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How does Trumpism stack up as a crisis historically?

Does Trumpism represent a crisis of existential proportions for U.S. democracy?

I admit I often feel so. Perhaps focusing on history as much as I do should help me ride the waves a little better. But I also don’t share the usual American optimism that our system is so brilliantly designed and balanced that nothing too bad can happen. Anyway, a state of constant freak-out can’t be good for my health.

So I benefited from a quiet little op-ed in today’s New York Times, by Greg Weiner, a political scientist who also worked in the U.S. Senate as an aide to Nebraska Democrat Bob Kerrey. It was headlined “It’s Not Always the End of the World.”

The current incumbent in the Oval Office describes the current situation as “American carnage,” a diagnosis with which I do not agree. But Donald Trump’s  presidency strikes me as a colossal threat to important fundamental qualities I deeply value. After reading Weiner’s attempt to put things into perspective, however, I must confess that the crisis pales in comparison to some we have somehow survived. You know — slavery, secession, full-scale shooting war between the states, for example. Maybe.

My favorite line from Weiner’s short, calming prose poem reminds us that there are those, including the current president of carnage but also members of the news media, who have an incentive to exaggerate what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called the “fierce urgency of now.”

Weiner’s line went like this:

“Cable news stations attract more viewers with the breathless chyron ‘breaking news’ than they would with one reading ‘keep this in perspective.’ ” 

Sigh. Now back to Thucydides, whoever he was.

Comments (40)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/22/2019 - 12:20 pm.

    The decline in our government has been happening over a long period of time. The way I measure it is that in 1991, a senate controlled by the opposite party was able to consider and confirm the nomination of Clarence Thomas. In 2016, the senate of an opposite political party wasn’t able not to just confirm Merrick Garland but couldn’t even find a way to give him a hearing.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2019 - 02:38 pm.

    Yes, it’s not the end… until it is. We’ve never had a Fascist President so we’re off the chart as far as comparisons are concerned. On the other hand it is entirely possible, and maybe even likely that Trump will end up just being a really really bad president. The problem is we won’t know until he wins or loses the election in 2020. Right now is still just a really really really bad president, but his level of corruption is thus far unchecked, while his Fascist impulses have been somewhat blunted. The ending hasn’t been written yet but there’s no denying that this is an unprecedented challenge. Not at bad as the Civil War, but still unprecedented.

  3. Submitted by Tim Smith on 05/22/2019 - 04:09 pm.

    Its only a crisis for far left R haters who need to describe everything in the most drastic extreme way, other than that its not a crisis.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/22/2019 - 04:48 pm.

      In other words, the two thirds of the nation that aren’t dedicated Trumpians.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/22/2019 - 06:02 pm.

      Oh for Pete’s Sake!

      I guess it was a bunch of radical lefties that described Obama as a Kenyan Socialist Muslim (who for some reason had ties to the Christian preacher Rev. Jeremiah Wright).

      Obama phones. Death panels.

      But yeah, those darn lefties…

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 05/22/2019 - 06:38 pm.

      Tim, I’m still waiting for you to read the Mueller report. Also, this president is trying to sell nuclear technology to a fascist Islamic regime. That’s not hysteria.

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 05/22/2019 - 09:58 pm.

      I dunno. I don’t hate Republicans, I just hate that so few are maintaining their values & ackowledging how extreme Trump is & how dangerous his actions are. Yesterday he led another “lock them up” chant, for DOJ employees doing their job. No mention of a judge or jury. Remember when Republicans respected the rule of law? To be sure, Trump uses the phrase, but he’s not talking about the “justice is blind” rule of law; he’s talking about “the executive branch controls the DOJ & thus the executive branch makes the rules” rule of law. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. People who find this criticism partisan aren’t likely thinking it through, or taking the time to understand the point.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/23/2019 - 06:54 am.

      Doesn’t the fact that it is someone else’s crisis still make it a crisis?

    • Submitted by richard owens on 05/23/2019 - 08:25 am.

      It would be more communicative of you to shed light ion your actual viewpoint, rather than submit an “analysis” of “leftist” motivations / viewpoints.

      Yours is the mysterious viewpoint. The rest of us see the cruelty, belligerence and reckless treatment of other citizens, migrants and other nations as something that will come back to haunt us.

