I loved this poem as a young boy thinking about baseball in a much simpler era. It was post WWII and there were no major television networks. You read about the Majors in the newspapers—the clubs were in the East and the Midwest. Migration was to be many years in the future. The war was over and the newspaper was one’s major source of information. The Cold War had begun, but we didn’t have the troubling doubts about Presidential and Congressional leadership that today race across our phones, tablets and other Internet connected devices.
We got through the harrowing experience of Korea and we began to notice that there were few “mighty “ anymore. Information flowed more readily across the television networks. Government provided information was more carefully parsed. Idols fell more frequently from exposed clay feet. Still, most of America believed what Government told us. Witness the support polls for the Viet Nam war that continued high well into the 1970’s despite the nightly baths of tragedy that streamed over national television. Then came Watergate, the resignation of a corrupted Vice President and finally the first resignation of a President.
Today, we have a surfeit of what passes for news, much of it highly infused with the political opinions of the networks, newscasters and the overabundant ‘talking heads.’ The Web is full of “bots” that convey “information” that incentivized sources wish to provide for what seems to be a still gullible public. And, above all, we have a troubled Presidency, attacked as illegitimate by one side of the aisle and supported on the other by a much-threatened, confused and silenced party.
The massive waves of dissent that redounds across America remind us of our earlier, troubled era of the Viet Nam war and our painful exit. Viet Nam taught us not to believe in what our Government told us, and our agony stretched past the fourteen years of our troop involvement. Revelations about the extent of lying during the war dragged on for at least a decade following our exit. There might have been little joy in Mudville as the war wound down and American forces were withdrawn but our malaise continued well through the 1970’s. The decade was troubled by incendiary politics, slowing growth and inflation and the post mortems of government mendacity during the war. Troubles were not confined to America. South East Asia exhibited horrifying murders and genocide in Laos and Cambodia; the Middle East exploded in another war and the decade’s end was underscored by the cancellation of our participation in the Moscow Olympics over the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan and our covert support of the Mujahedin against the Soviets.
There was a seeming respite in the 1980’s and the evident beginnings of a huge technological computer revolution that was gaining ground at every step. Plus, we had a very likeable President who seemed to ‘take it to the enemy,’ with his adamant refusal to kowtow to the Russians; his famous taunt to Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall (which finally fell a year after his Presidency) and his constant stress on the American exception. His term ended with palpable celebrations despite the Iran Contra investigation and the evident cover-up that had cloaked its continuance. The residue of distrust of Government did not subside. It might have been tempered during the Reagan era, but it did not vanish.
Another recession and a shortened Presidency following Reagan ushered in the booming 1990’s, troubled once again by an impeachment proceeding (that failed) and a shocking defeat of Government sponsored health care. Markets boomed, however, and whatever distrust we as a people had developed was often subsumed by a huge stock market rally. It was to some a “unipolar” world with a collapsed former enemy seemingly weakened irretrievably by the fall of the Soviet Communist Party and the liberation of its East European satrapies. China was the new Casey at bat, with its rather unique Chinese Capitalism moving millions of impoverished families into the penumbra of growing wealth. They moved from agriculture to newly built factories. A growing class of wealthy Chinese began to tour the world, replacing the seemingly moribund Japanese of a decade earlier. It all seemed glorious and the US seemed to escape the Asian collapse of 1997 as we sped to the Dot Com world. Even the recession of 2001-2002 didn’t humble us, but 9-11 made us aware that new threats had emerged with asymmetric warfare now ascendant.
The debacles in Iraq affirmed our suspicions that much of the information that Government provided was either wrong or intentionally shaded. While Bush II served two terms, he was widely undermined by a media that seemed to thrive on his malapropisms. The contrast to a well spoken, Harvard educated, social activist infatuated the press, but the Obama era was a watershed for acrimony between the two major parties.
Obama succeeded in passing Medicare, but its terms were unacceptable to the losing party. Obama withdrew forces from both Afghanistan and Iraq only to see Iraq collapse and the rise of ISIS. The divisions in our body politic were widening. Then came the campaign of 2016 from which we have not recovered at all.
Some see Trump’s capture of the Republican nomination as a political fluke while others blame it on a vast conspiracy fomented by Russian computers! His election is incomprehensible to the party that won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. They see conspiracy everywhere and our practicing “payback,” at every turn.
Bipartisanship is non-existent even at the water’s edge, despite the long period of foreign policy cooperation that had stretched some 60-odd years through even the early 2000’s. Economic policy is a one party game and immigration policy changes are blocked at every turn. Unless the polls are wrong again as they were in 2016, it seems quite likely that come January 2019, we will have totally divided government and the increased likelihood of rule by executive order. We may see a rancorous attempt at Impeachment. The mists are too thick to see past 2019 into 2020’s Presidential contest, but the level of distrust and disenchantment with Government is surely rising.
Meanwhile, as Government becomes more a story of the regulation derby, it also must mean, “who you know” becomes far more important than “what you know.” Voter disenchantment can only rise. If Trump’s victory lay in his recruitment of those voters who felt increasingly disenfranchised and unheard at senior government levels, what is likely in 2020 and beyond? A split of legislative and executive power may produce a kind of quasi-stability, but it cannot produce joy in Mudville. There will be no “mighty Casey” in our future.
