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Understanding all the little changes that brought us the huge change of the Trump era

Donald and Melania Trump
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One as they depart Orly aiport on Friday.

I’m still reflecting on whether I blew it (and, if so, how badly I blew it) with my post of yesterday, suggesting that the recent news of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer might not turn out to be such a big development in the story of the overall alleged Trump/Russia conspiracy.

I do know this, as a child of the 1950s (born in 1951): Any president or other major political figure who colluded with Russians to influence a U.S. election during the second half of the 20th century would have been forced to resign, banished from politics and would be lucky to stay out of jail.

Things have changed. Trump and Trumpism has shattered a great many unwritten rules. No one who trades in his wives as often as Trump has, no one who insulted the war heroism of John McCain (because he was captured), no one who trashed and mocked a “Gold Star” family, no one who was caught on tape bragging about the pleasures of grabbing women by the pussy, etc., etc., etc., could possibly have become president in those earlier times. After each of those instances, and many more, I thought to myself: That’s it. This is over. No one can say or do that. But that’s because I was living in the past and didn’t fully grasp what had changed.

Trump did not bring about this change, but Trump and his loyal supporters personify the change or the many changes, large and small, social and economic, personal and collective that made this presidency possible.

On the subject of some of the many large and small changes that led up to this mega-change in our political culture, I was impressed by yesterday’s edition of the “Daily 202,” an email I read most days by James Hohmann of the Washington Post. (Duh. It only just occurred to me that the mysterious “202” in the feature’s name must refer to the Washington D.C. area code.)

For yesterday’s edition of the “Daily 202” Hohmann interviewed lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, a long-time Republican who served in the sub-cabinet of George W. Bush and whose brother Ken Mehlman was chair of the RNC. Nowadays, Mehlman analyzes “change,” in politics, but also in the society where enormous changes underlie the perpetual public demand for “change.”

Mehlman tells his clients that five of the past six elections have been driven by a demand for “change,” based on polls like one from last November indicating that a candidate’s ability to “bring change” mattered far more to voters than whether they had the “right experience” or “good judgment.”

Although it’s hardly a fresh thought, that’s gotta be the first bullet point in understanding how Trump won over a Dem nominee who, notwithstanding the change she represented based on her gender, was perceived as the candidate of the status quo.

Also not new information, but powerful to me when I read it this morning, was Mehlman’s summary of seven huge changes that we’re all been living through for many years but some of which have come to be so normal that we forget to think about them as “change.” The list of seven is worth your consideration.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

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Comments (21)

Free passes

I will say, Republicans get a free pass on security issues, just as my party gets a free pass on a lot of domestic issues.

Change on both sides

A lot is written about the change that came about within the Republican voters that allowed Trump to be elected, but not enough emphasis is put on the Democrat voters that have now grown up with a clear "you can be anything you want to be" mentality which has spread into "you can vote for anyone - it will matter". The spreading of the Democrat vote contributed directly to Trump's win as much as the shift of the rural voter.

Trump Stew

I wrote most of the recipe for TRUMP STEW in January 2017 based on what I felt it was going to be like with Trump as our President. I watched Trump’s Presidential campaign which was disgusting, his election boggled my mind, and now he’s a President that needs a recipe. Here is my version of what I call TRUMP STEW. It is a four-year recipe, possibly less, so hang on because it has already come true.

Recipe Ingredients
Endless amounts of CROW – Trump will be eating plenty of this. Major amounts of SELF-LOVE – Trump has no shortage of this. Major amounts of INSECURITY – That explains Trump’s bravado. A liberal dose of ARROGANCE – The language of Trump. Buckets of incompetence – Trump is incapable of working with others. Massive amounts of BRAGGADOCIO – Trump uncontrollably flaunts he’s better than your world. Copious amounts of TRUTH – You can forget this ingredient because it won’t be happening. Endless DISCORD – Trump’s inciteful language will add this to the stew. Massive dose of Trump brand GALL. Carload of INSENSITIVITY AND DISRESPECT – There is only one-person Trump is concerned with – himself. Old SWAMP WATER – Replace with new Trump Swamp Water. Endless SALTY LIQUID from Trump’s Tears – Trump is always the victim. Rapidly add IMPEACHMENT – Even Republicans supporters will tire of TRUMP STEW. Throw out OBAMACARE because Trump officially signed the Executive Order to REPEAL and REPLACE it – That which was to be TRUMPCARE looks like Obamacare because it is Obamacare - Oops, the Republicans failed to fulfill their promise to voters to REPEAL. Add VINDICTIVENESS – Sprinkle throughout the recipe.
The garnish on the top of the TRUMP STEW are the many advisors and family members whose actions have added a drip, drip, drip of nefarious flavor to TRUMP STEW. Make TRUMP STEW in a CROCKPOT because that is what we will be getting during Trump’s Presidency – a CROCK. TRUMP STEW will be HUUUGE, served daily and if you BELIEVE Trump it’ll be TREMENDOUS.

