The conventional wisdom in real estate is that location is everything. To which we might add, timing is also everything. I recall the gas crises back in the 1970s when the market for homes outside the Beltway – i.e., more than 30 minutes away from downtown or the Mall – went comatose. That was the time to buy, of course, since the minute gasoline became plentiful again real estate in the D.C. suburbs started on its course to stratospheric heights – a trend which continues to this day. (I've always felt that there is a certain poetic justice in the fact that the people who believe themselves entitled to tell everyone else how to live their lives have to, themselves, live with astronomical housing prices as well as grotesque traffic jams from pre-dawn to far into the night.) (Not to mention the truly horrific summer weather.)
It's a similar story in politics. Location – and let us translate that to “position” or “stance”, or even “optics” -- is everything, and timing is everything as well. It's a truism that what motivates politicians above all – Job One – is running for office, winning, and then staying in office... and they will pretty much do, and say, whatever it takes in order to achieve those goals. Politicians in our time can rarely be described as men (or women) of principle, and it's enough to make one weep to consider the Founding Fathers, who were, by comparison, philosophers – and deep thinkers when it came to the nature of man, society, the significance of America, and government. By comparison, today's politicians, while some may be technically intelligent, are total knuckle-draggers when it comes to real thinking, and, in way too many cases, moral imbeciles. So for them survival is not only Job One, but the only thing that makes any sense. “Public service” is something they talk about, and pretend to believe in, but judging by their behavior it winds up on the cutting room floor, more often than not.
If it's true that we get the government we deserve, then it must also be true that we get the leaders and, in general, the politicians we deserve. The basic model for the American Experiment included the concept of an informed and enlightened citizenry – and this was back in the days when “the press” involved setting type by hand and printing one sheet at a time. What we have evolved into is a world of information... of nothing but information, in fact, but most of it is noise disguised as information – random outpourings of the monster we call “the media” which are designed to keep us safely locked in our respective cocoons while believing that we are “informed”.
And politicians are victims of this system as well; let's face it. They tend – if we believe even half of what they say – to be even more deluded than the bulk of the citizenry. They believe – or claim to believe – in ideas that were suspect from the beginning, and which have long since been shown to be delusional and destructive. They are not only creatures of the media, but are totally dependent on those media for their survival – for the sustaining of their image. If politicians are Dr. Frankenstein and the media are the monster, then it's clear that the monster has taken over the castle and that the hapless doctor has to bend to his every whim.
There's nothing terribly new about any of this, and in fact the “Information Age” got under way in earnest soon after World War II, although there were precursors (like radio), and of course the printed word has been with us always – or so it seems. And there's no sense pretending that there is, or ever has been, any such thing as pure, unbiased “news”. Any medium, no matter how venerable, has, to some degree, been an instrument of influence, opinion-making, and propaganda, and the average citizen has ever been at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding events outside his immediate purview. (I recall that we used to regularly mock and make fun of the obvious and blatant propaganda organs of the Soviet Union, like Pravda, Izvestia, and Radio Moscow. That was before we discovered how many American newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV stations were firmly under the thumb of the CIA.) (And don't even get me started on Radio Free Europe, whose broadcasts were, mysteriously, unavailable to anyone living in the U.S.)
But again, this is all business as usual, and no surprise to anyone who hasn't been living under a rock since infancy. We are doomed to act not on what we know (which is very limited in scope) but on what we think we know, or what we believe, or what we (as my high school chemistry teacher used to say ) “fancy”. Ignorance is our lot, sadly. And that ignorance is only aggravated by the amount of time we spend riveted to, and obsessing about, “the news”. It can be said that the more we think we know, the higher a percentage of our “knowledge” is delusion and flights of fancy. (Back when the Cold War was still hot, I used to imagine being up in front of a philosophy class and challenging them to prove to me that there was such a place as Russia (anyone who had actually been there was disqualified). No one was ever able to do this – but, of course, it was only my imagination so who knows?) (The idea was that “Russia” may have been no more than a fictitious bogeyman invented by the government in order to scare people into supporting massive arms buildups and the military draft.) (And here we are in 2017 and the bogeyman hiding under everyone's bed and plotting to steal their vote is -- Russia!)
