The post-Nixon era was increasingly distrustful of authority and paranoid, in an increasingly global world with a cast of shady characters playing a major role in international policies and finance. The Reagan Administration, like Nixon and Kissinger, understood this shift in geopolitics. The role of the president was to simplify these problems regardless of the truth. The world became more global and interdependent. Saudi oil and The Red Scare had forced the United States to make strange bedfellows in the Arab world and the East. The best way to deal with countries that did not share democratic values in the Middle East was to divide, to push Sunnis and Shias against each other to take their sights off the West and prevent one nation from asserting its dominance and becoming a superpower. In order to distract Americans from uncomfortable truths and imminent threats, The Reagan Administration told a series of lies that made logical sense. 

One example was the myth of Gaddafi. Though Libya was insolvent, marginal, and powerless, Reagan convinced the media that Gaddafi was a real threat to America as an excuse to avoid going after Iran and Syria, who actually killed American citizens with suicide bombers. You may remember he was killed in 2011 by a US predator drone.

The Obama administration continued this strategy of division of foreign powers and misdirection of American public opinion, in regards to conflicts in the Arab world. After Obama ran as an anti-war president, we are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, after having sold 90 billion dollars in weapons to Saudi Arabia who funded Isis and brokered a deal to pay their mortal enemy Iran 150 billion dollars over ten years, ensuring the Syria conflict, which Obama started with his inaction after vocalizing support for the Arab Spring (excepting Libya), will be a proxy war that will go on in perpetuity. The left remained silent, just as they did when Obama gave bonuses to those who created the financial crisis, instead of jailing them for their gross negligence and fraud. Though Obama made some nice social reform at home, his flawed policies were hidden to the majority of people who were too busy or self-absorbed to care. The actual world looks like a conspiracy theory.  

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While many believe that Trump is just plain dumb, racist, in above his head and lucky, he won the election with the cards stacked against him by making his own rules. When the picture mainstream politicians present is contrary to reality and the objectivity of news is compromised by party lines and fear mongering, Trump understood that facts no longer matter. When the left expressed their outrage, mostly on social media, they did so mostly to like-minded people. 90% of the country votes for their party no matter what and the 10% that chooses the election tends to be somewhere in between open-minded and batshit crazy. Though there were some sane conservatives who refused to vote for Trump, this wasn’t a major factor as many liberals had predicted. Trump tapped into the rage and paranoia of the dying middle class, meshing conspiracy and fact together in his attacks of both his overmatched Republican competitors and Hillary Clinton. It was more important to be provocative than precise, as fake news and Wikileaks swung the election for him on social media.  

The fact that fake news in the three months leading to the election had more exposure than real news on social media, is just one form of confusion Trump used to catapult himself into the nation’s highest office. It’s hard to think of a single policy he didn’t flip flop on. His public display of inconsistency was something America had never seen before. He sounded almost like an occupy Wall Street protestor one day and gave KKK speaking points the next. To many “Make America Great Again,” sounded a hell of a lot like make America white again.  

He built distractions in the form of common enemies for his base to rally against however their hearts desired, often in the form of pure, unadulterated bigotry. He put targets on the back of elites, “Mexicans sending drugs and rapists,” all Muslims, low energy Jeb, little Marco, Ted Cruz’s father and his role in the JFK assassination, indirectly “the blacks” mostly by proxy of Obama, Wall Street, Sidney Blumenthal, Huma Abedin, Iran, campaign contributions, China, Isis, Big Pharma, Crooked Killary, “fake news” like CNN and The Wall Street Journal, and countless others, that he lumps together effortlessly, completely absent of logic, painting a picture of corruption in all elements of politics and society. He presents an air of authenticity that he too sympathizes with your plight, and since he never hesitates to tell you, “I’m really rich,” or “I’m really smart,” people assume he knows something they don’t and he has the wherewithal to fix it. If he were a conventional candidate, in say 2004 when Howard Dean lost the nomination for yelling excitedly, scandals would have forfeited his candidacy maybe a dozen times. In spite of all this, I’m not any more concerned than I was last year, as someone who ideologically agrees with Obama on virtually every domestic issue.  

The millennials are asleep. The older generations have been sleeping at the wheel for decades. As the world’s problems become greater and more nuanced than the average person has the time or desire to delve into, somewhat distrustful of politicians, we still cling to the hope that these political candidates have our best interests at heart. It’s true that many of them may, but all politicians are aware that the promises they make are largely empty ones. Since we live in a world where politics is really a game of distorting uncomfortable truths and we have our own shit to deal with along with much more desirable entertainment and leisure opportunities regardless of our earning power, many of us have this fundamental belief that there are still real differences between political parties other than the fact they vote together no matter what in Congress.  