For some deep background on Russian$ and Trump

https://newrepublic.com/article/143586/trumps-russian-laundromat-trump-t...

This piece exposes key Russian mobsters / kleptocrats buying condos in Trump properties with names, dates and criminal records of some of the players.

recommended.

Good insight.

Great article. I’m surprised the internet was not on the list.

Big Omission

An unfiltered, unedited means of mass communication is an immense change to our political culture.

It strikes me that the

It strikes me that the current version of America is the result of the future being over-hyped and under-delivered.

Expectations are high, and kept high by the constant media inflation. Lives of most people don't measure up to what they think they were promised.

The bright new future has brought entirely new problems with it and the old problems remained unsolved.

And we are pretty much the same as the people of ancient Rome or Tutankhamun Egypt --but we now have the expectation that our lives can be curated into perfection.

No wonder there is disillusion and dissatisfaction.

There are no new empty places to go, where we can live the storied freedom of the frontier--self-sufficient pioneers living lives of self-determination.

We're stuck in the reality, tormented by illusion and fables.

Spot on, Eric!

I especially love paragraph 3, because I can't wrap my head around all that has transpired either. And one might argue that other presidents have had sorted lives (i.e. all the material that has transpired since the assassination of JFK) but the point is this: during that time period, these things like extramarital affairs weren't made known to the public then. I'm sure it would have flavored the way the public viewed JFK if things were made known during his presidency that have come to light since then. Still . . . it's one thing to have this "blemished" secret side (we all have that to one degree or another, only God can see the heart) but to blatantly make such remarks and make such errors in judgment and never, EVER apologize!!! And the stupid attempts of his staff to make excuses for him just blow my mind! Not to mention his "loyal followers".

I told a friend of mine, a staunch Republican who supports Trump, but himself has a sterling personality, that if Trump were a Democrat, he'd want to run him out of Washington himself!

I'm a registered Democrat, but I have occasionally voted the other way if I felt that the candidate was worthwhile and would benefit the office he or she were running for; however, I could NEVER vote for a man (or woman for that matter) whose deeds and actions and words mirror those of our Commander-in-Chief. And if he can ever change for the better, I'll be right there rooting for him, but until he does . . .

Yes, times have changed. Bullying is in more than it ever was before and common decency and integrity are values of the past I'm afraid.

Thanks, Eric. Always a pleasure.

There is never enough

People something don't understand why Republicans like Trump. They admire a man who is so completely self centered and unreflective. He does exactly what he wants, which is always putting his interests first, even when it is very harmful to others.

He is the extreme individualist and capitalist, for which there is never enough of anything. Fundamentally others admire him for doing whatever he pleases, including bullying everyone else to get his way. They would be the same way, but their wives, bosses and other authority figures keep them place.

He is the perfect reflection of our instant gratification culture. Until his supporters understand that he will treat them just as badly as everyone else, they will support him, but don't expect any of them to change themselves into bledfing heart Democrats, who while part of our self centered culture, still are willing to make some personal sacrifices for the greater good of all, including the poor.

Cult of Personality

Trump is a cult of personality. Republicans will follow him no matter what. Why? Because they worship his ability to get away with what they only wish they could. They want to be Trump.

Republicans think he will MAGA and that will allow them to grab others by the pussy and get away with it. They'll be able to spew the rabid hate they feel and get away with it as he does. They'll be able to blame their every failure on others and get away with it like he does. They'll be able to like like he does and get away with it. They can't see that a 31 foot ladder will defeat a 30 foot wall because they want to blame the brown skins for their job problems. They'll even accept the Russians (!) and give up their own health care as long as the President is a white male. It's a delusion, but they are comfortable with their delusion.

America will be great again when we return to pre-Trump values.

