Political breakdown in America threatens our ability to govern

By Georgie Anne Geyer

Andrews McMeel Syndication


In my youth, our mothers would have compared the problem with American party politics today to the problems of picking a man. Of course, mothers in the 1960s compared everything to the problem of picking a man.

You could, for instance, be reasonably sure that if you chose a working man – say, a big, hearty guy who wore overalls and did some respectable kind of physical work – he would tend to be strong and silent and would not dance the twist with you.

Or you might prefer a man who works in an office. This fellow would leave in the morning dressed neatly in a nondescript suit and tie and return between 6:12 and 6:23 p.m. for dinner at 6:30. You could depend upon him to be, well, dependable.

“What about an intellectual?” you might well ask. To which I would answer, “On the South Side of Chicago, we didn’t have any of those.”

Disenfranchised voters

Now we have a situation where we have a foul-mouthed president who, by all accounts, polls and Encounters of the Third Kind or any other kind, has appealed to the disenfranchised, disenthralled and sometimes deranged cadres of the white working-class men and women across our nation.

Michael Wolff included a revealing story in his booming book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” about Trump showing some foreign investors around Atlantic City and the visitors asking what “white trash” were. “They’re people just like me,” Trump responded, “only they’re poor.”

But this leaves out, by those same indicators, about 70 percent of the population, most of whom don’t merely dislike our president, they abhor him. We know this is leading toward a dangerous breakdown in basic coordination and cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, between the White House and the Congress, and between citizen and citizen. It threatens our ability to govern ourselves and to thrive.

But as serious as this situation is becoming, I am more concerned about the responses to Trumpism.

His former supporters among the white working class seem to be struck speechless; if they think they have made a mistake, they must say that. (We all make mistakes, but we are judged by our responses to them.) At the same time, a large group of even the most intelligent Republicans sits around and screams and shouts about how awful the Democrats are, in the end resolving nothing.

In the anti-Trump camp, the response is even more worrisome, because it is they who will probably have to provide an answer to these (at best) wasted years. From my humble observations, these folks simply want to sit around and scream and shout about how awful the Trump presidency is, in the end resolving nothing.

Homey truths

What to do? Let’s go back to the little homey truths that underlie our mothers’ two-kinds-of-men story of the ‘60s. The best husbands are hard-working and dependable – and they never let their egos overrun their common sense.

First, both parties and all Americans have to start thinking – with dead seriousness – about a leader for the future. Not another reality TV star so we can “amuse ourselves to death,” in the words of the late Columbia University professor Neil Postman. (We’ve already done quite enough of that.) We need candidates who are tough enough to win over the white working class, but intellectual enough to speak sense to the so-called “elites.”

Second, Republican politicians should be deep into analysis as to what has happened to their party. And Democrats, to be successful again, will need to limit such unfortunate strategies as “identity politics,” while co-opting some of the genuinely popular Trump policies, such as comprehensive immigration reform and bringing back corporate monies from overseas.

In the meantime, serious Republicans and Democrats both need to better understand their leader/enthraller/enemy. Recently, we witnessed still another example of how Donald J. Trump truly operates.

What a “surprise” it was – Oh my, weren’t we overjoyed for a moment? – to see the president making nice at a White House meeting with senators and congressmen, including even those baaad Democrats, and promising a reasonable deal on immigration. Many Democrats emerged unable to believe it.

‘DACA is dead’

But they shouldn’t have been so surprised. Within days, Trump showed his hand – again. He let fly with his “s---hole” remark, and next, he flatly announced that “DACA is dead,” which meant the wondrous immigration deal was dead, which was the point of all the dramatics in the first place.

It was another example of Trump’s tried-and-true pattern of how he plays us. First he sets us up with hope, then he takes it all back with his innate vulgarity, which he knows will rile the Democrats and take attention away from everything else. And finally, appearing to be hurt himself, he takes it all back. Then it’s on to the next game!

For those who are interested, at the moment I can see only two really good candidates for saving America: Joe Biden and Mitt Romney. Time to start thinking.

Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years.

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