McGovern, Carter, Trump, and the Republic
George McGovern in 1972 won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president despite the opposition of the party’s establishment types. He could do this thanks to reforms the Democrats made after the riots in Chicago during their national convention that nominated Hubert Humphrey for president even though Humphrey had avoided the Democratic primaries. Then, thanks to the same reforms and post-Watergate, Jimmy Carter won the party’ nomination for president in 1976, again against the wishes of the party’s establishment. And, of course, this year Donald Trump won the Republican Party’s nomination for president against the wishes of the party’s establishment, while Hillary Clinton won her party’s nomination largely because of that party’s “super delegates,” who were not elected and were intended to serve the wishes of the party’s establishment, as they faithfully did.
One of the most interesting and important facets of Carter’s nomination and election in 1976 is that it was not hailed by our intelligentsia as “democratic,” “popular,” or “republican.” Newsweek wrote that “Americans [are] sunk in malaise,” while the NY Times predicted the gloomiest of times as the nation lacked a “cause…to quicken [the people’s] energies and national pride…as though the national compass had been lost.”
As one author put it: “The democratic awakening [was] a spiritual disease.” Barbara Tuchman, eminent historian, wrote that “the idea of democracy survives in disenchantment…battered and whipped.” Daniel Bell, eminent social scientist, feared that popular participation in politics was a threat to “constitutional democracy.” Henry Kissinger was said to be depressed, while President Ford was deeply distressed because there was, he said, a “crisis of authority.” As our author put it: “When millions of Americans have a voice in the choice of a candidate, the result is elitist. When a handful of party potentates do the choosing…democracy in America thrives.”
Trust me: The same phenomenon will follow, has followed Trump’s victory in our latest presidential election. And it will follow because “the shaken political establishment has no wish to praise the awakened democracy; it expects to bury it at the first opportunity.” According to our intelligentsia, once the political establishment is weakened, it is fair to say that the people have become a mob and must be denied. And because Trump lost the popular vote, this campaign will pretend to be democratically driven, as did the opposition to Carter and McGovern, even though its goal is to re-legitimize what is clearly a de-legitimized elite. And this is evidenced by the fact that no one who supports democratizing the electoral college has a word to say against how Hillary Clinton won the nomination. This is important because, as with the old adage, “I care not who makes the laws so long as I can interpret them,” so too it may be said that “I care not how the people elect a president so long as I can control who gets nominated to run.”
So, if the past is any indication, prepare for a reaction against democratic or popular government or political processes, just as happened in the 70’s and led to the election of – and bipartisan embrace of – Ronald Reagan, which embrace became apparent when, unlike the response to Nixon’s lawlessness, Reagan’s lawlessness was covered up, covered over so the “Gipper” would not be impeached and removed from office and his “movie” would end happily as he faded, both mentally and physically, from the scene. Some will find such a prospect reassuring, but the Trump phenomenon is the promise that has always been endemic to the “Reagan Reaction,” as both Trump and Reagan were committed to “making America great again.” McGovern and Carter offered us and even won some degree of popular approval for a different kind of politics, but our establishment, both Republicans and Democrats, rejected and sabotaged it, and did so with great success.
So the question might be: Where do we go from here? The establishment will seek to undermine Trump but has nothing substantive to offer in its place except more of the same. It merely wants its power back. “Order” and “civility” will be restored while our republic will, once again, become an oligarchy where the few will prosper while the many will not. It is a story as old as the Constitution itself.