Well done

…Eric. A good piece, and points #6 and #7 especially resonated with me. I enjoyed Tom Christensen's "Trump Stew," but am also inclined to agree with Ray Wallin and RB Holbrook. The web, including innumerable blogs, Facebook, and more "news" sites than I want to even try to keep track of, has fundamentally changed the way politics and governing work. People who focus exclusively on the counterculture of the late '60s and '70s as the only major changes in postwar society are missing the larger picture. I'd also add, though I'm not sure of the social effects that could be directly attributed to it, that Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex and its influence on policy and governance has proved to be prescient. That, too, is a significant change.

Unbelievable

I still cannot get my head around to the fact that people who brag about their Christian values or who has even a smidgen of intelligence would vote for trump:
* someone who mocked a handicapped reporter
* someone who has been married 3 times, and reportedly cheated on the first two
* someone who when talking about hitting on married women, bragged that as a star he could grab any woman by her pu**y
* someone who mocked the fox reporter because she asked him difficult questions, going so far to talk about her period...but then again...he's mocked and insulted women constantly with there being reported quite a few sexual abuse charges
* believed someone was a good business person while ignoring his 6 business bankruptcies
My personal opinion is that anyone who could vote for this creature...I can't buy into the idea that they could be good and decent people. Good and Decent People do not support these types of creatures.

Numbers

When you talk about possible shifts in public attitudes, one must not forget that the greater number of that public was opposed to Trump's election. And we'll never know how large that difference would have been if it had not been for Republican voter suppression effects in places like North Carolina.
Given our (insane) Electoral College system, one can win an election on the basis of narrow margins in a few key states, while losing the popular vote by a clear margin.
What Trump showed was the power of increasing analytic sophistication in identifying those potential targets.
This was abetted by possible Russian interventions in the electoral process -- we'll know more as Mueller's investigation procedes.

Not Little Changes

The changes you refer to are not "little changes". They are seismic shifts in the economy ans society, similar to the impact of global warming on the environment. Clinton's speeches to Wall Street and blind support for free trade, leavened with the whiff of arrogance, dishonesty, and Anthony's weiner, made her an implausible spokesperson for addressing the impact of the social and economic changes. Trump wins sort of be default. American Nazism is not a sustainable response to change, so the door to the Oval Office is still open. Whoever can feel the pain, articulate the problem, and present a trustworthy aspect will dominate American politics for the next two decades.

I was surprised the Daily 202 article didn't mention

...the development of the internet and the lightning-like and ubiquitous adoption of the cell phone in the same time frame that Mehlman identified.

The speed of communication, the proliferation of information sources (for good or ill), as well as exposure to information not readily available to the public previously through the "old" sources, has not only authored change, but accelerated all manner of change.

The so-called "24 hour news cycle" - and what it has done to the newspaper industry - comes to mind, as just one example.

Trump is a shiny thing

While Trump and his election are undoubtedly an unprecedented plunge into intellectual and moral vacancy, Trump is a bight shiny example of decades old Republican/reacionary mentality.

It's critically important to note that the Republican Party, most of it's members, voters, and supporters are: "all-in" regarding Trump's initiatives. It's also critically important to note that Trump himself has not brought any original initiatives or agenda's to the table, all of his initiatives from the travel ban to the denial of climate change are LONGSTANDING Republican agenda items. House Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare what? 52 times long before Trump took office. Trump got the nomination by telling Republican voters what they wanted to hear... what they've ALWAYS wanted to hear. He remains popular among these voters because he's doing (or trying to do) what they always want their candidates to do.

As for the fact that voters have been looking for "change" agents one simply cannot discuss that fact intelligently without noting the primacy of neoliberal mentalities and their dominance of policies for the last three or so decades. Basically regardless who wins an election we get government of the elite, by the elite, for the elite. Since the "elite" effectively excludes 90% or more of the population it stands to reason that those people would look for a serious change. But as Bill Clinton once said: "Change? Give me a break."

Another contributing factor to the rise of Trump has been emergence of an anti-intellectual era that began in the early 80s. Both liberals and conservatives bought into this in different ways but the liberal buy-in to magical thinking hurt us the most. Magical thinking of various types basically ushered in the collapse of serous liberalism in the US creating a vacuum that turned the Democratic Party into a moderate Republican Party, and normalized reactionary Republican irrationality. Anti-intellectualism also fostered toxic liberal complacency among a huge segment of Democratic voters who simply would not recognize the growing danger and engage it as anything other than "politics". The "centrism" we keep hearing many liberals yearn for is simply an irrational desire to restore their complacency and get back into their comfort zones that don't require any serious intellectual work or decisions.