      The whole world will not forgive and forget the nasty policies that have attack the most vulnerable and encouraged white nationalists and misfits to trash our institutions.

      The topic is TRUMP, not your take on the loyal opposition.

      Tell us your thinking! I for one want to know why you think “it’s all good.”

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/22/2019 - 04:54 pm.

    Trump says the Mueller report totally exonerated him. If so, why doesn’t he step forward, stop stonewalling, and prove it. Denial is not proof. It should all be painless if there is nothing there. Trump’s main goal is to run out the statue of limitation. He knows the court system won’t allow him to continue to playing games. Trump has major problems in office or out of office because of the reckless life he has led. Trump is his own worst enemy.

    • Submitted by cory johnson on 05/23/2019 - 09:19 am.

      This post exemplifies how Orwellian this has all become to leftists. It’s not enough that the investigation showed insufficient evidence to charge him. He is expected to “prove” he didn’t do it. To leftists the standard for all Republicans is guilty until “proven” innocent. And of course there will never be enough proof to satisfy them. Brennan to go on CNN tomorrow and admit it was all a setup and Adam Schiff would accuse him of being turned by Putin.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/23/2019 - 10:38 am.

        “It’s not enough that the investigation showed insufficient evidence to charge him. ”

        It’s not enough that that is not what the Mueller report “showed.”

      • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/23/2019 - 11:52 am.

        The President is not a reliable a source of the truth. The sooner the Republican’s figure that out the sooner their party can heal. The Mueller Report says, in plain English, it does not exonerate Trump.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/23/2019 - 12:23 pm.

        The Mueller report did not say that their was insufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. Quite to the contrary. What it said was that he was not recommending prosecution because it was Justice Department policy that you cannot indict a sitting President.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/23/2019 - 07:47 am.

    What is being lost is “a higher standard”–as in “being held to”.

    The constitution was written in response to an autocratic government that disregards the interests of its citizens and favors their own interests. Bringing that back isn’t bringing back to good old days.

    Effective checks and balances have been the invisible back-bone of the US government. Without that, the US government is indistinguishable from virtually any other government in the world that has existed on private benefit and favor.

    The damage accumulates through each imperial presidency and Trump is cutting very deep in his efforts.

  6. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 05/23/2019 - 08:43 am.

    Well, Clinton embraced the economic worldview of Reagan, deregulated the banks, embraced global corporate trade policy, and deregulated media, which neoliberal policies were continued by Bush, which gave us the housing bubble, like several bubbles before it but much worse. Obama saved the banks and bankers, tens of millions of people were fed to economic predators, mass despair ensues while Obama with his TPP/TTIP/TISA push to hand the keys of America to global corporate conglomerates, sets the stage for Trump. Trump wins. Meanwhile Dems and Liberals seem to want a carbon copy of Clinton and Obama, and the same economic, surveillance, unaccountable warmongering pathologies that led us to Trump.

    Trump embodies for many the promise of the age of fossil fuels. Dems and liberals are offering nothing better, just more of what disempowers regular people, more power for corporations and banks and billionaires, with some happy talk about diversity and inclusiveness, with some altogether unrealistic visions of ending the fossil fuel age without anything like a hiccup in the life we have grown accustomed to.

    If you feel like things are existential now, wait for it….

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/23/2019 - 09:54 am.

      Obama saved the banks and bankers? Weird, since that happened before he was even president. But since the right has been blaming Obama for things that happened when he wasn’t president, I shouldn’t be surprised that the left is now doing so do. Politics is a flat circle.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 05/23/2019 - 10:35 am.

        I believe it was Ron Suskind who reported that Obama sat down with the leadership of Wall Street and said something to the effect of, “I am the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks, but I am here to help you.”

        Also see that clip of Obama joking with the press club, “all choked up,” about Bankers giving themselves obscene bonuses with bailout funds.

        “Too big to fail,” was his policy about the banks, articulated by his chief officer of the law. Obama never in any way articulated a complaint about the Federal Reserve giving $4 trillion in QE to Big Banks, while 10+ million homeowners were allowed to twist in the economic winds.

