Disaster Payoffs: Best Lessons From the Worst Campaign

Look at all the marvels we learned this past year. Our revered democracy, battered by money and bludgeoned by bad faith, can still distinguish an utter phony, skilled mainly as con artist, from adult candidates capable of governance. All but Trump offer the minimum for any viable president: deflecting monumental disruption and chaos.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Weeks before tabulation confirms a potential blowout, Thanksgiving comes early. Insights bubble up from the morass when we count all we’ve learned. After all, what fair-minded deity doesn’t reward suffering with knowledge secured from this season’s ascent (and descent) of deplorables? Per one sage, “Learn nothing from disaster, and you suffer two failures.” 

No. 1 Insight: Behold the blinkered critical mass more politically deviant than craven hacks who routinely cherrypick GOP nominees. Not this time. Yes, let’s salute the base party base— who managed to pinpoint, from a cast of thousands, the most disreputable, least competitive candidate, bar none. What Republican worthy, Ben Carson aside, would not today poll better against Hillary than Trump? Kasich? Rubio? Cruz? Bush? Thus, the incredibly bad Trump joke, with not enough laughs to justify the agony.

Lincoln was right: some unthinking people get fooled some of the time, suckered by the most inept, erratic, most deranged national candidate in memory. Who else, other than twisted remnants of Tea Party “populism,” would eight years later crown the W. era disaster with a potentially greater menace? The Trump clan actually found an agent of disorder, so repulsive to the majority, the  country now disowns Trump with a force equivalent to how the hard right rejects Hillary. No mean feat, as “non-college whites” — seemingly oblivious to testable, shocking lies — quickly abandoned whatever logic offered them in high school, if not earlier. A bright sixth-grader refutes the crude Trump blarney. “Alt-right” now looks all-wrong, and that’s a good thing.

2)  More blessings: have we not settled the minimum political threshold that dooms even formidable celebrity hustlers? Yes, being staggeringly unqualified, lying like a guilty, cornered suspect, or dumping invective by the fistful, is not enough. Trump was competitive only weeks ago, despite these self-evident truths. Must not a viable candidate demonstrate minimum competence in policy (foreign, fiscal, trade, even how abortion or voting works)? Must he or she not avoid idiotic proposals, liked that “stupid wall,” trade wars, ending Obamacare, or decimating federal checks and balances?  Apparently not even these.

What did in Trump, especially for those who talk up morality, was a) he repeatedly bragged about years of exploitative sexual assaults, then b) oddly enough, faced the audacity of 11 women who confirmed for once he wasn’t lying.  Of course, he then lied through his teeth that he never knew these woman, let alone manhandled them. In short, mere ignorance laced with astonishing arrogance fell short — until millions faced the prospect of electing a multiply-indicted sex addict. Who isn’t thrilled, laden with sex scandals, that America finally settled on how much groping disqualifies one’s presidential “character”? Thank the Lord — and the nearly dozen, courageous truth-telling women.

3) Confirmed: the GOP base now worships at the Trump altar. However “rigged” is our political system, the Republican Party is even more broken, fractured one hopes beyond recognition. How does Republican top brass, too dimwitted to avoid Trump’s primary ambush, somehow re-cement billionaire libertarians with the aggrieved white males wounded by their own outsourcing, tax avoidance and war against government benefits? Even more than Ross Perot in 1992, Trump’s fire power thoroughly, perhaps permanently mangles the rightwing party brand.

4) Thus, actually losing Senate control looks likely, no small achievement.  And now the House, unthinkable a month ago, could be in play. Miracle to behold. Despite extremist hysteria about Supreme Court picks, the rightwing yahoos (base and officials) could not have more successfully put their Congressional monopoly at risk.  To get Trump nominated, then have party insiders turn hard against him — who could have imagined so many rats jumping ship? And now with Trump constantly demoralizing his own troops (if the fix is in, why bother to vote?) we could see decades of nasty GOP gerrymandering finally “corrected” by the people and for the people.

5) Competence matters. Character issues and unforced blunders aside, Hillary Clinton’s professional, targeted campaign makes Trump’s low-class, amateur hour look like it’s run by nincompoops (one, anyway). Let us endorse this truism, namely the high correlation between the quality of a grueling campaign and the winner’s leverage to govern. Not only do better funded, better staffed, more strategically-focused campaigns nearly always win: they presage knowing how to pilot the Washington swamp. W. (Cheney and Rove) ran a far better campaign than Gore in 2000 and ended up, to our national horror, getting passed nearly all they wanted. Obama ran brilliant campaigns, won twice, and arguably succeeded (in his terms) as president.

6) History rolls on. Trump will NOT be the first and only person first elected to the White House, having never held high political or military office. Maybe some day that happens, but it won’t be this year’s crude, racist, sexist ignoramus setting new records for mendacity. Had a great satirist, like Twain or Mencken, imagined the most bizarre nominee, a blow to our national ego, could they have done any better than D J Trump? With his comic “200 word” vocabulary, void of principles, if not beliefs (other than “winning” profits), five-minute attention span, and abysmal campaign discipline — except when fear-mongering or invoking looming apocalypse. Did he really say out load, “I alone can fix everything”?  

7) Yeah for majority rule — which will triumph again when 50 impossible-to-rig states count their votes. Sure, we have suspect mass media, too much billionaire influence-peddling, and insiders who play favorites. Politics is just not fair. But 2016 proves, despite our tainted democracy, that elections still count, summarily about to veto the irrational GOP circus. However long and flawed are our interminable marathons, this year majority rule — in popular voting and Electoral College — will out. We have also killed the laughable delusion that whining “everything is rigged” is a winning tactic. 

8) Nominal scoop: the least unscrupulous Republicans are rejecting their own nominee and crossing over. Or voting libertarian. Hold the cheers. Most others, alas, still comically hop around like brain-damaged chickens, one day rejecting Trump, the next reverting to their mean. They are Republicans, after all. Whatever, let’s salute all good citizens who can still distinguish three arguably qualified candidates from the one outlier promising certified disaster, from soup to nuts.

9) Finally, let’s clarify that concession speeches are about symbolism, not power.  Whether Trump concedes, graciously or not at all, power is not decided by the contestants. Let the loser stew in his own bitter juices: graciousness is a nice-to-have, not a must-have, hardly in Trump’s toolkit. Isn’t it fitting were our least classy nominee to finalize his calamitous run with the same public contempt with which he started it, spewing out insults like real politicians dish out campaign promises?

In short, our revered democracy, battered by money and bludgeoned by bad faith, can still distinguish an utter phony, skilled mainly as con artist, from adult candidates capable of governance. All but Trump offer the minimum for any viable president: deflect monumental disruption and chaos. However much some are distrusted or disliked, Donald for growing millions represents a bridge too far — or many, many bridges too far.

Ultimately, Trump’s fatal political flaw was to presume that damning (sex and corruption) interviews over 40 years would not come to light. Curious. Oops. So now we know so much more, despite or perhaps thanks to this punishing campaign, not only about the personalities but alas our deviant national underbelly. We must press on, confident that knowledge, while hardly the same as power, still offers scraps of wisdom now and again.


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.