Back on March 10, I attended a private taping of The Circus, Showtime’s hit campaign show. (Circus is now on hiatus but will resume Sunday, July 10.)
Afterwards, I asked co-producers and co-authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann if they planned to write a book chronicling the 2016 presidential campaign similar to their previous bestsellers, 2008’s Game Change (made into an HBO movie) and 2012’s Double Down.
Halperin answered with an enthusiastic, “yes” and asked me to suggest a title. My immediate response was, “The End of the World as We Know It” since it appeared that we were careening towards a Trump vs. Clinton general election match up. Then Heilemann chimed in saying he “liked the title but it was too long.”
Now, three months later, if Halperin asks me to suggest another title, a shorter answer would be “Melt Down” with the subtitle, “Campaign Armageddon.”
Sadly, all three titles describe what most Americans rightfully fear: An historic presidential campaign resembling a giant national dumpster fire which the rest of the world will watch in horror. Does anyone doubt that a Trump vs. Clinton smack-down will be the most embarrassing, nastiest, dirtiest, head-banging and violent presidential election in American history?
Sure, there have been violent moments in our modern political history. Most notably the riots outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, often referenced when pundits talk about both parties’ upcoming conventions. But having lived through the tumultuous year of 1968 as a politically aware 13-year-old, here is why 2016’s political climate feels even darker and more foreboding.
Unlike in 1968 when Richard Nixon coined the phrase “silent majority,” those folks were at home watching “the radicals” fight with Chicago police outside the convention hall. Now in 2016, the “silent majority” is totally fed-up and no longer silent. Many are so agitated that they are inside the hall of both parties and ready to throw the bums out.
The “silent majority” of all ages who largely play by the rules and pay their taxes are thoroughly disgusted by a bloated, failing, federal bureaucracy that overcharges and under performs. A clear majority, 65 percent, believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction.
Furthermore, there is a general agreement that America is saddled with an inept, ineffective political system incapable of solving national problems. A system that is mired in partisan infighting while elected officials spend the majority of their time chasing campaign donations.
Sadly, a brilliant, successful, and unique system of government conceived in the 18th century and “endowed by our creator” now appears antiquated, frozen by in-fighting and incapable of dealing with national challenges our Founding Fathers could never have imagined. Thus the impending “Melt Down: Campaign Armageddon” will be fueled by two conceptual factors and my own recurring election nightmare.
We are united in anger but turning against each other.
Over the past several presidential elections, national division and polarization between Republicans and Democrats has been vibrating at predictable frequencies of electoral dissatisfaction. However, in 2016, the heat has been turned up and anger is reaching a dangerous boiling point.
This is due in part to Trump’s uncanny ability for bringing existing emotionally charged political issues to the forefront in the most partisan manner possible. At the same time, Clinton’s historic quest to become Madame President, while exploiting the same identity-group politics that propelled President Obama to two resounding victories, has created a perfect storm of “us” vs. ”them.”
That is why the presidential general election will be an epic battle between men and women, white vs. non-white, rich vs. poor, taxpayers vs. non-taxpayers, Christians vs. Muslims, believers vs. non-believers, unions vs. non-unions, wall builders vs. open borders, patriots vs. non-patriots, laws vs. social justice, climate change vs. climate deniers and legal immigration vs. illegal immigration, just to name the first twelve.
The result is super-polarization on a grand scale topped by aggression and intolerance toward those with a different opinion potentially even rivaling the pre-Civil War era.
There is no doubt that violence at Trump campaign events will continue to escalate with the media giving the perpetrators exactly what they want — hours of prime-time attention. And with that, demonstrators thrive and are further emboldened to engage in more violence.
Moreover, signs of the coming meltdown were seen recently in San Jose, CA. That was when local authorities stepped back from arresting anti-Trump “thugs” (to use Trump’s description) and then practically blamed Trump for the mob’s destructive actions. Talk about positive reinforcement!
Unfortunately, the violence that will continue to dog and possibly engulf Trump’s candidacy is only the effect. The real cause is “us vs. them” permeating our entire nation like a deadly plague.
Worse, voting for either Trump or Clinton is perceived by many Americans as a choice between an “out-of-control crazy man” and a “lying crook that can’t be trusted.” At this point “crook” is beating “crazy” by only two points but within the margin of error.
The only rule is there are no rules.
It has become obvious that this election will continue to break every rule of modern politics. Exhibit A is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The GOP is saddled with a leader who has never held public office, is a policy neophyte, and runs his campaign by telling us exactly what he thinks without inserting a political or media filter. Even if he changes and becomes more subdued, previous video soundbites will still haunt him.
Exhibit B is the presumptive Democratic candidate who currently is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation. That in and of itself is a signal that no rules rule the day. Exactly how the Justice Department resolves Clinton’s self-admitted “mistake” of having her own email server, the national security implications thereof, and the intertwining of State Department business with Clinton Foundation donations will turn this election upside down.
For example, if it is determined that laws were broken and Clinton is not prosecuted, our nation can expect a crisis that will rival Watergate. But it was no surprise when in a recent survey half of all likely voters said that if Hillary Clinton is indicted she should still run for president — proving my point that the only rule is there are no rules.
My recurring election fraud nightmare.
It is well known that as a businessman Donald Trump has a litigious history. The extent of his propensity to become entangled in legal proceedings was recently confirmed by a report in USA Today. “Our project found about 3,500 legal actions involving Trump, including 1,900 where he or his companies were a plaintiff and about 1,300 in which he was the defendant. Due to his branding value, Trump is determined to defend his name and reputation.”
With those facts in mind, my recurring election nightmare has Trump losing the presidential election in a close race and then claiming voter fraud. (Which may or may not be valid.) Then Trump will immediately contest the election results while launching every legal action possible, “to defend his name and reputation.”
Thus our national meltdown will enter phase two.
Finally, whatever book title Halperin and Heilemann choose that captures the essence of the 2016 campaign, this much I can predict: Supporters of the losing candidate will sink into deep despair believing that it is the end of the world as we know it — and they will be right.