So in a sense we can pity the politicians, since they are in the same epistemological boat as the rest of us. The problem is that, even though they are fellow victims, they take advantage of the situation to further victimize others. They are adept at the “fact” game, and the “truth” game; they are fast talkers (if not fast thinkers) and just love to tell us what we want to hear, even if it's terrifying. The goal of what I will call verbal terrorism is, of course, to frighten us into not only giving up our common-sense view of things, but becoming helpless and dependent, and easy prey for them and whoever comes along afterward. Think of it as them gaming the system in their favor, the way certain wily prison or concentration camp inmates will somehow gain advantages in power, influence, and resources through scheming, wile, and social dominance (all familiar traits of politicians). Yes, they are in the system, they are victims in a way, and they harbor many of the same delusions the rest of us do, but within those constraints they manage to turn things to their advantage.
Consider now the dilemma of the current crop of politicians in Congress. Actually, consider the dilemma of the Republicans, since the Democrats are facing no dilemma whatsoever as they contemplate the 2018 election season. The Democrats' position is crystal clear: Trump is illegitimate and a usurper who stole the presidency with the help of the Russians, and we must, by any and all means, drive him from office as soon as possible. This is their position, pure and simple, and we can expect them to run on that position, since they have no other. Their thinking at this point goes no further than the image of Trump fleeing the White House with family in tow and being escorted out of town – tar and feathers optional. Of course, it may have occurred to a few of them that the result of this would be that Mike Pence would become president. But that would be illegitimate as well, so he would also have to be impeached, and... well, it's hard to come up with a scenario where Hillary would return to Washington in triumph and ascend to the throne that she has been so rudely denied for so long. At least it's hard to come up with that scenario consistent with the Constitution – but who cares about that silly old hunk of paper anyway? If Hillary descended on Washington the way Lenin descended on Petrograd, she would undoubtedly be declared president by popular acclaim, and any naysayers would be dealt with most severely; at least this is the fantasy no doubt entertained by many members of the “resistance”.
That's the Democratic position in a nutshell; cue “To Dream the Impossible Dream”. The party may lack a clear leadership structure (as witness the cat fight between Hillary and Donna “Bobo” Brazile), but no one can deny that it represents ideas – a world view. And there are countless weak-egoed people in that party who would still be willing to walk over hot coals at Hillary's bidding. For the Republicans, however, it's a far different story. Leadership? Hard to say. Ideas? None that I can come up with offhand. And who's going to walk over hot coals for Yertle the Turtle, er, I mean Mitch McConnell?
Here's where we get back to “position” and “timing”. For starters, we're already seeing Republicans dropping out simply because it would offend their tender sensibilities to run again under the Republican banner, which has been so badly contaminated by Trump and “Trumpism”. They prefer to wash their hands of the entire matter, and thus remain as pure as the driven snow. Yeah, right. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of them (all representatives and a third of senators) have to make a decision, and make it soon. Many of them were “never Trumpers” during the election season last year, and others undoubtedly agreed but hesitated to say so in so many words because they knew which way the wind was blowing. Some got elected because they openly supported Trump, and some because they openly opposed him; same with the losers. Again, position and timing. (And location, if we're talking “red” vs. “blue” vs. “hard to predict”.) In short, the 2016 election was, for many of them, a gamble – and for the House of Representatives it's going to be “here we go again” next year.
But this time the landscape has changed. Instead of having to respond to Trump's campaign, and adopt positions vis-a-vis the many issues he brought up, now they have to stake out a position vis-a-vis the actual Trump administration – 9 months young at this time, but over twice that come November of 2018.
And how are they responding, other than the ones who've already bailed? Well, the “never Trumpers” are holding firm, more or less, and showing solidarity with the Democrats. But is that anything that will get them re-elected a year from now? Isn't loyalty worth anything any longer?
Then you have the more or less silent majority, who remain more or less silent, but sooner or later their constituents will, hopefully, demand that they fish or cut bait, and declare which side they're on.
Then you have the ones who openly support Trump, or seem to be doing so – but is this nothing more than a gamble on their part? And will this positioning morph in some way over the next year?
They're all gambling, as a matter of fact, and they're gambling on at least two things at once: (1) the fate of the Trump administration; and (2) public opinion. And that gamble has a temporal element in that the administration's fortunes will surely continue to develop in as chaotic a fashion as they've been doing to date... and as to public opinion, we know how it can turn on a dime.
If there were a publicly-traded crystal ball industry, a “buy” recommendation would be in order at this point. Unfortunately, there is no such entity, so the denizens of Capitol Hill are caught in a multi-layered dilemma – and richly-deserved, in my opinion.