        Not that Trump has done a thing to reign in economic predators. But I don’t shirk from calling out any politician who favors Banks, Corporations and Billionaires over the welfare of regular Citizens.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/23/2019 - 01:03 pm.

          Again, politics is a flat circle. The far left isn’t any better than the far right in its tenuous relationship to the facts.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/23/2019 - 01:54 pm.

            False equivalence.
            The center of the Republican party right now is much closer to the edge than are the Democrats.

          • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 05/24/2019 - 09:16 am.

            Pat and Paul,

            I am continually accused by both of you that I am not factual, that I use rhetorical tools to mislead.

            But in all of my posts I offer many facts, easily checked. In your always terse responses you simply state your opinion about my facts being made up, which is not evidence and not an argument or dialogue, but in fact a rhetorical tool to cut off/end discussion.

            The far Left and far Right may very well have a tenuous relationship with truth. But for a great many Americans, Truth/Fact of both the Democratic and Republican parties are seen as mostly self-serving propaganda.

            • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/28/2019 - 11:36 am.

              William, There are few people here who are really familiar with the critique of neoliberalism that people like you and I sometimes- sometimes frequently refer to. It’s a “liberal” crowd more so than a “progressive” crowd. Think Tom Friedman rather than Noam Chomsky. But it’s still a decent crowd all and all and I hope you keep contributing.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 05/23/2019 - 10:19 am.

      Here we have another analysis of “the left”.

      Why don’t you tell us about YOUR world outlook?

      What is it about “Clinotn” = “Obama” that actually informs anyone?

      Most of us on the “left” understood the Clintons as “Republican light”.

      See? That’s how you critique for public consumption- you tell us about YOUR people- Trump, Bolton, Baar, Kavanaugh, McConnell, Amash, Jordan, Cornyn?

      You must understand what they are after, but I sure don’t have a clue what their intentions are. I simply think they are paid by rich political interests like the Koch Network, AEI, Heritage Foundation, NRA and the mercenary TV preachers. They are simply doing the bidding of their sponsors, surely not giving a whit about YOU.

      Taxes? I think that is the misconception that drives ordinary people to the right. They think they are overtaxed when many of them didn’t make enough money to pay much in taxes at all, just SS and Medicare withholding.

      We need clarity on folks like you. What makes you anti-government?

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 05/23/2019 - 11:19 am.


        My world outlook puts people, community, the local, pollinators, soil, air, water, ecosystems – before Banks, corporations and billionaires. Politically, that puts both parties in the same camp, more or less hostile to all but the latter, which they are servile to.

        If I am anti-government it is because government in empire America serves power, protects monopoly, protects polluters yet puts the boots to small business and regular people. Democrats give the impression that they are more protective of illegal immigrants than American citizens preyed upon by over-zealous government and greed-blinded institutions health care to finance to edu. Republicans are then able to talk protecting the local, small business and individual rights, even if they don’t walk it, protecting most of the same economic predators Dems do.

        If I sound like I tend to critique the Left more than the right, it is merely the venue. Most here seem to reflexively tear apart the Right while Dems and Liberals get a free pass. When I am among people from the Right, I tend to critique the Right…to about the same effect, complaints that I must be a (insert pejorative) liberal Dem.

        • Submitted by richard owens on 05/23/2019 - 01:10 pm.

          Thank you!

          You are right to be concerned about food production and health and the environmental consequences we reap. We could use some better practices in farming, especially the use of neonicotinoids and their effect on pollinators. Feedlot cattle operations do not seem sustainable or good practice, but America’s hog industry is producing the highest quality pork the world has ever seen. Biosecurity against all the diseases that used to wipe out hogs regularly now protect our growers from the African Swine Fever virus that is wiping out herds across China.

          Corn and Soybeans are hard to replace when you need to borrow quite a bit of money just to begin a growing season. There isn’t much else that can be readily sold for cash to pay back operating loans and taxes on the property.

          So we are closer than I thought. Perhaps I’m not as radical or cynical as I once was, and maybe you’re right to expect nothing good from our governing institutions. I want them to perform and will agitate to get improvement.

          Nevertheless, you do not fit the profile I was guessing to be your m.o.

          Thanks again.

          • Submitted by richard owens on 05/23/2019 - 01:13 pm.

            (edit) I read your post about pollinators. You are not a typical right winger.