You still don't get it....

I know of no one who "likes" trump. However - I know many who voted for him because the best the Dems could come up with is "Hilary."

Hilary was so distasteful, corrupt, bought and paid for, tired, uninspiring, it made Trump look somewhat acceptable.

Trump is the logical outcome

Trump is the logical outcome of the past 35 years of aggressive Republican implementation of their economic and social policies, on the one hand, and a compromised Democratic party that was more interested in pleasing corporate contributors than in responding to either the Republicans' aggressive policies or recognizing and meeting the needs of ordinary people.

Wisdom and explanation from Republicans?

Actually I’m not sure why someone would seek wisdom and understanding from a Republican lobbyist in the first place. Republicans have largely rejected rational thought in favor magical thinking and at this point even their “intellectuals” struggle to offer any coherent analysis. Mehlman is a good example. To wit:

1. "Substantial social change. The United States is a very different place than it was 50 years ago. In 1967, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans controlled 27 percent of the wealth. Now they have 42 percent. Fewer than one in 10 kids were born out of wedlock; now it’s four in 10. Foreign-born people make up three times the share of the U.S. population (15 percent) as they did then. There are vastly more women in the workforce, vastly fewer whites with no college degree and one-third of 18- to 34-year-olds now live with their parents."

This is just typical Republican culture war stuff. Sure the observations may be accurate, but they don’t us why Donald Trump just got elected, and the entire world is “very” different place than it was 50 years ago… you’re point? You see a lot of this stuff among Republican “intellectuals”, most of it is recapitulating the mumbo jumbo that Charles Murray (Bell Cure) keeps producing.

2. "Accelerating technological change. It used to take 387,923 workers to manufacture $1 billion in goods. Now it takes 26,785. It took 75 years for the telephone to reach 100 million homes after it was invented. It took just a few months for Candy Crush to reach that milestone."

Technological change has been a disruptive force for almost 200 years. Sure it’s a valid observations but Republicans have been telling us not to worry about it because as long as we keep government out of the way the private sector will make new and better jobs.

3. " Weakened anchor institutions. Seven in 10 adults were married in 1967. Now it’s 50 percent. Three in 10 workers were members of labor unions then. Now it’s 11 percent. Two-thirds of Americans trusted government. It’s never been close to that since Vietnam and Watergate. The latest studies show only about 20 percent of the country trusts the feds to do the right thing."

More culture war stuff, and who demolished these “anchors” anyways? Who’s the one’s keep telling us that government is the problem and labor unions kill economies? The idea that Marriage is some kind of societal “anchor” has always been a Republican fantasy.

4. "The loss of honest brokers. Trust in media has been on a steady decline among not just Republicans but also Democrats and independents since Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America in 1972."

Many observers have been pointing out for decades that media has lost trust because it wasn’t the “honest” broker it pretended to be. And the problem today isn’t so much that people don’t trust the media, it’s that they select their own media to trust, i.e. FOX or elsewhere.

5. "Leaders overpromised and underdelivered. Mehlman cites four examples: Barack Obama told people they could keep their doctors if they liked them under Obamacare. Dick Cheney said Americans would be “greeted as liberators” in Iraq. Bill Clinton said he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. George H.W. Bush told the country to read his lips as he promised no new taxes."

Yes, both parties have been selling a bait-n-switch for decades, but that’s not the big “change” Mehlman would have us believe, and it’s not about overpromising, it’s about dishonesty. Our political system tends to keep the promises it makes to the elite, but it has to make promises to the majority in order to win elections. We can find examples of this throughout US history, it doesn’t start with George Bush’s promise to not raise taxes.

6. "Politicians deferred hard choices. Entitlement spending has eaten up a bigger and bigger share of the federal budget, and Washington has lacked the political will to make tough choices. Mandatory spending rose from 53 percent of the budget in 1976 to 69 percent in 2016."

Another accurate observation, but largely irrelevant. And to the extent that these issues are a “crises” of any kind, they’re manufactured crises that result from artificial budget constraints that Republicans have applying since Reagan got elected.

7. "The parties have lost their primacy. Outside groups, which tend to be more ideological and focused on single issues, have made the Republican and Democratic Party apparatuses less relevant since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. This has empowered plutocrats."