The trajectory, or fate, of the Trump administration is anyone's guess. To begin with, his administration has yet to get off the ground. Sure, he's managed to spray roach killer on a lot of Obama's executive orders with executive orders of his own; this was Job One, and he's doing it. All well and good. But if you only live by the executive order, you also die by the executive order. What counts in the long run is legislation, and in that area Trump's program, or proposed program, is at a standstill. And this is with majorities in both houses of Congress! But again, we have to remember that the “never Trumpers” tip the scales; as they indicated, without a hint of shame, during the 2016 campaign, they would rather lose the election than see Trump as president, and now they are saying that they would rather join the Democrats than see Trump succeed. But again, how is this going to play out in flyover country next year? Time will tell.
If we want to be brutally frank about it, we are still operating under Obama's policies and with Obama's programs. The Trump administration is, so far, Obama's third term, with no signs of anything that can change it. Obama rules the bureaucracy, AKA the “deep state”, from his mansion on a hill in D.C.; why else would he have stayed in Washington if it were not to perform this function? He's got plenty of time to go back to Chicago and return to community activism. He has become the gray eminence of the Democratic Party, gently easing out Bill Clinton, although the latter could always reassert his Svengali-like control if he felt the urge. What all of this adds up to is that Trump is in a position new to American politics: With his (OK, “his”) party in power in both houses, he finds himself hobbled and kneecapped at every turn, because half of “his” party is against him, in addition to pretty much everyone else on Earth except those who voted for him, who have shown, so far, admirable loyalty.
What this means is that, short of actual impeachment, the Trump administration is going to remain theoretical. It's going to slog along, confined to the White House, while the rest of the country goes on its merry, or not so merry, way. But, again, we have this hard core of loyal Trump supporters, and we have to assume that they will vote in 2018. So any Republican who expects to get elected, or re-elected, in 2018 has to concentrate on positioning. Who will be going to the polls on Election Day of 2018? Trump loyalists? Never Trumpers? Skeptics? Independents? The mind boggles.
But let's not overlook the temporal dimension. Between now and a year from now, anything can happen. Trump might pull off some significant triumphs in terms of domestic (read: economic) policy, or in terms of foreign policy. That would enhance his value as an ally and as a possible source of support. On the other hand, any number of bad things might happen domestically (read: economically) or foreign policy-wise. And in that case, Trump is going to become a liability that no one will want to be identified with.
All of this adds up to an Excedrin headache par excellence for Republican office holders and office-seekers. One can almost smell the scent of fear and cowardice oozing out of the Capitol. Now, life would be simpler for them if they were men (women) of principle. If that were so, they could simply run on the basis of principles and ideas, and the pro- vs. anti-Trump issue wouldn't even come up. Or if it did, it would be irrelevant. But that's not the way things work these days. Everyone is looking for coattails to ride, and whoever rode in on Trump's coattails may be starting to wonder if that was such a good idea. Ditto with anti-Trump coattails (whatever they might be). The current “buzz” is that you have to be pro-Trump to get elected or re-elected. Even if that's true, it's only true right now, today. It may not be true tomorrow. By the time next fall rolls around, Republican candidates may have all joined the resistance, and be trash-talking along with Pelosi and Schumer. (In which case, why bother voting for a Republican when you can vote for the real thing? But that's been a question ever since the Republicans ceased being true conservatives.)
The only bright spot in all of this is that Trump seems to be more able than any career politician to ignore the “nattering nabobs” in Congress, and the media, and Hollywood, and everywhere that nattering nabobs congregate. He seems to have a vision, and a program, and a plan, and he seems to be determined and consistent about it, and not spending a whole lot of time figuring out how to make people happy and like him – which, in itself, is extremely refreshing. But if Trumpism is so radically removed from business as usual in Washington, are its chances of survival, not to mention success, any better than those of any other outsider and/or populist movement down through history? Are we to have, basically, four years of stalemate followed by a return to the usual way of doing things (accompanied by a resounding Republican defeat in 2020, no doubt)? Will the establishment have taught those pesky populists a damn good lesson? (Bernie-ites and Warren-ites should be paying attention to this as well, by the way.) And – if the pendulum has swung more in the populist direction than ever before with the ascendence of Donald Trump, what will it look like when it swings back the other way, which it almost certainly will?
Ah, yes -- “interesting times”.