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History is what happens -- events personal or profound that can never
be universally understood as they are filtered through the people who
experience, remember and sometimes write about them. Historiography is when we know the outcome. It is the
difference between reading a daily paper and books written decades, or
centuries afterwards that we define with the suffix of "ography." I
love to read old newspapers, yellowing, torn and about to be tossed into
the trash, the dustbin of history. Only with these contemporaneous
stories do I get to understand the spirit of the times, the essence of
the conflicts that were central to the public and the political actors.
They are often strikingly different than what historians write.
It is impossible to know whether the headlines of a nations newspapers will make it to the chronicles of an era as they are unfolding, especially with the ever accelerating progression of news overwriting most events shorty after they occur. We have metaphors, "flash in the pan" or "footnote in history" to describe this. There is another difference, which is with unfolding events the writer is a participant, his/her selection of quotes and descriptions must by its very nature convey a viewpoint on a movement or individual that either is condemning or supportive.
This article is about Donald J. Trump, his background available in this Wikipedia article. I am writing this under the rules of historiography as if the outcome of events are known, yet any reader realizes this is almost silly, as the anticipation of Trump's near term participation in the pending presidential election is a live issue, where any meaningful opinion will ether advance or impede one or another outcome -- no matter how infinitesimal as is the case for this blogger.
I am putting aside my own personal views of Mr. Trump, which are biased by personally opposing his development of Riverside South, 16 buildings and 5700 apartments , which was opposed by the community and adversely affected our own home in Manhattan. My antipathy for his success in this project exemplifies why so many others revere him, that he was able to achieve what other powerful groups could not over decades, which was to turn unused air space over a rail yard into a thriving community, and get richer in the process. I happen to know that while this is seen as an example of free enterprise prevailing over big government, it only worked by manipulating existing laws to have the government (read taxpayers) underwrite the major loan -- with no participation in the profits.
During yesterday's debate, Trump responded to accusations such as this with words to the effect, "That's right, I use our laws, and I buy politicians (naming those vying along side him for the same Republican nomination) on a regular basis and I'm proud of it." Now here's where the "ography" issue arises. A future President Trump is more unknowable, in that no others such as Dale Carnegie, Henry Ford or Bill Gates never chose to attempt to transition from entrepreneur to head of state.
Among the things that make Trump's serious effort to become President rare is that he is not of the political class, and as such has never had to procure a majority of any polity for his success. Ronald Reagan parlayed his fame as an actor, but first to become the Governor of the largest state before going for the presidency. This position required not only articulating his values, but demonstrating his methods of implementing them for voters to evaluate. Trump has done none of this, and his entrepreneurial success was paradoxically by both making use the limits of our political governmental infrastructure while simultaneously condemning it in the broadest, almost cartoon-like language.
We can draw on another career path that provides fame outside of the political system , which is military leader in a time of war. Here we have mixed results, from George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, to Dwight D. Eisenhower. All of these men were as untested in the political-governmental crucible as is Trump, yet the evaluation of their success as presidents are up for grabs, so much so that I will not go further exploring them. My point is that we can usefully consider what it means to have never been part of what Ralph Nader defined as the American Duocracy - the two parties as really branches of one in all important areas of public policy. This is the historical aspect of the Trump phenomenon, which unlike Nader's run in 2000, with no chance of winning, he, under certain conditions does have such a chance -- and yet other than strong antipathy or animosity among the public, his actual place in the existing political spectrum is unknown.
If there were some index of scientific-technical-social change, there would be the long tail of static humanity, punctuated by landmarks -invention of writing, navigation, commerce, dynamite, telegraph, radio, nuclear weapons, population explosion of the last century, and then the internet revolution still upon us. Others could come up with a better list, but mine is to only illustrate that the world has become more vulnerable than ever, by increasing orders of magnitude. During the cold war we did come close to a civilization destroying exchange of thermonuclear weapons, yet these were controlled by only two nodes of authority, the hierarchy of the United States and the Soviet Union.
The new dangers are more diverse, less tangible, which makes one with a simplistic assurance of a solution that much more attractive. The United States has affirmed that a devastating attack on the internet, now integral to much of the worlds commerce, is likely. Unlike control of ICBMs during the cold war, the sources of such destruction are not limited to mature nations, but to those few hackers acting alone who find the many weak links of key networks. Here Trump, of course, doesn't even posit a solution, but he can define something with a simple solution. The problem of illegal immigration is presented as an intentional act by the Mexican government, one that he learned of not by obtaining private official communication; but acknowledged under pointed questioning, from gossip among the border agents. So, he defines an impenetrable wall, something like the one that protected China for all these centuries, simple and massive enough to be visualized by those who accept his imaginative scenario.
Verities that seemed baked into the biological roots of our society that, in the absence of rare genetic accidents, we have two sexes -- are increasingly part of the political divide. The change in the application of University of California to expand this to six is disorienting to those who are comforted by a degree of cognitive stability -- that what they absorbed as children still has validity. Here was one comment on the linked article that expresses this:
I apologize for the way I am. I am 'older' and like the way things were. In 20 or so years I'll be flower fertilizer and glad I am gone. This world has gone crazy - at least in my thinking. I am just a private citizen pretty much minding to myself except for my few outbursts on this thing called the internet. Rest assured when I am gone you crazy Bast*rds can wreck the planet even more than my previous generation did with the atomic bomb.
This is an
expression of how for many what is often dismissed as Political
Correctness is more than disturbing but assaultive. For this unknown
but sizable part of our county, Trump's crudeness, even his
disingenuous, is not only accepted, but seen as a necessary component
for anyone who has the ability to resist this change in norms that turns
all of those who disagree with it into "bigots"of one sort or another.
To this group of unknown size, the more he is hated by the political
establishment and the mass media, the more it confirms his individual
courage and his danger to the status quo.
Since I'm not really writing "historiography" which is not conceptually possible to do contemporaneously, I owe any readers my own personal view. I find the guy enormously entertaining, and appreciate that he shares his persona with the world. As far as his militaristic bluster, he is a moderate compared to Lindsey Graham, who stated on the "loser's debate" a desire to invade and control the middle east to defeat ISSL. He does not pander to the Ultra Fundamentalist Christians as does Gov. Huckabee, who says that each state has a duty to follow God's order rather than the Supreme Court -- and he means it.
Trump seems to have no conception of the limits of the presidency, clearly described by the incumbent "a couple percent at most." While he can now unilaterally commit his own resources as he chooses, our system doesn't allow this for our national wealth. His mythical scenarios could possibly bring him to the White House, but in short order reality would impinge. Before 9-11 "changed everything," George W. Bush was feeling the malaise of this reality. Yet, on balance I like the guy, since I feel that the challenges of the moment may or may not be resolved. It's like before the Cuban Missile crisis, when survival of the world was a coin toss. It turns out that having Kennedy and Kruschev calling the shots saved the world, but it could have been different.
Trump's presence has already shone a light on our political culture. He reflects our society, with its fears, hopes and illusions. And he does provide genuine entertainment, which is not something to be dismissed.