In reality, other than what they profess to do in their campaign speeches, politicians are largely the same, because they are not working for the people directly. What politicians say and what politicians do are not remotely compatible. These speeches where Obama professed American values and his own largely sensible values are theater. A commissioner of a sports league claims to represent the players, really just balancing the demands of the player’s unions in a way that ultimately best serves the billionaire team owners. A president protects the interests of the people, in a way that is geared towards the interests of banking institutions and large corporations who really dictate American policies. If it weren’t clear that self-interest is the prevailing truth of Wall Street and all ruling powers, it would be an easier pill to swallow.  

This lifting of restrictions, now popularly dubbed as neoliberalism, worked reasonably well for much of the 80s and 90s until about the year 2000. While Reagan tax cuts for the rich under the umbrella of trickle-down economics threatened this upward trajectory of mass consumption culture, the internet boom of the 1990s allowed Americans to bask in their nation’s immense wealth for the time being. This is no longer the case. The gap between rich and poor is edging closer to the pre-depression robber baron days. 0.1%, what Bernie Sanders would call one tenth of one percent of the population owns as much as the bottom 90%, while the 62 richest people in the world own as much money as half the world’s population. This begs the question how did this happen?  

Following a swath of policies that cut restrictions in order to stimulate growth in a nation carrying a huge budget deficit, Bill Clinton’s economy was kicking ass with fiscal conservatism and the opportune development of the internet. He cut spending, closed the deficit and let Wall Street run the economy, with computer systems that supposedly could hedge bets to make sure the economy could sustain itself even in states of catastrophe. When Glass-Steagall was overturned in 1999, banks were given the freedom to merge together commercial and investment banking, limitlessly trading derivatives and options that caused the financial crisis. Mortgage-backed securities (MBSs) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) were a loophole which allowed investment banks to buy loans bundled together as a single asset, a bond. These bonds, which the ratings institutions were pressured to mark as low-risk when they were anything but as they contained sub-prime mortgages, automatically inflated the value of the banking institutions. Additionally, there were derivatives, which were essentially gambles on mortgage-backed securities and CDOs. In order for the capital to keep flowing, these institutions encouraged lenders (sometimes shady ones) to keep giving mortgages and loans which had virtually no chance of being repaid. This worked until so many people were foreclosed on that the CDOs and MBSs lost their entire value and the banking system was on the brink of collapse. Essentially, the banking system’s success was based on a lie, that only favored the elites and nothing substantial has changed.  

Though the economy is in much better shape than when Obama entered office months after the financial crisis, the majority of the people didn’t see much of a recovery. When Hillary Clinton, the wife of the president who decided against government spending in favor of placing the reins of the government in the hands Ayn Rand’s dear friend Alan Greenspan, is proclaiming the banking system is stacked against us, it’s not difficult for Trump to present himself as a confusing stack of contradictions that wants to fix blatant injustice and bring jobs back. Never mind that by all indications Trump’s plan to lift banking restrictions and further neoliberalism is not going to change anything. It’s already happening. Of course, “the wall” is a terrible monument to racism that I don’t believe will get very far and it is somewhat likely Roe v. Wade will be reversed, but there may be a silver lining to the brash man who stirs so much vitriol.  

If people continue to protest Trump’s bogus appointments and decrees, unite in the face of a clearly broken system, Trump may be held accountable for the poor job he is likely to do. Maybe our self-centered culture will be forced to fight for what is right, instead of sitting home in front of our computers blind to the state of disrepair our nation is creating. Income inequality wasn’t always the rule of thumb. FDR fixed injustice, by creating banking restrictions and the establishment of labor unions (that of course also became largely corrupt), which protected workers’ rights and protected banks and large corporations from themselves. In an economically stable 1960s, the young generation turned their attention to social injustice. The civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement played a large role in creating a more equal playing field. When those rights start to be taken away, the younger generation of Americans may have the motivation to change the world once again. Those in power might be held accountable for the faulty system of government we let hurt us and damage the balance of the world for far too long. Maybe the protestors and other concerned Americans will be able to do what Trump claims to want to do by “draining the swamp,” and create a society where the best interests of the majority are taken into account. An informed populous is a weapon that the Americans have willfully given up. Let’s take it back and build a country with new values.




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Image credit: By White House photographer (Official White House Twitter page) [Public domain]


 





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