Test of Our Times
In politics and government everyone always has an opinion. Every political campaign staff is filled with self-styled strategists whether that is their assigned role or not. Every government office is full of people who want to debate and present policy alternatives; always willing to argue their own point of view regardless of the point of view of the elected official who actually holds the job.
Often, in the background, unseen, unheard, and viewed with some level of contempt, is the person who actually knows how to get the work done. In partisan politics, it’s the person who knows the mechanics of how a candidate wins the party nomination. In the office of an elected official, it’s the person who knows how a bill becomes law. Not just the process, but how you actually take the first step. How you write the bill. How you walk it down the hallway and get it filed so it has a chance of being considered as part of the legislative process.
It is these humble, nerdy, sometimes socially challenged sorts, that win campaigns and make government work. Sometimes they rise in stature and become as recognized as the politicians they work for, but usually they remain in obscurity and they are happy to do so, because their strength lies not only in their anonymity, but in their willingness to be under-estimated. They wake up each morning hoping they will be under-estimated.
For the sake of American democracy, it is time for the rest of us to start watching their every move, because some of them are pursuing a radical agenda.
In ways that can hardly be missed, these political tacticians — the true deep staters — have surprised most of the political world at least twice in the last five years. The first time happened in 2016 when an inept, unqualified, crotch grabbing, political amateur named Donald Trump out-foxed the most sophisticated political machine in American history, led by the Clintons, to become president of the United States.
The second time happened on January 6, 2021, when a group of people viewed as yahoos by law enforcement, the news media, and most of the political class, stormed the U.S. Capitol, interrupted, and almost halted the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in the nation’s history.
In both instances, the smart people, the professionals, the people who were supposed to be expert in political campaigns and homeland security were out-smarted by those no one took seriously. The experts were out-smarted because they refused to get into the details. In 2016, they didn’t pay attention to the counties that would swing the election for Trump. In 2021, they didn’t pay attention to how the process of certifying the presidential election could be disrupted to reverse the clear result. Both scenarios eluded the imagination of superior intellects.
Now we all must pay attention, because as we are busy going about our lives, the anonymous tacticians of American politics, the ones who pull all-nighters studying the names of minor election officials across the country, are preparing for the next coup attempt. They aim to do it by the rules and their big bet is that the rest of us don’t know the rules, because we don’t have the time or the desire to read the rule book. We are all willing to debate the outcome, but few of us are willing to do the work. They are.
My parents lived through the Depression and World War II. My older brother and sister were in their late teens and twenties during the turbulence of the 1960s and the Vietnam era. Both those periods presented their own challenges and moral choices. Now the United States faces a new challenge. We are moving very quickly toward the test of our times. It is not an overstatement to say the history of the country is at stake. There are forces at work developing ways to legally steal the White House by distorting the rules that govern elections. For a variety of reasons, I wonder whether we are up to the challenge.
The Trump years taught us one thing. The possibilities of grabbing power for your side, and what you can do with that power once you have it, are almost unlimited if you are willing to toss aside the norms of politics as usual. We have learned that many of the rules we have long lived by, in politics and government, are not law, they are just habits that can be broken. When they are, the side that insists on living according to the Miss Manners manual is at a disadvantage.
In recent months there has been reliable reporting that supporters of former President Trump are spending time, energy, and considerable money stacking the deck in his favor in advance of the next presidential election. Conventional wisdom in the political news media says that those responsible for staging the insurrection at the Capitol and those who were devising legal strategies to have Congress flip the election to Trump on January 6, have learned from their mistakes and are now methodically re-tracing their steps to make sure the roadblocks that stopped them in 2021 will not stop them three years from now.
On the surface, this seems to be the work of Trump loyalists who are attempting to re-install Trump to the presidency. But I question whether that is really the case. This is about the general manipulation of the system rather than an effort to restore one man to power. It is an effort to seize power regardless of the figurehead the plotters put at the front of their organization. Thinking about this solely as a pro-Trump effort limits the possibilities. For a variety of reasons, Trump cannot be counted on in any event.
There is the question of whether Trump even wants to run for president again. There is the question of whether he will still be with us at all given his age and poor health. There is the question of why he would want the job, since the evidence suggests he never did the work the job required while he was in office. With so many questions about a second Trump term, the question becomes why all this work is being done to control the certification of electors in the next presidential election?
It is about controlling the process for any candidate preferred by those with the power to deliver control of the Oval Office. The re-election of Trump may not be the worst that can happen. It might be even worse if a candidate emerges who is smarter than Trump, more prepared than Trump, and with a sinister agenda that Trump would never think of, because he has never been known for thinking about anything other than how to make more money.
The challenge of our time then becomes paying attention to the manipulation of the system by those who are attempting to set up a path to the White House that is not roadblocked by something as fundamental as the election results.
I have little faith we are up to the challenge, because most Americans are not engaged in the electoral process. Many do not follow the news, so they have no idea that the future of American freedom, as they know it, is at risk. Many who do follow the news follow it only from the perspective of “news outlets” with a point of view that supports their pre-existing beliefs. They cannot be convinced there is reason for concern, because they are certain of the patriotism of their side.
I was listening to a local talk show a few weeks ago when a caller asked the host this question:
“Say the Trump forces do find a way to subvert the election results in 2022 and 2024. What difference would it make in my life?”
The caller seemed to be suggesting he had lived through four years of a Trump presidency and setting aside the daily chaos, it seemed survivable. The attitude of resignation in the question shows how easy it is to manipulate the process. Many of us think the direction of our government is beyond our control, when in fact, we are supposed to have complete control by means of our participation in elections. If more than half the country doesn’t bother to show up for the debate, the other side, no matter how small and no matter how un-democratic, has every advantage.
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