How did America arrive at a point where attempting to undermine a presidential election is acceptable to millions of people? Because, it’s not the court actions against Former President Donald Trump that threaten America; it is the underlying trust deficit in the way we are governed that make his actions acceptable to millions of people.
If we think in business terms, an idea is proposed which begins an analysis phase leading to a decision and then the company will move on. Capital markets demand it. And if somebody is sufficiently aggrieved at the decision, they quit.
But America’s most intractable and unforgiving challenges are in the public square, not in the marketplace. In the real market the public gives a business immediate feedback—customers and investors speak clearly.
But what about political organizations? And specifically, can a political Party succeed on a platform driven by fear and resentment? Are we in a second civil war except there has been no formal secession?
Does Trump in his recent post flirt with treason? Recall his charge: “Do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.” A termination of “all rules?”
Today there are a dozen Republican candidates for President but they are caught in the resentment trap. Some want to talk about the future, but questions about public debt, health care, taxes and the like are suppressed by the incessancy of reporter questions about Trump.
Trump resents. He earned wealth and fame and then found the words and phrases of resentment to be his road to political fame. He recognized that as the nation’s Left political flank caused large numbers of people to feel left behind, he could capture and exploit their emotions. Indeed, when he controlled the Republican Convention in 2020, he eliminated the platform committee which is a Party’s explanation and plans for the future. The platform, when politics was sane, became the organizing principle aimed at gaining supporters. Trump saw the platform as a distraction—fear was its replacement.
Generally, what the resentful want is to get even. Hillary Clinton was a fertile target. She became the first vessel of resentment with many more to follow.
I worked for two sunny Presidents, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush. They could be tough in the Washington skirmishes but presented their ideas with a smiling face. And both had a good resume of government service. But then government service became something to resent. It became the “deep state”. Given all the checks and balances I faced on a daily basis, if the Federal Communications Commission was in the “deep state” I didn’t get the message.
I do not believe it is possible to convert resentment into the politics of necessary change. Resentment is not an idea or a program; it is a demagogue’s vehicle for seizing and retaining power. Resentment and pessimism are first cousins. And particularly toxic to younger voters who know their future is at least somewhat connected to their nation’s future. If I were a younger voter, I would be almost single-minded. How can we both pay interest on our enormous and growing debt and keep our promise to people who depend on Social Security and Medicare? And, what about my own retirement?
Is there a chance that those who vote in Republican primaries will find a candidate capable and willing to go beyond resentment? Maybe, but most will say unlikely.
And how does the victor exercise healing leadership if resentment acts as the driving force? Is it possible for President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, neither popular, to organize a coalition of the hopeful? Because that is what we need. Inching out a victory by a few votes in a few states will not set America on an ascendant path. The Democratic Party can only really win if it chooses new leaders.
Sure, we can all find things to resent. I wish there was more respect for unborn life on the Left. I wish there was more fiscal discipline in both Parties. I wish there was both a decisive and practical coalition for the environment. But knowing that each of these issues present enormous complexity I am not prepared to resent those who try—whether Republicans or Democrats.
But, most of all, I will never support a candidate whose principal direction is to create and exploit resentment.
The celebrated hockey player Wayne Gretzky when asked about his success said “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” A political Party that is mired in grievance is skating in the wrong direction.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.