Donald Trump has brought our democracy to its knees. His lack of respect for the rule of law, war against the press, rampant corruption and just plain awful and unethical behavior have stretched our storied system to its breaking point. But history teaches us that there is reason to be optimistic about Post-Trump America. Here’s why.
First, look at what happened in the aftermath of Richard Nixon, our last thoroughly corrupt president. He used the IRS to punish his enemies, tried to cover up the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters that was orchestrated by his top level staff and oversaw the sleaziest political operation in American presidential history (Google Gordon Liddy or Donald Segretti if you want to get a taste).
The Watergate hearings and trials of 1973 and 1974 absolutely repulsed the American public. The result? The years after Nixon resigned in August, 1974, saw a surge in government reforms. Congress passed the most extensive campaign finance reform legislation in American history in 1974, while the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 created the Independent Counsel Office, which was tasked with investigating government officials, and also forced public officials to regularly disclose financial information.
Clean Carter replaces Tricky Dick
And what did voters do the next time they had a chance to voice their disgust with the disgraceful Nixon presidency? They elected a squeaky clean, Sunday school teacher named Jimmy Carter.
On a grander scale of evil, look at what happened in Germany with Hitler and his Nazi party. From the end of World War I in 1918 until Hitler entered the scene in 1933, Germany endured a continuous state of economic stagnation and national humiliation. Then Hitler seized power by exploiting the anger of the German polity and appealing to the absolute worst in its people, most notably by blaming the Jews for their woes. For twelve years a passionate, crazed minority of Germans gave Hitler all the support he needed to drive his country into the abyss. Sound familiar?
The fall of Hitler brings the rise of Germany
Then it all came crashing down in April of 1945 when Hitler shot himself in the head, marking the end of the Third Reich. And how has Germany responded in the intervening 75 years? Pretty much like a model global citizen. Their economy has thrived. The bellicosity of the first half of the 20th century has been replaced with a conscious avoidance of armed conflicts. In fact, German military expert Sophia Besch says, “There’s still a really tortured relationship between the Bundeswehr (German Military) and the German public.” (BBC News, June 12, 2017)
To this day there is a national sense of shame for the devastation Hitler wrought on Europe, and specifically the murdering of six million innocent Jews. Any German politician since World War II emanating the slightest whiff of authoritarianism hasn’t stood a chance of advancing.
A similar argument for renouncing brutal military utilization in favor of a peaceful society can also be made for the last 75 years of postwar Japan.
So what’s the point of all this? The citizenry of developed nations that have endured severe political trauma, as America did under Nixon, Germany did under Hitler and WE are now enduring under Trump, often react by going 180 degrees in the opposite direction. America cleaned up its government after Nixon. And the German people ensured that jingoistic, nationalistic strongmen had no chance of gaining power.
What will happen after Trump
Which brings us to Trump. What will happen when he leaves office, either in the next few months, January, 2021, or, God forbid, in January of 2025? It’s hard to predict, but I’m confident we’ll see the following three things.
First, I predict BIPARTISAN legislation will pass that will completely overhaul the ethics and corruption laws related to the executive branch, specifically the president. That law will mandate, among other things, production of tax returns, the severing of all business ties prior to assuming office and a total prohibition on nepotism of any kind (as I write this, 30-something real estate scion and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is traveling to the Middle East to try and broker a peace deal. I’m not a good enough writer to adequately capture the level of absurdity and hubris this reaches.)
Second, I think a bipartisan bill will pass that prevents any administration from stonewalling Congress in their constitutionally appointed duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch. This could even include unequivocal provisions to imprison federal officials who unlawfully ignore congressional subpoenas. A related bill will codify the walling off of the Justice Department from the White House so that future presidents can’t use the DOJ to carry out their personal political agendas as Trump has with his utterly discredited and debased stooge, Attorney General William Barr.
Why will these bills be bipartisan? Because most Republicans in Congress detest Trump due to what he has done to THEIR party. They desire as much as Democrats ensuring that Trump’s awful behavior in office is never repeated, by presidents of EITHER party.
Strong character a must
Third, and most important as far as I’m concerned, I predict that the next president chosen by the American people will be of the highest character. Impeccable integrity, basic decency and strong morality will be musts. Racists, misogynists and xenophobes need not apply.
Why? I’ve found that for most Americans the hardest pill to swallow about Trump is what an objectively awful human being he is. Vindictive, mean, dishonest, narcissistic…It’s a long list. In sum, the next president will not be someone who cheats on his wife with porn stars and Playboy centerfolds in the months after said wife gives birth to their son.
Trump won’t be on Rushmore
Bottom line: If you look at those who have achieved mythical heroic status in our country, it’s people like Washington, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. They aren’t on Mount Rushmore because they exemplified Trumpian ideals like getting ahead, “succeeding,” and winning at all costs in a Darwinian world of survival of the fittest. They are our true heroes because they led principled lives that were dedicated to perpetuating the foundational American values of freedom, equality and decency. Trump, on the other hand, is an aberration who will be excoriated by historians and vilified by most Americans for generations to come.
Having said all this, what should we do? Stay strong until Trump leaves office. Because when he does, I’m confident the United States will, in short order, be in even better shape than when Trump took office — as happened in post Nixon America and post war Germany and Japan.
That’s my prediction, at least. I hope I’m right.