Not so fast. The political system has been servicing the elite ever since the country was founded. The influence and role of plutocrats is nothing new, and the most recent return to the Gilded Age was started by Reagan. For instance when Mehlman observes that the wealthy ownership of the Nations assets grew from 27% to 52% he uses a timeline dating back to 1967, he’s selecting a time frame that obscures the trend. If you go back and look at the trend of wealth redistribution, you see that it spikes under Reagan beginning with his tax cuts for the wealthy in the mid 80’s. Those tax cuts were Republican dream or decades.

So it’s not clear at all that the two party system has collapsed, you still need to belong to one or the other party for most part to get on the ballot and get elected in this country. The elite have always controlled the two parties by and large, the only thing that Citizen’s United changed oddly enough was the transparency of elite control. In many ways ironically we can see the mechanism of elite control and attempts at elite control more clearly than we could before. How many people were familiar with machinations of ALEC and the Koch brother prior to CU for instance? And anyways, whose idea was CU in the first place? I suspect guys like Mehlman supported it, their just disappointed that it didn't quite work out the way they thought it would.

In the end while some of these observations are valid but the idea that they represent the most important changes in the last 50 years is specious. I think we can point to many other changes that are more important, have had greater impact, and provide better explanations for the rise of Trump. If you try to flesh out how a guy like Mehlman actually thinks that children being born out of wedlock, or more women in the workforce, and a drop in the percentage of married couples actually get Trump into the White House, you find little more than assumptions based on stereotypes pretending to be historical analysis. The “changes” he’s pointing to, while real, struggle for relevancy and explanatory power.

One change we recognize as a significant problem is the collapse of confidence in the government that Mehlman describes, real enough. However that collapse has been a Republican agenda that guys like Mehlman have been actively promoting for decades. I think Mehlman would have us believe that is was some kind of natural phenomena that just “happened”. In reality the change BEHIND the change that Mehlman is describing is the fact that one of the two major political parties in America became an anti-government party dedicated to discrediting and dismantling the government… THAT’S a big change that Mehlman leaves off his list.

Excellent points

The one that gets me is the notion that the problems of the poor could be alleviated if everyone just got married.

That view owes more to Puritanism than economic fact.

I spent my grade school years in an industrial town in Wisconsin, and most of my classmates were the children of factory workers. They all lived in detached houses, had a stay-at-home mother (except for the boy whose father had died), got driven around in the family car, and took a modest vacation every year. Those were the years when a high school graduate could walk into one of the town's two major factories, get a union job with health care and pension benefits, and save up enough for a down payment on a house in five to seven years. The female high school graduates would work in a store or office, saving up to buy the household items they anticipated needing in their future married lives. That system could be stifling for women, but it did offer stability

That world no longer exists. Your high school graduates are likely to be clerking at the Holiday Station or making burgers or stocking shelves, paid so little that even two of them together cannot support a household.

Minimum wage in Minnesota is currently $7.75 per hour, or $1240 per month before taxes. (If anyone needs a tax break..). Take two minimum wage earners and your have $2480 per month, assuming that both spouses have a job that actually gives them 40 hours per week instead of scheduling them for a different number of hours each week or even each day, as some of those kinds of jobs do. That's better, but still tight for two people, really tight for three, considering al the extras that children require.

(Note that some of the people who want the working poor to get married both tell them not to have children until they're financially secure AND oppose Planned Parenthood at the same time.)

Now add in another factor, the drug war. I suspect that a lot of opioid use arises from a desperate desire to numb the pain of working hard and never getting ahead and/or physical pain from untreated illness and injuries. I also suspect that a lot of opioid dealing and other kinds of drug dealing arise from the same impulses, especially when it seems that the only people in the neighborhood with money are the drug dealers.

The drug war--the punishment rather than treatment approach-- takes a lot of young men out of society, so who are these low-income women supposed to marry?

You can see a similar phenomenon in more stable, middle-class societies such as Japan and Italy. Young men see few opportunities in the new world economy and move from dead-end job to dead-end job. Marriage and birth rates are so low that the populations of these countries are on a downward trend.

The conservatives who blame low marriage rates for poverty have it exactly backwards.

It's poverty and economic uncertainty that causes low marriage rates.

Election time

What will really be a surprise is if Trump wins again in 2020