The wild-side adventure ends - Keith Roulston editorial
The other night we watched one of those movies where the female protagonist is irresistibly attracted to the “bad boy”.
I have never understood this sort of attraction to exciting, dangerous guys, whether by a movie character or a friend or relative. It’s frustrating to watch as a woman ties herself to a man when you just know it will end badly. She’s sure she can change him but, though a few women make it work, far more often the marriage ends in divorce, perhaps following physical and psychological abuse and almost certainly infidelity.
As the Presidency of Donald Trump winds down to its tawdry end, the American public can see the consequences, particularly with the invasion by Trump supporters of the Capitol building, of the flirtation by many voters with the guy who ignores the rules and protocols.
We often hoped that Trump had a special hold over his 70 million supporters that made them ignore facts, manners and human decency, but digging deeper it becomes clear that those voters were just waiting for someone like him. In his new memoir, A Promised Land, former President Barack Obama recalls the day in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election when Senator John McCain, his Republican opponent, instantly rejuvenated his campaign by naming Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate as vice-president. What Obama calls “Palin-mania” soon took over.
Most people had to Google her name to find out who she was, and her story as a former high school basketball player and pageant queen who became a sports reporter before successfully running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska and eventually the state’s governor.
For working-class white voters who hated Washington and felt big-city elites in business, politics or the media often looked down on them (which was too often true), she was a breath of fresh air. She turned that sort of elitism on its head. If the New York Times questioned her qualifications, Palin didn’t care. In fact, she portrayed the criticism as proof of her own authenticity.
Those who remember the 2008 campaign, which Obama eventually won, will remember Palin’s lack of knowledge and understanding of issues from Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Georgia to the operations of the Supreme Court made it painfully obvious that she was not ready to be President if the need arose.
But Obama was troubled by that the vast majority of Republican voters who didn’t care about Palin’s lack of knowledge. If a journalist exposed her ignorance, many Republicans saw it as proof of a liberal conspiracy. Prominent Republicans who had knocked Obama for being too inexperienced to be President suddenly tied themselves in knots arguing that knowledge was not all that important for a vice-president.
McCain, the epitome of old-fashioned Republicans who upheld the honour and respect of the customs of the Senate and the institutions of government and democracy, got polite applause at Republican rallies. Palin was adored.
Many of these same instincts to rebel against the establishment and play with fire are key factors in the rise to power of Donald Trump and his continued popularity among Republicans. Whether he actually learned how to manipulate the party from watching Palin’s success, or simply that his massive ego made him want to be president at a time when many voters were happy to flirt with a bad boy rule- breaker, his personality matched the tone of the times. America ended up hitched to the bad boy.
By this time next week, hopefully Trump is gone. Here’s hoping he hasn’t been able to inflict more damage before his final exit. But the question then arises: what’s next? Certainly we’ll have four years of a stable, wise Joe Biden presidency but will the normality of the new president be welcomed or rejected by the time of the 2024 Presidential election?
Certainly it’s disturbing that Trump retains the support of millions of Americans, many of whom believe he was cheated out of an election victory even though he can offer no evidence to support his wild conspiracy theories. The fact that they accept Trump as the sole source of truth while ignoring the dozens, even hundreds, of officials who say Biden’s win was legitimate, indicates Americans may not be willing to return to respect for authority yet.
Disturbing too was a snap poll taken following the invasion of the Capitol that showed 48 per cent of Republicans felt that crime wasn’t all that serious.
For Canadians observing from afar, it’s like watching a friend attracted to an exciting rule-breaker: you know that nothing good will come from it but all you can do is watch and hope she’ll come to her senses before it’s too late. One Donald Trump was more than enough without voters finding a new bad boy.