back, Rust Belters.
So, to complete the comparison all the way into the next Presidential election, all the Democrats would need to do is to find themselves another Reagan. Somebody at the upper end of the age spectrum, who had spent his whole life devoted to ideological causes. Someone not closely identified with the establishment of the party, but who has millions of fiercely loyal partisans within it. Someone who had run against the party nominee in the previous election, and came up just short of a historic upset in the nomination process. Someone whose presence hung over that nominee, even at a triumphant nominating convention.
In other words, someone like ... gasp ... Bernie Sanders.
Amazing, isn't it? But what's even more amazing is that, once again, the Democrats may be poised to blow it.
Whatever else you do, don't let them.