It Didn’t Have to Be This Way: How Trump Filled the Void

When it’s all over and the smoke has cleared, I believe history will look back on the Trump era as perhaps the most fantastic missed opportunity for humanity in a thousand years. Nature abhors a vacuum; if there is space to be filled, something will come along to fill it. At bottom, that’s all Donald Trump really is: Rancid stuffing in the void.

That void began to coalesce right around the time Ronald Reagan and his merry band of supply-side trickle-downers went to war against the very idea of government, taxation for the common good, unions, domestic manufacturing and anything even vaguely resembling financial industry regulations. The looting of the United States Treasury by the war/Wall Street/oil party known as the GOP began in earnest right along with “Morning in America,” and some 40 years later we are paying a grievous price.

All these years of neoliberal Third Way any-excuse-to-make-rich-people-richer policies are what gave us Donald Trump in the first place. Even a country as dramatic and scattered as the United States doesn’t unspool like this overnight; this mess took time and effort to create, not to mention errors and blown opportunities by the score.

Trump is aftermath; what got us here is the real problem, and the real problem will stubbornly persist after Trump is gone unless positive steps are taken to change what looks by any measurement to be an unutterably bleak future.

The fact that some Trump supporters had a legitimate beef when they voted for him makes me want to bite myself until I die, but there it is. For a progressive, such a statement hedges on heresy, but that doesn’t make me wrong. Nature abhors a vacuum. Trump filled it, and we should have all seen it coming, because it was a long time in the making.

To be clear: Racists/white nationalists/Nazis who voted for Trump have no point. None. Misogynists who voted for Trump have no point. None. People who voted for Trump because they recognized him from reality TV have no point. Less than none. Of course they significantly helped Trump get elected, but that coalition was not large enough to elect him by itself.

They needed help, and got it from millions of voters who were born and raised on the “American Dream,” only to have that dream turn to ashes in their mouths thanks to the voracious greed of a few western oligarchs for whom the world is not enough. After the 2016 Democratic convention, no one of believable substance was speaking to frustrations with the economic status quo except him (Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both sounded similar economic populist notes during the primaries, but then Bernie was gone), and so some ran away to join the circus because they couldn’t see how it could get any worse.

It’s pretty simple, really: When you take trillions and trillions of tax dollars and give it to people who are already wealthy, when those wealthy people use that money to buy politicians who will lower their taxes and allow them to buy up whole swaths of the news media, when those bought politicians nominate/approve Supreme Court justices who put a stamp of legitimacy on organized public graft, when it all is as exactly as corrupt as it brazenly appears to be, you wind up with a lot of people who will listen to anyone promising a solution, even if that solution is ghastly.

Pull the strings on this rotten bag and out tumbles a collection of historic calamities and Democrats, not necessarily in that order. Bill Clinton, the original Third Way neoliberal, the “best Republican president the country’s ever had,” left office with the largest budget surplus in US history sitting on his desk waiting for the next occupant. Thanks to the catastrophic 2000 presidential election, that next occupant turned out to be George W. Bush, who promptly delivered that surplus to his rich pals by way of two highly effective money laundering schemes: tax cuts and war profiteering. Using public money to promote the public good was never even considered, and the damage continued apace.

By the time Barack Obama took office, the national Democratic brand was so battered by self-inflicted injuries that great swaths of people wouldn’t follow them into the water. Like his predecessors and the jellyfish tank passing itself off as Congress, Obama continued to act as though right-wing deregulation, tax cuts and generalized trickle-down economics still had legitimacy. Damage compounded by damage.

Rather than take a hard look at economic sinkholes like the bottomless Pentagon budget or all the trillions hidden in those offshore accounts, Obama accepted the premise behind Republican austerity plans over and over again, and even dangled major cuts to Social Security and Medicare as “responsible options.”

Hillary Clinton and her 2016 presidential campaign were the final embodiment of this slow collapse. As a candidate, she gave lip service to the people but power to the plutocrats and polluters to such a vivid degree that it turned “shame” into a verb. She ran such a horrendous presidential campaign that she lost to Donald F—–g Trump. That’s the period at the end of every sentence about 2016; there is nothing else to say, really.

Misogyny and the 25-year media campaign to destroy Hillary Clinton played their significant parts, to be sure, but once again that coalition isn’t large enough to deliver victory without some assistance. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was that assistance, the last calamity in a torrid string of them dating back to the days when Pac-Man ruled the world and the US hadn’t been at war for 27 straight years. There were other options, but the DNC slashed those tires and helped us all into this strange, bewildering place.

Certainly, the Republican Party is primarily responsible for the deeply damaged state of things in the US. Robbing the poor to swell the coffers of the rich has been the hood ornament of their national ideology for a very long time now. They don’t care about the damage this does to the body politic; helping people is not why they put their pants on in the morning.

They could have been stopped. They should have been stopped. Time and time again they weren’t, the nation was plundered as the people were force-fed lies upon lies, until everything got so maddeningly bad that some decided to roll the dice on the loudmouth with the preposterous hair.

Until something is done about the farce we call capitalism and the casino we call democracy, grifters like Trump will continue to shoot the gap and take advantage.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Trump filled it when wealthy proponents of corporate power and those motivated by racism and xenophobia joined forces with those who were fed up after 40 years of unfulfilled promises and went with the sideshow to shake things up. The absence of genuine solutions to the problems facing this country is what put us here. It didn’t have to be this way, and that’s the final calamity.