The lamentable state of democratic order in America is hardly confined to our shores. Some 25-odd countries, all of who possess some sort of democratic republic structure seem to be suffering as well from widespread voter disaffection. Prior to Trump’s election, troubles in Australia and Canada produced similar symptomology. Those elections went different “political directions,” (one right, one left) but that is a key to understanding the current dilemma in democratic republics. Next is the Brexit upset and then Greece! Then comes the wide disaffection within the EU, including perhaps the failure in Italy. The rise of right wing anti-immigration parties in Sweden, in Hungary, in Austria and even in France and Germany, play a recurring theme. Dis-affection with Government, mistrust of Government, political fragmentation and consequential rule by executive order are now widespread across the democratic universe.
When the “national interest” becomes fragmented, “special interests” invariably rule by default. In the absence of term limits on legislators, particularly in the US, staying in office become a perpetual money-raising game. Those who have access to money can buy media time and a vast proliferation of Internet ads. Media consultants may provide strategy and tactics to electoral candidates, but they drive an increasing wedge between the average voter and the elected. The voter begins to think he is a chump. How long before that distrust mushrooms into support of an extremist candidate?
Trump’s 2016 election strategy was derided by the “liberal media,” but despite its odious historical comparisons to Germany in the 1930’s, it provided a vehicle for disaffected voters. They crossed over, because he brought them a road to travel on. He emphasized how unlike them were his opposition. He was “fighting” the establishment (for himself, to be sure) but for “them!” He gave them a hope that they would be “heard,” and they repaid him by crossing over. He perpetuated an invalid economic narrative that they were the “victims” of globalization and too many immigrants sucking away their jobs and undermining their pay structures. It was wrong, but it was credible.
He is not the first politician in history to construct a faulty but believable narrative. His ostensible wealth and previous success did not transmit to the disaffected that he lived in a very different world than his would be voters! On the contrary, it spoke of his success in besting the powers that be in the liberal cities where he built his hotels and buildings. He knew the “game!” He didn’t deny playing that game. He trumpeted his success in winning those concessions. He was a Master of the Game, and in spite of their hugely different class backgrounds, his crossover voters ate up his rhetoric.
When Media America constantly questions how he regularly insults accepted liberal norms, they see their champion. That is his strength and in a hugely fragmented body politic. His “minority” politics thrives. The consummate testament to his strategy is that the Democratic Party is now fragmented between espousers of “socialism” (despite its continuous history of failure wherever it has been tried) and capitalist democrats who know how to win with the money provided from “special interests.”
It may be that the November elections will feature a Republican defeat in the House and possibly an overturn in the Senate, but that will mean a two year era of rule by executive decree and constant legal appeals to the Courts to overturn Trump inspired orders. This can only mean more fragmentation and a deeper division of the electorate.
It is hard to judge whether the current level of political invective and disharmony has historical precedent. Certainly the decade before the outbreak of the Civil War showed how extremism and the lack of bi-partisanship could rip apart a country. But, 1860 and 2020 are separated by more than time. News traveled slowly in 1860. “News,” or whatever passes for that much- trammeled noun, travels instantaneously today. Truth loses out continually to immediacy—as Trump has learned. The Washington Post may flash four or five “Pinocchio’s” each day, but working class voters in Ohio are likely to ignore that. Beside, the “press” is a kept lady in their view. It doesn’t belong to “their kind.” It really doesn’t matter, despite the constant rant of the critics, how much Trump lies or distorts the information. Germany’s history proved how a “big lie” can work, and sadly, it continues to be proven day in and day out here in America. It is alleged that Trump rises early to “tweet” America its new truths. That is not accidental. He sets the agenda, irrespective of the truth table that accompanies the tweet.
Will an impeachment stop this game? Highly unlikely, unless one believes that the Senate could convict? If the Mueller investigation finally comes up with compelling evidence of an actual conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign, perhaps that could turn the tide. So far, despite the Cohen and Manafort agreements to “cooperate,” no one has seen any substantive evidence that will document such a conspiracy.
The foregoing points up how important the Regulatory State has become, ironically even more important under Trump than before. The growth of Government is the prime source of political corruption. The more we allow Government to enter our lives, the more political corruption will occur. All regulatory efforts create two incentives: one to prohibit and one to avoid the prohibition. In turn, this makes the money flow that influences the legislators and the regulators in a particular direction. Lobbying and campaign finance are not an accident. They are market’s reaction to impending or actual legislation or regulation. The Smithian dream of a huge market of small firms each competing in its own way falls victim to the nightmare of much, much larger firms with very large resources to not only “listen” for changes in Congress and the regulatory establishment, but to promote those changes that are instrumentally important to the particular firm. The banking industry is a perfect example. The cost of compliance rising rapidly since Dodd Frank drives small banks into the arms of larger banks, better able to defray the cost of compliance. It is no different in a host of other industries.
At the end of the day, Pogo (a comic strip character from my forgotten age) was right: “I have seen the enemy. It is us.” The great tragedy of American politics is that “redress of grievances” produces excesses of Government intervention and regulation. If something is wrong with your corporate or personal life, get a Congressman or Congresswoman to address your grievance. If you are poor, there are many NGO’s that will pick up your cry. If you are poor and a member of a racial minority that’s even better. If you are not employed in the manner you feel you ought to be employed, find a “loudspeaker” to vent your case. Are you potentially harassed by your employer, find a media stringer to write your story of abuse and a class action lawyer to take your case!
The growing abundance of “Government Remedies” breeds the cabal of corruption that we witness daily in our political governance. Is there a way to reduce corruption and cronyism? There is no silver bullet, but there are some things we could do if we understood the problem and were willing to unite to limit its incidence. That is the subject of another essay. This one, like today’s baseball games, is already too long.