Plaything of the Wind of Public Opinion

While searching for a lost reference, I struck pay dirt –a description of a least favorite politician offered by one of my unmet mentors.

“(He) was an amoral man. Deceit, simulations, telling lies marked the character of the man. He was bright, able and wholly unethical. The end, in his view, justified the means.

“No man is perfect, but deeply ingrained in our character has been the conviction that man has moral standards that are not subservient to expediency. (He) had a compulsion to put expediency first. The appetite of his ego was devastating. Nothing could stand in his way

My hero continued, “(He) lived not for his ‘friends,’ but for his enemies. Everyone who crossed his path, everyone who was a competitor, had to be destroyed. . . . The regime of the politics of destruction, which (he) headed, thrived on ‘enemies.’ If he did not have one, he was forced to create one.”

Since an outdated reference in the next part of the quotation might tip my hand, I’ll point out here that my hero is Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and the person he is describing is Richard Nixon.

So, there is nothing new under the sun.

In the second volume of his autobiography, The Court Years, Douglas continues with more descriptions of Nixon that seem sadly applicable today. Substitute “Russian” for “Soviet” and you’ll catch my drift. (I’ll continue to offer some paragraph breaks for reading convenience.)

“He was actually envious of Soviet ruthlessness and helped design the American counterpart. He was interested not in the clash of ideas, but in the clash of power.

“Telling lies was so customary a technique, so much a proverb of his life, that he was unaware when he did lie. His compulsion was to never admit an error or a weakness. If he ever does make such an admission, it is solely for tactical reasons. . . .

“Respect for ideological differences and for the sense of moral obligation that once made up our political ethic became obsolete as he fashioned the monolith of sheer power. He sponsored a new value system in which truth played no part of what he called ‘operable realities.’

“He became the embodiment of the blatant secularism which emerged through our business practices and our commercial advertising and which took the place of our old morality. He represented  no culture or belief except the necessity to win by destroying people.”

“Operable realities,” is it? How much does that sound like “alternative facts?”

As with many of us last year, Justice Douglas found himself lamenting:

“I had grossly underestimated the decline in American morality to the point that the White House could become a huge public relations forum, operating with Madison Avenue techniques.”

Yes, we’ve seen this kind of demagoguery before. It put the country through its worst domestic crisis since the Civil War.

But, the great Justice Douglas offers hope that also carries a warning.

He says that the three forces that stopped Nixon were “(1) a free press that dared shake its fist at its incipient censor; (2) a public opinion that rated moral values high and that began to puke at chicanery in high places: and (3) a stoutly independent judiciary.”

So, we can see why our president spends so much time attacking the press that points out his outrageous lies on a daily basis and the judiciary that won’t let him have his spoiled-brat way.

Protecting American values depends upon the press and the courts. There appears to be a shortage of Congressional representatives and public religionists who rate “moral values high.”

One reason for this acquiescence seems to be a monumental shift among white evangelical Christians regarding the moral stature of politicians.

In 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute asked, “if elected public officials could fulfill their public duties if immoral in their private lives.” At that time, 61 percent of the white evangelical Christians said, “No.”

Asked the same question in October of last year – with candidate Trump bragging about grabbing women by their genitals and inciting racism while promising a pro-birth Supreme Court justice – 70 percent of those same Christian soldiers said private morality would not be a factor in public life.

During his life as a public figure, Donald Trump – who also bragged about barging into the dressing room at his Miss Universe contest — has been documented on all sides of most political issues. And, when his inconsistencies have been pointed out, he screams at the messengers and ignores those pesky facts.

One school of thought thought that Mr. Trump’s outrageous misogyny, bigotry and bullying were merely campaign tactics to energize his base base.

They adopted this notion because they believed that no sane person could espouse such nonsense in the 21st century. The loyalty of his core supporters proves them wrong.

And, now, President Trump’s reliance on racist campaign rallies to bolster his ego demonstrates how dependent he is upon someone’s – anyone’s – adulation.

Mr. Trump projected an image of defiant independence throughout the campaign, but how independent is someone who must keep courting favor from supporters?

A poll of historians would probably consider Andrew Jackson a strong executive, certainly in the top ten as far as power — if not virtue.

So, I was surprised last summer while slogging through Alexis De Toqueville’s “Democracy in America” to find the exact opposite opinion expressed by an astute observer who was on the scene during Jackson’s presidency.