            I should never assume.

            • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 05/24/2019 - 09:01 am.


              Thank you for your response. I would like to point however, as example, most of the 35 million hogs in Iowa (population 3 million) making about 4xs the waste of a typical human, are owned by Smithfield, which is owned by a Chinese conglomerate, and have been effectively allowed to pollute with impunity buy the Federal courts. So much for MAGA….

              • Submitted by Chas Dalseide on 05/24/2019 - 12:54 pm.

                Hog manure is a valuable by-product and goes toward reducing the expense of raising pork. People who eat the pork also produce the same bi-product and it is collected in South St. Paul and sold by the train-load. It gets recycled.
                When we export the pork, we are exporting the water, soil nutrients, and energy inputs (including sun-light) that are temporarily concentrated in the meat. But the foreign buyers keep the human bi-products, so eventually we dissipate our natural endowment, and they get some extra. Their human energy, combined with extracted energy and materials, gets directed towards lower cost exports, of which we are the major consumer.

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/23/2019 - 10:37 am.

    The difference between the current crisis and the prior crises in our history is that this one is a creation of the President. It is not a war, it is not a secession crisis (which, I realize, many die-hard Lost Causers would blame on Lincoln), and it is not a global economic downturn. Instead, it is a crisis caused by a President who operates with an utter disdain for the Constitution, and sees his time in office solely as a project to satisfy his own vanity. The most basic norms of governance and protocol are beyond him.

    Although prior Presidents have behaved badly and, to some extent, gone off the constitutional rails, there was congressional oversight that minimized the bad effects. Sadly, the Senate now seems wiling to abdicate its traditional oversight role for various reasons (a fear of primary challengers, or a recognition that a disinterested and disengaged President lets them get their agenda through Congress).

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/24/2019 - 12:11 pm.

      Why Lincoln chose to go to war, and indeed what was it about that particular time in history that brought on the Civil War is to me among the most fascinating questions in history.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/27/2019 - 06:40 pm.

        Lincoln didn’t choose to go to war. The decision was thrust on him by southern secession, which he concluded was unlawful.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/28/2019 - 11:43 am.

      Actually I think this is an artificially restricted view of the “crises”. Trump is problematic in a variety of ways but the “crises” preceded Trump in the form of decades of failed bipartisan consensus that ignored or simply failed to address growing inequities and a variety of crises ranging from health care to climate change. It’s a mistake to assume or claim that simply removing Trump will restore a functioning status quo that everyone will be happy with. The Republican Party has been marching towards fascism, corruption, dishonesty, and moral collapse, for decades. That parade will not end until we decisively put an end to it.

      Biden is absolutely bonkers to claim that some kind of “normality” we can all live with will be restored upon Trump’s removal.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/24/2019 - 12:13 pm.

    Something that seems to be the case with all the great catastrophes of history is that they are no one’s fault. Or at least no one is willing to take responsibility for them.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/24/2019 - 09:08 pm.

      Some always get the blame for great catastrophes, and those who cause them are always trying to deny responsibility. Sometime the denials succeed, other times not.

      By the way, he Confederacy attacked the United States, Lincoln didn’t go to war, he had war thrust upon him. He could have surrendered perhaps but a two state solution wasn’t viable in this scenario for a variety of reasons. The south would have collapsed economically eventually, and the the US would have got stuck with problem.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/26/2019 - 08:34 pm.

        Actually, Lincoln artfully fudged the question by stating that since states could not legally secede, the Confederates were not a foreign power and thus he did not declare war, but simply stated that he was enforcing the law in regard to internal disruption.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/28/2019 - 02:23 pm.

        The decision to go to war was unquestionably Lincoln’s. The Confederacy would have left the union peacefully otherwise.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/28/2019 - 03:19 pm.

          Is that why they fired on Fort Sumter?

          That question ignores the questionable legality of secession.

          • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/29/2019 - 06:37 am.

            Fort Sumter in itself, was not a significant enough incident to start the war, unless the decision to go to war had already been made.

            The issue of secession, like so many others, was left undecided by the constitution.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/29/2019 - 11:07 am.

              Lincoln came to the legal conclusion that secession without the consent of the national government was illegal. Mutual consent is needed to rescind a contract.

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