The Frenchman’s famous critique of our young republic notes:

“One hears it said that General Jackson was a man who had won battles, that he is an energetic man, prone by nature and habit to the use of force, covetous of power and a despot by inclination.”

Except for the part about military service, this description has a most familiar ring to it. (Of course, our commander-in-chief considers property development and stiffing creditors equivalent to risking one’s life for our country.)

Explaining Jackson’s anti-federal and de-centralization leanings, De Tocqueville concludes, “…General Jackson is the spokesman of provincial jealousies; it was decentralizing passions (if I may put it so) that brought him to sovereign power. He keeps his position and his popularity by daily flattery of those passions. General Jackson is the majority’s slave; he yields to its intentions, desires and half-revealed instincts, or rather he anticipates and forestalls them.”

Again, we are confronted with a very similar personality type. In fact, De Tocqueville even mentions Jackson’s penchant for pursuing and punishing his enemies.

And, while Mr. Trump vilifies Muslims and people of color, Jackson, a slaveholder, turned his evil intentions against Native Americans, including those who had contributed to his military successes and subsequent fame.

I’m guessing these similarities will suffice for Trump & Co. to keep Old Hickory’s visage on the $20 bill.

Between Donald Trump’s election and his inauguration in front of that itty-bitty little crowd, I observed the above similarities in deportment between him and Andrew Jackson, as described by De Tocqueville, and I wondered about the tone of Mr. Trump’s presidency – “whether we will see a free-wheeling, bold Trump presidency or one that is all hot air. We really don’t know what he stands for besides personal greed and self-aggrandizement.”

Events of the past few weeks tend to tip the scales toward the self-aggrandizing hot air category.

Unable to accomplish much in Washington, our president makes frequent campaign sorties into friendly territory to hear the applause from the 30 percent of Americans who support his racist, pro-rich agenda. (And most of these supporters are not rich.)

Running out to Arizona to pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio before the legal process had been finalized gave him a chance to assure his racist base that racial profiling and discrimination are dear to his heart – “the daily flattery of those passions” – and he received their cheers as his reward.

(Our Rep. Tom Cole had “no problem” with the pardon when asked at his Lawton town hall meeting.)

But, then Mr. Trump crossed up his base and surprised Congressional Republicans by striking a deal with Democrats to fund hurricane relief and increase the debt ceiling.

(Our Sen. James Lankford offered hurricane victims his prayers – which were answered when responsible senators voted for the relief package. He didn’t.)

It was telling of that the president’s primary reaction to the deal was to revel in the good publicity that doing the right thing brought him.

This susceptibility to flattery and applause raised the possibility of flattering Mr. Trump toward other sensible actions.

Then, after putting 800,000 Dreamers at risk by voiding DACA – to the cheers of the racists – the president evidently found more common ground with Democrats to come up with an outline to preserve their residency in the only country they have ever known.

But, the approval from sensible people was drowned out by outraged cries of “Amnesty Don” from his racist base. So, wafting on the wind of public opinion, he denied any DACA deal.

At the same time, he again tried to divert attention from the murderous nazis, klansmen and free-lance white supremacists – some of whom, remember, are “fine people” –  who invaded Charlottesville under banners of the Third Reich.

This, while attacking a new “enemy,” ESPN sportscaster Jemelle Hill who looked at the long years of evidence right up to today and came to the logical conclusion that anyone with such a record was a “white supremacist.”

While De Tocqueville called Jackson “the majority’s slave,” it is apparent that Trump is beholden to that racist minority which he led into the mainstream – and which he threatens to unleash in primaries upon any Republicans who oppose him.

He uses these happy haters to keep others in line. Looks like they’re keeping him line as well.


(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)




One thought on “Plaything of the Wind of Public Opinion

  1. It’s eerie how Nixon’s description corresponds with Trump, and hope that the latter ends up the same as the former.
    However, I wouldn’t call Trump’s treatment of the free media as “attacking” in more than metaphorical sense – all he does is complaining about it and maybe limiting the access to his administration for those outlets that have proven supportive of him. He hasn’t done (yet) any actual attacking like Putin, Erdogan, and any other ascending dictators: we do not see dozens of murdered or jailed journalists, revoked broadcasting licenses, or major media outlets taken over by the government or its corporate allies.

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